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Another cause of the French Revolution: the diamond necklace affair [next article. The Storming of the Bastile]. The diamond necklace rocked the foundations of the monarchy, and gave the people and opportunity to set themselves against the royal family, leading to political unrest, and ultimately the revolution.
{Pre Revolution Marie Antoinette}
At 15 Marie Antoinette entered France and Austrian “princess” (she was later called Austrian Duchess, which in French was very similar sounding to female dog) daughter of Marie Thérèsa. From there she became dauphine of France, and soon after Queen. Unlike her shy husband, Marie Antoinette was very proud and arrogant; she came from the Habsburg line- the oldest royal family in Europe! Many of the old nobility resented her pride, and how she disrespected court etiquette and didn’t invite them to her balls and card games. They gossiped about her lack of male heir- though it was due to Louis’s impotence, no fault of her own. Marie Antoinette spent lavishly on jewels, balls, and gardens and country houses. She was often in debt after gambling. When Louis finally had an operation, and Marie Antoinette had three children, she began to mature. But by then it was to late, pamphlets and compromising pictures of Marie Antoinette had been circulated, she was hated by France.
{The Affair}
Louise René Edouard de Rohan was the Cardinal of France. He however, was in disfavour of the queen. He had been at court at Austria, and Marie Thérèsa had disliked him. Her daughter followed her mother in this. Rohan believed rumours of Marie Antoinette having love affairs, and hoped to gain royal favour through her, to be a part of her royal circle. Ambition blinded him.
The Countess de Lamotte was a member of the Valois family, though he was very poor. After becoming mistress to Rohan, she convinced him that he was indeed in the Queen’s favour.
Soon the necklace enters: at 2800 carats, with a choker of 17 diamonds of 5-8 carats, with a 3-wreathed festoon and pendants hanging from it, a necklace proper [double row of diamonds around an eleven carat stone], and hanging from the necklace: a four knotted tassel. In France 1 600 000 lives – about 100 million today.
This necklace had been intended for Madam du Barry, mistress of the late king Louis XV. However, before completion, the king had died and du Barry had been long banished from court. The jeweller, Charles Bohmer, hoped the queen would buy it, however even she knew it was a waste of money, better spent on a war ship then on a necklace, no matter how beautiful the necklace.
Lamotte used Rohan and Bohmer. She told them that the queen wished to buy the necklace secretly, and forged letters (signed Marie Antoinette of France. This proved that it was forged, as she never signed herself of France) of the queen expressing interest. After some time Rohan wanted more than letters- he wanted the queen! While he waited in the garden Madam d’Olivia [who Lamotte found to be so like Marie Antoinette in appearance] dressed in a dress of the Queen’s, gave Rohan a Rose, and told him “all may be forgive him” before she ran off.
When the time had come to pay for the necklace – which Lamotte had given to her husband, who took it a part and sold it – the plot was disclosed. A public trial was held – and this was un heard of in France – but Marie Antoinette had her reputation to consider – and Lamotte was found guilty. Lamotte was beaten and branded crying out “It was the queen who should be branded, not me.”
Though not the final cause of the revolution [Even as the American Revolution could have stopped after the Boston Tea Party] the diamond necklace affair undermined the monarchy. Those in France who believed the queen wasn’t capable of something like this diminished by the minute. More scandalous stories spread across France about the Queen. 7 years later the queen was without a head.


Estates General

The Estates General

The French government developed the Estates General to show, at any given time, that they had the support of the French people. However, the way the estates were set up, ‘support of the people’ wasn’t necessarily true. There are three estates in the Estates Generals, and they all had one vote. Therefore two estates could outvote one estate, even if that estate consisted of 97% of the population.

The First estate was the clergy. The higher clergy consisted of nobles, while the lower clergy were basically commoners, and were parish priests. The clergy collected tithes, and owned about 10 percent of France’s land, for which no taxes were paid. The clergy also ran schools, kept records, and supported the poor. The higher clergy often lived in Paris and Versailles; liven extravagantly while parish priests led a hard life, living simply. It would be very reasonably to say that the lower clergy resented the higher clergy, for living better quality lives but doing much less work.

The Second estate was the nobility. Nobles held the highest positions at court, in the church, and in government. Nobles had many privileges, and we as good as exempt from paying taxes. They had the ability to collect taxes from the peasants on their land, including old feudal taxes that should have been irrelevant in the day, but were collected so the noble could live extravagantly. The nobles owned between 20 and 30 percent of the land in France, but consisted of about 1.5 percent of the population. Ironically, it was these nobles who offered their estates as places to hold salons, when the philosophes were the ones who ended up criticizing the nobles. Under nobility there was nobility of the robe and nobility of the sword.

Nobility of the sword are the old and traditional nobility, who have been around since the middle ages. These were the nobles seen at court, extravagantly prominent at Versailles, and these were the nobles who ran the provinces. Thought they held the most prestige, many of these nobles had small incomes, which were spent making them look wealthy.

Nobility of the robe, though they had some prestige, were not nearly as prestigious as those of the sword. Nobles of the robe couldn’t trace their linage back 100s of years, but were nobles because they paid the king to be made so. The monarchy needed money, and the soon-to-be-nobles had money, so kings were glad to give titles and positions for chunks of wealth.

Before I explain the third estate, perhaps read this quote by Abbé Sieyès. Influential people of the revolution will come in later.

1st. What is the third estate? Everything.
2nd. What has it been heretofore in the political order? Nothing.
3rd. What does it demand? To become something therein.

Abbé Sieyès, What is the Third Estate? (1789)

The Third estate was everybody else – 98% of the population, who owned 60-70 percent of the land in France. The third estate could be divided into three groups: the bourgeoisie, the sans culottes, and the peasants.

THE BOURGEOISIE: Being merchants, manufacturers, bankers, doctors, lawyers, etc. the bourgeoisie were the middle class of France and had wealth. However, having wealth did not give the bourgeoisie status, privilege, or any source of power. They were blocked by the aristocracy and the monarchy, who wanted to have everybody maintain the same social standing that they were born with, and tried to ensure no one could rise above their status.

SANS- CULOTTES: As urban workers, the san culottes worked trades in cities such as Paris. Named because they did not wear long pants/ breeches, the sans culottes were artisans but did not make nearly as much money as the bourgeoisie. They suffered the most when food prices rose and their wages did not. It was the sans culottes who pushed for equality in everything, and were the radical revolutionaries.

EVERYBODY ELSE: Peasants who worked on farms for the nobles were the poorest of them all. These people spent their lives struggling to survive, though French peasants were better off than those in the rest of Europe. Burdened by tithes, taxes, and rents, peasants were very suppressed people. They were not allowed to hunt, or even kill animals that hurt their crops.

Its is 1789 and there is trouble looming in France. A revolution is on its way. But what are the causes?

  • New Ideas from the enlightenment. Now that people are beginning to think for themselves, they want a government that they feel is in their interests as well. Ideas of democracy and voting float about, and into salons in Paris.
  • Ideas from the revolution in America. The French saw that it was okay to rebel against a monarchy and have freedom and democracy: they helped America defeat Britain.
  • Taxes: Many people resented the absolute power of the monarchy, and the taxes given to the peasant class. Some princes and dukes who thought the power belonged to them resented the monarchy was well, and felt if it couldn’t be them, why should anybody be king?
  • National Debt. The Sun King Louis XIV left France in debt to his his great grandson Louis XV who increased the debt leaving France to Louis XVI, his grandson. These three kings engaged in too many wars for the countries good.
  • Old Regime. Louis XVI was told the only way to get money was to tax the nobles. France’s ways had become outdated, and when Louis called the estates general, the middle aged government system brought problems.
  • Famine. There was a food shortage in France due to bad crops and weather. Some people saw this as God’s anger with the monarchy. Convenient?
Next post — the ESTATES GENERAL