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Social Causes

Though France was the most advanced of all the continental countries in the second half of the eighteenth century, yet socially it had some glaring defects. The French society was divided into three hostile groups – the clergy, the nobles and the third estate, each with its own privileges.

  • The First Estate or Clergy

They constitute less than two percent of the French population. The clergy was divided into two classes; higher clergy and lower clergy. The higher clergy – archbishops, bishops and abbots – often enjoyed great wealth. They had large estates and indulged in luxury and vices without caring for their duties. But the lower clergy, recruited from the commoners, profited little by the privileged position of the order. They furnished spiritual guidance to the mass of the people.


The First Estate or Clergy


  • The Second Estate or the Nobles

The second estate was divided into three sections – country nobles, official nobles and the nobles of the court (courtiers). The country nobles had a small income. The official nobility – some four thousand in all – were chiefly centred in the Parliament of Paris. They were opposed to the freedom of the press and to all reforms. The courtiers enjoyed immense privilege. They did nothing but consumed the resources of the bankrupt government.


The Second Estate or the Nobles


  • The Third Estate

At the top were financiers, merchants, office holders and professionals who had vested interest and some privileges but many of them suffered from the numerous restrictions on them. The great bulk of the third estate were the peasants. The peasants had to pay rent to their feudal lords, tithes to the church and taxes to the king.


 The First Estate or the Clergy



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