French Revolution

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EUROPEAN AT THE EVE OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION

Before the outbreak of the French Revolution Europe had several states both major (large) and minor (small) states. The largest states included Britain, France, Austria Prussia and Russia. The small states included Spain, Holland, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and the declining Turkey in the Eastern Europe.

Europe experienced fundamental changes after the 1789 French Revolution in political, social and economic spheres of life however in order to understand how the French Revolution changed the French society, we need to understand the conditions before its outbreak. It should be noted that the political social and economic conditions of Europe before the French revolution were diverse and complex.

Political conditions

Politically with the exception of Britain most European states had absolute monarchies (Kingship) based on divine rights of their Kings. The Kings were not answerable to people but only to God whom they claimed to have got their powers.

There were no democratic institutions like parliament in most states, and where they existed, they were used as mere rubber stamps by the leaders to effect then dictatorship. The laws passed were greatly in favor of those leaders and people’s interests were no represented.

In Western Europe feudalism (superiority based on ownership) had been changed and crashed but the nobles still enjoyed many privileges. In central and Eastern Europe feudalism existed and the nobles enjoyed a lot of privileges at the expense of other classes.

There was a constitutional monarchy in England where the aristocrats (kings) shared political power with other groups of people. There were also republics in the city states of Geneva, Genoa, Venice faithfully there were elective monarchy in the Papal States.

Social conditions

Socially European states were organized into social classes based on birth. There were majorly 2 classes i.e. the privileged and then unprivileged class.

The privileged class constituted the noble and the clergy who enjoyed a lot of privileges e.g. exemption from taxes, enjoyed the top posts in the civil service, the government, church and the army. This class owned the land and over taxed the unprivileged people.

The unprivileged class included the middle class and the peasants. The middle class who were called the Bourgeoisie consisted of traders, teachers lawyers, Doctors, journalists etc. They were rich and intellectually superior to the nobles and the clergy. But enjoyed no political right and were discriminated from public offices. This class was bigger in France and Britain but very small in Russia and Austrian empire.

The peasants constituted the biggest percentage of over 90% of European population and lived in rural areas. They lived in a worst life compared to all other classes. They were poor, ignorant, employed on land and over taxed by the clergy and nobles.

However their economic and social conditions varied from one part of Europe to another. They were better off in England and worse off in Russia. Serfdom existed in Eastern Europe these were worse than the peasants and always worked for their landlords.

Religiously, Christianity was the foundation of European societies where protestant and catholic religions prevailed. Protestant prevailed in countries like England, Denmark, part of German land and Scotland in Northern Europe. While states like Spain, France, Austrian empire, Italy and Poland were Roman Catholics.

In Eastern Europe the Orthodox Church was predominate especially in Russia and Islam dominated the Turkish Empire which extended deep into Central Europe. There was also minority Jews.

It should be noted that the religion and the state was not separable, they were working together and every European state had an established church where the believers of other religions were not tolerated. The religious minorities were persecuted and discriminated...
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