The French Revolution is not only a significant event in the history of Europe but of the entire world. Before the outbreak of the French Revolution, the political, social, and economic conditions were bad, but no revolution in the world ever takes place for any single cause.
Even a number of ordinary reasons do not suffice as contributing to the outbreak of revolution. There must be a set of some vital causes at the back of every revolution.
The fire of revolution smoldered slowly for a long time and ultimately flared up. A prominent scholar has observed in this connection:
"The French Revolution sprang from a combination of intellectual ferment and material grievances; and it was the intellectual ferment that made material grievances more fiercely resented."
The following chief causes were responsible for the outbreak of t revolution in France:
The Autocracy of the Kings
The autocratic form of the government was prevalent in France the eve of French on Revolution. The kings regarded themselves as 'Representatives of God on Earth' and ruled over their subjects without any check of restraint.
The will of the kings was law. No judicial enquirywas essential for the imprisonment of an individual. Persons like Voltaire and Mirabeau became the victims of the authority contained in the letters de cachet.
Owing to being absolute authority the kings had not called any meeting of the Estates General for the last 175 years. Appointment of officers and their termination was their sole right.
There was no definitepolicy of the nation and everywhere signs of chaos and confusion could be seen. The Bourbon rulers failed to control the state affairs properly with the result that people began to lose their faith in the king and wanted to end once and for all the absolute power of the king.
The French administration was not being properly carried on. It was a hotbed of favouritism and nepotism. The prize posts were reserved for the aristocrats and the nobles, no matter, if they did not possess the required qualifications.
All the important offices were given to the highest bidders. Though there was a governor in each province, yet these governors had no legislature, or councils. Similarly, the Municipalities and the Corporations also differed in their way of working from one to the other.
In the same way, various laws were in operation. What was lawful in one town might be illegal in the other town. C.D. Hazen has also written about it:
"What was lawful in one town might be illegal in a place not five miles distant. Almost four hundred bodies of law were in force in different parts of Europe."
Lack of Efficiency in the Administration
During the reign of Louis XIV France was famous in the entire Europe for its efficient administration but after his death no able and powerful ruler ascended the throne. Louis XV was spendthrift and foolish.
He proved to be a drain on the finances of France. Some American and Indian colonies slipped away from the grip of France due to the stupidity of Louis XV.
The Seven Years' War proved fatal for the prestige and finances of France. It not only exhausted royal treasury but also affected the honour of France adversely.
The king and the queen spent a lot on their luxuries. The courtiers also followed in the footsteps of their sovereign. Thus the expenditure of the royal court crossed all limits. The king lived in Versailles along with his family and the courtiers were completely drowned in the luxuries.
It was situated 12 miles away from Paris. A great number of servants were employed by the king and about 1500 beautiful and select horses were always kept ready in the royal stable.
Crores of francs were spent for the maintenance of the luxurious mansions. Historians are of the opinion that the extravagance of the king and queen was responsible for emptying the royal coffers. He did not cut his coat according to his cloth.
The Power of the Court
On the eve of the French Revolution there were about seventeen courts of law in France. No book of law was available for the guidance of the judges, but in each court there was a register of laws.
The laws were made by the will of the king. About 400 different types of laws were in force in France. What was applicable at one place might not be in force at another place.
Thus the laws in France did not have universality and their applicability differed from place to place.
Disability and Unworthiness of the Rulers
The French monarchy had become completely immoral and corrupt during the reign of Louis XVI. There was a countrywide discontentment and dejection in France due to the evil deeds of the king. Robertson has written:
"Louis XVI was one of the least kingly figures who ever wore a crown. He was slow-witted, sleepy, self-indulgent and with no interest but hunting, shooting, love-making and the theatre."
He was greatly influenced by his queen who herself was a spendthrift lady with no love for the country. The king was merely a rubber stamp in the hands of his queen. He failed to bring about reform due to her evil influence.
Consequently the fire of revolution went on smouldering within the country. If Louis XVI had exercised his mind and did something for the good of the people, the current of revolution should have been slowed down, if not completely stemmed.
Burden of Taxes
The general masses had to pay 80% of their income in taxation. They were not only groaning under the burden of these heavy taxes but also compelled to lead a very miserable life.
The members of the royal family, the nobles and the upper clergy, who were the wealthiest persons in the French society, were -exempted from all taxes. Moreover privileged classes, instead of paying any tax to the government, used realise taxes from the commoners.
Apart from the royal taxes, peasantry had to pay various kinds of taxes to the church and the clergy. The nobles and lords also forced them to offer gifts and presents commoners also had to do forced labour on the estates of the nobles they got nothing for it.
Hence, there was a feeling of discontentment resentment amongst the masses against the contemporary ruler and officials and they wished from the core of their heart that the present form of government should be replaced forthwith so that they might heave a sigh of relief.
Character of Queen
Marie Antoinette, the queen of Louis XVI was the daughter of Maria Theresa, the queen of Austria and sister of Joseph II, the emperor of Austria. She was very beautiful and luxury-loving lady and exercised a great influence upon her husband.
She was an extravagant lady squandered a lot of money even when she was in the know of deteriorating economic condition of France. Robertson has remarked about her character:
"Marie Antoinette was that ignorant, frivolous and prodigal daughter of the Hapsburgs to whom France seemed only a bottomless purse to be drained for her pleasures."
Grant and temporally have also written about her:
"His wife Marie Antoinette was an Austrian princess, the daughter of Maria Theresa, a kind-hearted, brilliant and really beautiful woman. Her Austrian origin was a disaster both to herself and her husband. It made her unpopular in the country, when France again came into antagonism with Austria."
During the revolution she was constantly condemned as the Austrian woman.
In fact Marie Antoinette's influence proved to be very dangerous for her husband and France both. Thus, the political causes contributed much to the outbreak of the revolution.