The 18th century French society was divided into four classes:
(i) Nobles, (ii) Clergymen, (iii) Bourgeoisie, and (iv) the third estate or Commoners.
After the royal family, the place of nobles was the most significant one in the French society. They had enough of wealth in their possession which they used to spend for their luxuries.
They lived in palatial buildings and enjoyed various privileges. They were fond of taking wine, gambling and torturing the commoners. Owing to division of property, their economic condition was worsened but they were still leading a life full of pomp and show.
The clergymen in France were also divided into two classes: (i) the upper clergy, and (ii) the lower clergy. The Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops and the Abbots formed the upper clergy while Curates, Parsons and Fryers composed the lower clergy.
The priests of upper class led a luxurious life and did nothing for the good of the public. They did not even have faith in the existence of God. Louis XVI once remarked:
“At least for Paris, we should have such an Archbishop who may have faith in the existence of God.”
The members of the lower clergy were not only educated and learned but also had firm faith in the existence of God. Apart from performing their religious duties, they used to educate the people.
The remained busy from morning till evening doing one work or the other but their income was very meager and they could hardly earn to meet the bar necessities of life.
They hated the clergymen of upper class. The inequality between the two classes created a gulf which could not b bridged.
They constituted about 85% of the total population in France. The nobles and clergymen both tortured them alike. They had to pay about 80% of their income in taxes to the government. The artisans, craftsmen, labourers and peasantry all formed the third estate.
They were exploited by the privileged class and compelled to lead a miserable life. They had to do much forced labour for the nobles and the church for which nothing was paid to them.
Their condition worsened all the more owing to the establishment of guild system. The big merchants exploited the poor labourers.
The Middle Class
The rise of the middle class is an important factor in France. They were well educated and had control over industries, factories and ban the doctors, writers, professors and big businessmen formed this class.
Thus they had intelligence and wealth both in their possession sometimes they used to lend money to the nobles; even then their status in the French society was not equal with that of the nobles and priests.
It generated a sense of discontentment in them. They took an active part in conducting the French Revolution.
Thus in the French society people were not having the right of equality. The religious freedom was also not granted to them. They were compelled to lead a life like speechless animals.
The French philosophers criticised the then prevailing condition of France and guided the general masses towards revolt against the contemporary society and the unhappy, unfreeze and unprotected people raised their voice against the tyrannical system in France and thus the death knell of monarchy began ringing in France in 1789.