French revolution chronology

The Estates General Meeting

The Estates General meeting of 1789 was a crucial event of the French Revolution.

The Estates General meeting

Meeting of The Estates General.

What is the Estates General meeting ?

The Estates General stemmed from a meeting that reunited an equal number of representatives from each Estate to solve this serious political crisis.

Everyone met at the Palace of Versailles to debate some major problems.

The Third Estate's request

The Third Estate knew that this couldn't serve them as the First and the Second Estate, which represented only 3% of the population, would be able to vote every time against them. They decided to ask for double representation. Necker supported this initiative, which increased his popularity significantly. On December 1788, the double representation of the Third Estate was granted by royal decree.

The Estates General meeting opening

On May 5th, 1789 the Estates General were opened by the King. The Third Estate was represented by Maximilien de Robespierre, a young and promising lawyer from the North of France. Robespierre was dedicated to the defense of the rights of the poor and vulnerable.

The Estates General Meeting Opening

The Estates General Opening in Versailles on May 5th, 1789.

The Estates General meeting was a huge opportunity for the poorest people of the Third estate to finally be heard by the King. The double representation was seen as a huge victory and a hope for a change was growing.

On the first days of the meeting, the King and his delegates announced the principles of the meeting and the Third Estate discovered that the double representation was in fact a sham. It was decided that the votes will be hold by orders, 1 vote for each estate and not by head. The double representation was a fallacy.

Louis XVI and his advisors focused on a complete overhaul of the French tax system. They exposed their view while the only preoccupation of the Third Estate was to talk about their representation. According the Necker, the only solution to the financial crisis was to make all the people of France pay the taxes, no matter what estate they were from. At the time, only the third estate was subject to the taxes. The Nobility was taking care of the lands and the Clergy was responsible of the people's education. Their argument was that their action was a huge benefit to society and should therefore be exempt from paying taxes. But obviously, the King's decision was heavily rejected by the Nobility. Louis XVI faced a huge resistance from his own group who wouldn't accept any loss of wealth or power. He was heavily criticized by the Nobility who pictured him as a stupid, nerdy man with a way of governing the country that was full of nonsense.

The revolt of the Third Estate

Meanwhile, the Third Estate, fed up with the King's decisions decided to constitute themselves as the National Assembly. It was aimed at representing the three Estates but without the supervision of the King. They called for the two other orders to join them.

The end of the Estates General meeting and the Tennis Court Oath

The Tennis Court Oath

The Tennis Court Oath or "le Serment du Jeu de Paume" in French. Source:Painted by Jacques Louis David in 1791.

Afraid of losing it all and to be completely disgraced by his own supporters, Louis XVI canceled the Estates General meeting. This was a very important decision that changed the course of French political system forever.

The newly created assembly led by Robespierre, Mirabeau and Sieyes decided to meet in another part of the castle. During the Tennis Court Oath (June 20th, 1789), they decided to write France a constitution. This was the second stage of the revolution.

The King initially opposed this development, but had no choice but to acknowledge the authority of the assembly, which renamed itself the National Constituent Assembly on July 9th, 1789.