A common depiction of the third Estate shouldering the heavy burden the the various other two Estates

Before the revolution, French culture was divided into 3 orders or estates of the kingdom – the an initial Estate (clergy), 2nd Estate (nobility) and 3rd Estate (commoners). With about 27 million people or 98 per cent the the population, the third Estate was by far the largest of the three – however it was politically invisible and also wielded small or no influence on the government.

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As might be expected in together a sizeable group, the third Estate boasted substantial diversity. Over there were numerous different classes and levels that wealth; various professions and also ideas; rural, provincial and also urban citizens alike.

Members the the 3rd Estate ranged indigenous lowly beggars and struggling peasants to metropolitan artisans and labourers; from the shopkeepers and also commercial middle classes to the country wealthiest merchants and capitalists.

Despite the 3rd Estate’s substantial size and economic importance, the played practically no role in the federal government or decision-making that the Ancien Regime. The frustrations, grievances and also sufferings of the 3rd Estate became pivotal causes of the French Revolution.

The peasantry

Peasants inhabited the bottom tier that the Third Estate’s social hierarchy. Comprising in between 82 and 88 every cent that the population, peasant-farmers to be the nation’s poorest society class.

While level of wealth and income varied, that is reasonable to suggest that most French peasants to be poor. A very tiny percentage the peasants owned land in their own right and were able come live separately as yeoman farmers. The vast majority, however, were either feudal tenants, métayers (tenant sharecroppers who functioned someone else’s land) or journaliers (day labourers who sought job-related where they could find it).

Whatever their an individual situation, all peasants were heavily taxed by the state. If they to be feudal tenants, peasants were also required to pay dues to their local seigneur or lord. If lock belonged come a parish, as many did, castle were meant to salary an yearly tithe come the church.

These duties were hardly ever relaxed, even during complicated periods such as poor harvests, when countless peasants were driven to the brink the starvation.

Urban commoners

Other members of the third Estate lived and also worked in France’s towns and cities. While the 18th century to be a period of industrial and urban development in France, many cities remained comparatively small. Over there were just nine French cities with a populace exceeding 50,000 people. Paris, with around 650,000, to be by far the largest.

Most commoners in the towns and also cities made your living as merchants, expert artisans or unskilled workers. Artisans operated in industries like textiles and also clothing manufacture, upholstery and also furniture, clock making, locksmithing, leather goods, carriage making and also repair, carpentry and masonry.

A couple of artisans operated your own company but most functioned for huge firms or employers. Prior to doing company or obtaining employment, an artisan had to belong to the guild that managed and regulated his certain industry.

Unskilled labourers worked as servants, cleaners, hauliers, water carriers, washerwomen, hawkers – in short, anything that did not call for training or member of a guild. Numerous Parisians, maybe as numerous as 80,000 people, had actually no task at all: they survived by begging, scavenging, petty crime or prostitution.

Parisian prostitutes being rounded up and also taken to prison in the 1740s

The daunting 1780s

The lives of urban workers became increasingly complicated in the 1780s. Parisian employees toiled for meagre wages: in between 30 and 60 sous a work for professional labourers and also 15-20 sous a day for the unskilled. Wages increased by about 20 every cent in the 25 years before 1789, yet prices and rents raised by 60 every cent in the same period.

The negative harvests the 1788-89 thrust Parisian employees to the brink by driving up bread prices. In early on 1789, the price of a four-pound bread of bread in Paris enhanced from nine sous come 14.5 sous, nearly a full day’s salary for most unskilled labourers.

Low pay and high food prices were compounded through the miserable living conditions in Paris. Accommodation in the funding was for this reason scarce the workers and their households crammed right into shared attics and also dirty tenements, many rented from unscrupulous landlords.

With rental fees running at several sous a day, most workers economised by sharing accommodation. Countless rooms housed between six and ten people, though 12 come 15 per room was no unknown. Conditions in these tenements were cramped, unhygienic and uncomfortable. There to be no heating, pipes or usual ablutions. The toilet facilities were typically an exterior cesspit or open up sewer if water was fetched by hand indigenous communal wells.

The affluent bourgeoisie

An wealthy member that the bourgeoisie, through his cane, breeches and tricorn hat

Not every members the the 3rd Estate were impoverished. In ~ the apex the the third Estate’s social hierarchy was the bourgeoisie or capitalist center classes.

The bourgeoisie were company owners and professionals with sufficient wealth to live comfortably. Similar to the peasantry, there was likewise diversity within their ranks.

The so-called petit bourgeoisie (‘petty’ or ‘small bourgeoisie‘) were small-scale traders, landlords, shopkeepers and managers. The haute bourgeoisie (‘high bourgeoisie‘) were wealthy merchants and traders, early american landholders, industrialists, bankers and financiers, tax farmers and trained professionals, such together doctors and also lawyers.

The bourgeoisie flourished during the 1700s, due in component to France’s financial growth, modernisation, boosted production, imperial expansion and also foreign trade. The haute bourgeoisie increased from the center classes to become independently wealthy, well-educated and ambitious.

Political aspirations

As their wealth raised so did their desire because that social status and political representation. Countless bourgeoisie craved entry right into the second Estate. They had money come acquire the costumes and also grand residences of the noble classes yet lacked their titles, privileges and also prestige. 

A system of venality developed that permitted the wealthiest that the bourgeoisie to buy their method into the nobility, though by the 1780s this was becoming more challenging and frightfully expensive.

The thwarted social and political ambitions that the bourgeoisie led to substantial frustration. The haute bourgeoisie had come to be the financial masters that the nation, yet government and policy continued to be the domain the the royalty and their noble favourites.

The revolutionary bourgeoisie

Many educated bourgeoisie uncovered solace in knowledge tracts, which tested the foundation of autarchic power and argued that federal government should it is in representative, accountable and also based on famous sovereignty.

When Emmanuel Sieyes released What is the 3rd Estate? in January 1789, it struck a chord v the self-important bourgeoisie, plenty of of whom thought themselves entitled to a hand in government.

What is the third Estate? was no the just expression of this idea; there to be a flood of comparable pamphlets and essays roughly the country in early 1789. As soon as these files spoke that the 3rd Estate, however, they advert chiefly to the bourgeoisie – not to France’s 22 million rural peasants, landless labourers or metropolitan workers.

When the bourgeoisie dreamy of representative government, it to be a government that represented the propertied great only. The peasants and urban workers were politically invisible to the bourgeoisie – simply as the bourgeoisie was chin politically invisible come the Ancien Régime.

A historian’s view:“The social structure on the europe continent still bore an aristocratic imprint, the legacy of an era when, because land was practically the sole source of wealth, those who owned the assumed all rights over those who operated it… virtually the whole populace was lumped into a ‘third order’, referred to as in France the third Estate. Aristocratic prerogatives condemned this stimulate to continue to be eternally in its original state the inferiority. throughout … France, this notified of culture was tested by a long-term readjust which enhanced the prominence of mobile wealth and also the bourgeoisie, and highlighted the leading function of productive labour, inventive intelligence and scientific knowledge.”Georges Lefebvre


1. The third Estate contained approximately 27 million people or 98 every cent the the nation. This contained every French human being who go not have a noble location or was not ordained in the church.

2. The countryside peasantry consisted of the largest part of the third Estate. Most peasants operated the land together feudal tenants or sharecroppers and were compelled to pay a range of taxes, tithes and also feudal dues.

3. A lot smaller section of the 3rd Estate were skilled and also unskilled city workers, life in cities prefer Paris. They were poorly paid, live in difficult conditions and also were pressured by climbing food prices.

4. In ~ the pinnacle the the 3rd Estate to be the bourgeoisie: successful business owners that ranged from the comfortable middle class to extremely wealthy merchants and landowners.

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5. Regardless of their property and also wealth, members of the 3rd Estate were subject to inequitable taxation and were politically disregarded through the Ancien Régime. This exclusion added to rising revolutionary emotion in the so late 1780s.