Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Three Estates

I'm on vacation (holiday to those of you in Europe). I should get to do some gaming in person with my far flung players instead of via video which will be a welcome treat. This post will be kind of short as a consequence of the travel.

The Three Estates

France under the Ancien Régime (before the French Revolution) divided society into three estates: the First Estate (clergy); the Second Estate (nobility); and the Third Estate (commoners). The king was considered part of no estate.

The First Estate (0.5%, 100,000; 10,000 upper clergy and 90,000 lower clergy)

The First Estate (Fr. premier état) comprised the entire clergy, traditionally divided into "higher" and "lower" clergy. Although there was no formal demarcation between the two categories, the upper clergy were, effectively, clerical nobility, from the families of the Second Estate. In the time of Louis XVI, every bishop in France was a nobleman, a situation that had not existed before the 18th century.

At the other extreme, the "lower clergy" (about equally divided between parish priests and monks and nuns) constituted about 90 percent of the First Estate, which in 1789 numbered around 130,000 (about 0.5% of the population).

Second Estate (2.0%, 400,000)

The Second Estate (Fr. deuxieme état) was the French nobility and (technically, though not in common use) royalty, other than the monarch himself, who stood outside of the system of estates.

The Second Estate is traditionally divided into "noblesse d'épée" ("nobility of the sword"), and "noblesse de robe" ("nobility of the robe"), the magisterial class that administered royal justice and civil government.

The Second Estate constituted approximately 2% of France's population. Under the ancien régime ("old rule/old government"), the Second Estate were exempt from the corvée royale (forced labour on the roads) and from most other forms of taxation such as the gabelle (salt tax) and most important, the taille (the oldest form of direct taxation). This exemption from paying taxes led to their reluctance to reform. 

Third Estate (97.5%, 19,500,000)

The Third Estate comprised all of those who were not members of the above and can be divided into two groups, urban and rural, together making up 97% of France's population. The urban included the bourgeoisie, as well as wage-labourers. The rural included free peasants (who owned their own land) who could be prosperous and villeins (serfs, or peasants working on a noble's land). The free peasants paid disproportionately high taxes compared to the other Estates and were unhappy because they wanted more rights. In addition, the First and Second Estates relied on the labour of the Third, which made the latter's unequal status all the more glaring.




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