The French Revolution and Napoleon193SETTING THE STAGEIn the 1700s, France was considered the most advanced country of Europe. It was the center of the Enlightenment. It had a large populationand a prosperous foreign trade. France’s culture was widely praised and emulated bythe rest of the world. However, the appearance of success was deceiving. Therewas great unrest in France, caused by high prices, high taxes, and disturbingquestions raised by the Enlightenment ideas of Rousseau and Voltaire.The Old RegimeIn the 1770s, the system of feudalism left over from the MiddleAges—called the Old Regime—remained in place. The people ofFrance were still divided into three large social classes, or estates.The Privileged EstatesTwo of the estates had privileges, including access to high offices and exemptions from paying taxes,that were not granted to the members of the third.The Roman Catholic Church, whose clergy formed the FirstEstate, owned 10 percent of the land in France. It provided educationand relief services to the poor and contributed about 2 percent of itsincome to the government.The Second Estate was made up of rich nobles, much of whose wealthwas in land. Although they made up only 2 percent of the population, the noblesowned 20 percent of the land and paid almost no taxes. The majority of the clergy and the nobility scorned Enlightenment ideas as radical notions that threatened their status and power as privileged persons.The Third EstateAbout 98 percent of the people belonged to the Third Estate. Thethree groups that made up this estate differed greatly in their economic conditions.The first group—the bourgeoisie (BUR•zhwah•ZEE)—were merchants and artisans.They were well-educated and believed strongly in the Enlightenment ideals of libertyand equality. Although some of the bourgeoisie were as rich as nobles, they paid hightaxes and lacked privileges like the other members of the Third Estate. Many felt thattheir wealth entitled them to a greater degree of social status and political power.The workers of France’s cities—cooks, servants, and others—formed the secondgroup within the Third Estate, a group poorer than the bourgeoisie. Paid low wagesand frequently out of work, they often went hungry. If the cost of bread rose, mobs of these workers might attack carts of grain and bread to steal what they needed.Peasants formed the largest group within the Third Estate—more than 80 percentof France’s 26 million people. Peasants paid about half their income in dues to nobles,tithes to the church, and taxes to the king’s agents. They even paid taxes on such basicstaples as salt. Peasants joined the urban poor in resenting the clergy and the noblesfor their privileges and special treatment. The heavily taxed and discontented ThirdEstate was eager for change.