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Ancien Regime


Life and institutions of pre-Revolutionary Europe basically the same in 1750 as in 1500. Tradition, hierarchy, corporateness, and privilege still dominant.


Basic characteristics:


        Politics- ruled by absolutist monarchs. Growing bureaucracy. Aristocratically-led armies.

        Economy- Agriculture based- still predominantly traditional in methods and organization


        slow transport

        low-level iron production

        mercantilist government policies

        Only non-traditional economy in Europe even after 1750 was England.

        Society-†† Aristocratic elite revives in 18th century. Retain or gain legal privileges.

        Established Catholic and Protestant churches tied to state and aristocracy

        Urban work organized in guilds

        Rural peasantry still paid feudal dues, high taxes. Forced labor in east.

        Hierarchical society

        Corporate rights (Estate, village, guilds, parish, etc.). No individual rights.

        Limited social mobility

        Internal divisions: class conflict; no single standard of law, money, weights or



Signs of change:†† urbanization- population growth

††††††††††††††††††††††† †††† scientific agriculture

††††††††††††††††††††††† †††† new technologies- canals, roads, steam engine, use of coke

††††††††††††††††††††††† †††† scientific revolution/reformation changing ideas.


Problems in Pre-Revolutionary France


  • Strong aristocratic revival.
  • Economic crises: wars, poor tax system, company crashes, loss of colonies
  • Weak rulers- unresponsive to calls for reform.
  • Criticism and discontent accelerating by 1780ís.Philosophes, middle-class discontent, rising peasant discontent.