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The Abolition of Feudalism

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The Abolition of Feudalism

On August 4, the National Assembly Gathered and agreed to abolish the feudal system in France. The National Assembly wanted to end the unrest and violence in the countryside. Why were the peasants being violent? What was the National Assembly, and why did it care about the feudal system? Let's dive into the Abolition of Feudalism and find out.

What was Feudalism?

Feudalism was a complicated system of power. Often we think of a king as an absolute monarch, and everyone in the land is loyal to him. That is not quite right. The king and the nobles had a sort of power exchange. The system was very complicated so let's simplify it a little bit!

Abolition of Feudalism Feudalism, Chart, StudySmarter

Feudalism Pyramid System. Source: Studysmarter Originals (by S. Oxendine).

The king had all of the lands in the kingdom. He gave land to the nobles in exchange for their loyalty. Should he need it, the nobles would provide soldiers and knights to fight for the king. The Nobles then gave land to vassals who would provide military service to the nobles. The vassals protected peasants and allowed them to live on the land in exchange for services and food. This system was passed down from parent to child.

If your father were a landlord, you would inherit his landholdings and peasants. You would become a landlord. If your father was a peasant, then you were a peasant.

Abolition of the Feudalism Before 1791

Kings stopped relying on feudalism and nobles to provide their armies around 1300. Instead, kings used armies of trained soldiers that they paid for. These soldiers were loyal to the king, not the nobles. Peasants still had to pay rent to the landlords and taxes levied on them by the king.

The Abolition of Feudal System in France

Abolition of Feudalism, Painting of Louis XVI, StudySmarter

Louis XVI. Source: Wikimedia Commons, Cropped: S. Oxendine.

From April 19, 1775, to September 3, 1783, the United States of America fought the Revolutionary War against Great Britain. France loaned America a great deal of money to fund the war. The French king, Louis XVI, borrowed money loaned to America from bankers. This put a heavy strain on the French economy, so Louis increased the taxes on the French people.

The only problem there was that the peasants were the only ones who paid taxes. Taxation excluded nobles and clergy from taxation. Bad weather and a poor harvest caused France to enter a famine. Due to inflation, food prices increased as the people were heavily taxed. Meanwhile, Louis appeared to live a comfortable life in the Palace of Versailles. These were all factors that played a part in starting the French Revolution through unrest amongst the peasant population.

Abolition of the Feudal System: French Revolution

Term
Definition
Estates-General
Legislative French body that consisted of three states
First State
Clergy
Second State
Nobility
Third State
Everyone else, the largest of all the states

Louis called the Estates-General intending to tax the previously exempt first and second states. Each state received one vote even though the third state represented far more people. The first and second states teamed up to vote against Louis' taxation and to gain more power for themselves. The third state had enough and left to form the National Assembly to create a constitution.

Storming the Bastille

French revolutionaries feared the king might send the military to squash their rebellion. They decided to raid the Bastille, which housed ammunition and weapons that could supply the revolution. On July 14, the Bastille was attacked, and the Bastille's Governor, Bernard-René Jourdan de Launay, was forced to surrender. The revolutionaries got the weapons and ammunition they wanted and freed the prisoners.

Abolition of Feudalism, Painting of the Storming Bastille, StudySmarter

Storming the Bastille. Source: Flickr.

The Great Fear

Storming the Bastille led to a rise in violent sentiment in rural France. Peasants who didn't want to pay unfair taxes on their land armed themselves with pitchforks. Some even chased their landlords away. The National Assembly needed to act quickly to end this wave of violence amongst the peasants.

Reason for Abolition of Feudalism in France

The National Assembly understood that something drastic had to be done to end the violence in rural France. The solution was to abolish feudalism partially, so the assembly met on the night of August 4. That night the assembly found itself in a battle to see who could sacrifice more. The first duke went forward to denounce feudalism partially, but the next lord outdid him and denounced feudalism resolutely.

Lords renounced rights like claiming the first harvest, taxation on hunting grounds, keeping doves, and more. Not only did the lords renounce their rights but the church would no longer have a mandatory tithe. Government offices would no longer be passed from father to son. Priests would be paid by the assembly and not the people.

Article One. The National Assembly hereby completely abolishes the feudal system. It decrees that, among the existing rights and dues… shall be abolished without indemnification. All other dues are declared redeemable, the terms and mode of redemption to be fixed by the National Assembly. Those of the said dues which are not extinguished by this decree shall continue to be collected until indemnification shall take place."

–August 4 Decree

Over the next few days, the National Assembly would turn the Declarations of August 4 into decrees. Some peasants were happy with this new structure, but others were upset. Peasants were furious that the champart tax had not been abolished. They felt that the assembly did not go far enough.

Champart was a tax that people who cultivated land had to pay landowners. The tax was a portion of what was harvested from the land. If someone wanted to stop paying champart, they had town the land. For many peasants, that was not something that they could afford.

What happened to the feudal system after the French Revolution?

Napoleon Bonaparte left the rulings on feudalism intact when he took over France. The emperor spread the National Assemblies' abolition of feudalism. When a new territory was conquered and added to the empire, Napoleon erased the remnants of its feudal system.

The French monarchy was restored in 1814 upon Napoleon's exile. The monarchy made no attempts to restore the feudal system. They understood the power that they gained over nobles by keeping it in place. The abolished feudal system even became a part of Napoleon's legacy.

Abolition of Feudalism in France

The abolition of feudalism in France was met with mixed reactions. The National Assembly would abolish the remaining pieces of feudalism in 1790, which would end the Great Fear. Feudalism in France had ended centuries prior, so it was difficult for the assembly to know what to and what not to abolish to appease the peasants.

This historic debacle shows the relationship between peasants and the government. The peasants did not have much power but through their violence and unrest across the countryside, the National Assembly was given reason to give in to the needs of the commoners.

The Abolition of Feudalism - Key takeaways

  • The Storming of the Bastille led to the Great Fear
  • The Great Fear led the National Assembly to abolish feudalism
  • The National Assembly abolished feudalism on August 4, 1789
    • Some peasants believed that this was good
    • Others believed it was not enough
  • The Great Fear ended in 1790 when feudalism was fully abolished.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Abolition of Feudalism

The abolition of feudalism was when feudalism was abolished by the National Assembly on August 4, 1789.

Feudalism was abolished by the National Assembly on August 4, 1789.

The National Assembly abolished feudalism to restore peace with the rural French commoners.

The abolition of feudalism meant that commoners did not have to pay lords to live and work on the lord's property. 

The abolition of feudalism took place in France.

Final The Abolition of Feudalism Quiz

Question

In a feudal system what did peasants supply?

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Answer

Labor and food

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Question

Who was king during the French Revolution?

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Answer

Louis XVI

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Question

Why did the National Assembly form?

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Answer

They were tired of being outvoted by states that represented less of the population. 

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Question

Who was the Second State made of?

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Answer

Nobles

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Question

What incident led to the Great Fear?

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Answer

Storming the Bastille

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Question

Who caused unrest in the Great Fear?

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Answer

Peasants

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Question

Which of these was not abolished in the August Fourth Decree?

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Answer

Champart

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Question

____ was a tax that people who cultivated land had to pay landowners. 

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Answer

Champart

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Question

What year was abolition of feudalism completed in France?

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Answer

1790

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Question

Peasants felt that the August Fourth Decrees were perfect.

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Answer

True

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