Chapter 21: The French Revolution and Empire
If you compare the histories of Great Britain and France in the 16th through 18th Centuries, you see how they led to very different transitions into modernity. For Britain it was the Industrial Revolution. For France it was the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon. This is what Eric Hobsbawm called the “dual revolution.”
Today, we explore Hobsbawm further as we step over to France and see how the chaos of these years transformed the political, religious, and economic orders of Continental Europe.
Sources for this episode include:
Duncan, Mike. “Revolutions.” Season 3. 2014-2015.
Ferguson, Niall. The Accent of Money: A Financial History of the World. Penguin Books. 2008.
Hobsbawm, Eric J. The Age of Revolution: 1789-1848. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. 1962.
Satia, Priya. Empire of Guns: The Violent Making of the Industrial Revolution. Penguin Press. 2018.
Thompson, E.P. The Making of the English Working Class. Vintage. 1966.
The American Revolution had done something really astonishing. The former British subjects had went and set up a republic. And a huge republic – not some tiny city-state republic like Ancient Athens or Medieval Florence. And not a “republic” controlled by nobles like in Holland – this was a true, liberal republic with widescale democratic elections. Nobility and state religion and other feudal systems had been banned in its new, written Constitution.
And the world took note. In the years that followed, many peoples across the world would fight for that same liberty and independence.
In the Caribbean, an army of slaves led by Toussaint L'Ouverture took over the colony of Saint-Domingue and created the first free nation for Blacks in the New World: Haiti.
In Ireland, revolutionaries led by Wolfe Tone marched with pikes under the banner of the United Irishmen, to create a republic on the island free from British rule and free for Catholics and Protestants alike. Tens of thousands of them perished in the failed uprising.
In the Balkans, Karađorđe Petrović led a revolt to establish a new state of Serbia, independent from the Ottoman Empire, after failed attempts to secure religious freedom and political reform. And even though that initial uprising eventually failed, it wouldn’t be long before the Serbian nation was achieved.
And in Latin America, from Mexico to the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata, Criollos like Simón Bolívar rose up against the Spanish and Portuguese authorities to create independent American states of their own.
This was an Age of Revolution, as its been described by our old friend, the historian Eric Hobsbawm, in his 1962 book…The Age of Revolution.
But nowhere in the world, during this time, saw a more defining revolution than – of course – France.
If you haven’t heard the Chapter 21 bonus episode with Gary Girod, I hope you will listen to it. In our conversation, Gary explains the major historical developments that led up to the French Revolution.
For nearly 150 years, France had known only three kings – Louis’ XIV, XV, and XVI – and during much of that time, it had become the pre-eminent power of Europe. To achieve and maintain that hegemony, a lot of wars were fought. And since France didn’t have a Bank of England, it didn’t have a particularly good way to pay for all those wars.
By 1789, the economy was in tatters. Between the (literally) Medieval tax code, poor harvests, inflation, and demolished financial credit, two important problems came up. One: The vast majority of French people were struggling and desperate for some kind of change. Two: This economic depression made the revenue shortages worse as the kingdom was on the brink of bankruptcy.
Frustrated by the lack of progress, Louis XVI finally called for an Estates General in 1789. This was made up of the traditional three estates of France: The Roman Catholic clergy, the nobility, and everybody else (which, for all intents and purposes, meant the bourgeoisie – let’s face it, nobody cared what the landless peasants thought).
Unlike in Great Britain, France had no such thing as a legislative parliament. But an Estates General was the closest thing to one. As an advisory body, it could deliberate royal policy proposals and help craft something everyone could get behind, thus lending an air of social acceptability to the final decision.
But things quickly unraveled as the Estates General – notably, the estate of the commoners – were like “uh, you want taxes, you’re gonna have to give up some power.” The Enlightenment had given them all sorts of crazy ideas about rights and equality and stuff. In June, they declared themselves a National Assembly and demanded a written Constitution. What this meant, in effect, was that the power of the monarchy would be derived not from God, but from a Constitution – and by extension, from the people of France.
The world was never going to be the same again.
This is the Industrial Revolutions
Chapter 21: The French Revolution and Empire
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Now, if you want a complete history of the French Revolution, this is not the place to get it. I recommend checking out Season 3 of Mike Duncan’s podcast, Revolutions. He’s got like 63 episodes devoted to the nitty gritty of the topic.
Let me just give you an abbreviated overview.
Louis tried to get things under control, but by July, mobs were in the streets sacking the Bastille, killing royalists, etc. Deciding to bend – but determined not to break – to the will of the people, Louis went along with this just enough to keep things from going off the deep end.
But they just kept going farther than he wanted them to go.
In August the Assembly voted to abolish the final vestiges of feudalism, forced tithes to the church, and military privileges, legal privileges, and tax loopholes for the nobility. Then they published the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen – a sweeping framework of individual liberty and social equality. And they got working on a Constitution.
But their efforts boiled down to an Enlightened political reform package. Meanwhile, ordinary people were starving in the streets. And in this environment of revolution, they started getting testy. Meanwhile, new political clubs started forming, like the Society of the Jacobins. They wanted to see if they could maybe take the revolution a little further.
Louis, though, didn’t want any of this. In 1791, he tried to flee the country. He was caught, and soon Paris turned on the concept of monarchy altogether. By 1792 he was deposed and shortly thereafter France was declared a republic. It only got more radical from there.
In January 1793, they executed Louis, and later his wife, Marie Antionette – and then a whole lot of other people, under the Guillotine, in what came to be known as the Reign of Terror. And the revolutionary government adopted a policy of trying to eliminate Christianity from France. As all this unfolded, pretty much the rest of Europe declared war on France, and France found itself in an on-again-off-again war until 1815. Also during this time, France would go to war with itself.
Determined to prevent counter-revolution, the Committee of Public Safety ruled with an iron fist, and the sense of liberty first dreamed of in 1789 now felt distant. Eventually the de facto leader of the committee, the Jacobin Maximilien Robespierre, was finally put under the Guillotine himself. The madness of the revolution started to temper as a new legislative body – the Directory – took over.
But as it turned out, the Directory was no good at managing France – where the economic depression had never gone away, but only had other problems added to it, like bloodshed, and war, and civil war, and political turmoil, and everyone being generally angry and traumatized.
By 1799, it was decided the Directory didn’t really work, and a stronger executive was needed. So, they set up a consular system like in the ancient Roman Republic (although there’d be 3 consuls instead of 2). Critical among those consuls was a super-effective general from the French army, Napoleon Bonaparte.
Then they declared the French Revolution was over and it was time to export the revolution to the rest of Europe! With their revolutionary sister states, they continued war against the Austrians, British, and other monarchies. Napoleon eventually declared himself Emperor of a new French Empire, which (in addition to France) included modern-day Belgium, the Netherlands, western Germany, and parts of Italy – supported by satellite client states like Spain (where Napoleon’s brother was made king), Switzerland, and the rest of Germany and Italy.
But the party didn’t last forever. Stretched too thin and with enemy nations after him, Napoleon abdicated in 1814 and was exiled to Elba. But wait! Then he left Elba, snuck back onto the Continent, raised an army, and then… was defeated at Waterloo. With France having totally turned on him by this point, he abdicated a second and final time.
France returned to a monarchy, led by Louis XVI’s grandson.
…So what just happened? What was that 26 years of madness all for? That’s what I want to explore today: The big picture.
While all this revolution was happening in France and across the world, it wasn’t happening in Britain. Or was it? As Hobsbawm puts it, there was a “dual revolution.” In France it was the French Revolution, obviously. And in Britain it was the Industrial Revolution. How to explain the differences?
Well, for the purposes of this episode I’m going to look at three components of historical development: a political component, a religious component, and an economic component.
In terms of the political, France never had an English Civil War nor a Glorious Revolution. Like most of Europe, France still had an absolute monarchy – supported by and supporting a landed aristocracy. Like I mentioned earlier, there was no Parliament of the type England had. There was nothing resembling the primitive democratic order on the island to the north. Even though they fell far short of our modern notion of “free”, the British proudly considered themselves a free people, with liberty inherent in their legal rights. The same couldn’t really be said of the French.
And even though English monarchs had to put up with Magna Carta and Parliaments, while French kings had free reign, the English monarchs were way, way better at consolidating their authority within the kingdom. France’s tax code, legal system, and political order were each divided very differently town-by-town, region-by-region. The result was that in 1789, France was unable to overhaul anything without the folks it affected losing their minds. “I mean, reform is great and all, but I need my exemption from the land tax! I’ll go broke if I lose it, and anyway it’s my ancient right, damnit!”
In terms of the religious, France never had a successful Protestant Reformation. Louis XIV had pretty successfully stamped out the remaining challenge of religious disunity. The Huguenots were largely expelled. Forget the fact that there was no religious nonconformist community building capital like there was in Britain – there was no smashing of the monasteries like there had been in Britain under Henry VIII. The Catholic Church was still a major landholder in France, and thus, a significant power. And not only were they free from certain taxes, but the people were required to pay tithes to them. As a result, the church was despised by a large number of French thinkers during the Age of Enlightenment.
In terms of the economic, France never had a central bank like the one in England. Growth of industry during the past hundred years had been much smaller than in England. French economic theorists like Quesnay and the other Physiocrats overestimated the importance of agriculture and underestimated the importance of manufacturing. And yet, the vast majority of the French population was landless farm laborers struggling to get by.
And remember that stuff about agriculture in Chapter 6? No country had swung so far toward agricultural capitalism as England did. Most of Europe was still existing on something of a feudal system, in which nobles had ancient rights and responsibilities to the land – and their idea of liberty was defending those ancient rights and responsibilities from the consolidating powers of absolute monarchs.
So, combine these underlying factors with the particular circumstances leading up to 1789, and you get a very different kind of Revolution in France from the kind in Britain. So, what came next for the political order, for the religious order, and for the economic order?
“If the economy of the 19th Century world was formed mainly under the influence of the British Industrial Revolution, its politics and ideology were formed mainly by the French... to the point where a tricolour of some kind became the emblem of virtually every emerging nation... France provided the vocabulary and the issues of the liberal and radical-democratic politics for most of the world. France provided the first great example, the concept and the vocabulary of nationalism.”
That’s from the opening paragraph of Hobsbawm’s chapter on the French Revolution in The Age of Revolution.
While the American Revolution inspired others around the world to revolt, it was the French Revolution that truly informed the ideological reasoning for such actions. The ideas of “liberty” held by the North American colonists was rooted in English constitutional law, religious traditions, and social contract theory. The ideas of “liberty” in the Latin American colonies and continental Europe, were rooted in the nationalist and zealous Humanist beliefs of the French Revolution.
This is perhaps the biggest outcome of the French Revolution: Its role in the development of three new political ideologies that have come to dominate our histories up to the present day: liberalism, socialism, and nationalism.
America may have advanced liberalism in the world, but the most radically liberal Americans (like Thomas Paine) were relatively moderate compared to the French Revolutionaries and the revolutionaries they inspired the world over. The Declaration of Independence touched on liberal ideas, but it was mostly a document explaining the reasons for separation from Britain. The Declaration of the Rights of Man, however, was pure pontification.
Now, that’s a document of classical liberalism. And yet this intellectual framework couldn’t account for the economic struggles of ordinary people. Hence, a new “radical” ideology peered its head around the corner of history. It’s an ideology we could describe as proto-socialism.
As Hobsbawm puts it, “On the whole, the classical liberal bourgeois of 1789...was not a Democrat but a believer in constitutionalism, a secular state with civil liberties and guarantees for private enterprise, and government by tax-payers and property-owners.”
And yet, the Revolution never would have been possible without landless peasants struggling to pay their taxes or the urban sans-culottes starving in the midst of bad harvests. It was they who sacked the Bastille, they who pumped up the radicals of the National Assembly, and it would be they who (in 1792) cheered as the Revolution took a much more populist direction.
Of course, what I’m about to say wasn’t true in practice nearly as much as it was in theory, but broadly speaking, there was now a clear delineation between liberalism (as the progressive ideology of the bourgeoisie) and what later becomes known as socialism (as the progressive ideology of the Proletariat).
But the differences between them aside, the next hundred years was a constant struggle for both groups as they fought the forces of absolute monarchy across the Continent.
But that struggle would seldom be a cooperative one, as the two class-based ideologies became suspect of each other. The Jacobin direction of the French Revolution had been so violent, so destabilizing, that it permanently freaked out the liberal bourgeoisie across Europe. (Like, “Oh god, we can’t do that again – it got totally out of control!”) The Revolution, it seemed, went from economically secure people wanting a greater voice in politics, to poor people screaming “kill the rich.”
But the language of the revolution also used phrases like “the people” and “the nation” in such a way that the beginnings of modern nationalism came into existence. They sought national uniformity in laws and customs, and they were dedicated to defending the nation and what it stood for in the war with monarchist powers. And even though they hoped to export those revolutionary values, there was no helping that nationalism would develop a darker component too, as people not only saw the things binding them together, but also separating them from others.
We’re going to talk way more about liberalism, socialism, and nationalism down the road. But for now, let’s talk about one more political phenomenon we see come out of the French Revolution.
Once the Ancien Regime was overthrown, the forces of Europe’s monarchies went into overdrive to stop republicanism from spreading. This wasn’t just some existential threat, there were pro-Jacobin movements growing across Europe.
Between the European war, the constant political violence within France, and the economic depression that never seemed to go away, the French people must have been exhausted. So, they would look to a great military leader and political leader to get things running smoothly. Enter: Napoleon.
Napoleon was not only a great general, but a great administrator for a revolution-weary France. He was a deist and a fan of Enlightenment-era thinkers like Rousseau, so he was something of a natural revolutionary. At the same time, 10 years of revolution had been enough, and he understood how valuable a return to normalcy would be.
As a result, he inspired a new way of thinking that persisted among many people through the 19th and 20th Centuries (and arguably through today in places like China) – the Republican Dictator, the savior of the nation, the Führer. Sure, the idea of an Enlightened Despot has existed since Plato, but there was a new twist now. As many folks saw it, “The old feudal system of monarchy is totally irrelevant, but Democracy is messy and unreliable. Why not let a meritocratic autocrat take care of things?”
Napoleon also had a profound impact on the geopolitical makeup of Europe and, indeed, the world. His conquests put an end to the 800-year-old Holy Roman Empire, breaking apart the German people for decades. At the same time, he helped spread the idea of nationalism to Germany, as well as to Italy, eastern Europe, and beyond. And the revolutions in Belgium, Holland, Geneva, Haiti, and Latin America, were all the direct results of the upheaval in France (and its Spanish satellite) during this time.
The Napoleonic Wars were also so disruptive to life that European leaders were hesitant to re-create them. After hundreds of years of increasingly modern wars being waged, European powers took their foot off that gas pedal. Instead, they focused their military energies elsewhere – particularly on Africa and Asia. Nearly 100 years passed between the fall of Napoleon and the start of World War I. With a few notable exceptions, the peoples of Europe saw a lull in wars between each other during that time.
The French Revolution kick-started profound political changes across the Continent. But the religious changes it kick-started were just as profound.
Here’s another great quote from Hobsbawm:
“Religion, from being something like the sky, from which no man can escape and which contains all that is above the earth, became something like a bank of clouds, a large but limited and changing feature of the human firmament. Of all the ideological changes this is by far the most profound, though its practical consequences were more ambiguous and undetermined than was supposed. At all events, it is the most unprecedented.”
Never before had social mores been so secularized as they were during the Age of Enlightenment and Revolution. For a time, hostility to the political and economic practices of the church snowballed with the spirit of rationalism into an open hostility to religion itself.
Today, ideologies ranging from bourgeoise liberalism to revolutionary socialism are rooted in secular thought. Even though the vast majority of people remained religious into the 20th Century (and even today) – with frequent revivalist movements and whatnot – it has become a remarkably private thing. The vast majority of people may be religious, but the vast majority of society is secular.
Secularism got a nod from the English Act of Toleration of 1689. Secularism was written into the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution. And secularism was established by force in France.
As I mentioned before, the Church was unpopular there. It controlled 10% of the land (i.e. the value in the economy, according to the Physiocrats), they didn’t pay much in taxes, and everybody else was forced to pay tithes to them. And everyone knew that plenty of clergymen were not exactly religious. They always seemed to be breaking their vows of poverty and chastity. Some were believed to be outright atheists, hiding under their robes to get rich at the public expense. (Because why not?)
In the grand scheme of things, the secularization of France was very fast, but it did happen in steps.
It started with some pretty basic reforms. Well, basic for our standards. There was the abolition of forced tithes to the Church and the emancipation of Protestants and Jews. But then the National Assembly seized all assets of the Church and started selling them off. They banned monastic vows. They passed the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, in which the state would basically take over the church, which of course, the Pope didn’t agree to at all.
But when the revolution took its Jacobin turn, that’s when things started getting really crazy.
The government began a policy called de-Christianization. All Christian symbols in the public eye were to be destroyed throughout the kingdom. Priests who refused to take the Oath of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy were to be killed on sight. And new cults were established, including the Cult of Reason and the Cult of the Supreme Being.
Perhaps the most bizarre part of the Revolution came on November 10th, 1793 – sorry, that's the 20th of Brumaire in the Year II, according to the insane French republican calendar – in which a nationwide “Festival of Reason” was held as a secular religious holiday. The churches were all officially turned into “Temples of Reason” and, at Notre Dame, the alter of Christ was replaced by an alter to Liberty. Girls in white Roman dress and tricolor sashes milled around a costumed Goddess of Reason personifying liberty. (And if that’s not provocative enough for you, apparently the costume was a bit provocative in the other sense too.)
Now, to most of the country – read: rural farmers – this was insulting libertine madness coming out of the big city, and it’s a big reason the revolution struggled out in the provinces.
But even though the excesses were eventually tampered down, and then done away with, and then a process of de-de-Christianization came into effect, France was not going back to the days of the Catholic Church having all its land and power again. Eventually, the Pope had to negotiate a settlement with Napoleon. France recognized Catholicism as its majority religion, but not state religion. There would be religious freedom. France would pay clerical salaries and get the right to nominate bishops. The Pope had the right to reject or depose them. Most importantly, though, the Church gave up all claims to its previously-confiscated lands.
And the Papacy was going to need to use this arrangement as a model in the future. Because Napoleon was also conquering traditional church lands across Europe. Much like with the old feudal states, the French Revolution and Napoleon put an end to the ecclesiastical principalities of the Church – Avignon, Cologne, Mainz, Trevers, Salzburg. Only the Papal States around Rome remained.
As a result, the Catholic Church would find itself on its heels for decades to come, as the Medieval order it flourished under continued to weaken. Some pretty erratic decisions were made inside the Vatican as they lost their grip with the changing world. But we’ll get to all that later.
The fact is, the French Revolution was the start of a change for the Catholic Church, from being a European economic and political power to…well, a church.
Nowadays, when we think about the Pope, we think of an almost purely spiritual position. That did not used to be the case. For the nearly two millennia of the Papacy, it was a political role. Oh, sure, the Popes talked a lot about God – but everybody talked about God, all the time. That’s what Hobsbawm means when he says religion was like the sky.
And oh, sure, the Pope and the Cardinals still dabble in political topics – to oppose abortion, the death penalty, torture, invitro fertilization, stuff like that – and yeah, there’s still an economic component – for some reason the Vatican still has a bank that’s been in a constant state of scandal since before I was born.
But most of the time, we hear Francis talking about God and God’s love. Can you even imagine one of the Medici popes doing that in earnest? Can you imagine Francis threatening to excommunicate a Prime Minister and rally other governments to invade her country if she passes a tax bill he doesn’t like? If you can…well, then you have a pretty good sense of humor.
But it wasn’t just the Church that was freaking out in the face of change. The Continental governments of the 19th Century were terrified of a post-religious environment. Throughout the Middle Ages, peasants had dutifully accepted the poverty God assigned to them at their birth, under the rulers He had ordained for them to obey. And so, these conservative, absolute monarchist regimes did their best to preserve traditional religious observances as long as they could.
But between the growing number of secular-minded political theorists and the waves of migrations stirring the pot of denominational demographics, the effort was impossible to maintain forever. Religious emancipations became more and more common. The influence of Rome continued to decline. And secular constitutions would – one day – become the norm.
And thank God. Running an entire country on a single theology is just hard. As many as 17 million Europeans lost their lives in the civil wars fought over religion in the 16th and 17th centuries. Thanks to secularism as state policy, that stopped happening.
Anyway. What was the economic impact?
As I mentioned before, the Revolution and Napoleon freaked Europe out. And in their own unique ways, the governments of Europe made every effort to ensure it never happened again – not on their turf, anyway.
After the Napoleonic Wars, the economy in Britain contracted. Real wages had declined, and it wouldn’t be until 1821 that things start to pick back up. So, the government instituted a stimulus program, the Poor Employment Act of 1817, which invested in public works like new canals, bridges, and roads.
Now, part of this was just smart economic policy, but part of this was also a growing fear that the discontented working class might do in Britain what they did in France. For some time now, measures taken for poor relief had been on the decline in Britain. But now, the aristocracy and bourgeoisie were both reluctantly convinced to provide some social welfare to the poor. That, and build up the country’s infrastructure.
These short-term concerns aside, the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars were a massive economic triumph for Britain in the long-run. With its key economic rival effectively shooting itself in the face, Britain went on to enjoy worldwide economic dominance for the next hundred years and became widely known as the “workshop of the world.”
Of course, it started just by investing in the war effort. It took a lot of industrial-scale iron production, and manufacturing, and gunpowder mixing, and ship building to beat Napoleon.
To pay for these war-time necessities, the British took out massive loans. And so, the financiers of that war effort made a lot of money. Most famous among them was a family I will definitely spend a whole episode on in the not-too distant future: The Rothschilds. With their fortunes in hand, they were able to make investments in peacetime industrial enterprises – like the development of the railroads – across Britain and Continental Europe alike.
Also, Latin America became totally dependent on British trade during the Napoleonic Wars, as Spain was in tatters. This helped solidify the near monopoly Britain had on cotton textiles throughout the first Industrial Revolution and significantly reduced prices for commodities like sugar. It also provided a huge global market for Britain’s finished goods.
Now, there was one trend for concern. As British men were off to war against Napoleon, women and children were needed more and more in factories. And more and more factory owners went on to say, “You know what? Why not just keep the women and children? They don't get drunk, they don't complain so much about wages, it’s just good business.”
In France, meanwhile, the chaos was catastrophic to the already dire economy. What little industrialization there was in this massive country took a definite hit. Manufacturing growth in Rouen dropped by nearly two-thirds. The number of industrial workers fell from nearly a quarter million to 86,000.
And I’ve already told you the impact of the French Revolution on industrialists like the DuPonts, Nicolas LeBlanc, Marc Isambard Brunel, the Marque de Jouffroy d'Abbans, and perhaps a few others I’m forgetting. The impact was bad.
There was one interesting development though: Within a few months of the Revolution, French treasury bonds began circulating in the economy as paper currency – similar to the bank notes in Britain, the Netherlands, and the new United States.
Now, due to the never-ending problems with inflation in France during the Revolution, the experience left the French people with a longtime distrust of paper currency. But, as the armies of France spread across Europe for the next two decades, they spread the concept of paper money with them. And, generally speaking, the experiences other Europeans had with their own paper currencies were better.
As Napoleon marched across Europe, he also brought the new French legal code with him. The conquered nations were forced to adopt it and forced to officially end all remaining vestiges of feudalism. No more ancient rights for nobles, no more incoherent governance, etc. Only in Russia and the Ottoman Empire – both of which Napoleon failed to bring into his orbit – did these feudal traditions survive.
But after Napoleon fell, nobody bothered to bring those vestiges back – because why would they? The world was changing. They knew it. Everybody knew it. If it took three decades of French chaos to get the job done, well, three decades of French chaos got the job done. What remained was a battle between the absolute monarchists (as the powers of the state) up against the liberal and radical orders of the day.
This had a profound impact on the agricultural sector. Lands were no longer held by noble right and responsibility; they were now commodities that could be bought and sold by owners.
In Prussia, for example, the old feudal landlords were simply turned into capitalist farmers and their serfs were turned into hired field laborers. In this way, the British model (broadly speaking) of market-based agriculture had been adopted on the Continent. In time, they would feel the effects of something similar to the enclosure movement and Agricultural Revolution. Agricultural efficiency increased greatly. So too did rural poverty and anxiety as the social order the peasants had known for centuries very suddenly evaporated.
To some extent, these reforms were already underway in much of Europe, such as in Austria. But between the forced changes of law due to French invasion and the voluntary changes inspired by success in Great Britain, the feudal agricultural model was now dying fast.
It occurred to me, while writing this episode, that I was structuring it on the ideas of the old French Estates. Back in the Middle Ages, the First Estate was the church, the clergy, those who prayed. The Second Estate was the nobility, the warrior class, those who fought. The Third Estate was the commoners, the rural farmers and urban craftspeople, those who worked.
The political component corresponds to those who fought. The Napoleonic Wars, like all wars leading up to them, remade the political map through warfare, through fighting. And what was so revolutionary about this war was that it was commoners leading the fight. The old nobility had been taken down a notch.
The religious component obviously corresponds to those who prayed. The Revolution and Napoleon had begun to change the role of the Church across Europe. The power of the Church was weakened. The clergy was humbled.
The economic component, meanwhile, corresponds to those who worked. The commoners were, for the first time, coming into their own, claiming power – not just in Britain where the process had been peaceful and through industry, but now on the Continent, where the process had been bloody and through struggle.
So, in the aftermath of the French chaos, those who fought and those who prayed had their wings clipped. But those who worked – the enterprising bourgeoisie and the burgeoning Proletariat – they were just getting started. And they would bring that industrializing effort (so long successful in Britain) to the Continent. Next week on the Industrial Revolutions.
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