By Peter McPhee
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Extra resources for A Social History of France, 1789-1914: Second Edition
The spatial organization of the formal gardens and the sheer size of the 580-metre facade symbolized a royal claim of pre-eminence and authority. The third pillar of the power structure of eighteenth-century France, the monarchy, like nobles and clergy, drew its authority, influence and wealth from its control of its subjects. If its conception of the arena of state intervention was restricted essentially to the conduct of foreign policy, internal policing and the regulation of trade, the size of the state debt and the demands of sustaining the court itself had generated ever-increasing demands for revenue.
First, there was consensus that the Church was in urgent need of reform to check abuses within its hierarchy and to improve the lot of its parish clergy. Secondly, whatever the undoubtedly sincere protestations of gratitude and loyalty towards the king, his ministers were castigated for their fiscal inefficiency and arbitrary powers. The calling of the Estates-General was everywhere envisaged as a regular, periodic innovation: in a word, it was assumed, albeit implicitly, that absolute monarchy was at an end.
Ultimately, Louis’s acquiescence in the nobility’s demand for voting to be in three separate chambers galvanized bourgeois outrage. On 17 June, the third estate claimed that ‘the interpretation and presentation of the general will belong to it … . ’ Three days later, finding themselves locked out of their meeting hall, the deputies moved to an indoor royal tennis court and, with only one dissenting voice, insisted by oath on their ‘unshakeable resolution’ to continue their proceedings wherever necessary.