On the eve of Revolution, France had 34 provinces, and fifteen provincial parlements administering and upholding over 300 ‘customary law’ jurisdictions, often to the point of obstructing the efforts of the king and his ministers to achieve reform. The most glaring area in which this obtained was taxation, from which both the nobility and clergy were exempt, with many of them luxuriating in ostentatious wealth. By the 1780s, finding himself in debt after intervening in a number of foreign wars (ironically, including support for the American Revolution), Louis XVI needed to increase taxes, but was blocked by elite self-interest. Meanwhile, attempts to clip the powers of the parlements were resisted both by the landed gentry who monopolized them and the bourgeoisie and peasantry, seeing a pretext for tyranny. A failed grain harvest in 1788 led to widespread peasant unrest, followed by the declaration by the Third Estate (the commoners) of their own National Constituent Assembly: the Revolution was underway.
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