In 1789, pre-revolutionary France was a jumble of mostly feudal lands, 80 per cent peasant, which had been acquired over preceding centuries. While French was the language of the north, in southern France many only spoke their regional language. The political and administrative structures of pre-revolutionary France were subject to the absolute rule of the monarch, with each region having its own historic and regional peculiarities. In the north, which operated on a system of unwritten feudal laws, many of the provincial capitals had either ‘Sovereign Councils’ or parliaments, modelled to resemble the Paris parliament. This was distinct from the south, which operated under shared Roman law. The parliaments, confusingly, were independent of the tax districts. These bureaucracies had become venal and hereditary, with many positions filled by nobles who were granted tax exemptions and often did little work, alienating the middle classes, rural and urban poor.
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