Many factors led to the revolution; to some extent the old order succumbed to its own rigidity in the face of a changing world; to some extent, it fell to the ambitions of a rising bourgeoisie, allied with aggrieved peasants and wage-earners and with individuals of all classes who were influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment. As the revolution proceeded and as power devolved from the monarchy to legislative bodies, the conflicting interests of these initially allied groups would become the source of conflict and bloodshed.
Certainly, all of the following must be counted among the causes of the revolution:
Resentment of royal absolutism.
Resentment of the seigneurial system by peasants, wage-earners, and a rising bourgeoisie.
The rise of enlightenment ideals.
An unmanageable national debt, both caused by and exacerbating the burden of a grossly inequitable system of taxation.
Food scarcity in the years immediately before the revolution.
Prelude, 1770s -1787: Financial Crisis
It all started when French king Louis XVI faced a crisis in the royal finances. The French crown, which was fiscally one and the same as the French state, was deep in debt. During the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI several different ministers, most notably Turgot, unsuccessfully proposed to revise the French tax system to tax the nobles. Such measures encountered consistent resistance from the parlements (law courts), which the nobility dominated.
Because the need to raise taxes placed the king at odds with the established nobility, his finance ministers were were typically, to use FranÃ§ois Mignet’s term, “rising men”1