Before the French revolution the House of the BourbonsThe royal Bourbons originated in 1268 and especially ruled France reigned in France ever since 1589. France became the most influential power in Europe during the reign of Louis XIVLouis XIV ruled as King of France and Navarre from 1643 until his death 1715. Even though the French language and culture became increasingly dominant Louis XIV. caused his own downfall due to the expansion of power he aimed for. Warfare and financial difficulties eventually lead to a political upheaval in 1789, terminating the era of the Ancien regime.
Louis XIV. had his expansion goals justified juristically by the so called reunion chambersThe purpose of the Chambers of Reunion was to increase French territory. According to his perception he was entitled to several regions in the Holy Roman EmpireThe Holy Roman Empire was not a national state, but a multi-ethnic complex of territories. It included especially german states that had previously been dependent from France. This eventually led to the War of Devolution, the Holland War, the Reunion wars and the palatine war of succession, during the 18th century the French hegemony slowly decayed. Especially during the Seven Year’s war France lost several colonies and was close to a national bankruptcy.
The process of enlightenment did not only jolt the political order in France but also in England, Prussia and Austria. The concept of sovereignty by god’s legitimating was increasingly doubted and the Christian beliefs challenged by science. The possibility of printing books helped to spread ideas quickly and especially well-educated citizens criticised the estate-based society and advocated the system of the sovereignty of the people. Economically mercantilismMercantilism is an economic theory and practice, dominant in Europe from the 16th to the 18th century, that promotes governmental regulation of a nation's economy for the purpose of augmenting state power was replaced by the modern system of economical liberalismEconomical liberalism means that the greatest possible number of economic decisions are made by individuals and not by collective institutions or organizations invented by Adam Smith.
The devastating defeats in several wars in the 18th century lead to an immense government debt in France. As enlightenment had brought a new consciousness to the populace a revolution was inevitable. The Estates-General were called to an assembly by Louis XVI in 1789 in order to discuss the national financial situation. This assembly was used by the, until then politically powerless, third Estate-General to express their claims for freedom and equality. Those claims led to the revolution that laid the basis for a modern, democratic government.