Revolts and Great Fear

In late July to early August 1789, following the fall of the Bastille, this revolutionary spirit spread across France as a nation.

In regional cities like Nantes and Lyon, tensions regarding food shortages and troop movements pushed people everywhere to refuse to pay any taxes or dues, as well as other violent activity such as invasions of tax offices and armouries. Indeed, local committees and National Guard units were established to support the revolutionary cause and there was no legitimate way to enforce the law or punish those responsible, as many of the King’s own troops sided with the revolutionaries. This was known as the Municipal Revolts.

In the countryside, there were similar phenomena with peasants refusing to pay any taxes, tithes or feudal dues, primarily driven by the general revolutionary ideas as well as the food shortages and poor harvests of 1788. This was known as the Rural Revolt.

This escalated in August 1789, where food shortages combined with fears of foreign intervention and aristocratic counter-revolution drove peasants to rise against their seigneurs and local governments. Here they overran the chateaux of local lords, raided grain stores and destroyed manorial rolls (known as terriers) which meant that there was no longer any record of who was bound to who. Many nobles and clergy were killed, prompting many to flee the country itself. According to the historian Lefebvre, “it provided an excellent excuse to arm the people against royal power…[and] allowed the peasantry to achieve a full realisation of its strength”. This was known as the Great Fear and had made the peasants politically active and increased the pressure for societal reform.


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