Tax System

The French tax system was highly complex and inefficient. All taxes were collected by the Farmers General excluding the tithe which was collected by the Church, and feudal dues were collected by bailiffs representing the seigneurs (landlords). This collection system was highly corrupt, with those in the Farmers General significantly profiting from their position. This meant that the French Treasury was getting minimal amounts of the taxes that it was charging its people.


  Type Payable By Exempt
Taille Direct tax on land or income All citizens (excluding military) Nobles, clergy
Capitation Fixed sum paid to the government All citizens (Most nobles and clergy evaded it)
Vingtième Wartime income tax representing one-twentieth of annual earnings All citizens (Most nobles and clergy evaded it)
Corvée 15 days unpaid labour to repair roads All able-bodied men Nobles, clergy, townspeople, postmasters, country school teachers, shepherds
Tithe Contribution of 8% of income to the Church All citizens (excluding clergy) (Most nobles evaded it)
Gabelle Salt tax All citizens buying salt Four provinces (~3.3 million people)
Octroi Tax on goods taken to market Merchants
Aides Drinks tax, especially wine All citizens buying wine and drinks Some provinces
Traites Goods transportation tax Merchants


All landless peasants also had to pay feudal dues and rights to their landlords. Feudal dues included the cens, an annual tax paid to the landlord, and the champart, a proportion of annual crops that needed to be given to the landlord. These peasants also had to pay fees to use particular facilities such as the oven, mill and press, in order to make flour, bread and wine.

Overall, peasants paid out about 60% their meagre income in taxes and dues, while the Church paid no taxes save for the optional don gratuit to the King and the nobility also did not pay any taxes except for some who paid the taille and the vingtième.

In the second half of the 18th century, landlords exploited these feudal rights and dues, meaning they tried to extract maximum revenue from their peasants, further burdening them. This period was termed the ‘Seigneurial Reaction’ as this more business-like attitude was a response to the poor economic conditions in France at the time, and nobles relied on this increased feudal due income to enable them to continue living their lavish lifestyles, which were otherwise endangered.


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