A common depiction of the 3rd Estate shouldering the heavy burden the the other two Estates

Before the revolution, French society was separated into three orders or chateaus of the kingdom – the very first Estate (clergy), 2nd Estate (nobility) and 3rd Estate (commoners). With approximately 27 million human being or 98 every cent that the population, the 3rd Estate to be by much the largest of the 3 – however it was politically invisible and also wielded small or no affect on the government.

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As could be expected in such a sizeable group, the third Estate boasted substantial diversity. Over there were many different classes and levels that wealth; different professions and ideas; rural, provincial and urban occupants alike.

Members that the third Estate ranged native lowly beggars and struggling peasants to metropolitan artisans and also labourers; from the shopkeepers and also commercial center classes to the country wealthiest merchants and capitalists.

Despite the third Estate’s substantial size and also economic importance, that played practically no duty in the federal government or decision-making the the Ancien Regime. The frustrations, grievances and also sufferings the the 3rd Estate came to be pivotal causes of the French Revolution.

The peasantry

Peasants lived in the bottom tier that the Third Estate’s social hierarchy. Comprising between 82 and 88 every cent the the population, peasant-farmers were the nation’s poorest society class.

While levels of wealth and income varied, that is reasonable to suggest that most French peasants to be poor. A very small percentage of peasants owned land in their very own right and also were able come live independently as yeoman farmers. The vast majority, however, were either feudal tenants, métayers (tenant sharecroppers who operated someone else’s land) or journaliers (day labourers who sought occupational where they could find it).

Whatever their personal situation, all peasants were heavily taxed by the state. If they to be feudal tenants, peasants were also required to pay dues come their regional seigneur or lord. If castle belonged to a parish, as many did, lock were meant to salary an annual tithe come the church.

These responsibilities were rarely relaxed, also during an overwhelming periods together as poor harvests, when plenty of peasants were propelled to the brink of starvation.

Urban commoners

Other members the the third Estate lived and worked in France’s towns and also cities. If the 18th century was a period of industrial and urban expansion in France, most cities remained comparatively small. There were only nine French cities v a populace exceeding 50,000 people. Paris, with roughly 650,000, was by far the largest.

Most commoners in the towns and also cities made your living together merchants, experienced artisans or unskilled workers. Artisans operated in industries like textiles and also clothing manufacture, upholstery and furniture, clock making, locksmithing, leather goods, carriage making and repair, carpentry and also masonry.

A couple of artisans operated your own organization but most functioned for large firms or employers. Prior to doing organization or obtaining employment, one artisan had to belong come the guild the managed and regulated his specific industry.

Unskilled labourers functioned as servants, cleaners, hauliers, water carriers, washerwomen, hawkers – in short, anything the did not need training or membership of a guild. Plenty of Parisians, maybe as countless as 80,000 people, had actually no job at all: lock survived by begging, scavenging, small crime or prostitution.

Parisian prostitute being rounded up and taken to jail in the 1740s

The challenging 1780s

The stays of metropolitan workers became increasingly difficult in the 1780s. Parisian workers toiled for meagre wages: in between 30 and also 60 sous a day for professional labourers and also 15-20 sous a day because that the unskilled. Wages rose by about 20 per cent in the 25 years prior to 1789, but prices and rents boosted by 60 every cent in the very same period.

The poor harvests that 1788-89 driven Parisian employees to the brink through driving up bread prices. In early 1789, the price of a four-pound loaf of bread in Paris enhanced from ripe sous come 14.5 sous, practically a complete day’s pay for most unskilled labourers.

Low pay and high food prices to be compounded by the miserable living conditions in Paris. Accommodation in the resources was so scarce that workers and also their households crammed right into shared attics and also dirty tenements, many rented from unscrupulous landlords.

With leas running at several sous a day, most workers economised by sharing accommodation. Countless rooms housed in between six and also ten people, despite 12 come 15 every room was no unknown. Problems in these tenements were cramped, unhygienic and uncomfortable. There to be no heating, plumbing or typical ablutions. The toilet facilities were generally an exterior cesspit or open up sewer while water was fetched by hand native communal wells.

The well-off bourgeoisie

An wealthy member of the bourgeoisie, with his cane, breeches and tricorn hat

Not every members that the 3rd Estate were impoverished. In ~ the apex of the 3rd Estate’s social pecking order was the bourgeoisie or capitalist center classes.

The bourgeoisie were company owners and professionals with sufficient wealth come live comfortably. Similar to the peasantry, there was also diversity within their ranks.

The so-called petit bourgeoisie (‘petty’ or ‘small bourgeoisie‘) were small-scale traders, landlords, shopkeepers and also managers. The haute bourgeoisie (‘high bourgeoisie‘) were wealthy merchants and also traders, early american landholders, industrialists, bankers and also financiers, taxes farmers and trained professionals, such as doctors and also lawyers.

The bourgeoisie flourished during the 1700s, early in component to France’s economic growth, modernisation, increased production, royal expansion and foreign trade. The haute bourgeoisie rose from the middle classes to end up being independently wealthy, well-educated and ambitious.

Political aspirations

As their wealth enhanced so did your desire because that social status and also political representation. Plenty of bourgeoisie craved entry into the second Estate. They had actually money to acquire the costumes and also grand residences of the noble classes but lacked your titles, privileges and prestige. 

A device of venality advanced that permitted the wealthiest the the bourgeoisie come buy their means into the nobility, though by the 1780s this was becoming more challenging and frightfully expensive.

The thwarted social and also political ambitions of the bourgeoisie led to substantial frustration. The haute bourgeoisie had end up being the economic masters that the nation, however government and also policy remained the domain of the royalty and also their noble favourites.

The revolutionary bourgeoisie

Many educated bourgeoisie found solace in knowledge tracts, which tested the structure of monarchical power and also argued that federal government should be representative, accountable and based on well-known sovereignty.

When Emmanuel Sieyes released What is the third Estate? in January 1789, that struck a chord through the self-important bourgeoisie, plenty of of whom thought themselves entitled to a hand in government.

What is the 3rd Estate? was no the just expression that this idea; there was a overwhelming of comparable pamphlets and essays about the nation in beforehand 1789. Once these files spoke of the third Estate, however, they ad chiefly to the bourgeoisie – not to France’s 22 million landscape peasants, landless labourers or metropolitan workers.

When the bourgeoisie dreamy of representative government, it was a federal government that stood for the propertied classes only. The peasants and also urban employees were politically invisible to the bourgeoisie – just as the bourgeoisie was itself politically invisible to the Ancien Régime.

A historian’s view:“The social structure on the european continent still boring an aristocratic imprint, the legacy of an era when, because land was essentially the sole resource of wealth, those that owned that assumed all rights over those who operated it… practically the whole population was lumped into a ‘third order’, dubbed in France the 3rd Estate. Aristocratic exclusive right condemned this bespeak to continue to be eternally in its original state of inferiority. throughout … France, this ordering of culture was tested by a long-term change which boosted the prominence of mobile wealth and also the bourgeoisie, and also highlighted the leading duty of fertile labour, inventive intelligence and also scientific knowledge.”Georges Lefebvre


1. The third Estate contained roughly 27 million civilization or 98 per cent that the nation. This contained every French human who go not have actually a noble title or was not ordained in the church.

2. The landscape peasantry comprised the largest section of the 3rd Estate. Most peasants operated the land together feudal tenants or sharecroppers and also were compelled to salary a range of taxes, tithes and feudal dues.

3. A much smaller section of the 3rd Estate were skilled and unskilled city workers, life in cities favor Paris. They were poorly paid, lived in an overwhelming conditions and also were pressured by rising food prices.

4. In ~ the pinnacle the the third Estate was the bourgeoisie: successful organization owners that ranged native the comfortable middle course to extremely wealthy merchants and landowners.

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5. Nevertheless of their property and also wealth, members that the third Estate were subject to inequitable taxation and also were politically disregarded by the Ancien Régime. This exclusion contributed to increasing revolutionary sentiment in the so late 1780s.