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C O U R S E 
The French Revolution
Peter McPhee, The University of Melbourne
C O U R S E   L E C T U R E 
The Peasantry in Revolt
Notes taken on November 5, 2014 by Edward Tanguay
two early events of the Revolution encouraged and raised hopes of rural France that their condition might change
1. the drawing up of the Cahiers de doléances
2. elections of the Estates-General
the first meeting since 1614 of the French Estates-General, a general assembly representing the French estates of the realm: the clergy (First Estate), the nobles (Second Estate), and the common people (Third Estate)
state of rural France before Revolution
people are living at the end of a harvest crisis
price of wheat is increasing
wheat and other cereal crops is the staple of rural people
1788-1789 food riots
adds to the sense of urgency
1789 Arthur Young visits Lorraine
his diaries are a rich source of information about this time
encounters poor woman who says, "it is said, at present, that something was to be done by some great folks for such poor ones"
July 1789, the time when the new harvest is just about to be brought in
it looks good, unlike the harvest of 1788
people are expectant
they are also anxious because they have heard about the events in Paris
they feel that these events might lead to acts of revenge by the privileged orders
news of the storming of the Bastille reaches the country side
almost simultaneously, panics fanned out
1932, historian Georges Lefevbre wrote about this in "The Great Fear of 1789"
the garde champêtre
rural police patrolling the countryside
saw people who they thought were up to no good, suspected them to be in the pay of the royalty or the nobles, thought they might e.g. cut down wheat to make the harvest worse
thought this was the first sign of the nobility of enacting revenge on the commoners for the boldness of their deputies
rumors were spreading at "four kilometers per hour" across the countryside
rumors become more accentuated and exaggerated with distance
e.g. "a couple of people who were cutting down wheat in the village" becomes "whole battalions are destroying the wheat fields across the countryside"
rural communities arm themselves however they can
they aren't allowed to bear arms, that's a noble privilege
they arm themselves with pitchforks and farm implements
they get ready for attacks that never come
when the attacks don't come, they begin the next stage of the French Revolution, the Grande Peur
across most of the country, the chateau belonging to the seigneur are besieged
they didn't set chateaus on fire as is often shown in paintings
but they besiege the chateaus
take nobles or their farm stewards hostage
insist that they give them food and wine
but they also do more:
August 2, 1789: Duke of Montmorency wrote that peasants had carried off and destroyed the documents which stipulated the dues and rents which they owed, and they wrote an acknowledgement of what they did, signed "The Nation"
somehow debates of 1788 and 1789 had resonated into rural communities across the country
peasants who had been socialized into a position of difference and social respect for their betters
had transformed their political identity to the extent that they could say, "We are the nation"