By Peter McPhee
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Additional resources for A Social History of France, 1789-1914: Second Edition
From a meeting of notables in July 1788 at Claude Périer’s recently acquired château at Vizille came an insistent call for the third estate to have double the representation of the others at the Estates-General. ‘Revisionist’ historians have contested whether there were deep-seated, longterm causes of the political friction which erupted in 1788, and whether there were clear lines of social antagonism. Instead, they have insisted that political conflict was short-term and avoidable, and have pointed to the coexistence of nobles and wealthy bourgeois in an élite of notables, united as property-owners, FRANCE IN THE 1780s 29 office-holders and investors, and even by involvement in profit-oriented industry and agriculture.
Artisan cahiers, like those of the peasantry, revealed an overlapping of interests with those of the bourgeoisie on fiscal, legal and political questions, but a clear divergence on economic regulation, calling for protection against mechanization and competition, and for controls on the grain trade. These demands were underscored by subsistence crisis and inflation: in early 1789, Abbeville weavers were spending an estimated 94 per cent of household income on bread. 8 The sharpest contrasts in the cahiers lay in the polarized world-views of the bourgeoisie and provincial nobles.
Most common of all (in 22 of the years 1765–89) was the food riot, when the working people (menu peuple) of rural communities or urban quartiers, often with the real or involuntary leadership of a mayor, priest or other notable, protected food supplies. 31 Such collective action was characterized by the disproportionate presence of women, explained by their role in food preparation for the family, the relative leniency of the authorities towards women, and the quasireligious justification for women feeding starving children.