2.4.2 Geographic Factors—Climate and the Revolution

France Provinces – 1789

Do you think swift changes in weather conditions and food shortages can spark a revolution?

In France, one factor that shaped nationalism was its geography, and more specifically, its climate. Geographic factors, coupled with ideas from the Enlightenment (especially those of personal freedoms and equality) gave the Third Estate (which included peasants and urban poor) the courage to express their discontent with the feudal system and the lack of opportunity.

Drought, Food, and the National Identity

For nearly 10 years before the French Revolution, France experienced a series of drastic weather shifts, including severe winters and summer droughts that caused poor harvests, cattle disease, and skyrocketing food prices. Bread was an integral part of the working Frenchman's daily diet, and before the environmental shifts an average worker would spend nearly half his daily wages on bread alone. After a decade of dramatic weather and poor harvests, the price of bread increased by nearly 88%!
The working class were hit the hardest by the geographic factors. France depended on the success of agriculture for its economy, and many farmers rented farmland from the First and Second Estates. Continued failed harvests meant less was sold to town markets, and food shortages led to dramatic price increases. 

By the start of 1789, France was facing a serious food shortage, and although France managed to avoid a nationwide famine, "bread riots" and attacks on grain wagons were commonplace as desperation mounted. The previous murmurs of discontent eventually became shouts for change. Many people were unhappy, not only because they were hungry, but also because of the growing resentment towards a feudal system that imposed heavy taxes on the largest population of French people who had very few rights.

The Women's March to Versailles

Women's March to Versailles
(October 5 to 6, 1789)
© Library of Congress

Continued bad weather and increasing food shortages led a crowd of thousands of women to march to the King's palace at Versailles. They were angry about high food prices, and the crowd demanded that King Louis XVI direct food to Paris markets.

However, there was a second purpose of the Women's March. While the crowd was concerned King Louis XVI would not honour his pledge to send food to the capital, there were also rumours the king was plotting against the National Assembly. The women wanted the King to move to Paris where they could keep a watchful eye over him.

Go to your textbook, Understanding Nationalism, and read page 48. This page will further your understanding of the situation in France before the Revolution.

Continue to take notes using the 2.4 Notebook Organizer (Word, PDF, Google Doc ) about what you have read. When you are done, return here to continue.