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Cahiers de doléances

The Cahiers de Doléances (or simply Cahiers as they were often known) were the lists of grievances drawn up by each of the three Estates in France, between March and April 1789, the year in which the French Revolution began. Their compilation was ordered by King Louis XVI, to give each of the Estates – the First Estate (the clergy), the Second Estate (the nobility) and the Third Estate, which consisted of the bourgeoisie (the middle class), the urban workers, and the peasants – the chance to express their hopes and grievances directly to the King. They were explicitly discussed at a special meeting of the Estates-General held on May 5, 1789. Many of these lists have survived and provide considerable information about the state of the country on the eve of the revolution. The documents recorded criticisms of government waste, indirect taxes, church taxes and corruption, and the hunting rights of the aristocracy.[1]

While the cahiers conveyed the grievances of common people, they were not meant as a direct challenge to the Old Regime. They were instead suggestions of reforms.[2] Still, the writing of the cahiers forced the people of France to think about the problems that France faced, and how they wanted them fixed. The political discussions that raged throughout France were a direct challenge to the current system, as they gave the people a voice, and subsequently the cahiers were used to guide the elected representatives in what to discuss at the Estates General. In essence, they added greatly to a revolutionary air of expectation of the Estates General.

Cahiers of the First Estate

The Cahiers of the First Estate reflected the interests of the parish clergy. They called for an end to bishops holding more than one diocese, and demanded those who were not noble be able to become bishops. In return they were prepared to give up the financial privileges of the Church. They were not, however, prepared to give up the dominant position that the Church held over the other two Estates. They did not intend to allow Protestants to practice religion, and under the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by King Louis XIV, wanted to keep Roman Catholicism the only official religion in France.

Cahiers of the Second Estate

Among the three Estates, the Second Estates cahiers were possibly the most surprising. Many of them proved to be quite liberal in their opinions, 89% voting that they were willing to give up their financial privileges. Where, up until then, they had been against the idea of the commoners entering their ranks (as shown by the Segur Ordinance), they were finally accepting of the fact that academic merit, rather than the position held by a man because of his birth, should be the requirements to hold certain offices (the offices included Military, Administrative and Venal Offices). They also attacked the government for being out of date, and the injustice of the Ancien Regime.

Cahiers of the Third Estate

Many of the cahiers of the Third Estate were composed using models sent from Paris, and it is probable that cahiers from poorer villages were constrained in expressing their grievances.[3] The cahiers were also highly variable in tone depending on where they came from, meaning that while they are often summarized as raising more sweeping and general complaints about French society at the time, many of the grievances shared were highly specific, such as Parish of St. Germain d'Airan asking "That dovecotes be destroyed...and that it be ordered that those remaining shall be closed in such a way that pigeons may not leave during the times of planting and harvest." [4]

The cahiers of the Third Estate spoke out mainly against the financial privileges held by the two other Estates. They were both exempt from most taxes such as the church tithe and the taille (the main direct tax). They also wanted to have a fair voting system in the Estates-General. At the moment, they would be outvoted by the other two orders, who would combine their votes on any issue that suited them. They had double representation (600, rather than 300 members representing them), but each estate had a single vote, and thus having double the representative would only be effective if they were voting by head, and not by order.


  1. ^ Kagan, Donald "The Western Heritage-Seventh Edition" (Pg 631), 2001
  2. ^ "Cahiers De Doléances." The French Revolution: A Document Collection. Ed. Laura Mason and Tracey Rizzo. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999. 54-58. Print.
  3. ^ "Cahiers De Doléances." The French Revolution: A Document Collection. Ed. Laura Mason and Tracey Rizzo. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999. 54. Print.
  4. ^ "Cahiers De Doléances." The French Revolution: A Document Collection. Ed. Laura Mason and Tracey Rizzo. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999. 56. Print.
  • Rees, Dylan "France in Revolution – Third Edition" Hodder Murray. (Pages 28–29), 2005.
  • Kagan, Donald "The Western Heritage-Seventh Edition" (Pg 631), 2001.
  • Vancea, Samuel: The Cahiers de Doleances of 1789, Clio History Journal, 2008.