In Versailles, France, the deputies of the Third Estate, which represent commoners and the lower clergy, meet on the Jeu de Paume, an indoor tennis court, in defiance of King Louis XVI’s order to disperse. In these modest surroundings, they took the historic Tennis Court Oath, with which they agreed not to disband until a new French constitution had been adopted.
Louis XVI, who ascended the French throne in 1774, proved unsuited to deal with the severe financial problems he had inherited from his grandfather, King Louis XV. In 1789, in a desperate attempt to address France’s economic crisis, Louis XVI assembled the Estates-General, a national assembly that represented the three “estates” of the French people–the nobles, the clergy, and the commons. The Estates-General had not been assembled since 1614, and its deputies drew up long lists of grievances and called for sweeping political and social reforms.
The Third Estate, which had the most representatives, declared itself the National Assembly and took an oath to force a new constitution on the king. Initially seeming to yield, Louis legalized the National Assembly under the Third Estate but then surrounded Versailles with troops and dismissed Jacques Necker, a popular minister of state who had supported reforms. In response, Parisians mobilized and on July 14 stormed the Bastille—a state prison where they believed ammunition was stored—and the French Revolution began.
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