First Estate  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

First Estate

The First Estate comprised the entire clergy, traditionally divided into "higher" and "lower" clergy. Although there was no formal demarcation between the two categories, the upper clergy were, effectively, clerical nobility, from the families of the Second Estate. In the time of Louis XVI, every bishop in France was a nobleman, a situation that had not existed before the 18th century. At the other extreme, the "lower clergy" ( about equally divided between parish priests and monks and nuns) constituted about 90 percent of the First Estate, which in 1789 numbered around 130,000 (about 0.5% of the population).

In principle, the responsibilities of the First Estate included the registration of births, marriages and deaths. They collected the tithe (dîme, usually 10 percent); served as moral guides; operated schools and hospitals; and distributed relief to the poor. They also owned 10 percent of all the land in France, which was exempt from property tax.[1] The church did however pay the state a so-called "free gift" known as a don gratuit, which was collected via the décime, a tax on ecclesiastic offices.

The French inheritance system of primogeniture meant that nearly all French fortunes would pass largely in a single line, through the eldest son. Hence, it became very common for second sons to join the clergy. Although some dedicated churchmen came out of this system, much of the higher clergy continued to live the lives of aristocrats, enjoying the wealth derived from church lands and tithes and, in some cases, paying little or no attention to their pastoral duties. The ostentatious wealth of the higher clergy was, no doubt, partly responsible for the widespread anticlericalism in France, dating back as far as the Middle Ages, and was certainly responsible for the element of class resentment within the anticlericalism of many peasants and wage-earners.

The first estates had to pay no taxes to the second and third estates.

Similar class resentments existed within the First Estate.

During the latter years of the Ancien Régime, the Catholic Church in France (the Gallican Church) was a separate entity within the realm of Papal control, both a State within a State and Church within a Church. The King had the right to make appointments to the bishoprics, abbeys, and priories and the right to regulate the clergy.[2]





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "First Estate" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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