Royal Decree Convoking the Estates–General and the Parlementary Response (1788)

The "Princes of the Blood" were the King’s brothers and cousins, who traditionally served as both the King’s closest advisers and as his leading opponents in politics. In late 1788, on behalf of the second Assembly of Notables, they issued this statement. In it, they defend the prerogative of higher–ranking nobles to speak for the nation to the King through the Parlements and the Assembly of Notables, and they oppose the proliferation of reform proposals coming from commoners in anticipation of the Estates–General.


It is above all in the interests of the Princes of your Blood to tell you the truth. By their rank, they are first among your subjects; by their status, they are your natural advisers; and by their rights, they are interested in defending yours. By the same token, they believe they owe you an explanation of their feelings and thoughts.

Sire, the state is in peril. Your person is respected, the virtues of the monarch assure him of the nation's respect. But Sire, a revolution is brewing in the elements of government and is being brought about by rousing the people. Institutions thought to be sacred, through which the monarchy has flourished for so many centuries, are being questioned, seen as problems, or even disparaged as unjust.

There is a deliberate plan of insubordination in progress that holds nothing but contempt for the laws of the state. This is evidenced by the subject matter and tone displayed in the writings published in the Assembly of Notables, in the memoranda sent to the princely signatories, and in the demands drawn up by various provinces, towns, or corporations. Every author sets himself up as legislator. Eloquence or a clever pen, even if these talents are devoid of education, knowledge, or experience, seem sufficient authorization to settle the empireŐs constitutional questions. Whoever puts forth a bold proposition or proposes to change the laws is sure to draw a readership or start a faction.

Unfortunately, the rate with which this turmoil is developing is such that opinions, which not long ago would have seemed most reprehensible, today appear sensible and fair. They are making people indignant, and will soon allow them to accept these views as normal and legitimate. Who can say how far these audacious opinions will go? The rights of the throne have begun to be questioned. Opinion is divided over what is due the first two orders of the state. Property rights soon will be attacked and the unequal distribution of wealth will be represented as something in need of reform. It has been proposed that feudal dues be abolished as a barbarous remnant of an oppressive system.

From these new theories, and from the design to change rights and laws, comes a claim advanced by several sections of the Third Estate that their order should have two votes in the Estates-General while each of the two leading orders continues to have only one. . . .

Your Majesty has been shown the importance of maintaining the only constitutional method of convening the Estates-General, the method that is hallowed by law and custom and is the immutable foundation of the French monarchy: the distinction between the orders, the right to deliberate in separate chambers, and equality of votes.

These principles have been developed and proven, and would seem to be irrefutable.

For the princely signatories there remains only to express the feelings they have that are inspired by their loyalty to the state and to Your Majesty.

The princes cannot hide the fact that they fear for the state should the claims of the Third Estate be successful, nor can they conceal the dire consequences the proposed revolution would incur for the constitution of the estates. They foresee a sad future where each king alters the nationŐs laws in accordance with his personal inclinations. They foresee a superstitious king giving extra votes to the clergy. They foresee a bellicose king doting on the nobles who follow him into battle. They see the Third Estate obtaining a majority of votes only to be punished for its success because of these changes. As time elapses, each order will either be the oppressor or the oppressed. The constitution will be corrupt or unstable and the nation will always be divided as well as weak and unhappy.

Let the Third Estate, then, cease its attack upon the rights of the first two orders. . . . [These] rights are as ancient as the monarchy and should be as unalterable as its constitution. Let them limit themselves to seeking the reduction of taxes by which they are overburdened. Then, the first two orders, recognizing that the Third Estate has citizens who are important to them, will generously be able to renounce any prerogatives that may have a pecuniary value and agree to bear their full share of public taxation.

Source: M. J. Mavidal and M. E. Laurent, eds., Archives parlementaires de 1787 à 1860, première série (1787 à 1799), 2d ed., 82 vols. (Paris: Dupont, 1879–1913), 1:487–89.