France had so many indirect taxes, and they were so complex, that the king, who was forever broke, was quite happy to farm out the tax-collecting chores to accelerate cash flow. The Farmers General, as they were called, would buy a six-year lease for a price corresponding to the total amount of taxes they deemed they could collect in that period of time. Obviously, the estimates were always on the low side, but the king, forever short of money and anxious to get at these huge upfront sums of money, wasn’t inclined to negotiate to any great extent. As one would expect, and since the Farmers General kept all the taxes collected, they tended to be very aggressive towards the citizens and took advantage of them while acting in the name of the king. Their collection methods were more often than not downright reprehensible.
The Farmers General became fabulously rich, pocketing as much as half of the total taxes paid out by the citizens. They would even routinely use their position as representatives of the king to defraud the locals. Coercion and blackmail were ongoing methods to get the producers to sell them their goods at ridiculously low prices and to have the helpless city merchants at the other end pay exorbitant prices for that same merchandise. They were the most hated men of the realm and much of the bitterness was directed at the king, for they acted in his name. When a finance minister was to be named, they directly influenced the king in his choice, thus getting the most accommodating candidate. The Dutch East India Company owners seized a great opportunity when Nicolas Fouquet was named Superintendent of Finances.
Louis XIV was a born megalomaniac, and in 1661, he was humiliated by Nicolas Fouquet, suspected of having doubtful dealings with the Farmers General. Fouquet had invited the king to his magnificent château de Vaux-le-Vicomte that he had just built, and the king upon seeing the magnificence and the beauty of the domain, not only envied his achievement but wondered where all the money to build it had come from. Smelling a rat, he confiscated Fouquet’s assets and threw him in prison.
The financiers in Amsterdam and London seized the opportunity and relieved the King’s rancour by making unlimited credit available to him through third parties so that he could build the most sumptuous kingly residence in the world, the chateau de Versailles. Louis XIV immediately hired the great artisans that had created the château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, architect Louis Le Vau, painter Charles Le Brun, and garden designer André le Nôtre, and construction began.
Profit wasn’t what motivated the owners of the East India Company in wanting the chateau de Versailles built, it was more a deep desire to witness the demise of the most important monarchy in the Christian Roman Empire. By separating the seat of power from the people, Versailles was twenty kilometers from Paris, the king would become vulnerable and could more easily be brought down when the time came. The occult financing of the chateau de Versailles by the financiers in Amsterdam was the seed that would develop into the French Revolution more than a hundred years later in 1789.
In 1789, bread was by far the most important ingredient in a Frenchman’s diet, especially if he was poor. It was central to people’s lives, and because the corrupt Farmers General controlled the supply of cereal and created timely famines, bread was often difficult to get, or very costly to buy. It was the bakers, however, who were widely perceived as profiting from dearth and famine, and making huge profits by selling this vital commodity at a high price. Bakers who were suspected of hoarding stocks or other malpractices were frequently assaulted. Being lynched became the occupational hazard of the baker.
When the French Revolution officially started in 1789, one of the first organized incidents was a march on Versailles. In October of that year, a very odd crowd of transvestites went to Versailles to fetch the royal family, “the baker, the baker’s wife, and the baker’s apprentice”. The escort provided by Lafayette and his men acted very oddly in that it made no attempt to stop the ‘ladies’. How such an ungainly group of women could go to Versailles, capture and bring back the royals to Paris with Lafayette’s National Guard helplessly standing by is a mystery. The tennis court oath under the leadership of Mirabeau in June, the taking of the Bastille under the sponsorship of Louis-Phillippe d’Orléans in July, and the March on Versailles under the guard of Lafayette in October, were separate and well-planned incidents, not spontaneous street actions.