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Sketch by Jacques-Louis David of the Tennis Court Oath. David later became a deputy in the National Convention in 1792

The Tennis Court Oath (French: serment du jeu de paume) was a pivotal event during the French Revolution. The Oath was a pledge signed by 576 out of the 577 members from the Third Estate and a few members of the First Estate during a meeting of the Estates-General on 20 June 1789 in a tennis court building near the Palace of Versailles.

On 17 June 1789 this group, led by Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, began to call themselves the National Assembly.[1] On the morning of 20 June the deputies were shocked to discover that the doors to their chamber were locked and guarded by soldiers. Immediately fearing the worst and anxious that a royal coup by King Louis XVI was imminent, the deputies congregated in a nearby indoor real tennis court where they took a solemn collective oath "never to separate, and to meet wherever circumstances demand, until the constitution of the kingdom is established and affirmed on solid foundations."[2]

The deputies pledged to continue to meet until a constitution had been written, despite the royal prohibition. The oath was both a revolutionary act, and an assertion that political authority derived from the people and their representatives rather than from the monarch himself. Their solidarity forced Louis XVI to order the clergy and the nobility to join with the Third Estate in the National Assembly.[3]

The only deputy recorded as not taking the oath was Joseph Martin-Dauch from Castelnaudary.[4] He can be seen on the right of David's sketch, seated with his arms crossed and his head bowed.

Significance

The Oath signified the first time that French citizens formally stood in opposition to Louis XVI, and the refusal by members of the National Assembly to back down forced the king to make concessions. The Oath also inspired a wide variety of revolutionary activity in the months afterwards, ranging from rioting across the French countryside to renewed calls for a written French constitution.

Moreover, the Oath communicated in unambiguous fashion the idea that the deputies of the National Assembly were declaring themselves the supreme state power. From this point forward, Louis XVI would find the Crown increasingly unable to rest upon monarchical traditions of divine right.

References

  1. ^ P105, Doyle, William The Oxford History of the French Revolution (1989)
  2. ^ "Tennis Court Oath". 2008. http://library.thinkquest.org/C006257/assets/events/tennis_court_oath_doc_4.htm. Retrieved 2008-01-24. 
  3. ^ Doyle, William (1989). The Oxford History of the French Revolution. Oxford: Clarendon. p. 107. ISBN 0198227817. 
  4. ^ see Historical Dictionary of the French Revolution by Paul R. Hanson
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Simple English

[[File:|thumb|right|300px|Sketch by Jacques-Louis David of the Tennis Court Oath. David later became a deputy in the National Convention in 1792 ]]

The oath was a pledge signed by 576 members out of 577 of France's Third Estate and a few members of the First Estate on June 20, 1789 in a tennis court near the Palace of Versailles.

The meeting hall of the Estates General had been locked accidentally, but the Third Estate thought that this was an invasion of their rights, and were very angry with the king. They stood in a nearby indoor tennis court. They swore an oath that they would not move until "the voice of the nation was heard" and their demands were met. They were joined by the nobles and clergy.

The vote had always been taken by class, and usually, the clergy and the nobility voted to support whatever the king wanted, so the vote of the middle class did not matter. The middle class argued that voting should be "by poll" not by order, because they had more representatives than the first two estates combined. They also wanted the Estates General to meet as one body, so that voting would be by poll, rather than by class.

A week later, the king agreed and the Estates General met as the "National Assembly".

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