The Tennis Court Oath

Submitted into Contest #45 in response to: Write a story about activism.... view prompt



Claude Toussaint woke up early in the morning, as he had so much work to do. And when he woke up, so did his family. Because their house consisted solely of one single room, and if one person of the room awoke, the others would surely follow. After all, they were light sleepers.

Claude looked at his aging hands in the dimly lit room. Claude’s limbs had aged way faster than him, for they looked too old to be on the body of a thirty-five-year-old man. Hard work had surely done that to them, for the time surely went faster for those parts that have long been subjected to aggression. 

Claude’s little son Pierre, barely four years of age, was crying for something. 

“What’s the matter? Why is Pierre crying?” Claude asked his wife Marie.

“He wants fresh bread, and we only have stale ones. Well, they aren’t very stale, still edible, but your young lad won’t listen to me.” Marie sighed.

“Pierre!” Claude took his little boy into his arms and looked at his face, wiping all the tears that made it shine. Pierre had inherited his blue eyes, as well as most of his facial features. When he was born, his late grandfather had called him a miniature Claude. Claude couldn’t have been more proud. 

But, there was no pride on his face now, only pity and regret for the young soul who had still to see the ways of the world.

“Papa, why can’t we have fresh bread? I’ve heard that Monsieur Leroy and his children have all the bread in the world. And you work so hard when Monsieur Leroy does nothing!” Pierre said.

How in the good world could Claude explain to his child that Monsieur Leroy was of a bourgeois class, an owner of a large manor in town, while his father was a poor farmer? 

“Look, your sister Josephine is eating her breakfast quietly. She’s a good girl. Why can’t you be like her? And if you be patient now, I promise you to give everything you ever want.” Claude said, but only half-believing it himself.

Claude knew there wasn’t much he could in that matter. He and his wife were just peasants in 1788’s France. 

He looked at his wife, who was sewing clothes. 

“The prices are climbing in the market.” He said.” What are we to do, if they keep on climbing like that, and our meager pay doesn’t?” He said sighing.

“It’s going to be alright, Claude. You always worry about yourself. It’s going to be harvest season soon, so we can earn from our small piece of land too” His wife said assuredly. 

Only that the harvest season didn’t make things right. Crop production was the lowest in many years. 

Claude heard from his friends of the state of France. How she was in a financial crisis after all the help France supplied to America, a new nation that had just gained freedom from Britain. That was the reason that they were charging ludicrous amounts for even small household objects. 

Claude went to the bar every now or then, to talk to his friends, the other peasants, about the current situation of his country.

“That was bound to happen!” His friend Jean said. “If they go on charging taxes from us while leaving the bourgeois, the nobility, and the church out of it, then they are doomed. They don’t charge taxes from the majority of the people who enjoy this country’s wealth while demanding money from those who are already deprived of it.”

“Only God knows where our money even goes. The bourgeois might even keep it.” Another friend charged in. 

‘And what do you say About eminent property. My friend Gustave’s land was confiscated after he failed to pay the eminent property taxes. To his manorial lord.”

Claude had just paid his manorial owner the eminent property charges at the beginning of the year. That was the rule of the land. Your land was yours to sell, buy or loan, but you have to pay a sum to a rich person, one of nobility or bourgeois, someone was already exempted from the national tax, who owned a manor in your village. 

Everything about the system didn’t make any sense. 

February 1789, Claude heard the news about reassembling the Estates-General. The Estates-General was an assembly in which the representatives of all the Estates were invited to vote on a final decision. The First Estate was the clergy, The Second the nobility, and the Third was everyone else, from the bourgeois to the poorest peasant. 

This time, after 175 years, the Estates-General was assembling for one decision. To charge the privileged of taxes.

In May 1789, Claude and his friends were on their trip to Versailles, where the Estates-General Assembly was set to be. Claude and his friends were some of the few peasants who were invited there.

“If all the Estates are given one chamber each, and each Estate would tell their single unanimous vote, then the Third Estate will be outnumbered as it will be the only ones who’ll vote for the taxation of the privileged,” Jean said.

“But that will be unfair! I hope that his Highness the King will give us equal representativeness.” 

Convoked for the first time in 175 years, the Estates-General met in a large hall at Versailles in May 1789. Louis XVI, the King of France sat on his throne, with the Three Estates sitting below him. The deputies of the clergy sat on his right, those of the nobility on his left, and those of the Third Estate facing him at the other end of the hall.

The majority of the Third Estate consisted of lawyers, bankers, business owners, government creditors, shopkeepers, artisans, working people, and peasants. Most representatives of the Third Estate were lawyers, who would not accept the division of the orders into three separate chambers.

“I demand,” A lawyer said, “That the deputies of all three orders should sit as a single house and vote as individuals and the king has granted the Third Estate as many deputies as the two Estates combined.”

But the clergy and the nobility knew their way of doing things and persuading the king. 

“We disagree! Everyone should be given an equal number of representatives or be split into chambers!” One of the noblemen said.

Claude then realized that the nobility had come with a purpose of their own. As it was revealed to him day after day, the noblemen of France wanted France to be governed by the Estates-General, a supreme body in three chambers. They wanted to end the absolutism of the king and wanted themselves to play the most important part in the politics of France. And if the three-chamber system was to be applied, that was sure to happen. The Third Estate was very opposed to that. 

Nobody agreed in the course of six weeks. Claude desperately missed little Pierre and the mature young lady Josephine. He wanted everything to be over.

But he could sense it. 

A spark that he had never seen in the eyes of the peasants before.

Many of them had been reading Voltaire and Rousseau, their minds filled with the ideas of the Enlightenment. 

Something was stirring in their hearts, and he found himself getting excited too. 

After all, they had suffered enough.

The last day of the six-week deadlock. The Third Estate’s plan was ready for action. 

“We declare ourselves as the National Assembly, a representative of all the people of the Motherland, not biased by the Estates they are born. We represent the true spirit of the nation and the thoughts of the common man.” One representative of The Third Estate said.

There was mayhem everywhere.

When Claude, along with other Third Estate people, made his way to the main hall, he found it locked. He heard from someone that under the pressure of the noblemen, the king had had it locked. 

But where will the National Assembly gather?

People found a tennis court, abandoned and old. It barely had enough space to hold all the representatives of the Third Estate.

It was agreed there and then that whenever the People of the Third Estate gathered, a national assembly would be formed. 

The National Assembly would make a new constitution. The new constitution would give equal rights and duties to all citizens of France. 

Claude knew that a revolution was stirring, the likes of which were never seen in the world before. This couldn’t be the ending.

It was just the beginning

June 11, 2020 10:36

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Waverley Stark
08:46 Jun 18, 2020

Nice . I’ve always loved the French Revolution and everything leading up to it. Feedback: maybe don’t name the wife Marie. It took longer to get that they were peasants, since the name Marie screams rich queen.


Iman Fatima
11:31 Jun 19, 2020

Hahaha Honestly, I was thinking about the French Revolution when writing this, and when it came to searching a name for the wife, I read from a website that Marie was the most common female name in the Pre-Revolutionary time


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Harken Void
11:23 Jun 18, 2020

Well, this felt more like a history lesson, than a story (not sure if you were going with that or not). I didn't connect with the character and his struggles. The whole narration felt like the story was told from a distance, like in a history textbook. Also, there was a lot of jumping from one scene to the other with sharp transitions. A lot of different characters were talking in different places, but Claude somehow knew about everything they said, like he was present everywhere, yet we knew nothing of his emotions and thoughts (save for th...


Iman Fatima
11:29 Jun 19, 2020

I wrote this in a hurry because I spent most of the week researching about the French revolution, I got so many facts, but I didn't have any idea how to execute them. So, most of the lines look like they came from a history book. I have always struggled with writing historical fiction, so maybe I'll give up writing this genre. All the research is hard :-) Thank you for the long review btw


Harken Void
12:13 Jun 19, 2020

Well, if you LIKE writing it, then DON'T give it up! In my opinion research is important, especialy if you write a story about things that you're not that familiar with, but it's not as inmortant as the story. The story should always come first, even if you don't have all the facts you need. Because at the end you have to ask yourself; am I writing a story or a histroy lecture? Especialy for short stories, you don't need a lot of research. There's not enough space to put it in, anyway! Cheers!


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