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Tennis Court Oath

Sketch by Jacques-Louis David of the Tennis Court Oath.
Sketch by Jacques-Louis David of the Tennis Court Oath.

The Tennis Court Oath (serment du jeu de paume) was a pledge signed by 577 members of France's Third Estate on June 20, 1789. It was an early decisive step in starting the French Revolution.

King Louis XVI had locked the deputies of the Third Estate of the Estates General out of their meeting hall, Menus Plaisirs; they met instead in a nearby indoor real tennis court, where they adopted a pledge to continue to meet until a constitution had been written. 577 men signed the oath, with only one delegate refusing. This was a revolutionary act, and an assertion that political authority derived from the people and their representatives rather than from the monarch.

The Tennis Court Oath is often considered the moment of the birth of the French Revolution.

The King tried to resist. In the séance royale of June 23, 1789, where he took the attitude of granting a charte octroyée (a constitution granted of the royal favour), he affirmed, subject to the traditional limitations, the right of separate deliberation for the three orders, which constitutionally formed three chambers. This move failed; soon that part of the deputies of the nobles who still stood apart joined the self-constituted National Assembly at the request of the king. The States-General had ceased to exist, having become the National Assembly (and after 9 July, 1789, the National Constituent Assembly), though these bodies consisted of the same deputies elected by the separate orders. Never again would a French king know absolute power.

Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45