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The Great Fear (French: La Grande Peur) was a peasant uprising and general panic that took place between 17 July and 3 August 1789 during the early part of the French Revolution.
By the time the revolution began, the French peasantry had grown weary of its constant hard labor and unfair taxation, which stood in stark contrast to the luxurious and wealthy lifestyle of the tax-exempt nobility and clergy. With the previous year's crops having turned out poor due to droughts and grain prices rising at a fast pace, the rural populace was growing increasingly uneasy. Unemployed townspeople and vagrant workers also roamed the countryside in search of any available food, work and charity, all of which were in short supply. The locals were already wary of outsiders and had little wish to share their scarce ressources.
In secret, a radical faction of the Templar Order under Grand Master François-Thomas Germain had been responsible for the hoarding of food and fixing prices in order to spread fear among the populace and incite violent rebellion against the aristocracy, which would lead to a new societal order.
False rumours soon circulated that wealthy landowners were paying gangs of thugs to damage crops and frighten the peasantry into paying taxes. This led to further paranoia across France, and peasants soon looted and razed chateaux. During these attacks, aristocrats were often killed, while records of feudal dues were destroyed and wine cellars were looted.
In response to the attacks and general unrest, the newly formed National Assembly decided to act quickly and thus entirely abolished France's old feudal system during a session on the night of 4 August. Despite this, the continued food hoarding and price fixing by the Templars led to merchants being accused of these crimes, which led to more riots and violence, despite attempted government intervention.