France in the eighteenth century was a powerful country that dominated Europe – a fact that the descent into turmoil and revolution after 1787 should not be allowed to obscure. By comparison with her neighbours, she achieved territorial unity quite quickly and definitively. Even at the start of the century the so-called ‘hexagon’ featured unmistakably on the map. In fact, once the absorption of Lorraine had been completed in 1766 the frontiers of the Bourbon kingdom would resemble closely those of the present-day Fifth Republic. France was a large, compact and well-populated state then. With perhaps 21.5 million inhabitants in 1700 and over 29 million by the century’s end, she bestrode the Continent. Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) and Prussia (10.5 million and about 10 million respectively in 1800) were small fry countries by comparison. Only the Habsburg Empire (about 20 million) and the untapped and largely unmeasured resources of the Russian Empire appeared to offer a counterweight. A fifth of all Europeans were born French (compared with a little over one-tenth today). Historians seeking explanations for the train of events from 1787 often dwell on the ramshackle aspects of the Bourbon state, but not so contemporaries. By the standards of the second half of the eighteenth century France was a prospering, well-administered country whose rulers possessed an enviable (if still inadequate) capacity to extract tax revenue from their subjects.