ABSTRACT

Beginning in the eighteenth century, Europe had experienced a m ajor transform ation. T here were two m ain elem ents in this. First, there was the onset of industrialisation together with urbanisation, initially in Britain, later in Belgium, and later still in France and Germ any. Second, there was the grow th of population in the countryside, which not only supplied a ready-m ade arm y of m igrants for the towns but also placed great strain on the resources of the poorest sections of the rural population. T hese two m ajor social and economic developm ents set into motion the long-term strains that contributed so m uch to the causes of the 1848 revolutions. O f course, the revolutions were also the outcom e of political forces th a t had been released by the great French Revolution of 1789 which had signalled the end of the ancien régime. Nevertheless, it is a useful starting point to consider how the m ajor social and economic transformations affected three m ajor social groupings — the working classes, the middle classes and the rural poor. T here are two m ain questions to be answered. Firstly, how did the European transform - ation affect the fortunes and wellbeing of these three groups? Secondly, did their changing experience in the years before 1848 induce revolutionary attitudes and behaviour?