Before the French Revolution society was classified into three estates: clergy (the First Estate), nobles (Second Estate) and peasants or bourgeoisie (Third Estate). Members of the First and Second Estates enjoyed considerable privileges including access to vast land holdings, exemption from paying taxes, as well as social prestige.
Members of the Second Estate, however, were not without their own problems. They had little in common with the Third Estate, and many were frustrated with their status. This led to snobbery, arrogance and class warfare. Many resented the bourgeoisie which had outpaced them in land, wealth and social standing, and many blamed the monarchy for its failure to protect their property.
Some nobles became prominent supporters of liberal, and thus revolutionary, ideas. This was due to a combination of factors, such as economic modernisation, the entry of former bourgeoisie into the Estates-General, and the availability of liberal political texts by Rousseau and other philosophes.
This was particularly true for the court nobles, who were a small group of men and women – usually relatives of the king or queen – who occupied important positions within the government. These nobles would later become the leading figures of the French Revolution, and their support of it gave it a degree of legitimacy. They were not, however, the majority of the second estate, and most of its members opposed the revolution. This was largely because they were concerned that their own rights and privileges would be eroded.