Poitou and the question of feudalism, from the Old Regime to revolution and counterrevolution
in Feudalism, venality, and revolution
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By presenting the first study of the letters of Félix Faulcon, a typical member of the provincial bourgeoisie, which took control of local government during the 1790s, I explain both the revolutionary movement of 1789 and the Old Regime antecedents, overlooked by historians, to the counterrevolutionary War of the Vendée in 1793. Faulcon owned an office in a local court, served in the provincial assembly, and was elected to the Estates General. He and his correspondents in the towns of Poitou used the term “feudalism” to denounce privileges allegedly dividing the country and impeding its development. They felt disgust with the nobles in charge of the assembly for refusing to do anything about “feudalism.” These sentiments led them to incite a revolutionary movement in 1789. However, Faulcon and his correspondents did not use “feudalism” as historians do today, to mean rights over the peasantry. Well-to-do townspeople, such as Faulcon, actually benefited from these rights, sometimes owning lordships and more often managing those of nobles. They continued to burden the peasants through sharecropping tenures after 1789, when they controlled local government. These enduring relationships left an undercurrent of resentment, which erupted in the War of the Vendée, when the devout inhabitants of the countryside rose up against the anti-religious policies of the Republic imposed by the officialdom in the towns.

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