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Châteaux and landed estates, family portraits, names, titles and coats of arms are symbols of aristocratic identity and integral to the collective memory of nobility. In this study of tangible and intangible cultural heritage Elizabeth Macknight explains the significance of nobles’ conservationist traditions for public engagement with the history of France. During the French Revolution nobles’ property was seized, destroyed, or sold off by the nation. State intervention during the nineteenth century meant historic monuments became protected under law in the public interest. The Journées du Patrimoine, created in 1984 by the French Ministry for Culture, became a Europe-wide calendar event in 1991. Each year millions of French and international visitors enter residences and museums to admire France’s aristocratic cultural heritage. Drawing on archival evidence from across the country, Macknight presents a compelling account of power, interest and emotion in family dynamics and nobles’ relations with rural and urban communities.

Elizabeth C. Macknight

The upkeep of aristocratic residences required constant interaction between nobles, stewards, servants and labourers, as well as professional architects and designers. From coastal manor houses to riverside châteaux and alpine villas, these properties regularly needed repair and beautification. Owners dictated when modern conveniences like electric lighting and plumbing were introduced to their homes, how furnishing and art should be selected and arranged, and what kinds of features would characterise the exterior, such as arboreta, fountains, and garden beds. This chapter explains the evolution of French legislation for protecting private residences and gardens showing how nobles responded to an increasingly interventionist State from the founding of the Monuments historiques to key laws passed under the Third Republic.

in Nobility and patrimony in modern France
Elizabeth C. Macknight

To what extent did the world wars change the nature of class relations on and around landed estates? How were gender relations and gender roles in aristocratic households affected by the absence and return of men? Were nobles able to afford to repair the damage to property resulting from military operations or wartime neglect? Drawing on Bourdieu’s writings about conversions and reconversions of capital, this chapter details noblewomen’s endeavours to maintain properties during men’s wartime absence and through the financial difficulties of the interwar decades. It documents the interactions between nobles, local authorities and representatives of the Monuments historiques, as well as liaison between heritage associations and state officials during and after the Vichy regime.

in Nobility and patrimony in modern France
Elizabeth C. Macknight

This chapter examines the interactions between nobles and various public bodies for the preservation of art, archives, and architectural heritage from the 1950s to the 2000s. It documents nobles’ communication with museum curators and archivists about the lending of items for exhibitions and about the donation or deposition of private archives for the State’s collections. Analysis of this correspondence sheds light on evolutions in twentieth-century attitudes toward patrimony, including the reasons that some items have been kept while others have been deliberately destroyed. The chapter shows how efforts to attract tourists to châteaux received increased stimulus and government support after the Second World War. Nobles in the twenty-first century remain closely involved in initiatives for heritage preservation via family networks and civic associations.

in Nobility and patrimony in modern France
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Elizabeth C. Macknight
in Nobility and patrimony in modern France
Abstract only
Elizabeth C. Macknight
in Nobility and patrimony in modern France
Elizabeth C. Macknight

This chapter presents a wealth of new archival evidence on nobles’ actions and attitudes during the French Revolution. Various forms of property and evidence of ownership were destroyed or removed from nobles’ possession, which threatened nobles’ capacity to transmit economic, cultural, and symbolic capital to the next generation. Letters, wills, receipts, account books, certificates, passports, and petitions reveal how the effects of multiple decrees played out in personal and familial histories. For the nobility the rapid evolution of legislation meant that the consequences of any one revolutionary law became entangled with the consequences of another. Documentation of noblewomen’s experiences brings fresh insights and understanding to issues often over-looked in historical writing weighted toward aristocratic male military and political involvement.

in Nobility and patrimony in modern France
Elizabeth C. Macknight

The Assembly abolished primogeniture on 15 March 1790 and introduced the law on partible inheritance on 8 April 1791. Under the ancien régime nobles had benefited from more flexible arrangements with a welter of possibilities for allocating inheritance. The legal systems varied across the country with written law operating in most of the south and local customary systems in the north. Decision-making was also influenced by social status. This chapter focuses on the apportioning of patrimony, especially nobles’ responses to the notion of equality among siblings that underpinned revolutionary reforms in legislation. It engages with debates conducted among scholars of the Middle Ages and early modern era about law, gender, and emotion, and presents new findings from analysis of nobles’ wills, marriage contracts, and letters from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

in Nobility and patrimony in modern France
Elizabeth C. Macknight

In families where there was no male child to whom an aristocratic title could be transmitted nobles could pursue the adoption of another male to become the heir. Prior to the French Revolution the legal mechanism that nobles had relied upon was called substitution, which allowed for titles and other property to pass to collateral members of kin. In nineteenth-century France an act of adoption served in a similar way as a solution for the transfer of aristocratic patrimony. To understand the nobility’s recourse to this strategy the chapter examines revolutionary laws concerning family relationships in the areas of adoption and illegitimacy. It provides archival case studies of the application of the law with particular attention to the emotional ramifications in families where adoption occurred.

in Nobility and patrimony in modern France
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Elizabeth C. Macknight

This chapter begins with the efforts to find a solution when an heir proved incapable of exercising responsibility for property affairs owing to a long-term illness or disability. Failure to address incapacity in an heir could jeopardise not only the individual’s patrimony but also the maintenance of the family’s economic, cultural, and social capital. Tutelle and curatelle were legal mechanisms for managing such situations and the chapter documents family decision-making in archival case studies. The second issue explored is the nature of aristocratic behaviour when financial debts strained or exhausted nobles’ control of economic capital. Causes of financial difficulties are analysed as well as the effects on health, moral attitudes surrounding borrowing, and the implications of chronic indebtedness for succession and family dynamics in modern France.

in Nobility and patrimony in modern France