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Author: Stephen Miller

Feudalism, venality, and revolution is about the political and social order revealed by the monarchy’s most ambitious effort to reform its institutions, the introduction of participatory assemblies at all levels of the government. It should draw the attention of anyone interested in the sort of social and political conditions that predisposed people to make the French Revolution. In particular, according to Alexis de Tocqueville’s influential work on the Old Regime and the French Revolution, royal centralization had so weakened the feudal power of the nobles that their remaining privileges became glaringly intolerable to commoners. Feudalism, venality, and revolution challenges this theory by showing that when Louis XVI convened assemblies of landowners in the late 1770s and 1780s to discuss policies needed to resolve the budgetary crisis, he faced widespread opposition from lords and office holders. These elites regarded the assemblies as a challenge to their hereditary power over commoners. The monarchy incorporated an administration of seigneurial jurisdictions and venal offices. Lordships and offices upheld inequality on behalf of the nobility and bred the discontent evident in the French Revolution. These findings will alter the way scholars think about the Old Regime society and state and should therefore find a large market among graduate students and professors of European history.

Stephen Miller

poitou: the question of feudalism 4 Poitou and the question of feudalism, from the Old Regime to revolution and counterrevolution Poitou ranked near the bottom of the tables of population and wealth made in 1784 by Jacques Necker, the former director general of finances. Its relevance, as a pays d’élection under the royal administration (as opposed to Burgundy, Languedoc, Brittany, and other pays d’état run by estates), was the particular relationship of the upper classes to the monarchy. In Berry and Lyonnais, the pays d’élection studied in Chapters 2 and 3

in Feudalism, venality, and revolution
Stephen Miller

PRINT.indd 161 15/09/2020 16:09 162 FEUDALISM, VENALITY, AND REVOLUTION It is the contention of this chapter, however, that the provincial assemblies changed the perspective of many nobles. To understand this change, it is worthwhile to reflect on Alexis de Tocqueville’s thesis that royal centralization, by depriving men of letters of hands-on experience in government, left them ill prepared to think practically about public affairs. The educated classes instead devised purely abstract theories of politics.4 François Furet, the historian most responsible for

in Feudalism, venality, and revolution
Abstract only
Stephen Miller

described “feudalism” in these terms as the defining characteristic of the absolutist state.3 Over the course of the early modern period, the kings attracted and constructed a nobility reliant on politically constituted private property. They reorganized much of the aristocratic class within the state by gathering an expanded patrimonial group. We saw in Chapters 2 and 4, on the assemblies in Berry and Poitou, that kings used their patrimonial rights over the realm MILLER 9781526148377 PRINT.indd 185 15/09/2020 16:09 186 FEUDALISM, VENALITY, AND REVOLUTION to offer

in Feudalism, venality, and revolution
Abstract only
Stephen Miller

Introduction Alexis de Tocqueville’s The Old Régime and the French Revolution has long been the starting point for students of this era. Tocqueville argued that a ­centuries-old process of royal centralization stripped the nobles of any role in the government. Nobles no longer levied taxes, published edicts, or called out the militia to uphold the law. France thus differed from Austria and Prussia, where the coercive aspects of feudalism continued to bind the peasantry to the manor. France also differed from England, where the great landowners administered the

in Feudalism, venality, and revolution
The provincial assembly of Lyonnais
Stephen Miller

industry increased the wealth of the bourgeoisie, expanded the ranks of liberal professionals and public employees, and thus paved the way for the intellectual and ideological flowering of the philosophes and economists. In 1789, the bourgeoisie drew on these resources to forcibly take away the nobles’ privileges, ensure economic liberty, bring the nobles down from the top of the social hierarchy, and put government in the hands of those with wealth, talent, experience, and ambition.2 MILLER 9781526148377 PRINT.indd 75 15/09/2020 16:09 76 FEUDALISM, VENALITY, AND

in Feudalism, venality, and revolution
Stephen Miller

that the lower clergy, office holders, jurists, merchants, and even artisans and peasants used discourses favorable to national sovereignty to oppose the feudal structures of the monarchy. In the years prior to 1789, they protested against the upper clergy and nobility for stifling the political initiatives of commoners. MILLER 9781526148377 PRINT.indd 15 15/09/2020 16:08 16 FEUDALISM, VENALITY, AND REVOLUTION The reformist ideas behind the provincial assemblies Seeing the relative decline and financial difficulty of the monarchy, royal reformers developed

in Feudalism, venality, and revolution
Stephen Miller

/09/2020 16:08 50 FEUDALISM, VENALITY, AND REVOLUTION the last meeting of the assembly in 1786, people in Berry expressed enmity toward the nobility. The answers all relate to the feudal corporatist elite of the Old Regime. Several nobles embraced the prospect of serving in the Assembly of Berry, improving the administration, and developing the provincial economy. Yet they faced grandees, such as the comte d’Artois, the seigneur with the most extensive domains in Berry, who set the standard for defending and exploiting exclusive rights. The Assembly thus ran into

in Feudalism, venality, and revolution
Stephen Miller

, many office holders, as members of the provincial assemblies, sympathized with the rights of venal judges and, depending on the local MILLER 9781526148377 PRINT.indd 139 15/09/2020 16:09 140 FEUDALISM, VENALITY, AND REVOLUTION circumstances, did not challenge the privileges of hereditary magistrates in all regions of the country. Nonetheless, the assemblies represented such a threat to venal jurisdictions that tens of thousands of office holders obstructed the assemblies’ activities. Many office holders justified such obstruction not only by drawing attention

in Feudalism, venality, and revolution
Kriston R. Rennie

interacted with existing ecclesiastical and political structures. 9 Understanding its influence thus means engaging on some level with historical theories on ‘feudalism’, ‘feudal anarchy’, and ‘feudal revolution’, appreciating them for the legacies and paradigms they have bequeathed. 10 These inescapable constructions both inform and frame the ongoing historical debate. According to Kassius Hallinger’s classic but now largely refuted argument, the Cluniacs were determined to ‘strip off the fetters of episcopal feudalism’. 11 They mounted what he called a ‘frontal

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