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History of the French Nobility, 1774-1914


Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Choi, Hye Yeon
Term Paper, AP European History Class, November 2008



Table of Contents


I. Introduction
II. History of France, 1774 ? 1914
II.1 1774-1789
II.2 1789-1794
II.3 1795-1830
II.4 1830-1848
II.5 1848-1870
II.6 1870-1914
III. French Nobility from 1774 till the French Revolution (1789)£­Palace of Versailles and French Nobility
III.1 Palace of Versailles
III.1.1 History of Versailles, until the French Revolution
III.1.2 The Usage of Versailles Relating to French Nobility
III.2. Nobility¡¯s Participation in Politics
IV. The Effect of French Revolution on French Nobility
V. French Nobility from the French Revolution until 1914
V.1 1795-1830
V.1.1 Nobility under Napoleon I
V.1.2 Nobility under Louis XVIII
V.2 1830-1848
V.3 1848-1914
V.4 Meaning of the Nobility of the Period after the Revolution
VI. Conclusion
Notes
Bbliography



I. Introduction
            Nobility is a concept which exists in nearly every country's history. It is usually the second highest class in the hierarchy of the society, right under the king. Therefore, the privileges noblemen received were immense, and sometimes, their influence overweighed that of the king. This tendency can also be seen in some part of the French history. This is clearly observed in the medieval period of France. The nobility showed its loyalty toward the king, which was only formally done, and thrived on its feudal land.
            However, the kings of France felt the need to have nobility under their control, and began to establish the absolutism. By Louis XIV, France succeeded in becoming an absolute monarchy, and the nobility was under the power of one powerful authority-the absolute monarch. The nobility lost its power under the influence of the absolutism, and yet it still maintains the privileges given from the past. It did not last long, though, since the peasants became to be discontented about the government system. In the reign of Louis XVI which starts from 1774, the French history meets its turning point, and the French nobility starts to undergo the numerous changes. This paper will be discussing about the history of the French nobility from 1774 to 1914, and the various changes the noblemen went through.

II. History of France, 1774 ? 1914

II.1 1774-1789
            1774 was the year when Louis XVI became the king of France. His wife, Marie Antoinette was the last daughter of Maria Theresia, the. Maria Theresia managed a marriage of convenience of her fourteen-year-old daughter with Louis in 1770, for alliance. Marie Antoinette lived in Palace of Versailles, and loved the extravagant court life, unlike Louis XVI. Previously, continuously losing wars since the end of the reign of Louis XIV were worsening the finance of France. In the end, France had to declared bankruptcy due to the bad economic situation. Inflation struck, and high prices of goods influenced peasants very much. The nation's poor economic situation led to peasants' starvation, and their hatred toward the king. The Bourgeoisie was always dissatisfied by the fact that they cannot take the privileges of the nobility, and the state even stirred the peasants to lead near the revolution.
            Just a year before the revolution, Louis XVI called for an assembly of the Estates General to approve an extraordinary tax. (1) The Estates General consists of three estates, each for the clergy, the nobility, and the third estate. Since the third estate had a larger number of representatives, they demanded not only the vote for estate, but the vote for each representative. This request was rejected, and the third estate established the National Assembly, saying that they are the only ones that represented France. The National Assembly wanted a law to be officially announced, but this was rejected by the ministers (while Louis XVI agreed). Also, the minister Jacques Necker sent the army to Paris, which made the National Assembly nervous. There anxiety led people to break down the Bastille, the start of the French Revolution.

II.2 1789-1794
            The break of the Bastille influenced local farmers to carry out small revolutions. The farmers attacked the castles of feudal lords, and the nation made several significant reforms in order to calm people. Feudalist system was abolished, and the equal right for every person was declared by the Constitution. Although the revolution and the reforms were rather advantageous for bourgeoisie, French Revolution was an important event for the democratism.
            Revolution went on, and French commoners forced King Louis XVI to return to Paris from Versailles. Also, the parliament return to Paris, and it was under close watch of the French peasants and bourgeoisies. The royal family was anxious since they knew that the French Revolution would lead to the fall of the absolute monarch. So in 1791, the king¡¯s family escaped the Palace of Tuileries, and headed to the Eastern frontier. Unluckily, they were caught and were sent back to Paris.
            In 1792, the French First Republic was proclaimed. The French Monarchy was abolished, and other changes were made as well. French First Republic put Louis XVI on a trial, in which he was executed by the guillotine in 1793. (2) Starting from the autumn of that year, Reign of Terror was unleashed by the Committee of Public Safety. Under the committee, many counter-revolutionary acts were severely punished. Marie Antoinette followed her husband, and like many other people, she was guillotined.

II.3 1795-1830
            In 1795, Reign of Terror ended, and a new governmental body was established; a Directory consisted of five directors and a parliament of two. (3) Yet, the government could not settle down the disorder of the nation, and lots of riots occurred, mainly by both royalists and radicals. It was Napoleon Bonaparte who quieted down the mob of the royalists in 1795. From this event, Napoleon Bonaparte was considered as an able, but dangerous person for the Directory, and he was sent to the Italian-France frontier, and later, Egypt. However, in 1798, he came back to Paris, and established the Consulate. There were supposed to be three men in the Consulate that rules the nation, but the actual authority was in Napoleon Bonaparte. He made various reforms with his powerful driving force. In 1804, he became Napoleon ¥°, and the First French Empire was established. He kept on the reforms, and also worked in extending the land of the French Empire. However, this gave too much burden to France¡¯s finances and to French people. This led to the fell of Napoleon ¥°. In 1814, Louis XVIII overtook Paris, and France became a constitutional monarchy. From then, France enters the Bourbon Restoration period. Although Napoleon I came back to France in 1815, yet it did not last a hundred days.
            Although Louis XVIII had become the monarchy, he did not regime France with stability, for the economic situation was as bad as before. He was an unpopular monarchy. His successor was Charles X, who was really fond of royalists. His policy limited most of civil liberties. Even more, he dissolved the parliament, which resulted in July Revolution (1830).

II.4 1830-1848
            Through the July Revolution in 1830, France became a true constitutional monarchy. Louis-Philippe was the monarch chosen by the citizens after the revolution. In the years that Louis-Philippe ruled the nation, France went through social changes by the Industrial Revolution. Like other countries of Europe, the new class called Proletarian appeared, and bourgeoisies grew. However, in the middle of 1840, the economy was worsening, and eventually led to the February Revolution (1848).

II.5 1848-1870
            From 1848, the French Second Republic started, and Napoleon III ruled as the first President of the French Republic. However, in 1852, Napoleon III established the Second French Empire by pulling off a coup. In the first ten years, it was called as Authoritarian Empire, which was rather conservative. From 1860, however, Napoleon III became more liberal, and it was named Liberal Empire. (4)
            Under the policy which Napoleon III had promoted, the finance got better, although in the center of the workers stood poverty.

II.6 1870-1914
            The Second French Empire ended when Napoleon III lost in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Napoleon III was sent to prison, Paris surrendered in 1871, and the Peace of Frankfurt was signed. After the defeat of this war, France once again underwent the crisis£­the control was in the hand of the temporary government, but Paris Commune, the first French Socialist group, overlooked the governmental position. After the suppression of Paris Commune, the government was able to establish the Third Republic. It was a presidential republic, in which was ruled by president, prime minister, and by other officials. From then, the fight between the political organizations of the Royalist, the Republican, and the Socialist was developed. The Third Republic lasted until 1940.

III French Nobility from 1774 till the French Revolution (1789)£­Palace of Versailles and French Nobility

III.1 Palace of Versailles

III.1.1 History of Versailles, until the French Revolution
            Palace of Versailles (or Versailles) was a hunting lodge ordered by Louis XIII. The king Louis was invited on hunting trips in Versailles by Albert de Gondi, the purchaser of the seigneury of Versailles. The king liked the place and wanted Gondi to build a hunting lodge there. Later, Louis XIII bought the seigneury, and enlarged the orginal small chateau.
            Further development of Versailles was done under Louis XIV. Louis XIV went through the disorder of the Fronde, a civil war between rival factions of aristocrats, and wanted a site where he could organize and completely control a government of France by absolute personal rule. (5) Versailles and the hunting lodge was the place he chose, and he settled in. King Louis renovated Versailles to be more luxurious, with splendid rooms and garden. Being the center of the French government, Versailles was visited by the noblemen, and many of them actually lived there. They lived extravagant life, under the etiquette which Louis XIV created in order to control the strength of the nobility.
            Louis XV and Louis XVI went on the transformation of Versailles, but not in a big scale. Rather, they were completing the works which Louis XIV had not finished. Among the changes, Louis XVI is popular for the salons, garden, library, and the decoration of rooms which were for the Queen, Marie Antoinette.

III.1.2 History of Versailles, until the French Revolution
            Versailles was able to function as various buildings, due to the big size. Versailles was served as the dwelling of some French kings. Also, much of the national affaires were done there. Other than that, Versailles was the place for salons, the social meeting for the nobility. At the same time, party and sports were held in other parts of Versailles.
            The ultimate purpose of all the facilities of Versailles made in the period of Louis XIV was to control the power of the Nobility. King Louis XIV wanted all the power of the nation to be in his hand, and he did not like the noblemen to have the power to overlook his authority. For this, he used Versailles£­the king required each nobleman to spend certain time at the Palace of Versailles to prevent them from nobility gaining regional power. (6) The nobles needed certain period of time to build the influence around an area, and Louis XIV did not let this happen by the policy. This was effective, for nobles lost their local power, and naturally, this caused the less influence of the nobility toward the nation.

III.2 Nobility¡¯s Participation in Politics
            Before Louis XIV, nobility had some level of authority which the king of France cannot disregard. Due to this power, France was often caught in power struggles. Louis XIV solved this problem with the Palace of Versailles. The more the monarch gained power, the more the nobility lost strength. France became an absolute monarchy, which nobility rarely participate in the politics. The absolutism weakened as the French Revolution approached (in the reign of Louis XV and Louis XVI). However, the nobility was more interested in parties, salons, and other entertainment. Especially salons, which were the meetings hosted by noble women, did not allow men to speak of governmental matters, and this hindered the nobility to be in the world of politics.
            Later, when Louis XVI tried to levy the liability to pay taxes on the nobility (previously, it was only imposed on the peasants), the noblemen were strongly against this. So, in the Estates General, they made up the Second Estate and voted for their own sake£­not to pay taxes.

IV. The Effect of French Revolution on French Nobility
            Before the Revolution, the nobility got lots of advantages by their feudal land. However, by the French Revolution, the feudal system was abolished, and most of the privileges that the noblemen received were abolished as well. Also, the taxation was imposed on the nobility.
            Nobility fled to other monarchies, since lives of nobles were threatened by the revolutionary citizens. The nobles who were ruling the neighbor territory were afraid of the influence of the Revolution on them, and tried to prevent from the spread of it.
            Yet, the class system was deeply rooted in the society, and the nobility titles were not abolished until 1790. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789) said "Men are born free and equal in rights; social distinctions may be based only upon general usefulness." which proves that people at that time still thought that nobility was a required part in the nation. Not only that, but certain annual financial payment was considered to be relating to the original contract between a landowner and a tenant, so that tenants had to pay for their annual rents as well as their debts. The nobility could still live without much suffrage, and the noblemen continued their prerogative lives.
            In some cases, however, the nobility was treated harshly - some noblemen were sent to prison, and few of them were even guillotined like Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
            When the hereditary titles were finally abolished, the nobility was divided into two groups. One group was consisted of nobility like Marquis de Lafayette, who agreed to the policy of removing the nobility titles. On the other hand, there were other noblemen who could not comply with the equality among all human beings

V. The French Nobility from the French Revolution until 1914

V.1 1795-1830

V.1.1 Nobility under Napoleon I
            Napoleon I reestablished his own aristocracy and titles during the French First Empire. (7) New titles were created by Napoleon Bonaparte, and there were about twenty two hundreds of them. (8) Unlike the previous nobility, the new peerage was not related to feudalism.
            From Napoleon I, nobles became a part of nobility by the French rulers¡¯ authority. New nobility consisted of governmental officials and diplomats, and they were granted their ranks by Napoleon I.
            Later Napoleon I tried to create the organized nobility like England, but it did not last long, for he was kicked out a hundred days after his second return to Paris.

V.1.2 Nobility under Louis XVIII
            In the Restoration period, Louis XVIII created his own nobility system that resembled the one before the Revolution. The law was passed for the good of the wealthy old nobility. However, the titles made by Napoleon I remained, too
            A new Chamber of Peers was created, on the model of the British House of Lords. (9) In politics, they acted as members of the Upper House. Members of the Chamber were appointed by the king, and they became hereditary nobles who did the service in the Chamber of Peers.

V.2 1830-1848
            July Revolution (1830) turned the Chamber of Peers from a hierarchy system to a life-long system. Under the constitutional monarch, the new nobles (granted by kings) did their roles as governmental officials.

V.3 1848-1914
            From the February Revolution (1848), the nobility was abolished. Many titles were abolished, and the nobility systems like the Chamber of Peers disappeared.
            However, in 1852, the nobility was created once more by decree as the Second Empire was built by Napoleon III. Napoleon III, who tired to imitate much of Napoleon I, created the granting of noble titles again. Since then, all the noble titles made went on, and the French government entitled them. The privileges of nobility were officially justified by the law, although no other titles were created since Napoleon III.

V.4 Meaning of Nobility of the Period after the Revolution
            The nobility of the time can be considered as symbolic. Not much trouble was made by the nobility, and the class never really gained power. The nobility obeyed to the government's policy.
            However, the prerogative of the nobility still existed, and their social status was clearly distinct from common farmers or bourgeoisie. Their advantageous rights were even mentioned in laws by several kings (for example, by Napoleon III). The noblemen¡¯s titles were officially sanctioned. (10)

VI. Conclusion
            France went through a lot of changes in its overall structure in such a short term from 1774 to 1914. The government shifted from one to another, as well as the policy of France did. Also, France experienced many rebels, including three big revolutions by the common people. Those revolutions brought forth the growth of Democracy.
            However, nobility, which was a class in the French hierarchy system that came out from the feudal system, remained throughout the period of change. France had innumerable reforms for all people¡¯s equality, and the nobility had the same obligation with the citizens. Nevertheless, the titles of nobility never disappeared in the French history until recently. The Nobility class was so deeply stuck in French society, so that even bourgeoisie and farmers who suffered under the noblemen could not easily neglect.


Notes

1.      France 1789-1792 Domestic Policy, from World History at KMLA
2.      Article: French Revolution, from Naver Encyclopedia, in Korean
3.      Article: Napoleon III, from Wikipedia
4.      Article: The Directory 1795-1799: Domestic Policy, from World History at KMLA
5.      Article: Palace of Versailles, from Wikipedia
6.      ibid.
7.      Article: French Nobility, from Wikipedia
8.      ibid.
9.      Article: Peerage of France, from Wikipedia
10.      Article: French Nobility, from Wikipedia


Bibliography

Note : websites quoted below were visited in December 2008.
1.      Revolution and Constitutional Monarchy, 1789-1792 : Domestic Policy¡±, from World History at KMLA http://www.zum.de/whkmla/region/france/france17891792dom.html
2.      Article : The French Revolution, from Naver Encyclopedia, in Korean http://100.naver.com/100.nhn?docid=730646
3.      Article : French First Republic, from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_First_Republic
4.      Article : July Revolution, from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/July_Revolution
5.      France 1852-1870 : Domestic Policy, from World History at KMLA http://www.zum.de/whkmla/region/france/france18521870dom.html
6.      Article : Franco-Prussian War, from Wikipedia Korean edition http://ko.wikipedia.org/wiki/%ED%94%84%EB%A1%9C%EC%9D%B4%EC%84%BC-%ED%94%84%EB%9E%91%EC%8A%A4_%EC%A0%84%EC%9F%81
7.      Article : French Nobility, from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_nobility
8.      Article : Palace of Versailles, from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palace_of_Versailles
9.      Article : Peerage of France, from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peerage_of_France
10.      Article : French Nobility, from NationMaster - Encyclopedia http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/French-nobility
11.      France : The Directory, 1795-1799 : Domestic Policy, from World History at KMLA http://www.zum.de/whkmla/region/france/france17951799dom.html
12.      Article : Napoleon III. of France, from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napoleon_III


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