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The Ancient Regime The Origins of Contemporary France, Volume 1 by Hippolyte A. Taine

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But the assemblies of the bailiwicks and other districts were stuffed
with men of the robe who had absorbed all opinions and striven to take
precedence of the others, each, in his own behalf, intriguing and
conspiring to be appointed a deputy."

"In Touraine," writes the intendant,[21] "most of the votes have
been bespoken or begged for. Trusty agents, at the moment of voting,
placed filled-in ballots in the hands of the voters, and put in their
way, on reaching the taverns, every document and suggestion calculated
to excite their imaginations and determine their choice for the gentry
of the bar."

"In the sénéchausée of Lectoure, a number of parishes have not
been designated or notified to send their reports or deputies to the
district assembly. In those which were notified the lawyers, attorneys
and notaries of the small neighboring towns have made up the list of
grievances themselves without summoning the community. . . Exact
copies of this single rough draft were made and sold at a high price
to the councils of each country parish". -

This is an alarming symptom, one marking out in advance the road
the Revolution is to take: The man of the people is indoctrinated by
the advocate, the pikeman allowing himself to be led by the

The effect of their combination is apparent the first year. In
Franche-Comté[23] after consultation with a person named Rouget, the
peasants of the Marquis de Chaila "determine to make no further
payments to him, and to divide amongst themselves the product of the
wood-cuttings." In his paper "the lawyer states that all the
communities of the province have decided to do the same thing. . . His
consultation is diffused to such an extent around the country that
many of the communities are satisfied that they owe nothing more to
the king nor to the seigniors. M. de Marnésia, deputy to the
(National) Assembly, has arrived (here) to pass a few days at home on
account of his health. He has been treated in the rudest and most
scandalous manner; it was even proposed to conduct him back to Paris
under guard. After his departure his chateau was attacked, the doors
burst open and the walls of his garden pulled down. (And yet) no
gentleman has done more for the people on his domain the M. le Marquis
de Marnésia. . . Excesses of every kind are on the increase; I have
constant complaints of the abuse which the national militia make of
their arms, and which I cannot remedy." According to an utterance in
the National Assembly the police imagines that it is to be disbanded
and has therefore no desire to make enemies for itself. "The baillages
are as timid as the police-forces; I send them business constantly,
but no culprit is punished." -- "No nation enjoys liberty so
indefinite and so disastrous to honest people; it is absolutely
against the rights of man to see oneself constantly liable to have his
throat cut by the scoundrels who daily confound liberty with license."
- In other words, the passions utilize the theory to justify
themselves, and the theory appeal to passion to be carried out. For
example, near Liancourt, the Duc de Larochefoucauld possessed an
uncultivated area of ground; "at the commencement of the
revolution,[24] the poor of the town declare that, as they form a part
of the nation, untilled lands being national property, this belongs to
them," and "with no other formality" they take possession of it,
divide it up, plant hedges and clear it off. "This, says Arthur Young,
shows the general disposition. . . . Pushed a little farther the
consequences would not be slight for properties in this kingdom."
Already, in the preceding year, near Rouen, the marauders, who cut
down and sell the forests, declare, that "the people have the right to
take whatever they require for their necessities." They have had the
doctrine preached to them that they are sovereign, and they act as
sovereigns. The condition of their intellects being given, nothing is
more natural than their conduct. Several millions of savages are thus
let loose by a few thousand windbags, the politics of the café finding
an interpreter and ministrants in the mob of the streets. On the one
hand brute force is at the service of the radical dogma. On the other
hand radical dogma is at the service of brute force. And here, in
disintegrated France, these are the only two valid powers remaining
erect on the debris of the others.



[1] Necker, "De l'Administration des Finances," II. 422, 435.

[2] The wages have in 1789 been estimated to be 7 sous 4 deniers of
which 2 sous and 6 deniers would have to be paid for the bread.
(Mercure de France, May 7, 1791.)

[3] Aubertin, 345. Letter to the Comte de St. Germain (during the
Seven Years War). "The soldier's hardships make one's heart bleed; he
passes his days in a state of abject misery, despised and living like
a chained dog to be used for combat."

[4] De Tocqueville, 190, 191.

[5] Archives nationales, H, 1591.

[6] De Rochambeau, "Mémoires," I. 427. - D'Argenson, December 24,
1752. "30,000 men have been punished for desertion since the peace of
1748; this extensive desertion is attributed to the new drill which
fatigues and disheartens the soldier, and especially the veterans." -
Voltaire, "Dict. Phil.," article "Punishments." "I was amazed one day
on seeing the list of deserters, for eight years amounting to 60,000."

[7] Archives nationales, H, 554. (Letter of M. de Bertrand,
intendant of Rennes, August 17, 1785).

[8] Mercier, XI, 121.

[9] Now we know better. The most healthy bread is the one in which
some bran is left, such bran is not only good for the digestion but
contains vitamins and minerals as well. (SR).

[10] De Vaublanc, 149.

[11] De Ségur, I, 20 (1767).

[12] Augeard, "Mémoires," 165.

[13] Horace Walpole, September 5, 1789.

[14] Laboulaye, "De l'Administration française sous Louis XVI."
(Revue des Cours littéraires, IV, 743). - Albert Babeau, I, 111.
(Doléances et veux des corporations de Troyes).

[15] De Tocqueville, 158.

[16] Ibid. 304. (The words of Burke.)

[17] Travels in France, I. 240, 263.

[18] What an impression this view must have made on Lenin who
sought, between 1906 and 1909 in Paris, the means and ways with which
to re-create the French revolution in Russia. (SR.)

[19] Beugnot, I. 115, 116.

[20] Archives nationales, procès-verbaux and cahiers of the States-
General, vol. XIII, p. 405. (Letter of the Marquis de Fodoas,
commandant of Armagnac, to M. Necker, may 29, 1789.)

[21] Ibid. Vol. CL, p. 174. ( Letter from the intendant of Tours of
March 25, 1789.)

[22] "Lenin deviated from Marx not in preaching the necessity for
violent proletarian revolution, but by advocating the creation of an
elite party of professional revolutionaries to hasten this end, and by
arguing for the dictatorship of this party rather than the working
class as a whole." The Guinness Encyclopedia page 269. (SR.)

[23] Archives nationales, H, 784. (Letters of M. de Langeron,
military commandant at Besançon, October 16 and 18, 1789). The
consultation is annexed.

[24] Arthur Young, I, 344.


I. Suicide of the Ancient Regime.

These two forces, radical dogma and brute force, are the
successors and executors of the Ancient regime, and, on contemplating
the way in which this regime engendered, brought forth, nourished,
installed and stimulated them we cannot avoid considering its history
as one long suicide, like that of a man who, having mounted to the top
of an immense ladder, cuts away from under his feet the support which
has kept him up. - In a case of this kind good intentions are not
sufficient; to be liberal and even generous, to enter upon a few semi-
reforms, is of no avail. On the contrary, through both their qualities
and defects, through both their virtues and their vices, the
privileged wrought their own destruction, their merits contributing to
their ruin as well as their faults. - Founders of society, formerly
entitled to their advantages through their services, they have
preserved their rank without fulfilling their duties; their position
in the local as in the central government is a sinecure, and their
privileges have become abuses. At their head, a king, creating France
by devoting himself to her as if his own property, ended by
sacrificing her as if his own property; the public purse is his
private purse, while passions, vanities, personal weaknesses,
luxurious habits, family solicitudes, the intrigues of a mistress and
the caprices of a wife, govern a state of twenty-six millions of men
with an arbitrariness, a heedlessness, a prodigality, a lack of skill,
an absence of consistency that would scarcely be overlooked in the
management of a private domain. - The king and the privileged excel
in one direction, in manners, in good taste, in fashion, in the talent
for representation and in entertaining and receiving, in the gift of
graceful conversation, in finesse and in gaiety, in the art of
converting life into a brilliant and ingenious festivity, regarding
the world as a drawing room of refined idlers in which it suffices to
be amiable and witty, whilst, actually, it is an arena where one must
be strong for combats, and a laboratory in which one must work in
order to be useful. - Through the habit, perfection and sway of
polished intercourse they stamped on the French intellect a classic
form, which, combined with recent scientific acquisitions, produced
the philosophy of the eighteenth century, the disrepute of tradition,
the ambition of recasting all human institutions according to the sole
dictates of Reason, the appliance of mathematical methods to politics
and morals, the catechism of the Rights of Man, and other dogmas of
anarchical and despotic character in the CONTRAT SOCIAL. - Once
this chimera is born they welcome it as a drawing room fancy; they use
the little monster as a plaything, as yet innocent and decked with
ribbons like a pastoral lambkin; they never dream of its becoming a
raging, formidable brute; they nourish it, and caress it, and then,
opening their doors, they let it descend into the streets. - Here
among the middle class which the government has rendered ill-disposed
by compromising its fortunes, which the privileged have offended by
restricting its ambition, which is wounded by inequality through
injured self-esteem, the revolutionary theory gains rapid accessions,
a sudden asperity, and, in a few years, it finds itself undisputed
master of public opinion. - At this moment and at its summons,
another colossal monster rises up, a monster with millions of heads, a
blind, startled animal, an entire people pressed down, exasperated and
suddenly loosened against the government whose exactions have
despoiled it, against the privileged whose rights have reduced it to
starvation, without, in these rural districts abandoned by their
natural protectors, encountering any surviving authority; without, in
these provinces subject to the yoke of universal centralization,
encountering a single independent group and without the possibility of
forming, in this society broken up by despotism, any centers of
enterprise and resistance; without finding, in this upper class
disarmed by its very humanity, a policy devoid of illusion and capable
of action. Without which all these good intentions and fine intellects
shall be unable to protect themselves against the two enemies of all
liberty and of all order, against the contagion of the democratic
nightmare which disturbs the ablest heads and against the irruptions
of the popular brutality which perverts the best of laws. At the
moment of opening the States-General the course of ideas and events is
not only fixed but, again, apparent. Beforehand and unconsciously,
each generation bears (Page 400/296)within itself its past and its
future; and to this one, long before the end, one might have been able
to foretell its fate, and, if both details as well as the entire
action could have been foreseen, one would readily have accepted the
following fiction made up by a converted Laharpe[1] when, at the end
of the Directory, he arranged his souvenirs:


"It seems to me," he says, "as if it were but yesterday, and yet it
is at the beginning of the year 1788. We were dining with one of our
fellow members of the Academy, a grand seignior and a man of
intelligence. The company was numerous and of every profession,
courtiers, advocates, men of letters and academicians, all had feasted
luxuriously according to custom. At the dessert the wines of Malvoisie
and of Constance contributed to the social gaiety a sort of freedom
not always kept within decorous limits. At that time society had
reached the point at which everything may be expressed that excites
laughter. Champfort had read to us his impious and libertine stories,
and great ladies had listened to these without recourse to their fans.
Hence a deluge of witticisms against religion, one quoting a tirade
from 'La Pucelle,' another bringing forward certain philosophical
stanzas by Diderot. . . . and with unbounded applause. . . . The
conversation becomes more serious; admiration is expressed at the
revolution accomplished by Voltaire, and all agree in its being the
first title to his fame. 'He gave the tone to his century, finding
readers in the antechambers as well as in the drawing-room.' One of
the guests narrates, bursting with laughter, what a hairdresser said
to him while powdering his hair: 'You see, sir, although I am a
miserable scrub, I have no more religion than any one else.' They
conclude that the Revolution will soon be consummated, that
superstition and fanaticism must wholly give way to philosophy, and
they thus calculate the probabilities of the epoch and those of the
future society which will see the reign of reason. The most aged
lament not being able to flatter themselves that they will see it; the
young rejoice in a reasonable prospect of seeing it, and especially do
they congratulate the Academy on having paved the way for the great
work, and on having been the headquarters, the center, the inspirer of
freedom of thought.

One of the guests had taken no part in this gay conversation a
person named Cazotte, an amiable and original man, but, unfortunately,
infatuated with the delusions of the visionary. In the most serious
tone he begins: 'Gentlemen,' says he, 'be content; you will witness
this great revolution that you so much desire. You know that I am
something of a prophet, and I repeat it, you will witness it. . . . Do
you know the result of this revolution, for all of you, so long as you
remain here?' - 'Ah!' exclaims Condorcet with his shrewd, simple air
and smile, 'let us see, a philosopher is not sorry to encounter a
prophet.' - 'You, Monsieur de Condorcet, will expire stretched on
the floor of a dungeon; you will die of the poison you take to escape
the executioner, of the poison which the felicity of that era will
compel you always to carry about your person!' - At first, great
astonishment, and then came an outburst of laughter. 'What has all
this in common with philosophy and the reign of reason?' -
'Precisely what I have just remarked to you; in the name of
philosophy, of humanity, of freedom, under the reign of reason, you
will thus reach your end; and, evidently, the reign of reason will
arrive, for there will be temples of reason, and, in those days, in
all France, the temples will be those alone of reason. . . . You,
Monsieur de Champfort, you will sever your veins with twenty-two
strokes of a razor and yet you will not die for months afterwards.
You, Monsieur Vicq-d'Azir, you will not open your own veins but you
will have them opened six times in one day, in the agonies of gout, so
as to be more certain of success, and you will die that night. You,
Monsieur de Nicolai, on the scaffold; you, Monsieur Bailly, on the
scaffold; you, Monsieur de Malesherbes, on the scaffold; . . . you,
Monsieur Roucher, also on the scaffold.' - 'But then we shall have
been overcome by Turks or Tartars?' - 'By no means; you will be
governed, as I have already told you, solely by philosophy and reason.
Those who are to treat you in this manner will all be philosophers,
will all, at every moment, have on their lips the phrases you have
uttered within the hour, will repeat your maxims, will quote, like
yourselves, the stanzas of Diderot and of "La Pucelle."' - 'And when
will all this happen?' - 'Six years will not pass before what I tell
you will be accomplished.' - 'Well, these are miracles,' exclaims La
Harpe, 'and you leave me out?' - 'You will be no less a miracle, for
you will then be a Christian.' - 'Ah,' interposes Champfort, I
breathe again; if we are to die only when La Harpe becomes a Christian
we are immortals.' - 'As to that, we women,' says the Duchesse de
Gramont, 'are extremely fortunate in being of no consequence in
revolutions. It is understood that we are not to blame, and our sex .
. ' - 'Your sex, ladies, will not protect you this time. . . . You
will be treated precisely as men, with no difference whatever. . . .
You, Madame la Duchesse, will be led to the scaffold, you and many
ladies besides yourself in a cart with your hands tied behind your
back.' - 'Ah, in that event, I hope to have at least a carriage
covered with black.' - 'No, Madame, greater ladies than yourself
will go, like yourself in a cart and with their hands tied like
yours.' - 'Greater ladies! What! Princesses of the blood!' -
'Still greater ladies than those . . .'They began to think the jest
carried too far. Madame de Gramont, to dispel the gloom, did not
insist on a reply to her last exclamation, contenting herself by
saying in the lightest tone, 'And they will not even leave one a
confessor!' - 'No, Madame, neither you nor any other person will be
allowed a confessor; the last of the condemned that will have one, as
an act of grace, will be . . .' He stopped a moment. 'Tell me, now,
who is the fortunate mortal enjoying this prerogative?' - 'It is the
last that will remain to him, and it will be the King of France.'"


[1] Laharpe, or La Harpe, Jean François. (Paris 1739-1803). Author
and critic, made a member of the Academy in 1776. (SR).




These approximate estimates are arrived at in the following manner:

1. The number of nobles in 1789 was unknown. The genealogist
Chérin, in his "Abrégé chronologique des Edits, etc." (1789), states
that he is ignorant of the number. Moheau, to whom Lavoisier refers in
his report, 1791, is equally ignorant in this respect. ("Recherches
sur la population de la France," 1778, p. 105); Lavoisier states the
number as 83,000, while the Marquis de Bouillé ("Mémoires," p.50),
states 80,000 families; neither of these authorities advancing proofs
of their statements. - I find in the "Catalogue nominatif des
gentilhommes en 1789," by Laroque and De Barthélemy, the number of
nobles voting, directly or by proxy, in the elections of 1789, in
Provence, Languedoc, Lyonnais, Forez, Beaujolais, Touraine, Normandy,
and Ile-de-France, as 9,167. - According to the census of 1790,
given by Arthur Young in his "Travels in France," the population of
these provinces was 7,757,000, which gives a proportion of 30,000
nobles voting in a population of 26,000,000. - On examining the law
and on summing up the lists, we find that each noble represents
somewhat less than a family, inasmuch as the son of the owner of a
fief votes if he is twenty-five years of age; I think, accordingly,
that we are not far out of the way in estimating the number of noble
families at 26,000 or 28,000, which number, at five individuals to the
family, gives 130,000 or 140,000 nobles. - The territory of France
in 1789 being 27,000 square leagues,[1] and the population 26,000,000,
we may assign one noble family to every square league of territory and
to every 1,000 inhabitants.

2. Concerning the clergy I find in the National Archives, among the
ecclesiastical records, the following enumeration of monks belonging
to 28 orders: Grand Augustins 694, Petits-Pères 250,
Barnabites 90, English Bénédictines 52, Bénédictines of Cluny 298, of
Saint-Vanne 612, of Saint-Maur 1,672, Citeaux 1,806, Récollets 2,238,
Prémontrés 399, Prémontrés Réformés 394, Capucins 3,720, Carmes
déchaussés 555, Grands-Carmes 853, Hospitaliers de Saint-Jean de Dieu
218, Chartreux 1,144, Cordeliers 2,018, Dominicans 1,172, Feuillants
148, Genovéfains 570, Mathurins 310, Minimes 684, Notre-Dame de la
Merci 31, Notre-Saveur 203, Tiers-Ordre de St. François 365, Saint-
Jean des Vignes de Soissons 31, Théatins 25, abbaye de Saint-Victor
21, Maisons soumises à l'ordinaire 305. Total 20,745 monks in 2,489
convents. To this must be added the Pères de 1'Oratoire, de la
Mission, de la Doctrine chrétienne and some others; the total of monks
being about 23,000. - As to nuns, I have a catalogue from the
National Archives of twelve dioceses, comprising according to "France
ecclésiastique" 1788, 5,576 parishes: the diocèses respectively of
Perpignan, Tulle, Marseilles, Rhodez, Saint-Flour, Toulouse, le Mans,
Limoges, Lisieux, Rouen, Reims, and Noyon, in all, 5,394 nuns in 198
establishments. The proportion is 37,000 nuns in 1,500 establishments
for the 38,000 parishes of France. - The total of regular clergy
thus amounts to 60,000 persons. - The secular clergy may be
estimated at 70,000: curates and vicars 60,000 ("Histoire de l'Eglise
de France," XII. 142, by the Abbé Guettée); prelates, vicars-general,
canons of chapters, 2,800; collegiate canons, 5,600; ecclésiastics
without livings, 3,000 (Sieyès). Moheau, a clear-headed and cautious
statistician, writes in 1778 ("Recheches," p. 100): "Perhaps, to day,
there are 130,000 ecclesiastics in the kingdom." The enumeration of
1866 ("Statistique de la France," population), gives 51,100 members of
the secular clergy, 18,500 monks, 86,300 nuns; total, 155,900 in a
population of 38,000,000 inhabitants.
[1] In 1998, 550 000 square kilometers. (SR.)

[2] Archives nationales, G. 319 ("Etat actuel de la Direction de
Bourges au point de vue des aides," 1774).

[3] Blet, at the present day, contains 1,629 inhabitants. (This was
around 1884, in 1996 it remains a small commune and a village of 800
people on the route nationale N76 between Bourges and Sancoins. SR.)

[4] The farms of Blet and Brosses really produce nothing for the
proprietor, inasmuch as the tithes and the champart (field-rents),
(articles 22 and 23), are comprehended in the rate of the leases.



The following information, for which I am indebted to M. de
Boislisle, is derived from an act of partition drawn up September 6,

It relates to the estates of Blet and Brosses. The barony and
estate of Blet lies in Bourbonnais, two leagues from Dun-le-Roi. Blet,
says a memorandum of an administrator of the Excise, is a "good
parish; the soil is excellent, mostly in wood and pasture, the surplus
being in tillable land for wheat, rye and oats. . . . The roads are
bad, especially in winter. The trade consists principally of horned
cattle and embraces grain; the woods rot away on account of their
remoteness from the towns and the difficulty of turning them to

"This estate," says the act of valuation, "is in royal tenure on
account of the king's chateau and fortress of Ainay, under the
designation of the town of Blet." The town was formerly fortified and
its castle still remains. Its population was once large, "but the
civil wars of the sixteenth century, and especially the emigration of
the Protestants caused it to be deserted to such an extent that out of
its former population of 3,000 scarcely 300 remain,[2] which is the fate
of nearly all the towns in this country." The estate of Blet, for many
centuries in the possession of the Sully family, passed, on the
marriage of the heiress in 1363, to the house of Saint-Quentin, and
was then transmitted in direct line down to 1748, the date of the
death of Alexander II. of Saint-Quentins, Count of Diet, governor of
Berg-op-Zoom, and father of three daughters from whom the actual heirs
descend. These heirs are the Count de Simiane, the Chevalier de
Simiane, and the minors of Bercy, each party owning one-third,
represented by 97,667 livres in the Blet estate, and 20,408 livres in
the Brosses estate. The eldest, Comte de Simiane, enjoys, besides, a
préciput (according to custom in the Bourbonnais), worth 15,000
livres, comprising the castle with the adjoining farm and the
seigniorial rights, honorary as well as profitable.

The entire domain, comprising both estates, is valued at 369,227
livres. The estate of Blet, comprises 1,437 arpents, worked by seven
farmers and furnished, by the proprietor, with cattle valued at 13,781
livres. They pay together to the proprietor 12,060 livres rent
(besides claims for poultry and corvées). One, only, has a large farm,
paying 7,800 livres per annum, the others paying rents of 1,300, 740,
640, and 240 livres per annum. The Brosses estate comprises 515
arpents, worked by two farmers to whom the proprietor furnishes cattle
estimated at 3,750 livres, and these together return to the proprietor
2,240 livres.[3] These métairies are all poor; only one of them has two
rooms with fire-places; two or three, one room with a fire-place; the
others consist of a kitchen with an oven outside, and stables and
barns. Repairs on the tenements are essential on all the farms except
three, "having been neglected for thirty years." "The mill-flume
requires to be cleaned out, and the stream, whose inundations injure
the large meadow; also repairs are necessary on the banks of the two
ponds; on the church, which is the seignior's duty, the roof being in
a sad state, the rain penetrating through the arch;" and the roads
require mending, these being in a deplorable condition during the
winter. "The restoration and repairs of these roads seem never to have
been thought of." The soil of the Blet estate is excellent, but it
requires draining and ditching to carry off the water, otherwise the
low lands will continue to produce nothing but weeds. Signs of neglect
and desertion are everywhere visible. The chateau of Blet has remained
unoccupied since 1748; the furniture, accordingly, is almost all
decayed and useless; in 1748 this was worth 7,612 livres, and now it
is estimated at 1,000 livres. "The water-power costs nearly as much to
maintain as the income derived from it. The use of plaster as manure
is unknown," and yet "in the land of plaster it costs almost nothing."
The ground, moist and very good, would grow excellent live hedges; and
yet the fields are enclosed with bare fences against the cattle,
"which expense, say the farmers, is equal to a third of the net
income." This domain, as just described, is valued as follows:

1. The estate of Blet, according to the custom of the country for
noble estates, is valued at rate twenty-five, namely, 373,000 livres,
from which must be deducted a capital of 65,056 livres, representing
the annual charges (the fixed salary of the curate, repairs, etc.),
not including personal charges like the vingtièmes. Its net revenue
per annum is 12,300 livres, and is worth, net, 308,003 livres.

2. The estate of Brosses is estimated at rate twenty-two, ceasing
to be noble through the transfer of judicial and fief rights to that
of Blet. Thus rated it is worth 73,583 livres, from which must be
deducted a capital of 12,359 livres for actual charges, the estate
bringing in 3,140 livres per annum and worth, net, 61,224 livres.
These revenues are derived from the following sources:

1. Rights of the high, low and middle courts of justice over
the entire territory of Blet and other villages, Brosses and Jalay.
The upper courts, according to an act passed at the Chatelet, April
29, 1702, "take cognizance of all actions, real and personal, civil
and criminal, even actions between nobles and ecclesiastics, relating
to seals and inventories of movable effects, tutelages, curacies, the
administration of the property of minors, of domains, and of the
customary dues and revenues of the seigniory, etc."

2. Rights of the forests, edict of 1707. The seignior's warden
decides in all cases concerning waters, and woods, and customs, and
crimes relating to fishing and hunting.

3. Right of voirie or the police of the highways, streets, and
buildings (excepting the great main roads). The seignior appoints a
bailly, warden and road overseer, one M. Theurault (at Sagonne), a
fiscal attorney, Baujard (at Blet); he may remove them "in case they
make no returns." "The rights of the greffe were formerly secured to
the seignior, but as it is now very difficult to find intelligent
persons in the country able to fulfill its functions, the seignior
abandons his rights to those whom it may concern." (The seignior pays
forty-eight livres per annum to the bailly to hold his court once a
month, and twenty-four livres per annum to the fiscal attorney to
attend them).

He receives the fines and confiscation of cattle awarded by his
officers. The profit therefrom, an average year, is eight livres.

He must maintain a jail and a jailer. (It is not stated whether
there was one). No sign of a gibbet is found in the seigniory.

He may appoint twelve notaries; only one, in fact, is appointed at
Blet "and he has nothing to do," a M. Baujard, fiscal attorney. This
commission is assigned him gratuitously, to keep up the privilege,
"otherwise it would be impossible to find any one sufficiently
intelligent to perform its functions."

He appoints a sergeant, but, for a long time, this sergeant pays no
rent or anything for his lodging.

4. Personal and real taille. In Bourbonnais the taille was formerly
serf and the serfs mainmortable. "Seigniors still possessing rights of
bordelage, well established throughout their fiefs and courts, at the
present time, enjoy rights of succession to their vassals in all
cases, even to the prejudice of their children if non-resident and no
longer dwelling under their roofs." But in 1255, Hodes de Sully,
having granted a charter, renounced this right of real and personal
taille for a right of bourgeoisie, still maintained, (see further on).

5. Right to unclaimed property, cattle, furniture, effects, stray
swarms of bees, treasure-trove; (no profits from this for twenty years

6. Right to property of deceased persons without heirs, to that of
deceased bastards, the possessions of condemned criminals either to
death, to the galleys or to exile, etc., (no profit).

7. Right of the chase and of fishing, the latter worth fifteen
livres per annum.

8. Right of bourgeoisie (see article 4), according to the charter
of 1255, and the court-roll of 1484. The wealthiest pay annually
twelve bushels of oats at forty livres and twelve deniers parasis; the
less wealthy nine bushels and nine deniers; all others six bushels and
six deniers. "These rights of bourgeoisie are well established, set
forth in all court-rolls and acknowledgments rendered to the king and
perpetuated by numerous admissions the motives that have led former
stewards and fermiers to interrupt the collection of these cannot be
divined. Many of the seigniors in Bourbonnais have the benefit of and
exact these taxes of their vassals by virtue of titles much more open
to question than those of the seigniors of Blet."

9. Rights of protection of the chateau of Blet. The royal edict of
1497, fixing this charge for the inhabitants of Blet and all those
dwelling within the jurisdiction of its tribunals, those of Charly,
Boismarvier, etc., at five sous per fire per annum, which has been
carried out. "Only lately has the collection of this been suspended,
notwithstanding its recognition at no late date, the inhabitants all
admitting themselves to be subject to the said guet et garde of the

10. Right of toll on all merchandise and provisions passing through
the town of Blet, except grain, flour and vegetables. (A trial pending
before the Council of State since 1727 and not terminated in 1745;
"the collection thereof, meanwhile, being suspended").

11. Right of potage on wines sold at retail in Blet, ensuring to
the seignior nine pints of wine per cask, leased in 1782 for six
years, at sixty livres per annum.

12. Right of boucherie or of taking the tongues of all animals
slaughtered in the town, with, additionally, the heads and feet of all
calves. No slaughter-house at Blet, and yet "during the harvesting of
each year about twelve head of cattle are slaughtered." This tax is
collected by the steward and is valued at three livres per annum.

13. Right of fairs and markets, aunage, weight and measures. Five
fairs per annum and one market-day each week, but little frequented;
no grain-market. This right is valued at twenty-four livres per annum.

14. Corvées of teams and manual labor, through seigniorial right,
on ninety-seven persons at Blet (twenty-two carvées of teams and
seventy-five of manual labor), twenty-six persons at Brosses (five
teams and twenty-one hands). The seignior pays six sous for food, each
corvée, on men, and twelve sous on each corvee of four oxen. "Among
those subject to this corvée the larger number are reduced almost to
beggary and have large families, which often induces the seignior not
to exact this right rigorously." The reduced value of the corvées is
forty-nine livres fifteen sols.

15. Benalité (socome), of the mill, (a sentence of 1736 condemning
Roy, a laborer, to have his grain ground in the mill of Blet, and to
pay a fine for having ceased to have grain ground there during three
years). The miller reserves a sixteenth of the flour ground. The
district-mill, as well as the windmill, with six arpents adjoining,
are leased at 600 livres per annum.

16. Banalité of the oven. Agreement of 1537 between the seignior
and his vassals: he allows them the privilege of a small oven in their
domicile of three squares, six inches each, to bake pies, biscuits and
cakes; in other respects subject to the district oven. He is entitled
to one-sixteenth of the dough; this right might produce 150 livres
annually, but, for several years, the oven has been dilapidated.

17. Right of the colombier, dove-cot. The chateau park contains

18. Right of bordelage. (The seignior is heir-at-law, except when
the children of the deceased live with their parents at the time of
his death. This right covers an area of forty-eight arpentss. For
twenty years, through neglect or from other causes, he has derived
nothing from this.

19. Right over waste and abandoned ground and to alluvial

20. Right, purely honorary, of seat and burial in the choir, of
incense and of special prayer, of funeral hangings outside and inside
the church.

21. Rights of lods et ventes on copyholders, due by the purchaser
of property liable to this lien, in forty days. "In Bourbonnais, the
lods et ventes are collected at a third, a quarter, at the sixth,
eighth and twelfth rate." The seignior of Blet and Brosses collects at
rate six. It is estimated that sales are made once in eighty years;
these rights bear on 1,356 arpents which are worth, the best, 192
livres per arpent the second best, 110 livres, the poorest, 75 livres.
At this rate the 1,350 arpents are worth 162,750 livres. A discount of
one-quarter of the lods et ventes is allowed to purchasers. Annual
revenue of this right 254 livres.

22. Right of tithe and of charnage. The seignior has obtained all
tithe rights, save a few belonging to the canons of Don-le-Rol and to
the prior of Chaumont. The tithes are levied on the thirteenth sheaf.
They are comprised in the leases.

23. Right of terrage or champart: the right of collecting, after
the tithes, a portion of the produce of the ground. "In Bourbonnais,
the terrage is collected in various ways, on the third sheaf, on the
fifth, sixth, seventh, and commonly one-quarter; at Blet it is the
twelfth." The seignior of Blet collects terrage only on a certain
number of the farms of his seigniory; "in relation to Brosses, it
appears that all domains possessed by copyholders are subject to the
right." These rights of terrage are comprised in the leases of the
farms of Blet and of Brosses.

24. Cens, surcens and rentes due on real property of different
kinds, houses, fields, meadows, etc., situated in the territory of the
seigniory. In the seigniory of Blet, 810 arpents, divided into 511
portions, in the hands of 120 copyholders, are in this condition, and
their cens annually consists of 137 francs in money, sixty-seven
bushels of wheat, three of barley, 159 of oats, sixteen hens, 130
chickens, six cocks and capons; the total valued at 575 francs. On the
Brosses estate, eighty-five arpents, divided into 112 parcels, in the
hands of twenty copyholders, are in this condition, and their total
cens is fourteen francs money, seventeen bushels of wheat, thirty-two
of barley, twenty-six hens, three chickens and one capon; the whole
valued at 126 francs.

25. Rights over the commons (124 arpents in Blet and 164 arpents in

The vassals have on these only the right of use. "Almost the whole
of the land, on which they exercise this right of pasturage, belongs
to the seigniors, save this right with which they are burdened; it is
granted only to a few individuals."

26. Rights over the fiefs mouvants of the barony of Blet. Some are
situated in Bourbonnais, nineteen being in this condition. In
Bourbonnais, the fiefs, even when owned by plebeians, simply owe la
bouche et les mains to the seignior at each mutation. Formerly the
seignior of Blet enforced, in this case, the right of redemption which
has been allowed to fall into desuetude. Others are situated in Berry
where the right of redemption is exercised. One fief in Berry, that of
Cormesse held by the archbishop of Bourges, comprising eighty-five
arpents, besides a portion of the tithes, and producing 2,100 livres
per annum, admitting a mutation every twenty years, annually brings to
the seignior of Blet 105 livres.

Besides the charges indicated there are the following:

1. To the curate of Blet, his fixed salary. According to royal
enactment in 1686, this should be 300 livres. According to arrangement
in 1692, the curate, desirous of assuring himself of this fixed
salary, yielded to the seignior all the dimes, novales, etc. The edict
of 1768 having fixed the curate's salary at 500 livres, the curate
claimed this sum through writs. The canons of Dun-le-Roi and the prior
of Chaumont, possessing tithes on the territory of Blet, were obliged
to pay a portion of it. At present it is at the charge of the seignior
of Blet.

2. To the guard, besides his lodging, warming and the use of three
arpents, 200 livres.

3. To the steward or registrar, to preserve the archives, look
after repairs, collect lods et ventes, and fines, 432 livres, besides
the use of ten arpente.

4. To the king, the vingtièmes. Formerly the estates of Blet and
Brosses paid 810 livres for the two vingtièmes and the two sous per
livre. After the establishment of the third vingtième they paid 1,216

[1] Archives nationales, G. 319 ("Etat actuel de la Direction de Bourges au point de vue des aides," 1774).

[2] Blet, at the present day, contains 1,629 inhabitants. (This was around 1884, in 1996 it remains a small commune and a village of 800 people on the route nationale N76 between Bourges and Sancoins. SR.)

[3] The farms of Blet and Brosses really produce nothing for the proprietor, inasmuch as the tithes and the champart (field-rents), (articles 22 and 23), are comprehended in the rate of the leases.



According to Raudot ("La France avant la Revolution," p.84), one-
half extra must be added to the official valuation; according to
Boiteau ("Etat de la France en 1789," p.195), this must be tripled and
even quadrupled. I think that, for the episcopal sees, one-half extra
should be added and, for the abbeys and priories, double, and
sometimes triple and even quadruple the amount. The following facts
show the variation between official and actual sums.

1. In the "Almanach Royal," the bishopric of Troyes is valued at
14,000 livres; in "France Ecclésiastique of 1788," at 50,000.
According to Albert Babeau ("Histoire de la Révolution dans le
department de l'Aube"), it brings in 70,000 livres. In "France
Ecclésiastique," the bishopric of Strasbourg is put down at 400,000
livres. According to the Duc de Lévis ("Souvenirs," p. 156) it brings
in at least 600,000 livres income.

2. In the same work, the abbey of Jumiéges is assigned for 23,000
livres. I find, in the papers of the ecclesiastic committee, it brings
to the abbé 50,000 livres. In this work the abbey of Bèze is estimated
at 8,000 livres. I find it bringing to the monks alone 30,000, while
the abbés portion is at least as large. ("De l'Etat religieux, par les
abbés de Bonnefoi et Bernard.," 1784). The abbé thus receives 30,000
livres, Bernay (Eure),. is officially reported at 16,000. The
"Doleances" of the cahiers estimate it at 57,000. Saint-Amand is put
down as bringing to the Cardinal of York 6,000 livres and actually
brings him 100,000. (De Luynes, XIII. 215).

Clairvaux, in the same work, is put down at 9,000, and in
Warroquier ("Etat Général de la France en 1789,") at 60,000. According
to Beugnot, who belongs to the country, and a practical man, the abbé
has from 300,000 to 400,000 livres income.

Saint-Faron, says Boiteau, set down at 18,000 livres, is worth
120,000 livres.

The abbey of Saint-Germain des Près (in the stewardships), is put
down at 100,000 livres. The Comte de Clermont, who formerly had it,
leased it at 160, 000 livres, "not including reserved fields and all
that the farmers furnished in straw and oats for his horses." (Jules
Cousin, "Comte de Clermont and his Court.")

Saint-Waas d'Arras, according to "La France Ecclésiastique," brings
40,000 livres. Cardinal de Rohan refused 1,000 livres per month for
his portion offered to him by the monks. (Duc de Lévis, "Souvenirs,"
p. 156). Its value thus is about 300,000 livres.

Remiremont, the abbess always being a royal princess, one of the
most powerful monasteries, the richest and best endowed, is officially
valued at the ridiculous sum of 15,000 livres.



An entire chapter might be devoted to this subject; I shall cite
but a few texts.

(Barbier, "Journal," October, 1670). The Dauphine has just given
birth to an infant.

"La jeune princesse en est a sa quatrieme nourrice. . . . Jai
appris à cette occasion que tout se fait par forme à la cour, suivant
un protocole de médecin, en sorte que c'est un miracle d'élever un
prince et une princesse. La nourrice n'a d'autres fonctions que de
donner à têter à l'enfant quand on le lui apporte; elle ne peut pas
lui toucher. Il y a des remueuses et femmes préposées pour cela, mais
qui n'ont point d'ordre à recevoir de la nourrice. Il y a des heures
pour remuer l'enfant, trois ou quatre fois dans la journée. Si
l'enfant dort, on le réveille pour le remuer. Si, après avoir été
changé, il fait dans ses langes, il reste ainsi trois ou quatre heures
dans son ordure. Si une epingle le pique, la nourrice ne doit pas
l'ôter; il faut chercher et attendre une autre femme; l'enfant crie
dans tons ces cas, il se tuurmente et s'échauffe, en sorte que c'est
une vraie misère que toutes ces cérémonies."

(Madame de Genlis, "Souvenirs de Félicie," p.74. Conversation with
Madame Louise, daughter of Louis XV., and recently become a

"I should like to know what troubled you most in getting accustomed
to your new profession?

"You could never imagine," she replied, smiling. "It was the
descent of a small flight of steps alone by myself. At first it seemed
to me a dreadful precipice, and I was obliged to sit down on the steps
and slide down in that attitude." - "A princess, indeed, who had
never descended any but the grand staircase at Versailles, leaning on
the arm of her cavalier in waiting and surrounded by pages,
necessarily trembled on finding herself alone on the brink of steep
winding steps. (Such is) the education, so absurd in many respects,
generally bestowed on persons of this rank; always watched from
infancy, followed, assisted, escorted and everything anticipated,
(they) are thus, in great part, deprived of the faculties with which
nature has endowed them."

Madame Campan, "Mémoires," I. 58, 28.

"Madame Louise often told me that, although twelve years of age,
she had not fully learned the alphabet. . . .

"It was necessary to decide absolutely whether a certain water-bird
was fat or lean. Madame Victoire consulted a bishop. . . . He replied
that, in a doubt of this kind, after having the bird cooked it would
be necessary to puncture it on a very cold silver dish and, if the
juice coagulated in one-quarter of an hour, the bird might be
considered fat. Madame Victoire immediately put it to test; the juice
did not coagulate. The princess was highly delighted, as she was very
fond of this species of game. Fasting (on religious grounds), to which
Madame Victoire was addicted, put her to inconvenience; accordingly
she awaited the midnight stroke of Holy Saturday impatiently. A dish
of chicken and rice and other succulent dishes were then at once
served up."

("Journal de Dumont d'Urville," commanding the vessel on which
Charles X. left France in 1830. Quoted by Vaulabelle, History of the
Restoration, VIII. p.465).

"The king and the Duc d'Angoulême questioned me on my various
campaigns, but especially on my voyage around the world in the
'Astrolabe.' My narrative seemed to interest them very much, their
interruptions consisting of questions of remarkable naiveté, showing
that they possessed no notions whatever, even the most superficial, on
the sciences or on voyages, being as ignorant on these points as any
of the old rentiers of the Marais.

Note 5.
On the rate of direct taxation.

The following figures are extracted from the proces-verbaux of the provincial assemblies (1778-1787)

Access- Total en
Taille. iores de Capitation Impot des multiples
la taille. taillable. routes. de la taille.

Ile-de-France, 4,296,040 2,207,826 2,689,287 519,989 2,23
Lyonnais, 1,356,954 903,653 898,089 315,869 2,61
Géneralité de Rouen, 2,671,939 1,595,051 1,715,592 598,258[1] 2,46
Généralité de Caen, 1,939,665 1,212,429 1,187,823 659,034 2,56
Berry, 821,921 448,431 464,955 236,900 2,50
Poitou, 2,309,681 1,113,766 1,403,402 520,000 2,30
Soissonnats, 1,062,392 911,883 734,899 462,883 2,94
Orléanais, 2,353,892 1,256,125 1,485,720 586,385 2,34
Champagne, 1,783,850 1,459,780 1,377,371 807,280 3,00
Généralité d'Alencon, 1,742,655 1,120,041 1,067,849 435,637 2,47
Auvergne 1,999,040 1,399,678 1,753,026 310,468 2,70
Généralité d'Auch, 1,440,533 931,261 797,268 316,909[2] 2,35
Haute-Guyenne, 2,531,314 1,267,619 1,268,855 308,993[3] 2,47

The principal of the taille being one, the figures in the last
column represent, for each province, the total of the four taxes in
relation to the taille. The average of all these is 2.53. The
accessories of the taille, the poll-tax and the tax for roads, are
fixed for each assessable party, pro rata to his taille. Multiply the
sum representing the portion of the taille deducted from a net income
by 2.53, to know the sum of the four taxes put together and deducted
from this income.
This part varies from province to province, from parish to parish,
and even from individual to individual. Nevertheless we may estimate
that the taille, on the average, especially when bearing on a small
peasant proprietor, without protector or influence, abstracts one-
sixth of his net income, say 16 fr. 66 c. on 100 francs. For example,
according to the declarations of the provincial assemblies, in
Champagne, it deducts 3 sous and 2/3 of a denier per livre, or 15 fr.
28 c. on 100 francs; in the Ile-de-France, 35 livres 14 sous on 240
livres, or 14 fr. 87 c. on 100; in Auvergne, 4 sous per livre of the
net income, that is to say, 20 %. Finally, in the generalship of Auch,
the provincial assembly estimates that the taille and accessories
absorb three-tenths of the net revenue, by which it is evident that,
taking the amounts of the provincial budget, the taille alone absorbs
eighteen fr. ten c. on 100 francs of revenue.
Thus stated, if the taille as principal absorbs one-sixth of the
net income of the subject of the taille, that is to say, 16 fr. 66 c.
on 100, the total of the four taxes above mentioned, takes 16 fr. 66
c. X 2,53 = 42 fr. 15 c. on 100 fr. income. To which must be added 11
fr. for the two vingtièmes and 4 sous per livre added to the first
vingtième, total 53 fr. 15 c. direct tax on 100 livres income subject
to the taille.
The dime, tithe, being estimated at a seventh of the net income,
abstracts in addition 14 ft. 28 c. The feudal dues being valued at the
same sum also take off 14 fr. 28 c., total 28 fr. 56 c.
Sum total of deductions of the direct royal tax, of the
ecclesiastic tithes, and of feudal dues, 81 fr. 71c. on 100 fr.
income. There remain to the tax. payer 18 fr. 29 C.

[1] This amount is not given by the provincial assembly; to fill up
this blank I have taken the tenth of the taille, of the accessories
and of the assessable poll-tax, this being the mode followed by the
provincial assembly of Lyonnais. By the declaration of June 2, 1717,
the tax on roads may be carried to one-sixth of the three preceding
taxes it is commonly one-tenth or, in relation to the principal of the
taille, one-quarter.
[2] - Same remark. -
[3] The provincial assembly carries this amount to one-eleventh of
the taille and accessories combined.

End of The Ancient Regime, by Hippolyte A. Taine

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