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4 August 2009

On this day in history: Feudalism abolished in France, 1789

In the course of the evening of 4th August 1789, less than a month after the storming of the Bastille, the deputies of the National Constituent Assembly swept away centuries of tradition. Two noble deputies of liberal inclination, the Duke d'Aiguillon and the Viscount de Noailles, initiated the swathe of reforms when they proposed an end of personal servitude and the feudal rights of aristocrats. The nobles hoped that these reforms would mollify the peasants who had engaged in a spate of vengeful attacks on the rural nobility.

In the spirit of what was later characterised as patriotic intoxication, France's élite sacrificed their feudal privileges one-by-one. This spirit was often far from altruistic, as the urban nobility denounced the rights enjoyed by their rural cousins and vice versa. Enmities between the estates of the realm also became visible; in response to the bishop of Chartres' proposal that game-laws be abolished, the duke du Châtelet suggested that the clergy give up their tithes.

The cull of feudal rights continued through the night. Following the ending of the individual privileges of the nobility and clergy, the assembly turned to the issue of the collective rights abolishing the privileges of certain regions, towns, civic corporations and companies. The next morning the French people awoke in a nation transformed.

Related posts
Meeting of the French Estates-General, 5th May 1789
The Tennis Court Oath, 20th June 1789
Parisian women bring Louis XVI back to Paris, 6th October 1789
France reorganised into 83 départements, 4th March 1790
Guillotine used for first time, 25th April 1792
September Massacres begin, 2nd September 1792
Louis XVI executed, 21st January 1793
Japanese feudal caste system abolished, 2nd August 1869

2 comments:

History Today magazine said...

The nobility and the clergy may have been reluctant to give up their privileges, but this does not mean that they were opposed to reform.
The Church remained extremely influential in France at the end of the 18th century. There is evidence that it was actually in favour of change and fought to promote the voice of the bodies that represented the French people. During the summer of 1788 the clergy notably protested against the Edicts promulgated the previous May which sought to nullify the powers of the Parlements.
I found a very interesting article on the role of the chruch in our archive 'Turbulent Priests? The Church and the Restoration'

Stepterix said...

Thanks for the insightful comment.

I do know that representatives of the first estate in the Estates General were among the first to join the third estate. This is hardly surprising as many rural parish priests were no better off than their parishioners.

I will check out the article.