The Ancient Regime

Author: Hippolyte Adolphe Taine


"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.’"

_____________________________________________________________________ Note:

[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. _________________________________________________________________________ Notes: [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, 1783.

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 account."[1]

"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 past).

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 chateau.

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 one.

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 accumulations.

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 Brosses).

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 livres.

Notes: [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), onehalf 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 Carmelite).

"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 onesixth 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. _____________________________________________________________________

Notes: [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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Chicago: Hippolyte Adolphe Taine, "II.," The Ancient Regime, ed. Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853 and trans. Ingram, J. H. (James Henry) in The Ancient Regime (New York: Doubleday, Page, 1909), Original Sources, accessed March 2, 2024,

MLA: Taine, Hippolyte Adolphe. "II." The Ancient Regime, edited by Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853, and translated by Ingram, J. H. (James Henry), in The Ancient Regime, Vol. 36, New York, Doubleday, Page, 1909, Original Sources. 2 Mar. 2024.

Harvard: Taine, HA, 'II.' in The Ancient Regime, ed. and trans. . cited in 1909, The Ancient Regime, Doubleday, Page, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 2 March 2024, from