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Feudalism, Venality, and RevolutionProvincial Assemblies in Late-Old Regime France$
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Stephen Miller

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781526148377

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.7765/9781526148384

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Village elections and the development of liberal perspectives on government

Village elections and the development of liberal perspectives on government

(p.161) 6 Village elections and the development of liberal perspectives on government
Feudalism, Venality, and Revolution

Stephen Miller

Manchester University Press

In this chapter, I elucidate the previously overlooked background of the liberal nobles who embraced the Revolution in 1789. Louis XVI authorized village elections as part of the reforms creating the provincial assemblies in 1787. The plan was to have the peasants’ representatives improve conditions in rural areas and tax the nobility. Protests erupted all over the realm, however, as nobles saw the elections as violations of the seigneurial jurisdictions underpinning the constitution of the monarchy. Yet a minority of the Second Estate, from the vantage point of the provincial assemblies, saw these protests as counterproductive. The experience gained in the assemblies of working with the peasants’ representatives showed these nobles that they could lead more assuredly, with a modicum of support, by putting themselves at the head of reforms. In this way, I show that the comte de Virieu, the duc du Châtelet, the comte d’Egmont, the vicomte de Beauharnais, and other nobles, after serving in the assemblies, went on to play a key role in the Estates General, breaking with their peers, going over to the National Assembly, and initiating the abolition of feudalism on the Night of August 4, 1789.

Keywords:   peasant assemblies, nobility, monarchical constitution, political consciousness, Night of August 4th

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