Aristocracy and its Enemies in the Age of Revolution
In his excellent and thought-provoking new book, William Doyle explores in detail how the French Revolution’s epoch-making attack on aristocracy, the first in modern history, came about. For most of the 18th century the French nobility seemed secure in its traditional privileges including exemption from the most important direct tax, the taille; an array of semi-feudal rights over the peasantry; separate legal status from commoners; and a monopoly of the highest civil and military posts in the state. The first hint of an assault on these came in the 1750s as the Enlightenment gathered pace, but more important were the disasters of the Seven Years’ War. These discredited the old regime in general but especially a nobility whose traditional justification had always been military prowess.
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