Turbulent Priests? The French Church and the Restoration

Despite the later conflicts between Church and Revolution, Nigel Aston argues that the majority of France's churchmen in 1789 were keen for reform and eager for change.

'The moment of regeneration has arrived!' exclaimed the abbe Fauchet in May 1789 as the deputies of the three traditional orders took their seats in the Estates-General. Fauchet, like thousands of clerics, shared the enthusiasm of the rest of the nation for this new beginning. Indeed churchmen had played a vital part in making the meeting possible in the first place, a part that historians have on the whole been slow to acknowledge. Once reference has been made to cure militancy and its reverse - the alleged aristocratic conservatism and complacency of the bishops and higher clergy - the central involvement of the church in the complicated politics of Louis XVI's reign is too often marginalised. This would have seemed a strange omission to contemporaries familiar with the widespread involvement of churchmen, certainly the clerical elite, in the running of the kingdom.

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