The Ancient Regime eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 548 pages of information about The Ancient Regime.

[19].  Memoirs of D’Augeard, private secretary of the Queen, and a former farmer-general.

[20].  The following is the reply of Louis XV. to the Parliament of Paris, March 3, 1766, in a lit de justice :  “The sovereign authority is vested in my person. . .  The legislative power, without dependence and without division, exists in myself alone.  Public security emanates wholly from myself; I am its supreme custodian.  My people are one only with me; national rights and interests, of which an attempt is made to form a body separate from those of the monarch, are necessarily combined with my own, and rests only in my hands.”

CHAPTER II.  THE PRIVILEGED CLASSES.

I. Number of the Privileged Classes.

The privileged classes number about 270,000 persons, comprising of the nobility, 140,000 and of the clergy 130,000.[1] This makes from 25,000 to 30,000 noble families; 23,000 monks in 2,500 monasteries, and 37,000 nuns in 1,500 convents, and 60,000 curates and vicars in as many churches and chapels.  Should the reader desire a more distinct impression of them, he may imagine on each square league of territory[2], and to each thousand of inhabitants, one noble family in its weathercock mansion.  In each village there is a curate and his church, and, every six or seven leagues, a community of men or of women.  We have here the ancient chieftains and founders of France; thus entitled, they still enjoy many possessions and many rights.

II.  Their Possessions, Capital, and Revenue.

Let us always keep in mind what they were, in order to comprehend what they are.  Great as their advantages may be, these are merely the remains of still greater advantages.  This or that bishop or abbot, this or that count or duke, whose successors make their bows at Versailles, was formerly the equals of the Carlovingians and the first Capets.  A Sire de Montlhéry held King Philippe I in check.[3] The abbey of St. Germain des Prés possessed 430,000 hectares of land (about 900,000 acres), almost the extent of an entire department.  We need not be surprised that they remained powerful, and, especially, rich; no stability is greater than that of an. associative body.  After eight hundred years, in spite of so many strokes of the royal ax, and the immense change in the culture of society, the old feudal root lasts and still vegetates.  We remark it first in the distribution of property.[4] A fifth of the soil belongs to the crown and the communes, a fifth to the Third-Estate, a fifth to the rural population, a fifth to the nobles and a fifth to the clergy.  Accordingly, if we deduct the public lands, the privileged classes own one-half of the kingdom.  This large portion, moreover, is at the same time the richest, for it comprises almost all the large and imposing buildings, the palaces, castles, convents, and cathedrals, and almost all the valuable movable property, such as

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The Ancient Regime from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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