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Since time immemorial Europe had been dominated by nobles and nobilities. In the eighteenth century their power seemed better entrenched than ever. But in 1790 the French revolutionaries made a determined attempt to abolish nobility entirely. 'Aristocracy' became the term for everything they were against, and the nobility of France, so recently the most dazzling and sophisticated elite in the European world, found itself persecuted in ways that horrified counterparts in other countries. Aristocracy and its Enemies traces the roots of the attack on nobility at this time, looking at intellectual developments over the preceding centuries, in particular the impact of the American Revolution. It traces the steps by which French nobles were disempowered and persecuted, a period during which large numbers fled the country and many perished or were imprisoned. In the end abolition of the aristocracy proved impossible, and nobles recovered much of their property. Napoleon set out to reconcile the remnants of the old nobility to the consequences of revolution, and created a titled elite of his own. After his fall the restored Bourbons offered renewed recognition to all forms of nobility.
But nineteenth century French nobles were a group transformed and traumatized by the revolutionary experience, and they never recovered their old hegemony and privileges. As William Doyle shows, if the revolutionaries failed in their attempt to abolish nobility, they nevertheless began the longer term process of aristocratic decline that has marked the last two centuries.
William Doyle was Professor of History at the University of Bristol from 1986 to 2008 and author of numerous publications on ancien regime Europe and the French Revolution, including The Oxford History of the French Revolution and The Origins of the French Revolution, both also published by Oxford University Press. He is a Fellow of the British Academy.
Introduction ; 1. Aristocracy Ascendant: the world of eighteenth century nobility ; 2. Ideologies of Inequality ; 3. Ageless Antagonisms: the limits of discontent ; 4. Aristocracy Avoided: America and the Cincinnati ; 5. Straws in the Wind: the breakdown of the Old Order ; 6. Aristocracy Attacked: the rise and fall of the Noble Order ; 7. Aristocracy Abolished: the destruction of Noble Power ; 8. Ci-devants, 1790-2 ; 9. Persecution, 1792-1799 ; 10. Ambiguous Aftermaths ; Bibliography
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- ID: 9780199559855
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