Advanced Paper Synopsis

Social and Cultural Change in France, 1600–1720

(Mr Robin Briggs, All Souls College)

Rubric: This course concentrates on the major changes in French society over the 'long' seventeenth century, which saw the development of distinctive ancien régime structures in many areas. Particular emphasis will be placed on the relationship between state, church, and various elite groups, through which a set of overlapping hierarchies was strengthened. Attention will also be given to: popular culture and religiosity; the Catholic reform movement which sought to modify them; local solidarities and conflicts, including revolts; economic and demographic factors; the impact of royal policy on the localities; the development of a distinct elite culture.

Course objectives: Students are invited to study a crucial period in the emergence of the French 'absolutist' state, which is of the greatest interest and significance in terms of wider European trends. The focus will however be primarily on the underpinnings of the power structure, not on traditional political or administrative history. If increased royal power implied many severe clashes with local or particular interests, it was also based on a network of alliances and compromises with such groups, which set up many powerful interactions. The role of religion as an integral part of these structures will receive particular attention, since the régime cannot be properly understood without this crucial dimension. The complex history of royal fiscality is another key area, for changes here ultimately affected the lives of every person in France. The ultimate objective is to achieve a more 'structural' understanding of French society across the period, with its peculiar mix of static and dynamic elements.

Course requirements: The course is normally taught in eight tutorials, either weekly in one term or fortnightly in two terms. These may be single or paired, depending on the number taking the course. Students will be expected to write an essay for each tutorial, and across the course these will normally cover a range of topics relating to the rubric, although these are far from including all possible aspects which might be set. A good knowledge of French, while highly desirable, is not essential; there is an extensive body of English-language materials and scholarship on which to draw. There is a paper in the undergraduate course which covers some of the same ground, so lectures and classes provided for that can be a valuable addition to the tutorials.


Key texts:

  • P. Goubert & D. Roche, Les Français et l'ancien régime (2v, 1984)
  • R. Briggs, Early Modern France, 1560–1715 (2nd ed. 1998)
  • P. Benedict (ed), Cities and Social Change in Early Modern France (1989)
  • P. Goubert, Beauvais et le Beauvaisis de 1600 à 1730 (2 v, 1960)
  • E. Le Roy Ladurie, Les paysans de Languedoc (2 v, 1966) (partial English translation also available)
  • P. Deyon, Amiens, capitale provinciale (1967)
  • F. Braudel and E. Labrousse (eds), Histoire économique et sociale de la France, vols I and II (1971–9)
  • G. Duby and A. Wallon (eds), Histoire de la France agraire, vol II (1976)
  • H.L. Root, Peasants and King in Burgundy: Agrarian Foundations of French Absolutism (1987)
  • J. Dewald, Aristocratic Experience and the Origins of Modern Culture: France, 1570–1715 (1993)
  • W.H. Beik, Absolutism and Society in Seventeenth-Century France: State Power and Provincial Aristocracy in Languedoc (1985)
  • Y-M. Bercé, Histoire des Croquants (2 v, 1974) (Shortened English version as The History of Popular Revolts (1990))
  • J. Delumeau, Catholicism between Luther and Voltaire (1978)
Full Bibliography