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L’invention de la décentralisation

 | 
Roger Baury
, 
Marie-Laure Legay

– II – Les États provinciaux : citadelles politiques du corps nobiliaire ou auxiliaires de la centralisation monarchique ?

Power and the provinces: the Estates of Burgundy in the reign of Louis xvi

Julian Swann

Texte intégral

  • 1 For a selection of recent works: M.-L. Legay, Les Etats provinciaux dans la construction de l’Etat (...)
  • 2 For Brittany, A. Rebillon, Les Etats de Bretagne de 1661 à 1789. Leur organisation, l’évolution de (...)

1The relationship between the eighteenth century French monarchy and the provincial estates was traditionally interpreted in conflictual terms, with the centralising forces of the state confronting the last vestiges of particularism. That model is no longer tenable, and recent studies have demonstrated that absolute monarchy and powerful provincial estates were not incompatible1. In reality, the two sides frequently worked in harmony and during the course of the eighteenth century the crown ceded ever greater powers to the local authorities, partly to pass on the costs of administration, but also in response to a demand for increased provincial autonomy. It would be misleading to describe these developments as decentralisation in the pays d’Etats because they had never been centralised in the way that is often claimed for the pays d’élections, having always enjoyed extensive administrative autonomy. The examples of Brittany and Artois suggest that relatively little was achieved with these new powers, but the situation in Burgundy and in Languedoc was very different2. During the reign of Louis XVI, the permanent commission of the Estates of Burgundy, known as the chamber of élus, directed an increasingly sophisticated and interventionist administration which had ambitious plans for, amongst other things, fiscal reform, road and canal building and agricultural improvement.

  • 3 The argument developed by Jacques Varenne, Mémoire pour les élus généraux des états du duché de Bou (...)
  • 4 J. Billioud, Les Etats de Bourgogne aux XIVe et XVe siècles, Dijon, 1922, p. 93.
  • 5 B. Natcheson, «Absentee government and provincial governors in early modern France: the princes of (...)
  • 6 Studies of the fiscal system include, M. Potter and J-L. Rosenthal, «Politics and public finance in (...)

2To understand the nature of provincial self-government in Burgundy requires an appreciation of the importance of a tradition of local independence founded upon the notion of a Burgundian constitution. According to this interpretation, the union of the province and the kingdom of France in 1477, following the death of Charles le Téméraire, was consensual, and henceforth taxation and other matters of great import were governed by the principle that from «la demande du roi, et du consentement des états, résulte un contrat entre le monarque et ses sujets»3. The conviction that the Estates were the representatives of the province and the guardian of its interests was shared by the chamber of élus, which also boasted a venerable history, and by the permanent officials of the Estates4. The authority of the provincial administration was further reinforced by a long association with the House of Bourbon-Condé, which had provided a series of governors who had actively defended provincial rights and prerogatives5. Together the Estates, the élus and the governor formed a formidable team that was committed to the interests of the province, and they were frequently united by the ties of patronage emanating from the Condéan household at Chantilly. This structure had been in place since the mid-seventeenth century, and it was reinforced by a number of additional factors, notably control of taxation and the wider fiscal system6. Power over the purse strings gave the Estates room for manoeuvre in their relationship with the centre, making it possible to reject, or at least ignore, requests on financial grounds or to give preference to projects that were seen as favourable to provincial interests. The Estates and the élus had also retained control over the regulation of their own internal procedures as well as the right to appoint to the majority of posts within the local administration. Finally, we might add other less tangible factors that contributed to provincial autonomy, notably the confidence arising from a sense of corporate pride and administrative esprit de corps.

3The willingness of both the Estates and the élus to seize upon opportunities to strengthen their authority in the second half of the eighteenth century was therefore predictable when placed in the context of an institution long accustomed to directing the province’s administrative life. The expansion of the authority of the Estates coincided with, and contributed to, a reform movement within the chamber of élus, which sought to impose greater rationalisation and consistency upon its internal organisation and actions. These changes gathered pace during the reign of Louis XVI, but to illustrate them, and to analyse the extent to which the provincial administration acted independently of the crown, this paper will concentrate primarily on the élus for the triennalité of 1784-1787, as their period in office offers a convenient vantage point from which to consider the broader transformation of the administration over the eighteenth century as a whole.

  • 7 J. Swann, The Estates of Burgundy…, op. cit., pp. 41-90 and 230-61; G. Dumay, «Une session des état (...)
  • 8 The office of élu du roi had been purchased by the Estates during the reign of Louis XV and then so (...)

4The provincial Estates of Burgundy continued to meet once every three years throughout the eighteenth century. The assemblies were brief, rarely lasting more than a month, and other than in exceptional circumstances were managed with a firm, if benevolent hand, by the governor7. Some contemporaries and many subsequent historians were convinced that the Estates were the pliant, docile tools of the crown, happy to do the minister or intendant’s bidding. In reality, it was the provincial Estates that dominated local administration, not through their assemblies, but via the seven members of their permanent commission, known as the chamber of élus. The chamber was composed of a representative from each of the three orders, the vicomte-mayeur of Dijon, two deputies from the Chambre des Comptes and the élu du roi, named by the bureau des finances of Dijon8. They were assisted by a group of permanent officials, appointed by the Estates of whom the treasurer general, two secrétaires des états, the provincial ingénieur, the three conseils des états and the two procureur syndics were the most significant, overseeing in turn the various bureaux that made up the administration. By the reign of Louis XVI, there were five permanent bureaux, including that of the vingtièmes, the ponts et chaussées and the archives all employing salaried teams of clerks. In addition, the élus could call upon the services of the 16 receivers of the taille and more than 25 mayors all of whom were appointed by the chamber.

  • 9 J. Swann, «Power and provincial politics in eighteenth-century France: the Varenne affair, 1757-176 (...)

5During the infamous «affaire de Varenne», a particularly protracted jurisdictional dispute involving the Estates and their great rivals the Parlement of Dijon and the Cour des Aides of Paris, Charles de Brosses and Lamoignon de Malesherbes had launched a scathing attack on the Burgundian administration, accusing the élus of personal incompetence, absenteeism and of leaving real power in the hands of their efficient, but unaccountable permanent officers9. Malesherbes ranks as one of the most acute critics of eighteenth-century administrative abuse, and most historians have been happy to repeat his allegations as if they were hard fact rather than the partisan perspective of the Cour des Aides of Paris. In reality, the relationship between the élus and the permanent officers of the Estates was more complex, and it was the élus who directed the administration, using the knowledge, experience and technical assistance of the permanent officers in much the same way as ministers at Versailles employed conseillers d’Etat, intendants and maîtres des requêtes.

  • 10 Archives Départementales de la Côte d’Or [A.D.CO], C 3239.
  • 11 N. Aston, The End of an elite. The French bishops and the coming of the Revolution, 1786-1790, Oxfo (...)

6To illustrate these points, it is helpful to examine the policies and working patterns of the élus during a triennalité in detail. The men chosen to serve as representatives of the three orders between 1784 and 1787 were abbé Louis-Henri de La Fare, Georges-César, comte de Chastellux, and François Noirot and they were joined by Louis Moussier, vicomte-mayeur of Dijon, president Jean-François Derisson and maître Jean-Baptiste Vernette from the Chambre des Comptes, and Jacques Febvre, élu du roi10. La Fare, the precocious nephew of cardinal de Bernis, was a rapidly rising star in the church, whose tenure as élu was followed by his appointment to the see of Nancy11. The comte de Chastellux was a member of one of the most prestigious Burgundian aristocratic Houses and he was familiar with the world of the court at Versailles, while Noirot had considerable administrative experience as mayor of the city of Chalon-sur-Saône. As representatives of the Estates, the three men were expected to direct the administration and, in theory, nothing of importance could be decided by the chamber unless at least two of the three were present.

  • 12 A. D. CO, C 3239-42. These figures have been obtained from the registers of the chamber of élus for (...)

7If the criticisms of de Brosses and Malesherbes were accurate and the élus were frequently absent then either the administration was in limbo or the decrees of the Estates were being ignored. If we look at figure 112:

Assemblies of the chambre des élus, 1784-87

Assemblies of the chambre des élus, 1784-87
  • 13 Ibid.

8It becomes clear that this was not the case and the chamber of élus assembled in every month of the year, on an average of nine occasions, although the busiest period was that from November to February. If we examine figure 2, showing who was actually present, some interesting paterns quickly emerge13. The abbé de La Fare presided over all of the 263 meetings held by the chamber, and no less importantly he was always accompanied by either.

9Chastellux or Noirot, thus fulilling the decrees of the Estates which stipulated that at least two of its representatives should always be present. These atendance igures were the oicial assemblies of the chamber and to criticise the élus on the basis that they did not meet more frequently, as their contemporary critics and some historians have done, is to misunderstand the nature of their role. As we shall see, they were all engaged individually or collectively in a wide range of related administrative matters, stretching from formal meetings with government ministers to examining the progress of public works.

Atendance of the Elus, 1784-87

Atendance of the Elus, 1784-87
  • 14 Archives Nationales [A.N], K 683, f° 169, 186, 214, letters of abbé de La Fare to comte de Chastell (...)
  • 15 Ibid., f° 199, letter of abbé de La Fare to comte de Chastellux, 28 March 1786; A. D. CO, C 3239, f (...)

10The actions of the comte de Chastellux provide a perfect example of how scrutiny of atendance igures alone is misleading. The principal explanation for his absences from Djon is to be found in the many special commissions he was pursuing elsewhere. During his time as élu, Chastellux was sent to court for audiences with government ministers including Calonne, Miromesnil and Vergennes about such diverse maters as the rachat of the droits des aides of Auxerre, the demolition of the citadel of Chalon-sur-Saône and various jurisdictional disputes with the Parlement of Djon14. while at court, Chastellux remained constantly in correspondence with La Fare, who kept him informed of developments, asked for his aid and counsel and charged him to act on behalf of the Estates. If aristocratic pedigree and familiarity with the court made Chastellux a natural ambassador for the élus, knowledge of local terrain and practical administrative experience meant that the élu of the third estate was regularly chosen for missions of another sort, notably overseeing nouveau pied de taille, verifying the progress of public works and checking on the activities of the receivers of the taille15. Even La Fare made a trip to the Charolais to observe the progress of the Canal du Centre being constructed at the province’s expense. The three élus were all active administrators in their given spheres, and in this respect they were typical of the period as a whole. Reports of idle and incompetent élus can safely be discounted.

  • 16 J. Swann, The Estates of Burgundy…, op. cit., pp. 91-125, and D. Ligou, «Elus et alcades des états (...)
  • 17 A. N., K 683, f° 161, 167, letter of abbé de La Fare to comte de Chastellux, 17 October 1783 and 5 (...)

11To be effective it was necessary for the élus to work as a team, but they were chosen separately through a progress of bargaining involving the governor, the prince de Condé, who could usually choose either the élu de la noblesse or that of the clergy, and the ministry headed by the secretary of state for the province16. In the months preceding the assembly, the prospective élus had an opportunity to inform themselves about their future responsibilities and crucially establish a personal working relationship. In his private correspondence with the comte de Chastellux, abbé de La Fare demonstrated a real willingness to assist his new colleague, expressing a desire that they should work in trust and harmony17. His efforts succeeded and it is easy to imagine the potential benefits both for the individual élus and the administration. Indeed these personal networks extended further because even those who prepared diligently for their triennalité were still likely to need time to become acquainted with a complex administration. Ideally they were expected to consult the outgoing élus and to draw upon their knowledge and experience.

  • 18 He served from 1772 to 1775 and again from 1781 to 1784.
  • 19 A.N., K 683, f° 172, letter of abbé de La Fare to comte de Chastellux, 14 October 1784.
  • 20 Ibid., f° 250, letter of Jean-Baptiste Duchilleau, bishop of Chalon-sur-Saône to comte de Chastellu (...)
  • 21 Ibid., f° 166, letter of abbé de La Fare to comte de Chastellux, 18 September 1784. For another exa (...)
  • 22 J. Billioud, Les Etats de Bourgogne aux XIVe et XVe siècles, Dijon, 1922, p. 93.

12Abbé de La Fare was well aware of the need to win the confidence of his predecessor abbé Claude-François de Luzines, a particular favourite of the prince de Condé, who was one of the few to serve two terms as an élu18. When the two abbés heard rumours in October 1784 that «nous étions brouillés à couteau tiré» they were horrified, acting quickly to scotch the rumours because, as La Fare informed the comte de Chastellux, «il est essentiel en tout temps… qu’on ne croye pas les anciens et les nouveaux élus divisés»19. La Fare subsequently consulted Luzines throughout his period in office and he and Chastellux were both prepared to assist their successors after November 178720. The relationship between the élus and the permanent officers of the Estates was also based upon a reasonable degree of personal trust, but there was a clear hierarchy in place. The élus expected their subordinates to draw upon their professional expertise and to submit projects and suggestions either in response to specific requests or on their own initiative. Such proposals were considered seriously, but they were never accepted blindly in the manner claimed by Charles de Brosses and Malesherbes. When the provincial ingénieur, Emiland-Marie Gauthey, proposed establishing courses in geometry to compliment those in anatomy and chemistry already funded by the Estates, La Fare informed Chastellux that he would reject the idea because «il ne paroit pas assez détaillé, ni prévoir assez les différents cas»21. He added in regard to another of Gauthey’s schemes: «je n’approuverois pas non plus de payer aux directeurs des chemins déjà fort bien payer par la province leur voyage et leur séjour à Dijon. Faites-moi le plaisir de me mander vôtre façon de penser sur ce projet». For all of Gauthey’s undoubted professionalism and competence, he could not assume that the élus would simply do his bidding because they were ultimately his masters, as he was well aware22.

  • 23 A.D. CO, C 3055, «Déliberation qui établit un ordre fixe et méthodique dans les opérations qui doiv (...)
  • 24 The preamble referred in particular to the remarques of the alcades of 1784, who, impressed by the (...)
  • 25 A.D. CO, C 3055, «Déliberation qui établit un ordre fixe».

13One of the most striking features of the reign of Louis XVI is the extent to which successive teams of élus sought to rationalise the internal workings of the administration and this would be taken further after 1784. The deliberation issued by the élus on 14 December 1785 stands out as one of the most significant innovations of the period23. Entitled «Déliberation qui établit un ordre fixe et méthodique dans les opérations qui doivent chaque année occuper successivement la chambre dans le cours de la séance d’hiver», it was typical of the work of La Fare and his colleagues in that it emphasised the need for administrative rationalisation based upon the work of earlier élus, the recommendations of recent assemblies of the Estates and particularly the remarques of the alcades appointed by the Estates to scrutinise their activities24. The deliberation of 14 December broke the work of the chamber down into four main sections: «Finance»; «Militaire», «Travaux publics» and «Etablissements utiles», which were in turn divided into their constituent parts, in the case of finance into subsections such as taxation or borrowing25. The deliberation clearly intended to provide an efficient and consistent procedure for each stage of the administrative process, for example on the preparation of the taille rolls it was stipulated that:

«Nous les examinerons, en les comparant, tant à ceux de la précedente année, qu’aux décrets de la dernière des assemblées des états et aux tableaux des capitaux dûs par la province, en ce qui concerne les arrerages à imposer pour lesdites capitaux… nous procéderons à la répartition et à la formation successive des huits role, savoir de proportion, (si c’est la dernière année de la triennalité) des diminutions, des exempts, des cotises d’office, des injunctions, des impositions particulières et locales, des nouveaux pieds de taille, et (si c’est la première ou la seconde année de la triennalité) des requêtes à conserver, pour le renouvellement du role de proportion, le tout conformément à nos deux déliberations du 12 novembre 1781».

14This detailed and methodical approach was typical of the often highly technical deliberations produced by the élus and while we might be justifiably sceptical about whether or not they followed their own advice to the letter, it seems reasonable to assume that such precise guidelines were of real assistance to their successors.

  • 26 A.D. CO, C 3240, f° 400 and C 3453, «Mémoire» and «Mémoire pour server de suite au mémoire relative (...)
  • 27 A.D. CO, C 3241, f° 135, and C 3456, deliberation of 1 March 1786.
  • 28 A.D. CO, C 3240, f° 410.

15It is true that there had been periodic calls for such reforms since at least the seventeenth century, but even when some progress had been made it tended to be isolated and not maintained over a sustained period. By the reign of Louis XVI the situation had improved markedly and there was a real momentum behind a series of coordinated initiatives. A good example is provided by a second deliberation of 14 December 1785, which established a no less precise calendar and set of procedures for the commis employed by the sécretaires des états26. It is not anachronistic to use the term bureaucratic when discussing these measures, which formed part of a much broader campaign intended to force the officers and employees of the Estates to follow fixed working patterns. Many similar examples could be cited and in return for a more disciplined working environment, they were offered regular salaries, something approaching a career structure and ultimately retirement pensions27. The actual working methods of the differents bureaux were also subject to closer scrutiny. A deliberation of 20 December 1785 captured the wider sense of these reforms when in the preamble it was stated that28:

«Il serait important de rassembler avec soin, toutes les consultations qui ont été cy-devant données par les avocats-conseils des états, et de les réunir dans un seul registre par ordre des matières, afin de pouvoir y recourir et trouver au besoin».

  • 29 A.D. CO, C 3458.
  • 30 A.D. CO, C 3241, f° 118-119, 646-647.

16Here was an example of the work being pursued by the bureau des archives established in 1774, which had been busily compiling up to date registers of the decrees of the Estates, deliberations of the élus and much else besides encompassing the period from the Valois dukes to the eighteenth century29. The urge to collate information in an orderly and accessible fashion was extended to the province’s fiscal administration, and in May 1786 the receivers of the taille were ordered to keep daily registers of tax receipts, while the treasurer general was expected to produce quarterly records of their payments to him. All of these accounts were to be prepared on identical forms with a fixed number of columns and even the élus themselves were determined to show a greater respect for detail, what they termed «un ordre plus méthodique» when levying taxation30.

17The Estates of Burgundy were not alone in pioneering such reforms, but it is important to note that they were acting on their own initiative and over a sustained period of more than a quarter of a century it is possible to trace the lines of a more orderly, even professional administration. It is a fact of considerable importance because the chamber of élus and the permanent officers of the Estates controlled an administrative apparatus that was almost totally independent of the crown. More importantly the provincial administration had permanence, a powerful esprit de corps and a clearly defined sense of working on behalf of the Estates and the wider province of Burgundy–they were its representatives and officers and unlike the intendants the élus had a sense of being directly accountable to the Estates rather than the king or his ministers.

  • 31 J. Swann, The Estates of Burgundy, op. cit., pp. 195-196, 242-243.
  • 32 J. Roussot, Un comté adjacent à la Bourgogne aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles. Le Mâconnais, pays d’état (...)

18Local government in Burgundy was therefore in the hands of an experienced and comparatively efficient administration with a real sense of its own importance and history. The monarchy’s various attempts to centralise authority had usually ended in compromise with the Estates, and by the reign of Louis XVI the élus had a vast administrative remit, which included, amongst other things, the encouragement of agriculture, trade and commerce, the construction of roads and canals, the recruitment of the militia and the provision of military étapes. Far from being subject to royal centralisation, the Estates themselves were busy consolidating their authority. Burgundy, like the rest of the kingdom, possessed a complicated administrative and jurisdictional structure, and the very title Estates General of Burgundy was derived from the fact that they welcomed representatives not only from the duchy of Burgundy, but also from the comtés of Auxerre and Bar-sur-Seine and the états particuliers of the Charolais and the Mâconnais31. In 1668, the comté of Auxonne had been incorporated into the administration of the duchy and during the reign of Louis XV that movement had gathered pace, with the acquisition of Bar-sur-Seine in 1721 and the suppression of the états particuliers of the Charolais in 1751. Periodic attempts were made to wrest control of the Mâconnais, most seriously in 1763 and 1778, a campaign that was ultimately frustrated by the stern resistance of the bishop of Mâcon, président né of the états particuliers32. In Burgundy, it was therefore the Estates rather than the crown that were engaged in a form of administrative centralisation, and the élus were continually on the look out for opportunities to increase their own authority.

  • 33 J. Swann, The Estates of Burgundy…, op. cit., pp. 154-193, 295-329.
  • 34 A.D. CO, C 3307, f° 18. For a discussion of the situation in the other pays d’états, see M.-L. Lega (...)
  • 35 A.D. CO, C 3307, f° 14.
  • 36 Ibid., f° 15.

19However, it was the Estates’control of the local fiscal system that was the key to provincial independence and decentralised government in Burgundy. The élus decided the rates of direct taxes such as the taille and the capitation (for the taillables) and they had also received the right to levy indirect taxation on salt and to farm the octrois on goods passing down the river Saône33. Control over taxation provided the revenues needed to finance the various projects pursued by the Estates, and it gave them the confidence needed to ignore or even reject requests from the ministry which were not seen as being in the provincial interest. That said the financial relationship between the crown and the Estates was based upon an underlying interdependence. Under pressure from Necker the previous élus had borrowed extensively on behalf of the state and some 29 519 378 livres was owed in 178434. Three years later that sum had been reduced by 6 198 481 livres, with the whole debt due to be extinguished by 1 July 1801. Borrowing and repayments on this scale were possible because the king alienated the proceeds of direct taxation to cover the loans, something that was justified by public confidence in the Estates which could borrow more cheaply than the crown. It was a system mirrored in the other pays d’états, but the Estates of Burgundy also borrowed extensively on their own account, raising no less than 10 850 000 livres during the triennalité of 1784-178735. Some 4 850 000 livres were destined to pay for the three canals then under construction in Burgundy, principally the Canal du Centre that was completed in 1791. The other loans were intended to purchase the right to levy the aides in the comtés of Auxerre and Bar-sur-Seine from the crown and to pay for the suppression of a variety of offices, including those of «courtiers, jaugeurs, inspecteurs aux boissons et aux boucheries»36.

  • 37 J. Swann, The Estates of Burgundy…, op.cit., pp. 120, 220-221, 345-346.

20Persuading the Estates to use its credit to pay for the suppression of unwanted offices was one of the crown’s classic fiscal expedients. However the willingness to invest heavily in canals reveals the relative autonomy of the Estates. Richelieu, Colbert and many of their less illustrious successors had ordered the Estates to build a Canal de Bourgogne, even obliging them to raise substantial sums for that purpose but to no avail. By adopting a policy of passive resistance the Estates were able to ensure that these enterprises failed37. Yet when they were convinced of the merits of such a scheme, as with the Canal du Centre after 1780, the Estates provided the capital as well as the leadership needed to bring the project to fruition, through the efforts of their chief engineer, Emiland-Marie Gauthey, and the bureau des ponts et chaussées over which he presided. As for the purchase of the aides in the comtés that followed, as we shall see, the failure of an audacious bid to buy Auxerre and Bar-sur-Seine out of the jurisdiction of the Cour des Aides of Paris.

  • 38 Ibid., pp. 91-105.

21If control of local finance provided the foundations of provincial autonomy, the right to appoint the officers of the Estates was another crucial factor. Despite their title, the élus were no longer elected directly by the assembly, and the representatives of the clergy and nobility were chosen by the king, albeit with due deference to the interests of the governor, who frequently placed a member of his household in one or other of these positions38. Yet both the crown and the governor were obliged to take into account the sensibilities of powerful Burgundian families, such as the Damas, Saulx-Tavanes and Thyard, as well as the local bishops and major religious houses all of which expected to provide élus on a regular basis. As for the élus of the third estate, they were chosen in strict rotation from amongst the mayors of the fourteen towns eligible for the privilege. As the other élus included the mayor of Dijon, two representatives of the Chambre des Comptes and an élu du roi, who was, in reality, a member of the local Bureau des Finances, it becomes clear why the chamber had such a strong affinity with Burgundian interests and that it was not a rubber stamp for the demands of the crown.

  • 39 Ibid., pp. 235-237.
  • 40 A.D. CO, C 3333, f° 7-8.

22The permanent officers of the Estates were also local men, many with tight bonds of kinship and connections to the household or clientele of the Bourbon-Condé, and successive generations of the Chartraire, Rigoley and Bernard clans had served as treasurers and secrétaires des Etats. That situation was threatened between 1740 and 1754, when the untimely death of the duc of Bourbon meant that the Bourbon-Condé temporarily lost control of the governorship. During the minority of the prince de Condé, the crown imposed a series of regulations, notably that of 14 May 1742 reserving the right of appointment to most of the important permanent offices of the Estates39. In theory this was a severe blow to their authority, although in practice little changed due to the entrenched system of survivance and the reassertion of Condéan influence after 1754. The crown did, however, attempt to control the appointment of the receivers of the taille, who had previously been chosen by the élus, which was potentially a significant development, as it would have given the government greater knowledge of the local fiscal system. Opposition was comparatively muted prior to the accession of Louis XVI, but thereafter the élus began an increasingly energetic campaign against royal interference in the selection of receivers. The remonstrances presented to the king after every triennial assembly contained angry rhetoric about the threat posed to «la constitution de la province», with the élus arguing that40:

«La province formant un corps politique dans l’Etat, et ce corps ayant le droit de s’administrer lui même, sous la protection et l’autorité de Votre Majesté, on ne peut lui contester le droit qu’a essentiellement toute administration quelconque de choisir ses préposés».

  • 41 A.D. CO, C 3334, f° 15.
  • 42 A.D. CO, C 3357, f° 107, the élus to the prince de Condé, 1 March 1786.

23The élus were adamant that the receivers were nothing more than simple commissioners of the Estates, and in 1782 the king effectively ceded the point agreeing that they should submit their candidates for his approval41. The power of patronage was now firmly back in the hands of the élus, and when the receivership of Chalon-sur-Saône fell vacant in 1786 they promptly installed François Noirot, élu of the third estate, in the commission42. It was a good example of the wider determination of the élus to maintain direct control over the personnel working for their administration, ensuring that their primary loyalty was to the Estates.

  • 43 J. Swann, The Estates of Burgundy…, op. cit., p. 145.

24These ties of fidelity were reinforced by a deliberate policy of building a sense of pride amongst the employees of the provincial administration. In addition to awarding regular salaries and retirement pensions, the élus successfully lobbied the ministry for the ennoblement of their provincial ingénieurs, Thomas Dumorey and Gauthey, and also secured exemption from the taille for mayors who had served a minimum of twenty years in office. They were also determined to maintain a clear distinction between their own employees and those of the intendant. It was not uncommon for the mayor of a major town to serve simultaneously as the intendant’s subdelegate, creating a potential clash of interests. Jean-Francois Maufoux mayor of Beaune was a good example of a talented individual exercising these dual responsibilities, and when the élus became convinced that he had ignored their instructions he was dismissed in February 178143.

25The stern treatment of Maufoux reflected the fact that both the mayors and the receivers were appointed by the élus and were therefore expected to show respect and deference to their orders. As a result, they were treated as an extension of the provincial administration, fulfilling a role comparable to that of the subdélégués in the pays d’élections. The élus obliged them to perform a wide variety of tasks, including overseeing the musters for the provincial militia, verifying claims from individuals or villages for lost crops due to frost or hail and distributing relief in times of famine. However the crucial role of the receivers in the provincial tax system, from which they profited handsomely, meant that since at least the seventeenth century there had been complaints about them being months, if not years, in arrears with their payments, allowing them to use the funds for their own purposes. The Estates had frequently voted decrees forbidding the practice to no avail. From the early part of the reign of Louis XVI, the élus began a more systematic campaign, passing a series of deliberations designed to enforce a strict calendar for tax payments and regular updates of the rolls of the tailles and other direct taxes.

  • 44 A.D. CO, C 3239, f° 17 and C 3240, f° 289.
  • 45 A.D. CO, C 3239, f° 17.

26For the system to work effectively it was not sufficient to issue deliberations in Dijon because they tended to be forgotten or ignored, and as a result La Fare and his colleagues took positive steps to put their ideas into practice. Following the terms of the earlier deliberation of 18 December 1783, they appointed commissioners from the chamber to visit the province’s various bailliages, thus the secrétaire des états, Rousselot, was sent to Bar-Sur-Seine in August 1784 and the élu du roi, Jacques Febvre, to Auxerre in August 178544. According to the terms of their mission, they were to enter45:

«Dans la maison de chaque receveur… a faire représenter les registres de la recette tant des tailles et capitation que des vingtièmes, dresser procès verbal de l’état desdits registres, les arrêter par leurs signatures, ajourner ensuite les collecteurs, visiter leurs rôles, leur faire représenter toutes les quittances à eux données par le receveur, collationner ces quittances avec les registres de la recette, dresser procès verbal de l’exactitude ou de l’inexactitude des enregistrements, ainsi que l’état de la caisse et nous en faire rapport».

  • 46 A.D. CO, C 3241, f° 543.
  • 47 Ibid., f° 519.

27The élus were not simply concerned with verifying the movement of tax revenues through the acquisitive fingers of their officials; they also sent deputies to investigate the state of villages in arrears to discover if it was the inhabitants or the collectors who were at fault46. Having enforced the decisions of the previous élus, La Fare and his colleagues were confident enough to add their own refinements to the system in July 1786, stipulating that these commissions should be carried out by commis from both the bureau des tailles and the bureau des vingtiemes in Dijon. As for the receivers, after January 1787 they were obliged to «faire personnellement la visite de toutes les communautés de leurs recettes respectives à raison du tiers des dites communautés par chaque année»47. This was another refinement of earlier deliberations from 1775 and 1781 and it helps to demonstrate the gradual process by which the Burgundian administration modified its working practices and supervised the conduct of its officials. Many other examples could be cited, and La Fare and his colleagues were involved in everything from the purchase of sheep for the province’s model farm and agricultural school at Diénay to the redrafting of the map of military étapes in Burgundy, and it is clear that they formed an active and competent instrument of local government.

  • 48 A.N., K 683, f° 200-201, letter of abbé de La Fare to comte de Chastellux, April 1786.
  • 49 Ibid., f° 169, 172, letters of abbé de La Fare to comte de Chastellux, 11 October 1784, 14 October (...)
  • 50 Ibid., f° 172, letter of abbé de La Fare to comte de Chastellux, 14 October 1784.

28The triennalité of 1784-1787 was marked by a revival of the jurisdictional quarrels involving the élus, the Parlement of Dijon and the Cour des Aides of Paris about such diverse matters as cotes d’office, authority over chemins finerots and the aides levied in the comtés of Auxerre and Bar-sur-Seine. These arguments were reminiscent of those that had led to the Varenne affair during the reign of Louis XV, and the response of the élus says much about how responsibilities were divided amongst the members of the chamber. La Fare, based in Dijon, entered into a number of informal and ultimately fruitless negotiations with the premier président and the procureur général of the Parlement48. Thereafter he, and the conseils des états, kept a watchful eye on the arrêts and remonstrances that poured forth from the magistrates in Dijon. The comte de Chastellux, on the other hand, was sent to Versailles, where he was expected to confer with the relevant ministers and supply memoranda and arguments to counter those emanating from the parlementaires49. As many of the disputed issues were of a complicated technical nature, it was the permanent officers who prepared these documents. However, La Fare was also active, correcting and amending their drafts, staying up all night on at least one occasion in order to do so. He also took the precaution of contacting the infamous Jacques Varenne, whose brilliant attacks on the pretensions of the Parlements, written on behalf of the élus during the earlier crisis, had so outraged the parlementaires and led to his own disgrace50. Varenne was thus given the opportunity for a belated measure of revenge, which he accepted with alacrity.

29One of the principal reasons for Varenne’s notoriety was his ability to use the weapons of publicity, constitutional rhetoric and historicism, usually associated with the magistrates, against the parlements. La Fare and Chastellux were not frightened of putting their signatures to a series of deliberations and mémoires, which were clearly inspired (if not directly copied from) the works of Varenne. The predictable result was a torrent of invective from their rivals. As La Fare informed Chastellux, according to the parlementaires:

«Nos qualifications sont celles d’ambitieux, d’ignorans, de représentans d’un pouvoir régi par des subalterns, de tyrans et d’oppresseurs des peuples de contempteurs de l’authorité royale, ne voulans pas moins qu’ériger autel contre autel: on nous représente comme dignes de l’animadversion du souverain, et d’une juste punition».

  • 51 As La Fare’s correspondence makes clear, ibid., f° 173, letter of abbé de La Fare to comte de Chast (...)

30This stinging attack on the élus was clearly inspired by the earlier critique of Charles de Brosses and Malesherbes and while La Fare claimed to be «astonished» by the tone of these remonstrances he was nevertheless quick to enlist Varenne, l’abbé de Luzines and the conseil des états, André Remy Arnoult, to prepare a response. The need to match the remonstrances and arrêts of the parlementaires with their own published mémoires reflected a growing awareness of the importance of public opinion51. In these battles, the élus usually emerged with their jurisdiction confirmed, and often enhanced, due to the firm support of the ministry, which was conscious of the vital role played by the Estates in the Burgundian fiscal system. Perhaps for that same reason, public opinion tended to be sympathetic to the parlementaires, whose vocal criticisms of increased taxation struck a chord with the population as a whole.

  • 52 A.D. CO, C 3241, f° 429; C 3307, f° 14-16; and C 3350.

31If these clashes illustrate the way in which the élus and permanent officers worked together to protect the authority of the Estates, they also offer a glimpse of their institutional self-confidence. Frustrated by the continual disputes with the Cour des Aides, which due to one of the quirks of the old regime legal system had jurisdiction over the comtés of Auxerre and Bar-Sur-Seine, the élus offered to purchase their jurisdiction for the Parlement of Dijon52. Intentionally or not, it was a clever strategy with the potential to drive a wedge between two courts that had acquired the habit of combining their forces to attack the élus. For reasons that remain unclear, the crown, despite its pressing financial problems, declined the offer and the élus had to be content with paying more than 4 million livres for the suppression of the aides, which were a cause of many of these disputes, in the two comtés instead. That the élus should attempt to pay for the reorganisation of Burgundy’s jurisdiction says much about their ambition and the means at the disposal of the Estates. Unlike the crown in 1786, the élus had buoyant revenues and sound credit at their disposal, and ventures such as the purchase of the aides in Auxerre and Bar-sur-Seine or the construction of the Canal du Centre showed that they were not afraid to use them.

Conclusion

  • 53 For a stimulating recent study, see R. Descimon, F. Cosandey, L’absolutisme en France. Histoire et (...)
  • 54 Alexis de Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the Revolution, vol. I, ed. F. Furet and F. Mélonio, Lond (...)
  • 55 Ibid., p. 249.

32Historical writing about the early modern French state, its relationship with the provinces and with the noble elites has long lain under the shadow of the concept of centralisation. With due respect to individual nuance, generations of scholars have presented the growth of state power in an essentially teleological fashion, assuming the inevitability of a strong central government overcoming the opposition of Huguenots, overmighty aristocratic subjects and provincial parochialism53. An increasingly bureaucratic, administrative monarchy, symbolised by the work of the intendants, was seen as fundamental to this process, which was perhaps most elegantly described by Alexis de Tocqueville in his classic L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution54. The corollary to this argument was the assumption that the surviving provincial estates were little more than medieval relics–and Tocqueville himself was of the opinion that «real provincial liberty still existed in only Brittany and Languedoc; everywhere else the institution had entirely lost its virility and was nothing but a façade»55. Despite his dismissive tone, Tocqueville was conscious that monarchical centralisation was not universal, and it was probably not a coincidence that he placed his discussion of Languedoc in a separate appendix, where it would not complicate his centralising thesis. If he had looked more closely at the other pays d’états, he would have discovered that, at best, his arguments applied only to the pays d’élections.

  • 56 A. Rébillon, Les Etats de Bretagne…, op. cit.

33As for the pays d’états themselves, it is clear that they did not follow a common pattern of development. Some, like Burgundy, had long traditions of administrative autonomy based upon a strong permanent commission, institutional self-regulation, control of the local fiscal system and an almost unbroken affiliation with a princely House in the form of the Bourbon-Condé. Others, notably Brittany, often thought to be amongst the most independent of the pays d’états, had a deserved reputation for political truculence, but a much less developed tradition of self-government.56 Yet whatever their differences, the pays d’états were never centralised and cannot be viewed as the passive recipients of a process of royal decentralisation in the late eighteenth century. Instead, they represented an alternative model of state-building based upon a reinvigorated relationship between the provincial estates and the crown, one that emerged in parallel with the rule of the intendants in the pays d’élections.

  • 57 For an introduction to recent works, see: W. Beik, «The absolutism of Louis XIV as social collabora (...)
  • 58 W. Beik, Absolutism and society in seventeenth-century France. State power and provincial aristocra (...)
  • 59 The works of, for example, G. Bossenga, The politics of privilege: old regime and revolution in Lil (...)
  • 60 The works of Bossenga and Legay cited above reveal a similar pattern in Artois and Flanders.

34A system of mutually rewarding cooperation was central to the government of the pays d’états, and a series of revisionist studies have demonstrated how the crown acquired political support and ready access to taxation and credit in return for allowing the provincial estates to control the administrative life of the pays d’états57. In his study of seventeenth century Languedoc, William Beik presented this relationship as nothing less than a reconfigured form of feudalism, an alliance between a dominant ruling class and the state58. His argument is flawed, partly due to an unconvincing attempt to present a whole range of competing social and professional groups–aristocratic barons, robe nobles, officeholders and many others–as a single class59. As the example of Burgundy illustrates, those who actually controlled the provincial administration were from a comparatively narrow circle of great aristocratic families, sections of the local robe nobility and the extended clientele of the Bourbon-Condé. Many nobles were excluded from the Estates or, in the case of the parlementaires, were even in regular conflict with its administration60. Beik’s model is also unsatisfactory in that by placing such great emphasis on the establishment of new form of feudalism, he risks ignoring the degree of flexibility and dynamism that was such a feature of seventeenth and eighteenth century social and administrative life. Far from being simply a reactionary institution dedicated to the exploitation of provincial wealth for the benefit of a dominant ruling class, the chamber of élus offers an excellent example of how the nobility continued to exercise power in the provinces. Successive generations of families, from both robe and sword, served the Estates at what we might describe as the macro-level of provincial government, acting in a way that required forward planning and a degree of strategic thinking. They were also capable of mastering ever more complex technical problems, making minor amendments designed to improve the quality of the administration. Moreover, the chamber proved capable of implementing reforms, and even on occasions of challenging the system of privileges, principally fiscal, that were amongst the most glaring abuses of local government.

  • 61 J. Swann, The Estates of Burgundy…, op. cit., pp. 365-399.

35Yet if the institutional structures of local government in Burgundy were markedly different from those in the pays d’élections, there was nevertheless a crucial parallel between the model of rule by the Estates and their élus and that of the intendants. Both represented a form of state-building imposed from above, and neither could claim to have a popular mandate or the support of those over whom they ruled. Before 1789 many believed that the Estates of Burgundy could be reformed, through the introduction of genuine elections for the élus and wider representation from across all social groups, but not until the eve of the revolution was a serious attempt made61. By then it was too late, and the Estates, like the intendants, were swept away without protest as the Constituent Assembly redrew the administrative and institutional map of France basing their new order on popular, elective foundations.

Notes

1 For a selection of recent works: M.-L. Legay, Les Etats provinciaux dans la construction de l’Etat moderne, Genève Droz, 2001 and J. Swann, Provincial power and absolute monarchy: the Estates General of Burgundy, 1661-1790, Cambridge, 2003.

2 For Brittany, A. Rebillon, Les Etats de Bretagne de 1661 à 1789. Leur organisation, l’évolution de leurs pouvoirs, leur administration financière, Paris, 1932, while M.-L. Legay, Les Etats provinciaux…, op. cit., discusses developments in Artois and Flanders. Professor Arlette Jouanna offers a description of the situation in Languedoc in this collection, while for Burgundy see my «Les Etats généraux de Bourgogne: un gouvernement provincial au siècle des Lumières», Revue d’Histore Moderne et Contemporaine, 53-2, avril-juin 2006, pp. 35-69.

3 The argument developed by Jacques Varenne, Mémoire pour les élus généraux des états du duché de Bourgogne, Lyon, 1762, p. 61

4 J. Billioud, Les Etats de Bourgogne aux XIVe et XVe siècles, Dijon, 1922, p. 93.

5 B. Natcheson, «Absentee government and provincial governors in early modern France: the princes of Condé and Burgundy, 1660-1720», French Historical Studies, 21, 1998, pp. 265-98; K. Béguin, Les princes de Condé. Rebelles, courtisans et mécènes dans la France du grand siècle, Paris, 1999 and J. Swann, The Estates of Burgundy…, op. cit.

6 Studies of the fiscal system include, M. Potter and J-L. Rosenthal, «Politics and public finance in France; the estates of Burgundy, 1660-1790», Journal of Interdisciplinary History 27, 1997, pp. 577-612, and their «The Burgundian estates bond market; clienteles and intermediaries, 1660-1790», in Des personnes aux institutions: réseaux et culture du credit du XVIème au XXème siècle en Europe, Louvain-la-Neuve, 1997, pp. 173-95, and J. Swann, «War and finance in Louis XIV’s Burgundy, 1661-1715», in M. Ormrod, M. Bonney and R. Bonney eds., Crises, revolutions and self-sustained growth. Essays in European fiscal history, Stamford, 1999, pp. 294-322. The work of Legay, Les Etats provinciaux, pp. 177-238, provides an invaluable study of other regions and of how the fiscal system of the pays d’états compared with that of the pays d’élections.

7 J. Swann, The Estates of Burgundy…, op. cit., pp. 41-90 and 230-61; G. Dumay, «Une session des états généraux de Bourgogne à Autun en 1763», Mémoires de la Société Eduenne, VIII, 1879; and F. Dumont, Une session des états de Bourgogne. La tenue de 1718, Dijon, 1935.

8 The office of élu du roi had been purchased by the Estates during the reign of Louis XV and then sold to the Bureau des Finances, which nominated one of its officers for each triennalité.

9 J. Swann, «Power and provincial politics in eighteenth-century France: the Varenne affair, 1757-1763», French Historical Studies, 21, 1998, pp. 441-474, and S. Pannekoucke, «Laffaire Varenne (1760-1763). Jeux de clientèle et enjeux de pouvoir entre Versailles, Paris et Dijon», Annales de Bourgogne, 78, 2006, pp. 33-67.

10 Archives Départementales de la Côte d’Or [A.D.CO], C 3239.

11 N. Aston, The End of an elite. The French bishops and the coming of the Revolution, 1786-1790, Oxford, 1992, p. 101.

12 A. D. CO, C 3239-42. These figures have been obtained from the registers of the chamber of élus for the period August 1784 to February 1787. After February 1787, the élus of the three orders were at Versailles where they served on the Assembly of Notables.

13 Ibid.

14 Archives Nationales [A.N], K 683, f° 169, 186, 214, letters of abbé de La Fare to comte de Chastellux, 11 October 1784, 24 October 1785 and 29 December 1786.

15 Ibid., f° 199, letter of abbé de La Fare to comte de Chastellux, 28 March 1786; A. D. CO, C 3239, f° 55 and C 3241, f° 329, 552, 605, 720-721.

16 J. Swann, The Estates of Burgundy…, op. cit., pp. 91-125, and D. Ligou, «Elus et alcades des états de Bourgogne aux XVIIIe siècle», Actes du 92e Congrès des Sociétés Savantes, Paris, 1970, pp. 19-40.

17 A. N., K 683, f° 161, 167, letter of abbé de La Fare to comte de Chastellux, 17 October 1783 and 5 October 1784.

18 He served from 1772 to 1775 and again from 1781 to 1784.

19 A.N., K 683, f° 172, letter of abbé de La Fare to comte de Chastellux, 14 October 1784.

20 Ibid., f° 250, letter of Jean-Baptiste Duchilleau, bishop of Chalon-sur-Saône to comte de Chastellux, 5 [January] 1788.

21 Ibid., f° 166, letter of abbé de La Fare to comte de Chastellux, 18 September 1784. For another example of the same type, see ibid, f° 169, letter of abbé de La Fare to comte de Chastellux, 11 October 1784.

22 J. Billioud, Les Etats de Bourgogne aux XIVe et XVe siècles, Dijon, 1922, p. 93.

23 A.D. CO, C 3055, «Déliberation qui établit un ordre fixe et méthodique dans les opérations qui doivent chaque année occuper successivement la chambre dans le cours de la séance d’hiver», and A.D. CO, C 3240, f° 379-390. Deliberations issued by the élus regulated the work of the chamber and of the wider Burgundian administration, and were binding unless quashed by the crown.

24 The preamble referred in particular to the remarques of the alcades of 1784, who, impressed by the work of the élus of 1781-4, had presented their remarques in almost identical format to that codified by the deliberation of December 1785, A.D. CO, C 3306, «Rapport et remarques des commissaires alcades de la province de Bourgogne, 1784».

25 A.D. CO, C 3055, «Déliberation qui établit un ordre fixe».

26 A.D. CO, C 3240, f° 400 and C 3453, «Mémoire» and «Mémoire pour server de suite au mémoire relative au travail des bureaux».

27 A.D. CO, C 3241, f° 135, and C 3456, deliberation of 1 March 1786.

28 A.D. CO, C 3240, f° 410.

29 A.D. CO, C 3458.

30 A.D. CO, C 3241, f° 118-119, 646-647.

31 J. Swann, The Estates of Burgundy, op. cit., pp. 195-196, 242-243.

32 J. Roussot, Un comté adjacent à la Bourgogne aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles. Le Mâconnais, pays d’états et d’élection, Mâcon, 1937.

33 J. Swann, The Estates of Burgundy…, op. cit., pp. 154-193, 295-329.

34 A.D. CO, C 3307, f° 18. For a discussion of the situation in the other pays d’états, see M.-L. Legay, Les Etats provinciaux…, op. cit., pp. 177-238.

35 A.D. CO, C 3307, f° 14.

36 Ibid., f° 15.

37 J. Swann, The Estates of Burgundy…, op.cit., pp. 120, 220-221, 345-346.

38 Ibid., pp. 91-105.

39 Ibid., pp. 235-237.

40 A.D. CO, C 3333, f° 7-8.

41 A.D. CO, C 3334, f° 15.

42 A.D. CO, C 3357, f° 107, the élus to the prince de Condé, 1 March 1786.

43 J. Swann, The Estates of Burgundy…, op. cit., p. 145.

44 A.D. CO, C 3239, f° 17 and C 3240, f° 289.

45 A.D. CO, C 3239, f° 17.

46 A.D. CO, C 3241, f° 543.

47 Ibid., f° 519.

48 A.N., K 683, f° 200-201, letter of abbé de La Fare to comte de Chastellux, April 1786.

49 Ibid., f° 169, 172, letters of abbé de La Fare to comte de Chastellux, 11 October 1784, 14 October 1784.

50 Ibid., f° 172, letter of abbé de La Fare to comte de Chastellux, 14 October 1784.

51 As La Fare’s correspondence makes clear, ibid., f° 173, letter of abbé de La Fare to comte de Chastellux, 19 October 1784.

52 A.D. CO, C 3241, f° 429; C 3307, f° 14-16; and C 3350.

53 For a stimulating recent study, see R. Descimon, F. Cosandey, L’absolutisme en France. Histoire et historiographie, Paris, 2002.

54 Alexis de Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the Revolution, vol. I, ed. F. Furet and F. Mélonio, London, 1998.

55 Ibid., p. 249.

56 A. Rébillon, Les Etats de Bretagne…, op. cit.

57 For an introduction to recent works, see: W. Beik, «The absolutism of Louis XIV as social collaboration», Past and Present, 188, 2005, pp. 195-224.

58 W. Beik, Absolutism and society in seventeenth-century France. State power and provincial aristocracy in Languedoc, Cambridge, 1985, pp. 42-55, 335-339.

59 The works of, for example, G. Bossenga, The politics of privilege: old regime and revolution in Lille, Cambridge, 1991; James B. Collins, Classes, estates, and order in early modern Brittany Cambridge, 1994; and M.-L. Legay, Les Etats provinciaux…, op. cit., offer good examples of a more flexible approach to the problem of social groups, institutions and political power in the French provinces.

60 The works of Bossenga and Legay cited above reveal a similar pattern in Artois and Flanders.

61 J. Swann, The Estates of Burgundy…, op. cit., pp. 365-399.

Table des illustrations

Titre Assemblies of the chambre des élus, 1784-87
URL http://books.openedition.org/septentrion/docannexe/image/40995/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 120k
Titre Atendance of the Elus, 1784-87
URL http://books.openedition.org/septentrion/docannexe/image/40995/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 74k

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