Review of Rennes Et Ses Derniers Seigneurs by Rene Descadeillas


Reviewed Work: Rennes et ses derniers seigneurs 1730-1820. Contribution à l'étude économique et sociale de la baronnie de Rennes (Aude) au XVIIIe siecle. By Renè Descadeillas. [Bibliothéque Méridionale, Second Series, Number 39] (Toulouse: Edouard Privat. 1964. Pp. xxvi, 294. 29 fr.)

The Hautpoul family represented the "middling" nobility in eighteenth-century provincial France. Ilene Descadeillas traces the history of the family and of the local rural community south of Carcassonne from 1730 to the Bourbon Restoration. He has explored tax rolls, parish registers, family papers, and especially the local notarial archives to describe three generations of Hnutpouls and their barony of Rennes (5,000 hectares and 562 inhabitants in 1789) in the upper Aude Valley. Pushing the account through the Revolution is an improvement on previous regional studies which usually terminate in 1789. The compact chapter on social and economic conditions of the region in 1789 surveys demographic changes, social groups, division of the soil, agricultural methods, grain prices, wages, taxes, and seigneurial dues. The chapter on the region in 1815 is less complete largely because the sources are less rich, but the general situation seems clear enough. The changes wrought by the Revolution in this relatively remote agricultural area were not spectacular from an economic point of view. If there were only 20 censitaires (in a community of 350) with enough land to live on in 1789, there were still only 20 "proprietors" with self-sustaining farms in 1807. On the other hand, the heavy burden of seigneurial dues and Church dimes had been lifted and farm wages had risen 28 per cent while bread prices had risen only 15 per cent in the same eighteen years.

As for the Hautpouls of Rennes, their economic decline had been precipitated in 1753 by the absence of a male heir and the equal division of the family estate among three daughters after a seventeen-year lawsuit. Descadeillas then follows the maneuvers of three branches of the family during the 1790's. Inprisonment and expropriation did not hurt the family as much as the forced and premature division of the property because a brother or a husband had emigrated. As a result, some, like Alexandre d'Hautpoul, ended their lives in the proverbial crumbling chateau with a military pension of a few hundred livres in the 1820's. Others, like the Fleury children, held on to their mother's land by ingenious legal delays and profitably turned the estate into a watering sps in the Restoration years. Perhaps more had changed than first met the eye. In 1822 the peasants of Bain de Rennes petitioned the prefect, asserting that their "former seigneur armed with feudal power" was no longer the "arbitrary dispenser of the product of their sweat." Although a Hautpoul was still their mayor, traditional deference of the local population was gradually giving way to an awareness of civil rights.

© 2019 Mariano Tomatis Antoniono