Review of Rennes Et Ses Derniers Seigneurs by Rene Descadeillas

THE ENGLISH HISTORICAL REVIEW (81), NO.321. (OCT. 1966), PAGES 837-838. • OCTOBER 1966

Social historians as well as local antiquarians and, more generally, all those who are interested in the transition from the Ancien Regime to nineteenth-century France will welcome M. Renè Descadeillas's scholarly study, Rennes et ses derniers Seigneurs, 1730-1820 (Toulouse: E. Privat, 1964. 29 F.).

This is an attempt to rescue the eighteenth-century history of the barony of Rennes in the Aude department from the elements of local folklore and mystery which have hitherto surrounded it. Popular interest in this obscure locality has in recent times centred round the tales of treasure trove unearthed by a local cleric at the end of the nineteenth century and the vicissitudes and final decline of the hereditary holders of the barony - the family of the Hautpoul. Utilizing the rich notarial and other local records in the departmental archives, the author has succeeded in analysing the social and economic history of the four isolated and poverty-stricken villages of Rennes, Bains de Rennes, Granks and Saint-Just, which together constituted the barony in the later stages of the Ancien Regime and in reconstituting the complicated legal and genealogical pattern of the Hautpoul family at the time of the final dispersion of its estates. Much has been made of the existence in the diversified rural structure of France before 1789 of a 'rural bourgeoisie'; the more general significance of the present study derives from the complete absence of such a social class in this remote area of southern France where the ownership of land rested exclusively with the local nobility. In this situation it is noticeable that neither the various branches of the Hautpoul family, nor their feudal tenantry, seem to have been aware at the time of precisely how their condition and prospects were likely to be affected by the turmoil of the revolution. The peasantry here were slow to protest against their feudal obligations and advanced no initial claims for their extinction. It was not until the Empire that they began to appreciate how they were likely ultimately to benefit from the revolutionary upheavals, which for most of them had meant scarcities, war and insecurity. Nor were the main features of the more capitalistic structure of the future fully revealed to the local nobility till the period of the restoration. All this reinforces the arguments of those historians who have stressed the necessity of studying the social and economic consequences of the revolution of 1789 in a larger chronological framework. The merits and interest of such treatment are well exemplified in this particular work.

© 2017 Mariano Tomatis Antoniono