French nobles and urban clienteles in seventeenth century Languedoc
Nobility -- France -- Languedoc -- History -- 17th century Ευγενείς -- Γαλλία -- Languedoc -- Ιστορία -- 17ος αιώνας
During the French Wars of Religion of 1562-1629, many southern French nobles formed urban clienteles through their municipal offices and urban connections. Unlike nobles in northern France, many nobles in Languedoc and Guyenne had urban dwellings and occupied key offices in the municipal government. These elites with urban connections did not represent merely the newly ennobled families, but many of the highest-ranking warrior noble families in southern France. The Montmorency family, for example, had urban holdings in Pézenas and many other warrior nobles had an urban presence in key cities such as Toulouse, Castres, Montpellier, and Nîmes. Urban clienteles depended on warrior nobles’ residence or frequent presence in a town. Many nobles in southwestern France maintained hôtels, or townhouses, which could easily act as fortifications since they were usually constructed with heavy gateways which opened into rectangular dwellings surrounding central courtyards. Nobles could provide protection to urban clients by using their hôtels as places of refuge during civil conflicts within the town. Many patrons found clients and recruited troops in urban settings. Historians have long recognized the importance of lavish spending for early modern noble families, and French nobles spent vast sums on clothing, furnishings, art, and other luxuries. While nobles’ displays of wealth have been seen as frivolous extravagances, recent work stresses the importance of conspicuous consumption as a vital means of establishing and securing nobles’ status and self-identities. Nobles defined themselves partially through their ability to ‘live nobly’, that is to be able to afford a luxurious lifestyle and a standard of living befitting a French noble on the basis of peers’ judgments. The extravagant displays of wealth so popular with early modern nobles established status wealth, but also represented ways of furthering their political aims and developing economic investments. Warrior nobles’ urban properties also offered them ways of enhancing their prestige and status. Warrior nobles whose families had occupied consular office often had extensive urban clienteles. While consuls could certainly have administrative clienteles, the temporary and provisional nature of consular authority tended to prevent the development of significant consular administration. The rotating nature of the consulat, with most consul posts having a duration of only one year, made official administrative connections difficult for nobles to cultivate as consuls. Since civic bureaucracy was fairly limited and consuls performed duties with few official subordinates, warrior nobles elected as consuls exercised power through their urban clienteles instead of relying on administrative connections. Consular office acted as an important sign of prominence for a warrior noble with an urban clientele, giving his clients enhanced status during his term. The composition of the consulat was often vital in determining the fate of a town during civil conflicts. Consuls not only ran civic government and administration, but made religious policies, determined loyalties, and controlled access during civil conflicts. Religious conflict during the Wars of Religion led to increased competition over consul offices between urban clienteles. Many towns in Languedoc had a mixed consulat, with consuls of both Catholic and Protestant faiths. Nobles of each confession tried to strengthen their clienteles and win control of the consulat by gaining more consul posts. Many sénéchaux, baillis, and town governors also developed urban clienteles. This paper will aim to analyze the complex urban networks of French nobles in the province of Languedoc during the French Wars of Religion, a key transitional period in which urban elites interacted in new ways as they participated in religious and civil violence.
Paper presented at Seventh International Conference on Urban History: European City in Comparative Perspective, Panteion University, Athens - Piraeus, Greece, 27-30 October 2004, Session: Living in the city: Urban Elites and their residences