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From Valor to Pedigree

From Valor to Pedigree: Ideas of Nobility in France in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

Ellery Schalk
Copyright Date: 1986
Pages: 262
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  • Book Info
    From Valor to Pedigree
    Book Description:

    This study offers a new interpretation of how nobility was viewed in sixteenth-century France and the changes that occurred in that view as France moved into the period of religious wars and popular rebellions and the appearance of the absolutist state.

    Originally published in 1986.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5432-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xviii)

    In trying to understand how people of the sixteenth century viewed their world socially, historians in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have not, as a rule, had an easy time of it. Much of what was said about society in the period, apart from the usual clichés about the three estates, appears to lack not only perception but is also confused, contradictory, and naive. When trying to understand the meaning of the concept of nobility, modern historians—with a few recent and very interesting exceptions¹—have simply tended to rely on more contemporary conceptions of society and social structure, and...


    • 1 The Military Profession As a Social Class in the Sixteenth Century
      (pp. 3-20)

      To talk of nobility as a profession or function is in some ways not new. Max Weber, for instance, also at times considered nobility a sort of profession. Nobility stood for or represented a ruling or dominant class, and with the inherited position of nobles went a whole series of rights of rulership and rights of action and authority.¹ In this sense nobility was more than just inherited privilege and represented a kind of function in society, as it indeed did, in different ways, for Marx. But views like Weber’s and Marx’s are products of later times, and sixteenth-century people...

    • 2 Nobility As Virtue and the Medieval Origins of the “Feudal-Military” View
      (pp. 21-36)

      If nobility in the sixteenth century was conceived of as a function, that function was to act virtuously. The concept ofvertuis indeed a crucial part of this view. For the people of sixteenth-century France, it served to include all the qualities associated with being noble. These included courage and prowess in battle as well as personal qualities such as uprightness, selflessness when defending the weak and poor, loyalty to one’s monarch or one’s military leader or superior, honesty, and adherence to the morals of the time. To contemporaries, and above all to nobles, nobility was the profession of...

    • 3 The Ancient and Renaissance Italian Traditions and the Continued Predominance of the Medieval View
      (pp. 37-62)

      The feudal-military view of nobility, with its medieval origins emphasizing the military side of nobility, which was perceived essentially as virtuous action, could hardly have lasted as the more modern world took shape in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries. And indeed it would change. Surprisingly, the view did not change, at least in France, in the way one might expect. The transformation was not one of the Renaissance, but one of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, forced along essentially not by the introduction of texts or ideas from outside, but by the pressure of internal social and...


    • 4 Troubles of the 1570s and 1580s and the Beginnings of the Prise de Conscience
      (pp. 65-93)

      The period of the Wars of Religion in France, beginning in 1559 with the accidental death of Henry II or, if one prefers, in 1562 with the first actual outbreak of serious hostilities, saw the emergence of a series of overwhelming problems that could not be solved with the political and military structures and attitudes of the first half of the century.¹ This period was crucial, as has become clear,² for setting the direction of the society of the early seventeenth century, and indeed of the whole ancien régime. Political breakdown, chaos, and confusion, and the intensive debate about the...

    • 5 The Crucial Years: The Early 1590s
      (pp. 94-112)

      Many of the general factors that led to the end of the medieval view of nobility and to the adoption of a much different and more “modern” view had already been at work since the thirteenth century; but the crucial period for this transformation appears to have been the final years of crisis and upheaval in the early 1590s, just before the imposition of thesolution Henri IVin 1594. We have seen how the feudal-military view remained dominant in people’s minds in the first two-thirds of the sixteenth century and how in the 1570s and 1580s, under the stress...


    • 6 The Separation of Virtue and Nobility and The Absolutist State in the First Half of the Seventeenth Century
      (pp. 115-144)

      A comparison of writings on the question of nobility in the first half of the seventeenth century with those sixteenth-century writings we have looked at so far reveals some remarkable differences in tone, in approach, and indeed in basic assumptions. The difference is especially striking when we compare the numerous and very vocal noble writers of the 1570s and 1580s, who strongly emphasized virtue and action, with the upper-class and noble writers of the first decade of the seventeenth century. Indeed, the great distance between the two—a distance that should become clear in the early part of this chapter...

    • 7 Old and New Marques de Noblesse and the Diminished Importance of Nobility in the First Half of the Seventeenth Century
      (pp. 145-173)

      The separation of the concepts of virtue and action from nobility in the first half of the seventeenth century and the new emphasis on birth signalled the downfall of the medieval view of nobility. The key change had taken place. In the sixteenth century, except for some glorification of the ancientness of some individual upper-class families, the only really strong emphasis on birth and blood had been for the families of the kings, in order to separate, for instance, the princes of the blood from the peers.¹ From the early seventeenth century on, then, nobility as a collective social group...

    • 8 Education, the Academies, and the Emergence of the New Image of the Cultured Noble-Aristocrat
      (pp. 174-201)

      If one were to ask people today to designate onemarque de noblesse, after birth, that most characterizes or belongs with nobility, most would undoubtedly name a certain kind of “culture,” a special sort of civilization, an urbanity and savoir-faire, that somehow, they would say, belongs to and with nobles and nobility. We can cite innumerable examples from literature and life of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and indeed twentieth centuries about typical, cultured noble-aristocrats as well as new nobles who, after obtaining the legal privilege or title, would set out to educate themselves and their families and in particular their progeny...

  8. 9 Conclusions and Perspectives
    (pp. 202-222)

    At the beginning of this study we saw that nobility in the sixteenth century was understood quite differently than is normally assumed, that it was still thought of in essentially medieval terms as a profession or function, a métier, or as something one does. We then saw that at the heart of this view, in terms of what people were actually supposed to do to be noble, lay the concept ofvertu, or of virtuous action. We saw that this view not only persisted throughout much of the sixteenth century, but actually dominated people’s thinking on the question almost without...

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 223-232)
  10. Index
    (pp. 233-241)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 242-242)