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Becoming a French Aristocrat

Becoming a French Aristocrat: The Education of the Court Nobility, 1580-1715

Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 252
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  • Book Info
    Becoming a French Aristocrat
    Book Description:

    Focusing on the highest-ranking segment of the nobility, Mark Motley examines why a social group whose very essence was based on hereditary status would need or seek instruction and training for its young. As the "warrior nobility" adopted the courtly life epitomized by Versailles--with its code of etiquette and sensitivity to language and demeanor--education became more than a vehicle for professional training. Education, Motley argues, played both the conservative role of promoting assertions of "natural" superiority appropriate to a hereditary aristocracy, and the more dynamic role of fostering cultural changes that helped it maintain its power in a changing world.

    Based on such sources as family papers and correspondence, memoirs, and pedagogical treatises, this book explores education as it took place in the household, in secondary schools and riding academies, and at court and in the army. It shows how such education combined deference and solidarity, language and knowledge, and ceremonial behavior and festive disorder. In so doing, this work contends that education was an integral part of the aristocracy's response to absolutism in the French monarchy.

    Originally published in 1990.

    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: 978-1-4008-6122-4
    Subjects: History, Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. Principal Abbreviations
    (pp. x-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-17)

    Education has long been a fascinating problem for students of the nobility of Early Modern France. Why should a social group whose very essence was based on hereditary status need or seek instruction and training? Observers of the French social scene in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries cited ignorance and aversion to learning as defining characteristics of thenoblesse de race, whose ascribed social function was to fight rather than to preach, teach, or judge cases in a court of law.¹ Even nobles such as the captain François de La Noue admitted that the decline of what had...

  6. ONE Family and Household Education
    (pp. 18-67)

    The first and perhaps most important context for the education of aristocratic children was the great household, which usually contained not only parents and children but kin, servants, and clients as well. It was an essential source of power and prestige for the aristocracy until the last decades of the Old Regime, and therefore remained a natural means of educating children, for it was through the household that the dense network of relationships of kinship, clientele, and service was transmitted from generation to generation. This chapter will argue that it is a mistake to see the great household simply as...

  7. TWO Language and Letters
    (pp. 68-122)

    The French nobility of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries was distinguished in the eyes of many of its contemporaries by an aversion to formal education in letters and sciences, which was centered on the the study of Latin. This was ascribed to what the pedagogical writer François d’Espagnet called in 1613 the “false and ridiculous opinion they have that knowledge and arms are incompatible,” while according to another author commenting on the nobility of the early seventeenth century, it was simply a “hereditary madness among our gentlemen to despise letters and sciences because of hatred of the nobles...

  8. THREE The Academy
    (pp. 123-168)

    Upon finishing their instruction in letters at home or at school, a new stage began in the education of young aristocrats, in which they were introduced to social life at court and military skills in the army. It was common in the sixteenth century to begin this double apprenticeship at the onset of adolescence, but as the century drew to a close many prominent nobles argued that as a result of changes in social, cultural, and military life a new form of socialization for young nobles was necessary. This chapter will examine the new educational institution and the new stage...

  9. FOUR Entering the World
    (pp. 169-208)

    As aristocrats passed through each phase of their education, from the household, to school, to the riding academy, more and more of their behavior took place in public, where highly formalized codes of eating, speaking, and gesture had to be followed, without the overt aid of family, friends, or teachers. In some cases special ceremonial occasions marked these transitions, requiring that a boy or adolescent demonstrate publicly the “natural” qualities of nobility. This social initiation eventually culminated in a moment of transition known as “entering the world,” in which young nobles definitively established their claim to adult status through participation...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 209-212)

    The new importance of education to the aristocracy during the seventeenth century is best seen as part of the complex process by which the nature of their power was transformed in response to absolutism. In this respect, four principal conclusions emerge. First, while education in skills such as literacy, geography, or military mathematics did help prepare most aristocrats for careers as officers, the significance of this educational program was not primarily that of professional preparation. Rather, it lay above all in the way in which education helped them to develop the cultural resources to manage the growing role the court...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 213-232)
  12. Index
    (pp. 233-241)