The Political Role of the Bishops

John McManners

in Church and Society in Eighteenth-Century France Volume 2: The Religion of the People and the Politics of Religion

Published in print July 1999 | ISBN: 9780198270041
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191600692 | DOI:

Series: Oxford History of the Christian Church

 The Political Role of the Bishops

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As the crisis of the ancien régime developed amidst plans to reform the parlous condition of state finances, bishops were called upon to play a political role in the various assemblies called to vote money for the crown. The Assembly of the Gallican Church in 1785 was preoccupied above all with the preservation of clerical fiscal privileges, while in the Assembly of Notables of 1787, the 15 bishops coordinated opposition to the money‐raising schemes of the director‐general of finances, Calonne. When Calonne was replaced by the archbishop of Toulouse, Loménie de Brienne, the new director‐general promised to uphold the clergy's privileges but proposed wide‐ranging new taxes, meeting universal opposition. Bishops presided over the provincial assemblies that were supposed to vote the new taxes, but could do little to overcome the opposition. The Assemblies of the Clergy continued to defend their privileges while also claiming to ‘speak for the nation’ in affirming the traditional limits on royal power and calling for regular sessions to oversee expenditure. When Loménie de Brienne's decision to call an Estates General opened up a Pandora's Box of complaints and ideas, the bishops presiding at provincial Estates could do nothing to control events.

Keywords: Assembly of Notables; bishops; Church assemblies; Estates; finance; taxation

Chapter.  11761 words. 

Subjects: History of Christianity

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