William Doyle

in The Oxford Handbook of the Ancien Régime

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199291205
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History


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The idea of the Ancien Régime can be traced back to the French Revolution. As soon as it became clear, during the summer of 1788, that the structure and apparatus of authority in France was collapsing, people began to look forward to an era of change. Suddenly, it seemed, all their dreams of a better, juster, fairer, kinder, freer order of things might be made to come true. Nothing was exempt from these expectations, and they were only fanned in the spring of 1789 when all the King's subjects, prior to electing the Estates-General, which was expected to solve all the kingdom's problems, were invited to draw up lists of their grievances. Much of the Ancien Régime as the revolutionaries defined it is still accepted by historians as a meaningful framework for study. Revolutionary destruction sliced like a guillotine through its fabric, and exposed for posterity a vivid cross-section or snapshot of how things were before the cataclysm struck. But in condemning the Ancien Régime to death so comprehensively, the revolutionaries tended to erase the memory of its previous life, bequeathing a static version of the world before their own emergence which denied it vitality.

Keywords: Ancien Régime; French Revolution; revolutionaries; King's subjects; authority; era of change

Article.  3614 words. 

Subjects: History ; European History

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