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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In cultural terms the Ancien Régime began with the Renaissance and the Reformation. The monolithic authority of the medieval Catholic Church had gone, and the next three centuries were a time when extensive energies were devoted by anxious established churches to maintaining some authority by monopolizing education and persecuting dissent. By the eighteenth century, irreligion and “free thought” were coming to be seen as even more dangerous than the latter. Partly this was because the spread of literacy, and the growing desire of moneyed elites to invest in expensive education, gave increasing numbers access to media that might subvert faith or obedience if uncontrolled. The revolutionaries of 1789 condemned censorship and religious intolerance as cardinal vices of the Ancien Régime. They looked back on the growth of free thought or “philosophy” as the source of their reforming agenda.

Keywords: literacy; free thought; Ancien Régime; Reformation; Renaissance; religious intolerance; reforming agenda

Article.  2781 words. 

Subjects: History ; European History

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