French nobility

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The French nobility - like the German - emerged from the feudal system of the Middle Ages and until the revolution of 1789 was divided into a high and a low nobility .


The high nobility (to which the ruling Capetians also belonged) fought a bloody struggle against the royal power for centuries, which began with denominational differences and from which the victorious kingship emerged strengthened.

17th to 18th centuries

In the course of the 17th century, the Bourbons - as the last ruling Capetians - and their ministers Richelieu and Mazarin finally succeeded, through alliance with the Protestant powers and anti-Habsburg politics, in completely breaking the power of the nobility and transforming them into a court nobility at the shining Transforming court of Versailles . The expensive housekeeping and cloakroom at court, in addition to the usual card game for money, led to moral and economic ruin for many country gentlemen. The older nobility was also considerably weakened by the introduction of the service nobility ( noblesse de robe ) . The only privilege left to this greatly increased nobility was tax exemption, which was rigidly adhered to until the revolution and which widened the gap between the nobility and the bourgeoisie.

In the ancien régime relatively few titles were awarded; the titles of the large houses mostly go back to the Middle Ages. The age of the families was decisive for the rank. Nevertheless, many of the old, actually untitled noble families held titles that they had acquired themselves at court and that were tacitly accepted there. Often they were also entered in the parish registers of these families' estates. These presumptuous, never awarded titles are used in France as titres de courtoisie (titles of courtesy). France had no aristocratic registers , which led to an extensive trade in certification documents in the late period of the Bourbon kings. In the German Gotha , for example, when marrying, these titles are not registrable.

French Revolution

With the beginning of the French Revolution on August 4, 1789, the privileges of the nobility were abolished by the Constituent Assembly , but the nobility retained their titles. Farmers could redeem their land from their previous landlords for a sum of 20 times the previous annual taxes. On August 26, 1789, the declaration of human and civil rights came into force, but it was not until June 19, 1790 that the rights of inheritance of titles of nobility were abolished.

First empire

Coat of arms of Joseph Fouché (1759–1820). The blue open quarter with the golden lion's head indicates the rank of the owner as a count in the 1st Empire.

Napoleon Bonaparte created a new nobility, noblesse impériale , out of people who served him (with the ranks duke , count , baron and knight ). The title of marquis was not awarded in the Napoleonic Empire; instead, the Napoleonic nobility had a precisely regulated heraldic system that also clearly indicated the rank of a coat of arms owner.

Napoleon awarded a total of around 2200 titles of nobility, which remained in place even after his overthrow. Of the families raised to the nobility by Napoleon, 239 families still existed in 1975. In addition to new appointments, Napoleon also took part of the old nobility into his system and gave them new titles and coats of arms .

Restoration of the Bourbons

The Bourbon Restoration of 1814 formally recognized the imperial nobility and reinstated the old one in its titles, but tacitly tolerated members of the old lower nobility accepting the titles of barons, counts and marquis without ever confirming them. This self-nobility is a phenomenon that still exists in France today (around 10,000 families were “false nobility” in 2004).

The meeting room of the Chambre des Pairs in the Palais du Luxembourg (1841)

From 1830 to 1848, the civil kingship of Louis Philippe restored the upper house built by the Bourbons and granted hereditary titles.

As part of the constitutional constitution, the nobility was given a political say in the Chambre des Pairs , the upper house of parliament.

Second empire

Coat of arms of Patrice de Mac-Mahon (1808-1893). The red head of the shield with the stars indicates the rank of the owner as a duke in the 2nd Empire.

The Second Empire under Napoleon III. awarded further titles of nobility.

French Republic

With the proclamation of the Third Republic in 1870, in return to the declaration of human rights and the principle of equality, all noble privileges were abolished and no new nobility titles have been awarded since then. Nevertheless, an awareness of class and class differences persisted in society into the 20th century. The families of the Ancien Régime looked down with contempt on the families of the noblesse impériale . Marcel Proust's series of novels, In Search of Lost Time, depicts these rivalries around 1900 very vividly.

French courts under the 1958 Constitution ruled that the concept of nobility is incompatible with the equality of citizens according to the Declaration of Human Rights of 1789. Thus, the nobility as a legal term and status in France is officially abolished. However, titles that are hereditary in the monarchies are recognized as part of the name under the original inheritance rules, but cannot be acquired or appropriated by self-acceptance or common law. They are protected by French law like the name, even if they do not include any privileges or privileges.

Situation today

The supervision of the former nobility titles is exercised by an office of the French Ministry of Justice, which a title holder for use in official documents such as z. B. Authorize birth certificates. The French pretender to the throne from the House of Orléans still confers ducal titles within his family today, which today's French courts refer to as purely courtesy titles, but which are also used as such.

There are several organizations that presuppose the nobility as a criterion for admission and that have set themselves the goal of mutual support, safeguarding the interests of the nobility and expanding their sphere of influence. In France, the ANF ( Association d'entraide de la noblesse française ) should be mentioned in particular . At the European level, for example, the nobility is represented by the Association de la Noblesse Européenne .

Title of French nobility

The rank titles of the French nobility in the old monarchy corresponded to the system in the rest of Europe: Duke (Duc), Marquis (Marquis), Count (Comte), Vice-Count (Viscount), Freiherr (Baron), Knight (Chevalier) and simple lord or squire (seigneur) .

Surviving ducal families

From the old high nobility of the Capetians , the following ducal families have survived to this day: Audiffret-Pasquier, Bauffremont , Blacas d'Aulps , Caylus ( House Rougé ), Cossé-Brissac , Broglie , des Cars, Choiseul-Praslin , Clermont-Tonnerre , Gramont , Harcourt , de Riquet de Caraman (from 1828 Ducs de Caraman), Caumont (from 1637 Ducs de La Force), La Rochefoucauld , Durfort de Civrac (Ducs de Lorges), d'Albert ( Duke of Luynes ), Maillé de la Tour-Landry , Montesquiou-Fezensac , Rochechouart ( Dukes of Mortemart ), Noailles , Polignac , Sabran-Pontevès, Rohan-Rochefort , Rohan-Chabot (of the Chabot tribe) and Crussol ( Dukes of Uzès ).

In the case of other families who still have noble names such as the house of La Tour d'Auvergne-Lauraguais , the historical connection to the old royal lines of nobility is unclear (due to alleged illegitimate origin).

The Napoleonic dukes (six families are still in bloom) are mostly descendants of marshals : Suchet d'Albufèra, Davout d'Auerstädt, Goyon de Feltre , Mac-Mahon de Magenta, Lannes de Montebello, Fouché d'Otrante , Masséna de Rivoli. They were initially boycotted by the old nobility, but then increasingly recognized in the course of the 19th century in view of the rise of a rich bourgeoisie, so that today there are numerous family ties between the two groups of dukes.


  • Monique de Saint-Martin: The nobility. Sociology of a class. UVK, Konstanz 2003 (Edition discours).
  • Jean d'Ormesson : As pleases God: a family novel. Translated by Gerhard Heller, Ullstein-Taschenbuch, Frankfurt / Berlin 1994, ISBN 978-3548233833 .

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Albert Soboul: La Révolution française , Editions Sociales, Paris 1982. ISBN 2-209-05513-X , pp. 192-195.
  2. "La transmission des titres ne se fait plus, dans le droit moderne, que de mâle à mâle." Trib. Civ. Falaise, 21 Fév 1959.
  3. "si le titre nobiliaire suit, en général, les règles du nom patronymique, il ne s'acquiert pas, comme lui, par le simple usage, même prolongé; il lui faut, à l'origine, une investiture émanant de l'autorité souveraine “Civ. May 11, 1948, Dalloz 1948 335.
  4. "Les titres nobiliaires, dépouillés aujourd'hui de tout privilège féodal et même de tout privilège de rang, n'ont plus qu'un caractère personnel et honorofique et ne peuvent même plus être considérés, du point de vue juridique, que comme un complément du nom patronymique permettant de mieux distinguer l'identité des personnes, tout en perpétuant de grands souvenirs; si, en vertu de cette sorte de lien de subordination entre le titre nobiliaire et le nom patronymique, il est dû la même protection au titre qu'au nom, on ne lui doit pas une protection spéciale et privilégiée. ”Paris, 2 Jan 1896 Dalloz 1896 2,328.
  5. ^ Alain Texier: Qu'est-ce que la noblesse? Paris, 1987, ISBN 978-27028-6040-3 , pp. 407-410
  6. ^ Tribunal de grande instance de Paris (1st Ch.) , December 21, 1988
  7. ^ Association de la Noblesse Européenne. Association loi 1901. Retrieved December 25, 2009 (French).