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The Taxing of the Clergy in Eighteenth-Century France

  • Norman Ravitch (a1)

Extract

If after many years of scholarship and controversy, the French Revolution is to be seen, with Georges Lefebvre, as preeminently the revolution of equality, and its most important achievement the substitution of a bourgeois and individualistic social order for the former aristocratic and corporatist one, the nature of eighteenth-century corporate or “constituted bodies” becomes a major area for research. There are many questions which the historian would like to ask about these aristocratic institutions, but generally these questions fall into two groups: the relationship of these bodies to society as a whole, and their inner cohesiveness. By examining the taxation of the clergy in eighteenth-century France, we investigate the chief temporal characteristic of the ecclesiastical estate and are in a position to evaluate both its relationship to French society as a whole and its internal strengths and weaknesses.

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1. “La Révolution française dans l'histoire du monde,” Etudes sur la Révolution française (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1954), p. 324.

2. “Constituted bodies” is the felicitous phrase of Palmer, R. R. in The Age of the Democratic Revolution (Princeton: University Press, 1959).

3. It is true that the General Assemblies of the Clergy included representatives of only 116 of the 130 French dioceses. However, in particularist France such a breadth of representation was in deed national.

4. The view of the General Assemblies held by the Parlement of Paris is best seen in the Arrest de la cour de parlement, 07 8, 1766 (Paris: G. Simon, 1766), p. 14; found in the Speer Library of the Princeton Theological Seminary collection, “Jansénisme: pamphlets,” Vol. XXI, number 37. For the contrary views of the episcopate, see Collection des procés-verbaux des assemblées générales du clergé de Frarue depuis l'année 1560 (Paris: Imprimerie de Guillaume Desprez, 1767-1780), Vol. VIII, Part II, cols. 1379-1380; Vol. VIII, Part II, pièces justificatives, cols. 574.

5. Atterbury, Francis, The Rights, Powers, and Privileges of an English Convocation (London: Tho. Bennet, 2nd edition, 1701), pp. 133135.

6. To contrast the proverbial subservience of the General Assemblies early in the eighteenth century with their increasing consciousness of corporate independence somewhat later, see: a paper dated December 8, 1722, in the Archives du ministère des affaires étrangères, Mémoires et Documents, Fonds France, Vol. 1253, folios 139–141; and a letter of the agents généraux of the clergy to ecclesiastical minister Boyer, August 14, 1744, in the Archives nationales, G8*2568, no pages.

7. Necker, J., De l'Administration des finances de la France (Paris: 1784), Vol. II, pp. 332333.

8. Lepointe, Gabriel, L'Organisation et la politique financières du clergé de France sous le règne de Louis XV (Paris: Recueil Sirey, 1923), pp. 314315.

10. Official figures for the archdiocese of Lyon in 1760 listed its revenue as 1,574,168 livres. In 1760 Lyon was expected to raise 2.14% of the décimes levied upon the clergy. If Lyon's share of décimes corresponded roughly to its share of the total ecclesiastical income, the total income of the clergy in 1760 would have been about 74,600,000 livres. Archives du Rhône, nouvelle eôte, 6G 65*, “Rôles des revenus et impositions des bénéfices, 1760” nouvelle côte 6G 70*, “Extralt du rolle des décimes du clergé du diocèse, 1744–69;” nouvelle côte, 7g 56, “Pièces gérales,” folios 122-127.

11. Marion, Marcel, Machault d'Arnouville (Paris: Librairie Hachette, 1891), p. 211; pp. 205208. Necker, Vol. II, p. 317. Réimpression de l'ancien Moniteur (Paris: Plon Frères, 1847), Vol. II, Session of October 10, 1789, p. 37. de la Gorce, Pierre, Histoire religieuse de la Révolution française (Paris: Librairie Plon, 1912-1924), Vol. I, pp. 1012.

12. Cans, Albert, L'Organisation financière de clergé de France à l'époch de Louis XIV (Paris: Librairie A. Picard, 1909), pp. 174177.

13. Procès-verbaux of 1788, Archives nationales, G8* 706, p. 2. The discrepancy between décimes and dons gratuits showed itself clearly in the see of Lyon: the archdiocese paid 12.66% of its 1769 income in décimes; only 9.48% went to the Receiver-General; finally, the probable rate of the dons gratuits in this period was under 5%. Thus the expenses of fiscal management in Lyon itself consumed over 3% of the décimes, and another 4% - 5% was consumed by the expenses of the Receiver-General, the chief fiscal official of the clergy. Archives du Rhône, nouv. côte, 7G 62*. “Registres de 1762–1769.”

14. Necker, , op. cit., Vol. II, p. 309. Calonne's estimate of the annual sum paid in interest was 7 million livres; “Mémoire sur le remboursement des dettes 1787, Bibliothèque nationale, Le 21.7, Box I, p. 4.

15. Denys-Buirette, A., Les Questions religieuses dans les cahiers de 1789 (Paris: E. de Boccard, 1919), p. 111. The accounts of the “Nouvelles Rentes” (Archives nationales, G8* 1033) show that the clergy's reditors were magistrates, advocates, financiers, and a certain number of bishops, dioceses, and religious corporations. For the eighteenth century investor, the ecclesiastical debt was one of the best and safest investments.

16. Calonne, pp. 2-3.

17. Denys-Buirette, p. 120.

18. Collection des procès-verbaux…, 1755, Vol. VIII, part 1, cols. 527–529.

19. Remontrances du clergé, présentées au roi le dimanche 15 juin 1788, sur ses droits, franchises et immunités, Archives nationales, Rondonneau Collection AD XVII, 10A, 11.

20. For an analysis of this literature, see: Préclin, E., Les Jansénistes du XVIIIe siècle et la Constitution civile du clergé. Le Développement du richerisme, sa progagation dans le bas clergé (Paris: Librairie Universitaire J. Gamber, 1928), pp. 390 ff. Hutt, M. G., “The Curés and the Third Estate: the Ideas of Reform in the Pamphlets of the French Lower Clergy in the Period 1787-1789,” The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol. VIII (1957), pp. 7492.

21. Abbé Henri Reymond (authorship attributed to him by Barbier), Droits des curés et des paroisses, considérés sous leur rapport, spirituel et temporel (Paris, 1776), Bibliothèque nationale, E. 7316, pp. 121148.

22. “Réponse des curés congruistes du diocèse de Comminges, aux mémoires présentés par les décimateurs dudit diocèse, devant Nosseigneurs des Assemblées générales du clergé de France,” Rapport de l'Agence, 1720-1785 (Paris: Chez Pierre Simon, et al., 1726-88), 13 volumes; 1735-40, pp. 264268.

23. “Mémoire présenté au ministre et secrétaire d'état ayant le département du clergé (Laurent de Villedeuil), par les curés à portions congrues, 1788”, Archives nationales, Ba 1, folio 7, no. 2, pp. 89.

24. Marion, , Machault d'Arnouville, pp. 224225.

25. Rapport de l'Agence, 1735-40, pp. 264-268.

26. Ibid., 1770-75, pp. 202-204; pièces justificatives, pp. DCCXXXIII-DCCXXXVI. Ibid., 1775-80, pp. 141-144.

27. Letter of the agents généraux to the syndic of the curés of the see of Gap, June 23, 1728; Archives nationales, G8* 2558, no. 315.

28. Letter of the agents généraux to a curé of Lonlay, May 31, 1781; Archives nationales, G8* 2617, no. 331.

29. Talleyrand to M. de Miromesnil, garde de sceaurx, Sept. 14, 1782; Archives nationales, G8* 2618, no. 224.

30. Pierre de Vaissière offers random samples of taxes paid by curés in the later eighteenth century; these ranged from a low of 9.6% of their income to a high of 40%. Lepointe'a investigation of the rich and well-administered diocese of Le Mans reveals tax rates of 6% and 7% on the incomes of curés and religious communities and as much as 12% on abbés in commendam. The diocesan bureau of Reims admitted in 1732 that it was taxing curés at a higher rate than holders of sinecures. The diocesan bureau of Tours reported in 1751 that it taxed its curés à portion congrue at a rate of 5.33% as compared to a rate of 14.29% for its archbishop and 33.33% for its holders of sinecures. The clergy of the département of Ille-et-Vilaine were much more lightly and more equitably taxed than most, while a study of the archdiocese of Bordeaux reveals that the tax rates there by 1781 were close to the theoretical rates fixed by the reforms of 1755-60 — at least on the basis of official evaluations of ecclesiastical revenue. de Vaissière, Pierre, Cures de campagne de l'ancienne France (Paris: Editions Spes, 1932), p. 204. Lepointe, Appendix VIII, pp. 333-339. Archives nationales, G8 43, no. 7. Ibid., G8* 2479, folios 172-173. Rebillon, Armand, ed., Département d'Ille-et-Vilaine. La Situation économique du clergé à veille de la Révolution (Rennes: Imprimerie Oberthur, 1913), pp. LXXVIILXXIX. Allain, Ernest, “Un grand diocèse d'autrefois. Organisation administrative et financi`re,” Revue des questions historiques, Vol. LVI (10, 1894), pp. 493534.

31. Archives du Rhône, nouvella côte, 7G 56, “Pièces générales”, folios 122-127.

32. Calculated from Archives du Rhône, nouvelle côte, 7G 38*, Etat des impositions des bénéfices du diocèse dressés par les commissaires nommés par l'Assemblée du clergé du diocèse pour 1720.”

33. Calculated from Archives du Rhône, nouvelle côte, 6G 65*, “Rôles des revenus et impositions des bénéfices, 1760”; nouvelle côte, 6G 70*, “Extrait du rolle des décimes du clergé du diocèse 1744-69.”

34. From the “Recueil des conférences du conseil du clergé pour l'année 1770”, concerning a letter sent by the agents généraux to an official of Chenerailles, December 28, 1770; Archives nationales, G8* 2455, p. 543.

35. From the deliberations of the conseil du clergé concerning the payment of décimes to the bureau of Avranches, August 28, 1747; Archives nationales, G8* 2785, folio 191.

36. Chevaillier, R., “Un Document sur la fortune du haut clergé au XVIIIe siècle,” Bulletin de la Société d'histoire moderne (04-05, 1921), pp. 6566.

37. Ibid., p. 75.

38. In the period 1750-60 for the vacated sees, the official assessment compared as follows with the real revenue listed by the économat:

Thus the sees of Senlis, Tours, and Toulouse were greatly underevaluated, the Assembly having recognized only threequarters of their real income. However, as a unit the nine sees listed were recognized as being worth about 90% of their actual value. Ibid., p. 76.

39. Archives nationales, G8* 552, “Etat des revenus des bénéfices consistoriaux du royaume suivant les économats.” Ibid., V7 77-88, “Commissions extraordinaires du conseil: bureau des économats.”

40. The reduction by tax bracket was as follows:

41. See the arrêt du conseil d'état, June 30, 1772; Rapport de l'Agence, 1770-75, pp. DCCXLVII-DCCXLVIII.

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