The Nobility (I)

A few things explained

A horse-drawn carriage passes under a huge archway decorated with blue curtains

Entry of Charles X into Paris at the Gate of la Villette, Louis-François Lejeune, 1825

Reading time: 2 minutes

Bad configuration of Message to Display in Plugin parameters.

Royalists & Nobles

Royalists want kings and queens.

This is Part 1. Part 2 is here.

Nobles are members of a certain elevated social class.

You will see noble and aristocrat used interchangeably, even though, if you want to be technical, noble specifically refers to birth and aristocrat refers to ruling elites. Historically, un noble or la noblesse was more common than un aristocrate or l'aristocratie.

"Royalists" want kings and queens. "Nobles" are members of a certain elevated social class.

Today in France, you might also hear the expression les aristos (lay ZAH-ree-sto) as a reference to nobles or aristocrats. Usually it's pejorative.

Not all royalists were nobles. Many peasants in Brittany and southern France were royalists. They worked the fields for 14 hours a day, didn't own a single piece of silk or jewelry, could not name anyone at Court, and were illiterate. And yet they wanted a king, not a national assembly.

Not all nobles were royalists. Some nobles renounced their privileges after the Revolution and voted for the execution of Louis XVI at his trial in January 1793. The king's cousin, the Duke of Orléans, renounced some of his privileges and changed his named to Philippe Égalité ("Philip Equality").

A mark of nobility?

You can often identify a member of the aristocracy by the presence of a "de," which is called la particule: Henri II de Montmorency, Alphonse de Lamartine, the Marquis de Sade.

A man in purple bowing before the king, who accepts him with open hands

Reception of the Doge of Genoa at Versailles on the 15 May 1685, Claude-Guy Hallé, 1715

The presence of "de" is not a reliable indicator, however. The names of many French families are preceded by "de" and they are not noble. For example, Honoré de Balzac: not a noble.

Sometimes you don't see an aristocrat's "de." Either it doesn't exist - some noble families do not have la particule - or it's dropped in certain contexts. Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu is known in French as le cardinal de Richelieu, but he is even more commonly referred to as just "Richelieu." (To confuse everything, in English he is known as "Cardinal Richelieu"!)

It is often said that French nobles paid no taxes. This is incorrect.

The big take-away on "de": Its presence or absence tells you nothing definitively, but if it's in a historical figure's name, the person is probably an aristocrat. Probably, not definitely.


You may have heard that French nobles paid no taxes. This is incorrect.

Nobles paid taxes. The amount depended on where they lived, because taxes varied greatly by region, but it was always significantly less than what peasants or those in the middle classes paid.

Aristocrats were expected to serve in the military - often called "the blood tax" - and they were forbidden from doing certain kinds of work, mostly manual labor. They could own and manage an enterprise, provided it was linked to their lands or possessions.

A nobleman accused of crimes was tried in a court of his peers, which was often a quite forgiving judicial system.

Nobles having a party outside while cherubs float around. A boat waits in the background.

Embarkation for Cythera, Antoine Watteau, 1717

Nobles were allowed to carry a sword, hunt, and levy taxes on the peasants or vassals who leased land from them. Certain positions in government, the military, and the church were open only to them.

The French nobility almost universally considered its social and economic privileges as an essential check against royal power. Without a vibrant aristocracy to serve as social and political ballast, the thinking went, a king could - and most likely would - abuse his power at will. (See Louis XIV and Versailles in Part 2.)

Read more

Recent Posts

Afropean  8/6/2021

Roadrunner  7/22/2021

Red Dust  6/30/2021

Eat Pray Love  6/10/2021

Voyage au BrĂ©sil  5/16/2021

Postcard: Lake Tahoe  4/30/2021

Baedeker's United States  4/5/2021

To Shake the Sleeping Self  3/7/2021

Adrift  2/25/2021

The Sex Lives of Cannibals  2/17/2021



A smiling Francis and me, sitting outside in front of some shrubs

Some basics

A brief biographical sketch

Me on top of a sunny Mt Pilatus in Switzerland, with mountains in the background


Pardon the saccharine and the obvious, but travel is everything

A couple standing in front of a large Gothic church, on a bridge over the Seine


France deserves its own section

Francis, as a two year-old in a car seat, in sunglasses reading a French picture book


The bullshit of daily life? I'd rather read.

Stage with musicians going at it - they're Gogol Bordello, and they're crazy


Let me take you back

Little boy sitting on a big white bed, looking at a tablet


I watch a lot more television than movies

Live action from a soccer game at Crew Stadium - yellow versus blue


The only sport that matters

Ugly photo of a pig knuckle after it's been eaten - really, it looks horrible


As a travel writer, I have to talk about food

Me in an outdoor restaurant drinking from a green coconut with a long straw

Dumb stuff

You will not feel smarter after reading this

Dumpster full of garbage


Trying to live simply

Me getting out of a red Ferrari F430 with a guy clapping for me

Other Interests

I've only driven a Ferrari once

Dude wearing orange pants and orange and green shoes walking on wet grass

Get off my lawn

A few brief rants

Recent Instagram Posts

Recent Tweets