Enlightened Feudalism

Enlightened Feudalism

Seigneurial Justice and Village Society in Eighteenth-Century Northern Burgundy

Jeremy Hayhoe


University of Rochester Press



A reassessment of seigneurial justice that presents a new vision of village society in eighteenth-century France.
Thousands of seigneurial courts covered the French countryside in the early modern era. By the eighteenth century these courts were subject to mounting criticism, as Enlightenment concerns about rationality and standardization combined with older absolutist worries that lords' ownership of justice weakened the king's authority. Although the courts were abolished in 1789, this criticism persisted, with historians traditionally portraying them as marginal and abusive relics of a bygone feudal age.
In Enlightened Feudalism, Jeremy Hayhoe demonstrates that these local institutions actually functioned with a degree of efficiency, professionalism, and attention to peasant concerns that few historians have appreciated. Set in Northern Burgundy, this study reveals how provincial administrative elites quietly encouraged the use of simpler procedure for minor disputes, thus bringing seigneurial courts closer to village life. But these reforms paradoxically made the newly invigorated courts a key instrument of the late eighteenth-century intensification of the seigneurie. Peasant ambivalence toward seigneurial courts reflected this duality, as the cahiers de doléances both praised the institution for its role in community affairs, and vigorously criticized it for bolstering the seigneurial system.
By situating the local court within a wide range of para-judicial institutions and behaviors, Hayhoe presents a new vision of village society, one in which communal bonds were too weak to enforce behavioral norms. Village communities had substantial authority over their own affairs, but required the frequent and active collaboration of the court to enforce the rules that they put into place.

Jeremy Hayhoe is Assistant Professor at the Université de Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada.


July 2008
3 black and white, 7 line illustrations
321 pages
9x6 in
Changing Perspectives on Early Modern Europe
ISBN: 9781580462716
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
University of Rochester Press
BISAC HIS037050, HIS013000
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Related Titles

Table of Contents

Tiny Courts, Incompetent Judges?
Justice in the Interests of Lords
Justice in the Interests of the Community
Conflict and Consensus In and Out of Court
Local Knowledge and Legal Reform: The Transformation of Justice
Tocqueville in the Village: Seigneurial Reaction and the Central State
A Popular Institution? Seigneurial Justice in the Cahiers de Doleancés


Hayhoe's book provides a model for these future investigations, both in its careful analysis of complex topics and in its sensitivity to larger contexts. H-FRANCE REVIEW, December 2009 (Jonathan Dewald)

Jeremy Hayhoe, in this thoroughly researched and carefully considered book, argues that the lords' increasing use of their courts to prosecute wood theft, non-payment of dues, poaching and other offences contributed to undermining the legitimacy of these courts and helped incite the revolts against the seigneurial regime during the revolutionary period. FRENCH HISTORY, Vol. 24, No 1 (Stephen Miller)

This detailed study of seigneurial justice enriches our understanding of what "feudalism" could mean in practice on the eve of the great revolution. As reconstructed by Jeremy Hayhoe, for Northern Burgundy's peasants, the seigneurial court was both a resented vehicle for enforcing the lord's demands and an appreciated venue for accessible judicial authority. This is a valuable contribution to historians' longstanding debates about just what the seigneurial regime was at its end. --John Markoff, University Professor of Sociology, History, and Political Science, University of Pittsburgh

An impressive scholarly study of seigneurial justice in Northern Burgundy during the later 1700s that adds another dense layer to the legal history of early modern France. --Sarah Hanley, Professor of History and Law, University of Iowa

(A) thoroughly researched and carefully considered book. FRENCH HISTORY, vol. 24, no. 1, 2010

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