During the French Revolution and the turmoil that spawned from it, it became common to refer to the patterns of social, political, and economic relationships that had existed in France before 1789 as the Old Regime.
The term Old Regime applies specifically to the system of government known as political absolutism with the growing bureaucracies and aristocratically led armies.
Economically, scarcity of food, the predominance of agriculture, slow travel, a low level of iron production, comparatively unsophisticated financial institutions, and, in some cases, competitive overseas empires characterized the Old Regime.
Men and women of this time did not see themselves as individuals, but rather as members of distinct corporate bodies that possessed certain privileges or rights as a group.
Section One: Major Features of Like in the Old Regime
Pre-revolutionary Europe can be described by four distinct features
Aristocratic elites possessing a wide variety of inherited legal privileges
a rural peasantry subject to high taxes and feudal dues
Maintenance of Tradition
Few people—other than those involved in finance and government—considered change or innovation desirable in Europe during the eighteenth century.
Nobles demanded the restoration of legal privileges that they believed were being swept away by the growing monarchical bureaucracies.
Peasants called for the restoration of their customary rights—through petitions and revolts—that allowed them to access particular lands, courts, or grievance procedures.
Except for early industrial development in Britain, the eighteenth century economy was predominately traditional as it was primarily based on agriculture.
Hierarchy and Privilege
Medieval sense of rank and degree became more rigid in the eighteenth century.
For example, in several continental cities, laws regulating the dress of the different classes remained on the books.
Each state or society was considered a community composed of several smaller communities.
People did not enjoy “individual rights” but instead were given rights and privileges guaranteed to the particular community of which he or she was a part.
The “community” might include the village, the municipality, the nobility, the church, the guild, university, or parish and the members of each group were granted certain “communal” rights.
Section Two: The Aristocracy
The eighteenth century was the age of the aristocracy as they constituted 1 to 5 percent of a given countries population and were also the wealthiest sector of the population, had the widest degree of social, political, and economic power, and set the tone for polite society.
Land provided the aristocracy with its largest source of income, but aristocrats also participated in social and other areas of economic life.
However, in Great Britain and France, the nobility helped to foster innovation and embraced the commercial spirit which helped protect their wealth and gave them common interest with the commercial classes who were also eager to see the economy grow.
Varieties of Economic Privilege—To be an aristocrat was a matter of birth and legal privilege and the aristocracy throughout Europe held this in common; however, in almost every other respect, the differed markedly from country to country.
Smallest, wealthiest best defined, and most socially responsible aristocracy in Europe
Consisted of about 400 families and eldest male members or each family sat in the House of Lords
“peerage”—the right to sit in the House of Lords and to inherit a father’s land was reserved for the eldest son
sought to reserve appointments to high positions in the military, senior posts in the bureaucracies and government ministries, and the upper ranks of the church exclusively for nobles.
Nobles used the authority of existing institutions like British Parliament and French courts, or parlements, and provincial diets in Germany and the Habsburg Empire to prevent the spread of absolutism.
Nobles worked to improve its financial position by gaining further exemptions from taxation and also imposing long-forgotten feudal dues on the peasantry.
Section Three: The Land and Its Tillers
Land was the basis of status and power of the nobility
Other than the nobility, most of the rural population was dreadfully poor.
Peasants and Serfs
Rural social dependency
England’s agricultural work force was made up of tenants, or a free peasantry.
All farmers and tenants in England had the legal rights of citizens.
Most French agricultural workers were also tenants.
Serfs of Germany, Austria, and Russia were legally bound to a particular plot of land and a particular lord and were also subjected to high taxation.
Obligation of Peasants
most owned land, but there were some serfs in eastern France
banalties were feudal dues that the French peasantry was forced to pay
the corvee required peasants to labor a certain number of days each year for the lord
Prussia and Austria
Although monarchs in the late eighteenth century worked to improve the lives of the serfs, the local landlords in these regions continued to exercise almost complete control over them.
In Habsburg lands, law and custom required serfs to provide service, or robot, to the lords.
Wealth and status in Russia depended largely on the number of serfs one owned and, therefore, lords regarded serfs as commodities.
barshchina—right of Russian lords to demand six days of work from their serfs.
Lords had the right to punish serfs and even exile them to Siberia
There was little difference between Russian serfdom and slavery.
peasants were free but landlords attempted to assert authority over them
cift—Turkish word used to describe the lord’s domain
Turkish landlords became more commercially oriented and began to produce crops like cotton, vegetables, potatoes, and maize that they could sell on the market.
scarcity of labor in Ottoman lands gave the peasantry maneuverability to go from lord’s land to another demanding better treatment and wages
Disorder in the 17 and 18th centuries that originated in Constantinople gave the lords an opportunity to increase their authority as peasants needed the fortified manor houses of the lords for protection from raids by bandits.
Landlords owned all the housing and tools that peasants needed to sow their crops.
Russia experienced a lot of peasant unrest and there were over fifty peasant revolts between 1762 and 1769.
Pugachev’s Rebellion (1773-1775)
Emelyan Pugachev promised the serfs land of their own and freedom from their lords
All southern Russia was in turmoil until the government brutally suppressed the rebellion
Smaller peasant revolts occurred in Bohemia in 1775, in Transylvania in 1784, in Moravia in 1786, and in Austria in 1789.
Aristocrats in the English countryside manipulated English legislation on hunting by claiming the exclusive right to hunt game animals such as deer, and birds such as hares, partridges, pheasants, and moor fowl.
Only persons possessing a particular amount of property could hunt these animals
Reasons for excluding different social groups from hunting
Nobles believed it would impact the work out-out of peasants
City merchants were excluded because the nobles wanted their exclusion to act as a visible sign of their social inferiority to the landed aristocracy
Peasant response to game laws
many rural poor ignored game laws as they believed the game belonged to the community
Demand for black market meat in the cities
Many poachers turned their hunting into a business as the sold their game for sale.
higglers were merchants who operated illegal enterprises by purchasing stolen meat from the countryside and villages
Section Five: Family Structures and the Family Economy
The household in pre-Industrial Europe was the basic unit of production and consumption.
The household mode of organization predominated on the farms, in artisan’s workshops, and in small merchant shops.
This system became known as the family economy.
Households in northwestern Europe
Who comprised the household in northwestern Europe?
Consisted of a married couple, their children through the early teenage years, and their servants.
Households usually consisted of 5-6 members
Due to high mortality and late marriage, grandparents rarely survived to live under the same roofs as their grandchildren.
Family structure was nuclear, rather than extended
Children lived with their parents until their early teens when they would typically leave home to find work as young servants and would live in their master’s household.
A child of a skilled artisan may stay at home to learn a valuable skill.
Neolocalism—the process of moving away from home.
Young people married relatively late in the eighteenth century as men were generally around the age of 26 , and women over the age of 23
Couples usually had children soon after they married.
Premarital sexual relations were common
Servants in pre-industrial Europe
A servant in the eighteenth century was a man or woman, usually young, who was hired to work for the head of a household in exchange for room, board, and wages.
Normally, a servant sat with the family at dinner and became an integral part of the family.
Working as a servant for 8-10 years gave young men and women an opportunity to save their wages to start their own households.
Households in Eastern Europe
Both men and women usually married before the age of twenty.
Often, the wife was older than the husband
In Russia, marrying did not involve starting a new household but rather expanding one already established.
Who comprised an Eastern European household?
Frequently, a rural Russian household would consist of more than nine people and sometimes nearly twenty.
There were sometimes more than four generations living together in a household as a result of the young age of marriage.
At age seven begins to care for the household of her parents
A girl would continue to work in her own household unless her labor elsewhere was not remunerative to the family.
An artisan’s daughter wouldn’t likely leave home until marriage.
A girl who was a member of a large family—whose labor wasn’t vital to maintaining the family’s household—left home around age 12-14.
If a teenage girl left home, her goal was to raise enough capital for a dowry.
A wife was expected to make an immediate financial contribution to starting a household at marriage, and, as a result, age of marriage was late as it often took ten years for a young woman to accumulate the necessary wealth.
Life as a married woman
Earning enough money or producing agricultural products was the primary concern
Birth control was common as couples tried to limit the number of children through the of coitus interruptus—the withdrawal of the male before ejaculation.
Children and the World of the Family Economy
Concerns over childbirth
Women and infants were vulnerable to contagious diseases.
Perpetual fever was common
Some midwives were unskilled
Wet-nursing was common among the poor and wealthy
Most women had too many responsibilities in the household to nurse their own children and therefore relied on a wet-nurse.
Wealthy women wet-nursed for convenience.
Wet-nursing industry was well organized and children from the cities were often transported to the country for months, or even a year, to live with their assigned wet-nurse.
Increased during the eighteenth possibly because increased migration of the population led to fleeting romances.
Need to feed population caused food prices to rise
This spurred innovation in agriculture to meet the demand.
Death rate drastically declined in urban and rural areas
Few wars and little disease in the eighteenth century
Introduction of the potato—a crop found in the New World
On a single acre, a peasant family could produce enough potatoes to sustain itself for a year.
Population explosion created new demands for food, jobs, and services and left many rural people with employment; this led to a migration to cities.
Section Seven: The Industrial Revolution of the Eighteenth Century
The term “Industrial Revolution” describes an era which instituted change and ideas that caused the sustained economic growth of the western world through the present.
Industrialization made possible the production of more goods and services than ever before in human history.
Human ability to manipulate and impact nature led to sudden environmental concerns
A Revolution in Consumption
The ever-increasing demand for goods sparked the ingenuity of designers and inventors.
Dutch prosperity led the way in new forms of consumption and were followed by the English and French who seemed to have more disposable income by the eighteenth century.
Producers developed new methods of marketing.
Josiah Wedgewood first attempted to find customers among the royal family and the aristocracy to set a trend; after they purchased his products, he made an inexpensive version of the chinaware for the middle-class consumers.
Brewing industry became completely commercialized.
Style was impacted as fashion magazines widely circulated so the poor and middleclass were more aware of the latest trends which they could imitate by purchasing less expensive versions.
Industrial Leadership of Great Britain
Why did industrialization begin in England?
London was the center of the world of fashion and taste.
People learned what to want while on business trips or pleasure excursions to London.
Social structure of Britain encouraged people to imitate the lifestyle of their social superiors
The British had good roads and waterways which did not charge tolls.
British taxes—unlike most of the Continent—were legally approved through Parliament and all social classes and regions paid the same rate.
British society offered social mobility through hard work and making wise decisions.
Although small Jewish communities in Amsterdam and other Western European cities became famous for their intellectual like and financial institutions, most European Jews lived in Eastern Europe.
Europe’s Jewish population was concentrated in Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine where no fewer than three million Jews lived.
About 150,000 Jews lived in Habsburg lands, primarily Bohemia.
Fewer than 100,000 Jews lived in Germany.
France had approximately 40,000 Jews.
Catherine the Great specifically excluded Jews from a manifesto that welcomed foreigners to settle in Russia.
After the first partition of Poland in 1772, the Russian Empire included a large number of Jews.
Jews in most European nations did not enjoy the rights of citizens.
Oftentimes Jews were segregated in communities called ghettos but often times enjoyed a considerable degree of political autonomy within their own ghettos.
During the seventeenth century some Jewish financiers funded wars for major rulers and developed close professional relationship with them and received the nickname “court Jews.”
Samuel Oppenheimer, a Jewish banker, financed the Habsburg struggle against the Turks and the defense of Vienna.
Most European Jews lived in poverty.
Section Ten: In Perspective
By the close of the eighteenth century, European society was on the brink of a new era, on in which the commercial spirit and the values of the marketplace were permitted fuller play than ever before in human history.
Commercial spirit led increasingly to a conception of human beings as individuals rather than as members of a community.
More people meant more labor, more energy, and more minds.
Class structure and social hierarchy remained, but the boundaries became more blurred.