Chapter 14: The Early Modern State

Society in early modern Europe


The period which is referred to as the Ancien Regime or Old Regime lasted from 1650 to 1785.  During the Ancien Regime, Europe’s aristocrats, a small portion of the population, continued to dominate the political, religious, economic, and social life.  The aristocracies were the “natural leaders” of society, including politically and in the military.  Aristocrats enjoyed many privileges.  In France, nobles were exempt from the taille, or taxes.  Polish nobles were also exempt from taxes after 1741.  German states, Russia, Austria, and Hungary also were exempt from taxes and were given serfs, or plebian servants bound to their estates.  The aristocracy was all powerful, and because of this, over 50 peasant revolts occurred in the 1760’s alone.

An aristocrat from the Ancien Regime –

Peasants, Serfs, and Family Life

During the Ancien Regime, famine, war, and disease were a constant threat in daily life.  Peasants, or servants of the aristocracy, were a part of the poor working class.  In England and France, most peasants were free workers, however in German states, Poland, and Russia, most peasants were serfs, bound to an estate and a noble.  Most members of the poor working class rarely traveled more than a few miles from their place of birth and often worked in a rural setting, living of livestock and crops.  Peasants were able to own land, however it was small and often not enough to provide their family with good living conditions.

Peasants working in a field –

Ancien Regime – France

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