When I started in history, the nobles and the nobility were ignored except in a negative fashion or where their existence impinged upon larger political issues. Well, in history, everything runs in cycles. Peasants – the idols of my youth – are now in eclipse and the study of “élites” is all the rage. Last April at the European Social Science History Association meeting in Vienna, several of the most interesting sessions dealt with nobles and noble lifestyles.
They might be the latest fashion, but nobles have begin an important element of my instruction of early modern Europe from the beginning. In my lecture, I lay down “breadcrumbs” that reemerge in latter lectures. My focus then is on the power aspect of the nobility. How did they utilize their traditional power in early modern France and how did as succession of French rulers and their ministers work to curtail their power? How did the new nobility created by Henry Tudor and his son Henry VIII come to feel their oats and demand respect from the monarchy that created them? To what extent was the French Revolution an attempt by the nobility to restore their old power in the face of royal absolutism?
Its easy to see why nobles and the nobility maintain such a powerful hold on historians and the public. They led interesting lives!