One of the most lively of France's younger historians, Guy Chaussinand-Nogaret argues in this pioneering essay that the traditional picture of the pre-revolutionary French nobility as a caste of intransigent reactionaries and parasites is a fabrication of revolutionary propaganda. Using a whole range of new research and calculations, he argues that the nobility represented all that was most vigorous and forward-looking in eighteenth-century French society. Constantly renewing itself by recruiting the richest members of the middle classes or marrying their daughters, the nobility was in the forefront of French economic and intellectual life, and until 1789 was at the head of the movement for reform of the old regime state. In an afterword specially written for the English edition, the author explains how the revolutionaries came to turn against a group that had done more than any other to bring about the Revolution.
'From its appearance in 1976, Chaussinand-Nogaret's book was immediately recognized as making a major contribution to the revaluation of eighteenth-century France and to the origins of the French Revolution. Its appearance in English is long overdue, but the author has been lucky in his translator. Professor Doyle brings to his work a thorough command of French, the ability to write clear and attractive English and a command of the subject that allows him not merely to appreciate the nuances of the text but to present its ideas in terms that an English-speaking audience can immediately recognize and assimilate. The result, in the form of a short and pithy book, at a reasonable price, deserves an enthusiastic welcome from everyone teaching the subject to sixthformers or undergraduates unable to cope with the French text.' Norman Hampson, History