- Des États dans l’État: les états de Languedoc de la Fronde à la Révolutionpar Stéphane Durant et al.
Institutional history has not had the wind in its sails over the past generation. This is unfortunate because, at its best, it brings together all that makes historical works exciting and intelligible. This remarkable volume, to which it is difficult to do justice in this short review, exemplifies what good institutional history can achieve. It is the culmination of a project that began in 1994 by publishing on CD-Rom a searchable transcription and index of the deliberations from all forty-six sessions of the Estates of Languedoc from 1648 to 1789 — a research asset of the first importance and a formidable achievement ( Les Délibérations des états de Languedoc: 46 sessions de 1648 à 1789, ed. Arlette Jouanna and Élie Pélaquier (Montpellier: CRISES–Université de Montpellier III, 2009)). This volume completes the project with a thorough and magisterial investigation of the Estates of Languedoc on the basis of the impressive bulk of the relevant documentation. Its thirty-three chapters are mostly written by the principal directors of the work, writing independently or collaboratively; but additional specialists contribute chapters on the Estates of Languedoc and the Protestant minority in Languedoc, the Enlightenment, and constitutional debates leading up to the Estates-General in 1789. The whole makes for a coherent ensemble, presenting a clearly thought through position on the chronology and status of the Languedoc Estates in the period from the Edict of Béziers (1632) to 1789. The Estates were not the shadow of a powerful and independent entity, the subordination of which began in 1632, and which was progressively hobbled into a corrupt adjunct of the Ancien Régimemonarchy; on the contrary, their significance as an important mediator and partner in governing this huge province began to emerge in the seventeenth century, and reached its apogee in the eighteenth century with its more complex administrative tasks and role as a broker in monarchical finance and borrowing. Their financial role was at the heart of divergent views about the Estates: the Chambre des comptes in Montpellier, sometimes with the connivance of royal intendants, was inclined to believe that the provincial Estates, which headed up (as this work amply documents) a complex substructure of local deliberative assemblies and officials, were an unnecessarily cumbersome and expensive machinery for diverting resources from the crown and into local pockets. The Estates, and increasingly in the eighteenth century the monarchy itself, championed their positive role, one which would emerge in Alexis de Tocqueville’s famous analysis. This study of the complex financial mechanisms at the heart of the Estates shows why neither view was correct. The individuals, the politics, the dynamics, and the institutional culture of the Estates are all illuminated thoroughly in these pages, to the accompaniment of excellently prepared tables, maps, and index. The volume is a triumphal tribute to the virtues of institutional history, properly understood, and to the collaborative role of this institution within the absolute monarchy. [End Page 244]