Duke University Press

Between 1706 and 1712, Nîmes’ hosiers fought a series of political battles in municipal, regional (the Parlement of Toulouse), and Parisian (the Council of Commerce) fora over the establishment of guild statutes for the hosiery industry. Controversy over the statutes grew out of both religious rivalries and diverse economic interests within the industry and within Nîmes. As the hosiers pursued the affair from familiar local judicial venues into the new administrative one in the Council of Commerce, they learned and used a series of political skills necessary to operate within a standardized administrative setting. The example of the Nîmes hosiers suggests that historians need a more inclusive notion of politicization that accounts not only for politicization through print culture or through fora distinct from the state but also for the politicization that occurred among a sociologically broad section of the populace in their interactions with the state.

On 5 July 1712 the Nîmes stocking-frame knitters celebrated an amazing victory. On this date the State Council in Paris issued an arrêt establishing guild statutes for the stocking or hosiery (bas) industry in lower Languedoc. Between 1706 and 1712 the stocking makers had faced determined opposition to guild statutes: from the provincial intendant, from the political leadership of Nîmes, and from the economic leadership in lower Languedoc (the silk and broadcloth négociants). With these powerful forces arrayed against them, the hosiers’ victory is striking.

The story of the Nîmes hosiery guild’s creation between 1706 and 1712 is a messy, convoluted, but instructive tale. As the Nîmes stocking-frame knitters fought political battles for seven years in local, regional, and Parisian venues, they developed both political skills and a habit of political involvement. By the 1710s the Nîmes hosiers had become accustomed to negotiating economic policies with officials at the highest levels of the French state. They learned who had influence in economic policy making and developed networks to ensure that the guild played a role in the policy-making process. Through these political practices the guild connected to new trends in French political life. William Beik and Sharon Kettering have demonstrated that clientage networks became [End Page 493] better organized in the late seventeenth century, linking national clientage systems from above with local systems below through provincial governors, intendants, and contacts at court. Within these networks the central state was able to extend its political reach but did so through negotiation, discussion, and compromise. 1 James B. Collins has argued that the early-eighteenth-century French state routinized many of the ad hoc practices that had emerged under Colbert, creating a central state more capable of intervening in the lives of French men and women. 2 When the troubles began for the Nîmes stocking makers in the early 1700s, the effort to resolve the conflict slowly moved up the political ladder, from municipal to regional and finally to Parisian political venues in the newly established Council of Commerce. The council worked to standardize French economic policy and the process of policy making. In doing so, the Council of Commerce established administrative networks that permitted it to observe and regulate the French economy more effectively, and the council provoked the creation of private political support networks (parts of which paralleled clientage networks). These networks permitted and encouraged participatory policy making as merchants, manufacturers, and artisans negotiated and debated French commercial and manufacturing policies. 3 As the political venue shifted for the Nîmes stocking makers, they learned political skills appropriate for the new political contexts. The political playing field on which the guild operated was far from level, for the state could thwart overt criticism of and resistance to its policies. Nevertheless, maneuvering within the administrative and private support networks was an important skill to learn. The frequency, extent, and skill of their involvement with the emerging political structure of early-eighteenth-century France indicates a significant politicization of the Nîmes stocking makers.

Although the Nîmes hosiery guild’s story fits well into the historiography of French political structure, it does not easily fit within either of the two models that Roger Chartier has identified as shaping historians’ understanding of politicization in the ancien régime: the Habermasian model and the Cochin-Furet model. 4 In The Structural [End Page 494] Transformation of the Public Sphere, Jürgen Habermas sketched a (meta)narrative history of “publicness” from the late Middle Ages into the twentieth century. Habermas argued that the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries marked a crucial moment in this history when the growth of commercial capitalism provided the foundation for a bourgeois publicness, marked by a new intellectual sociability. 5 As the state increasingly interfered in the affairs of private persons, a bourgeois publicness emerged in which individuals came together, in institutions such as coffeehouses, salons, reading societies, and the theater, to use critical reason publicly, critiquing the state and creating “public opinion.” Through this new publicness, according to Habermas, a process of politicization occurred so that by the later eighteenth century the public sphere “was now casting itself loose as a forum in which the private people, come together to form a public, readied themselves to compel public authority to legitimate itself before public opinion.” 6

The other model by which historians have sought to understand the process of politicization—the Cochin-Furet model—focuses on associative institutions such as freemason lodges and salons that “developed individualistic and egalitarian modes of operation” with which “to experiment and elaborate a democratic sociability.” 7 The Nîmes hosiery guild, as a privileged, corporate body, fits into neither Habermas’s bourgeois public sphere nor Cochin-Furet’s associative institutions. In fact, the vast majority of the general public of eighteenth-century France did not participate in institutions of intellectual or democratic sociability, a situation that has led Robert Darnton to describe this public as “prepolitical.” 8 Yet the activities of the Nîmes hosiers seem distinctly political. As the works of Steven Kaplan, Michael Sonenscher, Gail Bossenga, and Thomas Schaeper have shown, merchants, manufacturers, and artisans were active politically—and not only after 1750. 9 Perhaps the contexts set out by Habermas and Furet identify politicization into political forms fundamentally different from those of the Nîmes hosiery guild. There is much value in such [End Page 495] an argument. Nevertheless, active participation by the commercial and manufacturing populations in ancien régime political frameworks suggests that we need a more inclusive approach to the idea of politicization—an approach from which we can begin to distinguish versions of the politicizing process.

To expand the notion of politicization, it is useful to note a similarity in the Habermas and Cochin-Furet models. Both models establish sociability as central to the process of politicization—an idea traceable back to Immanuel Kant. Yet if we return to Kant, we also find a broader framework for politicization. In his short essay “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Intent,” Kant states, “The means that nature uses to bring about the development of all of man’s capacities is the antagonism among them in society, as far as in the end this antagonism is the cause of law-governed order in society. In this context, I understand antagonism to mean men’s unsocial sociability, i.e., their tendency to enter into society, combined, however, with a thoroughgoing resistance that constantly threatens to sunder society.” 10 Without adopting Kant’s progressivist framework, his notion of unsocial sociability suggests that the multitude of bonds—economic, political, social, and cultural—that link humans together within social relationships provide ample space for conflict. As Kant explains, “Man has a propensity for living in society. . . . He also has, however, a great tendency to isolate himself, for he finds in himself the unsociable characteristic of wanting everything to go according to his own desires, and he therefore anticipates resistance everywhere, just as he knows about himself that for his part he tends to resist others.” 11

As a result of humankind’s unsocial tendencies, Kant points to the need for civil society to be “administered in accord with the right,” which combines the greatest freedom “with a precise determination and protection of the boundaries of freedom.” 12 Negotiating, establishing, and administering those boundaries—defining the nexus between sociability and unsocial tendencies—provides a key space in which politicization occurs. This politicization is not necessarily of a single, garden variety, however. The conflicts that emerge in sustaining and negotiating this nexus can take many forms and occur in many contexts. Although some of these conflicts may find expression in forums outside of state control, much conflict finds expression through state [End Page 496] organs: in courts of law, in administrative agencies, or in academies of learning. Rather than only pointing us away from the state to discover politicization, as suggested in the models of Habermas and Furet, Kant also points us back to the state—to institutions that serve a central role in “administering” and “determining and protecting the boundaries of freedom”—to discover other venues in which politicization occurred. 13 Expanding our perspective to include the state permits us to see politicization set more broadly, occurring among sociologically diverse segments of the general public. The point is not to reject the politicization that either Habermas or Furet explore, but to recognize that it marks only a partial version of the politicizing process that occurred broadly in French society.

The story of the Nîmes hosiery guild provides such an example of politicization that occurred among that broader public. The politicization of the guild membership developed not in contexts distinct from the state, but within and through the state’s administrative organs as the guild debated and negotiated economic policies with the state. This administrative politicization took different forms and emphasized different political ideals and practices than those Habermas identified through print culture. 14 The Nîmes hosiery guild learned how to create support networks to exert influence within the state’s administrative system. The guild learned how to negotiate with state administrators the establishment and enactment of state economic policies; it also learned how to manipulate the administrative system and the divisions within that system to its own advantage. By the early 1710s the Nîmes hosiery guild was an experienced political actor in the administrative system of French economic policy making. The guild expected, and made sure, that the state heard its voice in matters that affected the guild’s interests. With surprising speed and skill, the guild learned new, durable forms of political activity. In short, the Nîmes hosiery guild, through administrative systems that rapidly expanded in the 1700s and 1710s, was politicized within the administrative political forms created by the state rather than through print culture. 15 This is not to suggest [End Page 497] that print culture did not matter; rather, politicization is a more diverse process than a focus exclusively on print culture can account for.

Bas au Métier in Lower Languedoc

The hosiery or stocking industry in France grew substantially in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, largely because of the introduction of the stocking frame (métier). The stocking frame originated in England in the early 1600s, but its use spread slowly to France, encouraged by the immigration of English and Irish Catholics in the 1650s and 1660s. 16 Colbert sought to protect the fledgling industry from English competition, yet French administrators also worried about the social and economic consequences of the industry’s growth. Before the advent of the stocking frame, the production of handmade stockings (bas au tricot) was generally left open to the poor. Parisian administrators feared that the growth of the stocking frame would deprive the poor of the meager but necessary income they derived from bas au tricot. 17 As Louis François Caumartin de Boissy, an intendant of commerce, explained a few years later, “Hand-knitted stockings are very precious to the subsistence of the poor, and the multiplication of too many stocking frames would ruin hand-knitted stockings.” 18 Therefore, on 30 March 1700, the State Council issued an arrêt that restricted the production of bas au métier to eighteen cities. 19 During the next fifty years the state slowly permitted other cities to use the new stocking frame, or perhaps better said, the state authorized production that already had spread to other towns and villages.

The 1700 arrêt did not simply reflect humanitarian impulses on [End Page 498] behalf of royal administrators, however. It also codified the state’s economic concerns into a series of regulations for the industry. In the early eighteenth century the idea of “reputation” framed much of the economic rationality of state administrators with regard to manufacturing policy. 20 The reputation of a product, administrators believed, secured its desirability and thus its market share. Ministers saw it as their role as policy makers to establish production regulations that would result in high quality goods of strong repute. These regulations included requirements on the raw materials used in production, on the processes of production itself (for example, on the number of threads used to produce a certain cloth or on the dimensions and weight of the cloth), and on participation in the production process. On this last issue, royal ministers believed that the requirements for the maîtrise (letter of mastership), which included years of training and the payment of an entrance fee, created a strong long-term interest among guild masters so that they would follow and enforce the regulations that ensured their product’s reputation and thus secured long-term market share. The 1700 arrêt for bas au métier was crafted along these lines, enumerating various production regulations and instituting the maîtrise as a requirement for participating in the new industry. Limiting production to the eighteen towns not only aided the poor, but it concentrated production in urban areas where regulations could be enforced more easily than in the countryside.

Within the stocking industry, Nîmes and its hinterland became a major center for the production of bas au métier. 21 The stocking frame entered Nîmes in the 1670s and quickly grew into a major component of the regional economy. By 1705 nearly nine hundred stocking frames were active in Nîmes alone. By the late 1720s the number of stocking frames in Nîmes and its jurande had risen to more than two thousand, growing to nearly three thousand by the mid-1740s and thirty-five hundred by 1760. 22 Unlike the gloomy image often painted of the French economy late in Louis XIV’s reign, some parts of the economy evidently were quite vigorous. 23 The statutes controversy of 1706 to 1712 [End Page 499] transpired simultaneously with two changes in the hosiery industry in lower Languedoc: industrial consolidation and geographic expansion. First, after three decades of rapid growth, hosiery production in Nîmes grew only modestly between 1705 and 1717, increasing by less than one hundred frames. In the wake of expansion, economic consolidation occurred within the industry as both the economic leadership of lower Languedoc (the silk and broadcloth négociants) and the leading hosiers themselves sought to organize the industry for their own benefit and profit. Nîmes’s négociants, searching for new investment opportunities after the collapse of the Nîmes silk industry in the late seventeenth century and a long-term fall in rents beginning in the 1670s, had available capital and resources to invest in this new industry. 24 The négociants worked outside of a guild structure. The leading hosiers, working within the guild, however, had similar goals. Two documents—a tax role from 1705 listing the number of stocking frames owned by each master and a catalog from 1710 listing all guild members not working for themselves but working for the account of someone else—indicate the existence of three groups in the guild, each of which had its own interests. 25

At the bottom of the guild was a group I identify as the ouvriers. The ouvriers, who accounted for roughly 46 percent of the guild members, owned one frame but did not work for their own account—and their numbers were growing. By 1760 more than 90 percent of the guild members worked for others’ accounts. 26 While the ouvriers bore the brunt of consolidation, they also faced pressure from an open labor pool that kept wages low. They sought to limit labor competition and resented the efforts of the négociants to consolidate the industry.

At the top of the guild sat a small group I call the marchands. In 1705 eleven marchands owned between five and twelve stocking frames each, certainly not enough to dominate hosiery production. Cumulatively they owned less than 8 percent of the stocking frames in Nîmes; the single largest marchand, Etienne Lariviere, owned only twelve frames. The poor ouvriers alone owned three times as many frames as the marchands. Nevertheless, the marchands directed the work of many of the ouvriers and thus benefited from the large labor pool and concomitant low wages. The marchands saw a threat to their expanding [End Page 500] control over the ouvriers from the négociants, who dominated the Nîmes economy and politics and who wanted to take over the hosiery industry. Without legal restrictions on their activities, the négociants could dominate the industry. The statutes controversy developed as the marchands found themselves in an oddly contradictory position, benefiting from an open labor pool but also threatened in an open industry.

Between the ouvriers and the marchands were the other half of the hosiery industry: the fabricants, as I identify them. They constituted 52 percent of the guild membership and owned between two and four stocking frames each, which accounted for 69 percent of all of the frames in Nîmes in 1705. 27 Unlike the ouvriers, the fabricants worked for their own accounts, yet as with the ouvriers, they felt the pressure of labor competition. But in the opposite direction, the fabricants, perhaps even more than the marchands, felt pressure from Nîmes’s merchant houses as the fabricants fought to maintain their independence against the efforts of the négociants to consolidate the industry.

Not surprisingly, hosiery’s growth created controversy within the industry, conflict that found vent in the unofficial corporate organization that began meeting in the 1680s and that included the marchands, fabricants, and ouvriers. By the early 1700s the members of this organization had diverse and at times contradictory interests, and between 1706 and 1712 a three-stage conflict unfolded as the industry fought first internally over its formal political and economic organization and then externally over its status within Nîmes. The industry’s growth, and the conflicts resulting from it, increasingly brought the industry into interaction with the political structures of the ancien régime. This era served as the guild’s years of political education.

In addition to industrial consolidation, a second transformation in lower Languedoc’s hosiery industry emerged, a transformation that also affected the statutes controversy: geographic expansion. In the early 1700s the industry expanded rapidly into the Garrigues and the Cévennes mountains north of Nîmes. By 1717, 469 frames in forty-five different towns operated in the territory included in the guild’s jurande. The marchands and the négociants sought to establish control over this rural production through their domination of access to international markets. They had competition, however. The merchants and hosiers from Nîmes’s two chief economic rivals, Montpellier and Lyons, sought to orient toward themselves the growing hosiery industry in the Garrigues [End Page 501] and the Cévennes. As the statutes controversy developed, so did the significance of this production in the Nîmes hinterland to the conflict.

The three stages of the conflict can be foreshadowed as follows. First, between 1706 and 1708 the hosiers divided sharply over whether or not to establish guild statutes and, if so, on what terms. For three years two factions of guild members pursued legal action in the Parlement of Toulouse over a set of statutes secretly submitted to the parlement by one of the factions. After a torrent of legal documents and debate, in mid-1708 the parlement rejected the statutes and ruled that the hosiery industry should be left to run on the same legal basis it had enjoyed during the previous thirty years. The controversy had begun to enter a second stage before the parlement ruled, however. In early 1708, Nicolas Lamoignon de Basville, Languedoc’s powerful provincial intendant, took an interest in the conflict. Between 1708 and 1710 the dispute transformed from a judicial affair into an administrative matter as Basville resolved the conflict within the guild and pressured and bribed the hosiers to accept guild statutes in terms that the majority of hosiers had spent the previous years resisting. In 1709 and 1710 the members of the hosiery guild negotiated the terms of the proposed statutes first with Basville and then with the newly established Council of Commerce in Paris. With statutes established for the guild in 1710, the controversy entered a third stage in 1711 and 1712. Basville may have convinced the hosiery guild members to accept the statutes, but nearly the entire political and economic leadership of Nîmes despised the statutes. For two years the Nîmes hosiery guild worked diligently to defend its new statutes before city officials, before the Council of Commerce, and before Basville, who now wanted to alter substantially the statutes that he had previously negotiated. Throughout this conflict the Nîmes hosiery guild underwent an education in administrative politics. The guild’s interactions with the various officials illustrate the political skills the guild members developed.

Stage I: Guild Statutes—Conflict within the Guild

Shortly after the arrival of the stocking frame in Nîmes in the 1670s, the producers of bas au métier began to meet in a corporate structure. By 1691 the stocking makers had taken several actions that indicate the existence of a functioning, if unauthorized, guild: they had elected wardens (syndics), paid taxes, and contracted corporate debt. 28 Subscribing [End Page 502] to Nîmes’s traditional “liberty of manufacturing,” the hosiers established an open guild that permitted anyone to join upon payment of a modest fee. The State Council’s 30 March 1700 arrêt threatened this arrangement, however, by requiring letters of mastership earned after several years of training in order to use the stocking frame.

The Nîmes hosiery guild responded immediately to the 1700 arrêt. The guild approached the Nîmes town council, requesting assistance in having the arrêt set aside (or not executed) in Languedoc. The councilors investigated the matter and discovered that although a few guild members wanted the arrêt executed, the majority of the guild thought that it would destroy the stocking industry. The councilors, eager to defend the town’s liberty of manufacturing, drafted a request to send to the provincial intendant, Basville, who held the authority to suspend the local enactment of royal decrees (in consultation with the royal ministers in Paris). Before sending the request to Basville, however, the town council sent the request to the hosiery guild wardens, Grizot and Groulier. They approved the request and authorized the town council to pursue the matter in the name of, and at the expense of, the hosiery guild, whether before the provincial intendant or the State Council. 29

Unfortunately, no direct records indicate the process of political negotiation by which the guild successfully had the 1700 arrêt set aside. Most likely, the town council, representing the guild, and Basville negotiated a settlement whereby Basville set aside the enactment of the arrêt and in turn the guild accepted certain taxes and expenses for levying soldiers. Basville likely sacrificed the state’s goal of economic regulation of the guild in order to secure financial advantages from the guild. The guild’s financial records indicate that in late 1700, taxation increased and the guild paid for the levying of soldiers. The latter was important to Basville, as he began to move in this year against the growing activity of Protestant prophets in the mountains just north of Nîmes. By the end of 1700 the guild’s debt had increased to 2,114 livres. 30 More important, the hosiery guild seems to have resolved this controversy through the town council in negotiation with Basville. The town council’s desire to defend Nîmes’ liberty of manufacturing forged a clear alliance with the wishes of the majority of guild members. And the guild willingly financed the politically experienced town council’s activities on its behalf. No documents indicate that the guild had any direct contact with Basville, let alone with Parisian officials, during [End Page 503] the controversy. Although the guild had focused its efforts against the 1700 arrêt because it would introduce the maîtrise into Nîmes, in setting aside the arrêt, Basville also set aside the requirement that the production of bas be limited in Languedoc to Nîmes, Toulouse, and Usèz. This certainly helped spark the growth of the hosiery industry in the Nîmes hinterland in the early 1700s.

In order to meet its new expenses, the hosiery guild continued borrowing money until its debt had reached 3,333 livres by 1704. 31 The guild sought to retire this debt and meet its growing expenses by charging annual répartitions on the guild members, a process overseen in 1705 by guild wardens Jean Valette, Guillaum Gonin, Guillaum Boudon, and Henri d’Albiac. On 25 December 1705 the guild elected four new wardens—Jean Bonisol, Pierre Boullay, Jean Connort, and Alexandre Divernois—who followed standard practice and initiated an audit of the outgoing wardens’ financial records. Previous audits had led to legal cases brought before the lieutenant general of police in Nîmes. 32 Another conflict seemed inevitable as Valette and his confrères (the Valette faction) sought to prevent Bonisol and the new wardens (the Bonisol faction) from assuming guild leadership and auditing the guild’s finances.

The Valette faction took an unusual step to retain control. Eight days after the election of the Bonisol faction, the Valette faction drafted guild statutes and secretly sent these to the Parlement of Toulouse for confirmation, which occurred on 29 January 1706. 33 These statutes retained the Valette faction as guild wardens, effectively preventing the audit of the guild’s financial records. Further, these statutes established regulations for the production of bas au métier, including the creation of mastership letters. In effect, the Valette faction introduced into Nîmes the provisions of the 1700 arrêt that the guild had sought to avoid.

The Bonisol faction quickly learned of the Valette faction’s action and wrote to the Parlement of Toulouse, requesting to be received in opposition to the statutes, which the parlement granted. In late March the guild voted to support the Bonisol faction and authorized the new wardens to pursue appeals against the Valette faction. 34 In 1706 and 1707 the conflict between the factions continued unabated, centered in the parlement. Both parties engaged barristers (avocats) in Toulouse [End Page 504] and lawyers (procureurs) in Nîmes and discussed legal strategy and argumentation with them. 35 As required, the opposing parties provided each other with copies of the documents prepared for the parlement. They developed arguments to counter each other’s claims, often adding supporting documents to already extensive productions. These documents were read and debated in weekly guild meetings attended by large numbers of guild members. 36 The two factions had their partisans sign documents supporting their cause; some of these documents carry dozens of signatures. 37 In short, the conflict was not an affair left to the faction leaders or even to the more prominent and influential guild members. The majority of the guild’s nearly 450 members participated actively in the controversy or at least followed it closely. All participated at some point.

In 1706 and 1707 the Valette faction developed its arguments through a series of legal documents prepared for the parlement. 38 First, the Valette faction defended the 3 January 1706 statutes, arguing that the production of bas au métier had grown dramatically since the first stocking frames had come to Nîmes and that certain individuals now produced poorly made stockings. Because of this situation, the Valette faction continued, the stocking-frame knitters held a general assembly on 3 January 1706 and wrote regulations to “maintain things in a good order and to conserve the reputation that their manufactures have gained.” 39 Second, the Valette faction challenged the reputation of Bonisol and his cohorts. The central problem for les advisaires, the Valette faction stated, was that the first article of the statutes required that the guild offer a grand mass each year on the Day of Saint Louis (25 August). All four wardens in the Bonisol faction had adhered to the religion prétendue réformée, and their refusal to support the new statutes, the Valette faction asserted, proved that they had made insincere abjurations. [End Page 505] The Valette faction admitted that two of its own wardens were abjured Protestants (called nouveaux convertis or nouveaux catholiques), but they supported the new statutes, which proved their true piety. The charge of Protestantism carried weight in the context of Languedocian politics, where the War of the Camisards was still being fought north of Nîmes in the Cévennes mountains. 40 The Valette faction rejected even holding a guild meeting to reconsider the 1706 statutes for fear that the nouveaux convertis would form a cabal against the statutes.

The Bonisol faction also developed its arguments through a series of legal documents. 41 The Bonisol faction denied the accusation of heresy and instead asserted that it rejected the statutes because the statutes would destroy the bon ordre in the production of stockings. First, the Bonisol faction attacked the Valette faction, arguing that the Valette faction had entered into a cabal with some individual fabricants et ouvriers en bas. This claim had a double edge: that only a minority of the guild supported the Valette faction and that this minority included simple artisans and workers (as opposed to the marchands who supported the Bonisol faction). The signatures on the 1706 statutes indicate the low status of the Valette faction, the Bonisol faction argued. Of the thirty “signatures,” twenty-four were marks by individuals who could not sign their names and of the six who could sign their names, four were ages nine to fifteen. 42 Second, the Bonisol faction argued that the Valette faction’s statutes threatened to destroy the production of bas au métier. The flourishing trade in bas au métier, the Bonisol faction argued, resulted from Nîmes’s liberty of manufacturing: “One of the reasons for this happy success [the industry’s growth] is because of the liberty that is left to all the inhabitants of Nîmes of exercising publicly and without harassment all types of professions (with the exception of the four liberal arts) without going through any masterships, which have always been regarded with a type of horror and as a crushing burden that the citizens of this town have not been able to bear.” 43 As proof of liberty’s success, the Bonisol faction asserted that [End Page 506] in a short period of time the number of stocking frames in Nîmes had grown from two frames to one thousand. And as proof of the guild’s opposition to the mastership, the Bonisol faction noted the expenses incurred by the guild to have the 1700 arrêt requiring masterships set aside for Nîmes.

In addition to articulating its own position to the parlement, the Bonisol faction also documented that officials within Nîmes supported its position. The Bonisol faction obtained from the maire et consuls of Nîmes a certificate attesting that the economic growth in the hosiery industry had occurred without a mastership requirement and that the burden of mastership was not desired in Nîmes. 44 The town council supported this position but, unlike in 1700, did not involve itself officially in the controversy beyond providing the certificate. The hosiery guild now handled its own affairs.

After two years of conflict and thousands of pages of documents, in 1708 the Parlement of Toulouse took matters into its own hands and ordered that a vote be taken of all the guild members on the utilité ou inutilité of the 1706 statutes. 45 The six days in March during which the voting occurred marked the most chaotic and intense moment in the statutes controversy. For eight hours each day, representatives of the parlement recorded the name and vote of each guild member. At the midday recess of the first day of voting, the Valette faction requested that the notaries also note the religious heritage of each guild member (i.e., nouveau converti or ancien catholique). The two factions occasionally bickered over whether an individual belonged to the guild and thus had the right to vote. A few guild members, clearly representing the contending factions, offered extended remarks in support of or opposition to the statutes, reiterating the arguments previously made in written documents prepared for the parlement. About 20 percent of the guild members also made a short statement (often just a phrase) to justify their votes. The repetitiveness with which 14 percent of the guild members stated simply that they rejected the statutes because they violated “la liberté de Nîmes” demonstrates that the guild members had adopted, or had been taught, the legal language in which economic conflict found a public voice. Even more dramatically, in the midst of the fourth day, lawyers representing first the locksmiths guild (who built the stocking frames) and then the wives and daughters of guild members interrupted the proceedings to present their views [End Page 507] on the statutes. The following day the négociants and the town council scrambled to have their views placed on the record, once again opposing the statutes. 46

The results were unambiguous: nearly 80 percent (356 of 447) of the guild members rejected the statutes. Nevertheless, the vote demonstrated that diverse motivations undergirded the conflict. Most obviously, the voting record demonstrated strong confessional underpinnings, especially for the abjured Protestants, who accounted for roughly two-thirds of guild members and who voted nearly in unison to reject the statutes. The nouveaux convertis had rallied in defense of their former Huguenot coreligionists, who had been falsely accused of heresy. In contrast, the anciens catholiques did not maintain confessional unity, dividing their votes almost equally between those opposed to and those favoring the statutes. Religion was one (but not the only) factor influencing the vote. Among the anciens catholiques other motivations seem to have been significant. The seventy-eight anciens catholiques who voted in favor of the statutes, and in favor of the Valette faction, were comprised largely of poor guild members, as the Bonisol faction correctly had asserted. These ouvriers and a few fabricants would benefit from a closed-guild system, an economic interest that was masked in the language of reputation that the Valette faction had employed to justify instituting the maîtrise. The fact that both the guild’s marchands and the silk and broadcloth négociants who sought to consolidate the industry were all abjured Protestants probably added a confessional resentment, expressed in the accusation of heresy, to the economic grievances that the Valette faction expressed.

The sixty-five anciens catholiques who rejected the statutes, also poor guild members, suggest a third influence: language. From the beginning of the statutes controversy in 1706 until its conclusion in 1712, liberté de manufacture provided the most common motif in the debates. Nîmes’s tradition of open manufacturing resonated strongly throughout Nîmes’s political culture, serving as a point of civic identity. The Nîmes hosiery guild already paid taxes and levied soldiers, and those opposed to the statutes did not strongly protest the idea of production regulations. Rather, the maîtrise itself sparked strong resistance from all levels of the economic hierarchy. As this article details, in the end Nîmes’s political elite sacrificed every economic issue except the appearance of liberté de manufacture to resolve the statutes conflict. The anciens [End Page 508] catholiques and abjured Protestants who voted in opposition to the statutes, despite their economic interest to do otherwise, indicate the advantages accrued to the Bonisol faction by framing its arguments in a language that had wide support within Nîmes. With the anciens catholiques divided and the nouveaux convertis voting in unison, the guild convincingly rejected the statutes. After the guild vote the Valette faction recognized that its cause was lost and fully anticipated the parlement’s ruling in July 1708 that annulled the 1706 statutes and established the Bonisol faction as guild wardens. 47 Before following the conflict into its next stage, however, a few thoughts about its first stage are in order.

First, from the chicanery of the Valette faction to the parlement’s ruling in 1708, the initial stage of the statutes controversy followed traditional trajectories for the local resolution of economic conflicts. In 1704 and 1705 the guild resolved disputes over guild finances through officials in Nîmes. As a second round of controversies arose, complicated by the statutes issue, the venue shifted from local officials to provincial officials, specifically to the Parlement of Toulouse. By initiating a request to the parlement to confirm the 1706 statutes, the Valette faction took an unusual step; however, the request’s surreptitious nature, not the request itself, marked its irregularity. Local and regional offices, both judicial and political, provided the forums in which to resolve conflicts.

Second, during the statutes controversy the factions hired lawyers to represent their cases, both in Nîmes and in Toulouse. The few documents from 1706, 1707, and 1708 that shed light on this important client-lawyer relationship offer interesting insights. 48 Both factions maintained exceptionally deferential tones with their barristers in Toulouse. These social conventions, however, should not lead us to view the relationships in unilateral terms. The barristers provided extensive and detailed descriptions of the legal procedures and choices facing the two factions as they pursued their case before the parlement. In May 1706, J. Jean, barrister for the Bonisol faction, advised the faction not to pursue the case as a criminal procedure for fraud, a charge that could be more easily rebuffed, but rather to challenge the délibération of 3 January 1706 and thereby bring the statutes into question. Jean had consulted with another barrister, de la Croix, who offered [End Page 509] the same advice. Both Jean and de la Croix explained to the Nîmes hosiery guild the various legal documents needed to pursue this challenge. Jean also kept the guild informed about the case’s status, even explaining that certain delays had resulted from court officers spending time in the countryside. 49

Jean offered advice about the arguments developed by the Bonisol faction. In a letter from the early months of the controversy, when the two factions were only beginning to establish their arguments, Jean informed the Bonisol faction, “It does not do us any good to say that the regulations [of the 1706 statutes] are contrary to the liberty of your manufactures and prejudicial if you do not have reasons to establish that fact.” 50 Jean pushed the Bonisol faction to ground its argument on something more secure than the liberty of manufacturing. Unfortunately, the documents do not permit us to follow further this dialogue between lawyers and client. Nevertheless, this brief exchange suggests a process that documents from after 1710 demonstrate clearly: judicialization.

As lawyers and barristers interacted with their clients, they shaped their clients’ complaints and grievances into arguments presentable in court. Both the form and content of the arguments were “judicialized” according to the forms and norms of legal argumentation. Legal reasoning in eighteenth-century France gave extensive weight to the idea of legal precedent and the language of privilege. 51 Legal arguments gained substance when set in the context of laws and previous rulings that bore on an issue. These laws and rulings served as the precedents that established a claim’s legitimacy. Both factions of the Nîmes hosiery guild carefully catalogued for the parlement the various statutes and rulings that preceded the conflict and developed as a result of it. This centrality of precedent to legal reasoning disadvantaged the Bonisol faction in the controversy. In a form of circular legal reasoning, the Valette faction justified the statutes in part by the fact that the parlement had authorized them. The Valette faction tirelessly defended the statutes as written by a general assembly of the guild on 3 January 1706. Because the production of the statutes was done honestly, the Valette faction asserted, the parlement’s previous ruling authorizing the statutes should stand. And Jacques de Vivet de Montcalm, Marquis de Montclus, the lieutenant general of police in Nîmes, observed that precedent throughout the controversy by recognizing the [End Page 510] Valette faction as official guild wardens. As Montclus noted, the standing orders of the parlement by its 29 January 1706 confirmation of the statutes recognized the Valette faction as wardens, and that precedent remained in force until otherwise ordered. 52

While the Bonisol faction claimed that a cabal had produced the 1706 statutes, the faction turned to another form of legal reasoning to justify overturning the precedent of the parlement’s 29 January 1706 ruling: the language of privilege. As David A. Bell has argued, as long as the monarchy remained theoretically absolute, claims presented to the crown were articulated in the language of privilege: “that is to say, they were justified by reference to ‘rights’ and ‘liberties’ that the monarchy had explicitly granted or sanctioned in the past.” 53 Jean had warned the Bonisol faction that its argument—that the statutes were “contrary to the liberty of your manufactures and prejudicial”—needed clear substantiation. To demonstrate the prejudicial nature of the statutes, the guild asserted that the industry had boomed without the maîtrise and would be damaged by it. As proof of the industry’s conviction on this matter, the Bonisol faction offered the pains and expenses the industry incurred to have the 1700 arrêt not executed in Languedoc. The Nîmes hosiery guild then expanded its claim for liberty of manufacturing. The 1706 statutes not only violated the liberties of a new industry, they also violated the long established liberty of manufacturing enjoyed by all professions in Nîmes. The liberties of Nîmes, the Bonisol faction argued, marked a far more substantial precedent than the 1706 statutes fraudulently submitted by a group of simple workers. The Bonisol faction built support for this argument by offering supporting documentation from the political leadership of Nîmes.

The precise role Jean played in building this argument in legal terms cannot be known. The process was collaborative, for it included both knowledge about the industry and clearly articulated legal arguments. Jean learned about the hosiery industry, and—as the 1708 guild vote and the numerous documents produced by both factions demonstrate—the guild members learned to adopt the appropriate language to frame their conflicts within the norms of judicial argumentation. In any case, the argument, combined with the guild’s and the town council’s over whelming opposition to the 1706 statutes, proved victorious as the parlement ruled in favor of Bonisol and the new wardens. The [End Page 511] majority of the Nîmes hosiery guild had fought and won a long and expensive battle in the parlement to reject guild statutes. This initial victory only enhances the irony of what was to come, however; within two years the reunited guild itself would write statutes implementing almost every proposal it had so recently defeated.

The Nîmes stocking makers unknowingly had entered into a period of political apprenticeship. They watched, they learned, and they took copious notes. At this point in their political education, the hosiery guild members were learning how to participate in legal arguments, how to shape arguments for the courts of law, and how to present their case successfully. As the guild undertook its political apprenticeship, it did so widely and publicly among its membership. By 1708 the Nîmes hosiery guild had gained considerable experience interacting with the judicial organs of the French state, with the political establishment of Nîmes, and with lawyers hired to represent its interests. This political skill and experience would prove invaluable as the guild encountered even more difficult negotiations and conflicts in the coming years.

Stage II: Guild Statutes—Resolution within the Guild

Even before the guild vote in March 1708, the Valette faction knew that its cause was lost. Three months before the vote, Jean Coste, the faction’s barrister in Toulouse, informed the Valette faction that the parlement already had decided to rule against it. 54 Aware that its judicial fate was sealed, the Valette faction began to fear the consequences of its actions—particularly the large legal expenses it had incurred pursuing its case before the parlement. Then, unexpectedly, a new political possibility appeared. In the weeks preceding the guild vote, several négociants from Nîmes had met with Basville and asked him to intervene in the controversy. The négociants argued that the proposed 1706 statutes prejudiced commerce and that the conflict had led to large legal expenses that threatened to bankrupt the industry. 55 Basville sought advice from André de Joubert, who in 1708 served as both general syndic of Languedoc and merchant-deputy from Languedoc on the Council of Commerce. In March or April 1708, Basville wrote to both factions stating that he wished to take authority over the conflict.

Aware that its prospects appeared grim before the parlement, the Valette faction warmly greeted Basville’s intervention in the case. In [End Page 512] mid-1708 the Valette faction wrote several letters to Basville, agreeing to terminate its legal affairs before the parlement and to submit to Basville’s ruling on the case. These letters took an interesting twist, however. While the Valette faction repeated its earlier arguments about the grand mass and the need for the maîtrise, a new issue came to the fore—the expenses incurred in carrying the case to the parlement. The Valette faction had undertaken some 10,000 livres in debts, and as its cause now appeared lost, its partisans wished to ensure that these debts became part of the guild debt as opposed to private debt in their own names. 56 Coste’s information that the Valette faction would lose the case before the parlement undoubtedly motivated Valette and his confrères to shape their arguments for Basville to protect their financial interests. Here the Nîmes stocking makers saw a clear example of the valuable information that hired agents could provide. Knowledge about the views of royal officials would permit the guild to better defend its interests. Soon, with its many legal and political conflicts, the hosiery guild established extensive networks to collect just such information.

In May and June 1708 the Bonisol and Valette factions followed two courses of action: preparing final appeals to the Parlement of Toulouse and calling for a definitive decision before Basville. In July 1708 the parlement ruled in favor of the Bonisol faction, setting aside the 1706 statutes and ordering that the Bonisol faction serve as wardens until the annual guild elections on 25 August 1709. 57 The parlement’s ruling did not conclude the case, however, for Basville obtained letters from the State Council giving him charge over the matter. In effect, the controversy was transformed from a judicial matter into an administrative one.

The chronology of events from late 1708 to 1710 is hazy, but three issues are clear. First, by the end of 1708 the Valette-Bonisol conflict was largely resolved, for dispute between the factions does not again appear in the records. Second, in November 1708 the hosiery guild instituted greater controls over the wardens, establishing thirty elected directors to oversee the wardens and the guild. The directors served staggered three-year terms, with ten new directors elected each year. Outgoing directors had to wait three to five years before they could [End Page 513] again be elected as directors. 58 Thus, between 1709 and 1712, when the hosiery guild remained mired in the statutes controversy, sixty different guild members (representing 10–12 percent of the entire guild membership) served as directors. The directors met every Monday at 2:00 P.M. to discuss guild affairs and to plot strategy regarding the controversies in which the guild was involved. With its rotating membership and active oversight of the guild, the board of directors further emphasizes that the guild provided a venue for broad participation in its political education and activities. Third, and most surprising, in 1709 the united hosiery guild wrote new guild statutes. 59 In early 1710, Basville sent the new statutes to the central administration. 60 The statutes passed from Basville to Henri Daguesseau (president of the Council of Commerce and Basville’s predecessor as intendant of Languedoc) to the controller general and into the Council of Commerce. In the council, the merchant-deputies—twelve merchants appointed as economic advisers to the crown—reviewed the statutes.

In 1710 the merchant-deputies, Basville, Joubert, and the guild exchanged letters on several issues in the statutes, primarily on production regulations. The council assigned Caumartin de Boissy, intendant of commerce, to oversee the Nîmes statutes affair because he was investigating some similar issues. In the exchange of letters, Caumartin de Boissy learned that the maîtrise “shocked” the guild and that problems existed with introducing the term into Nîmes. Nevertheless, the council, invoking the language of reputation, determined that the maîtrise was necessary to give form to the guild and to prevent individuals without sufficient training from producing bas. 61

The Council of Commerce then sent the statutes, through Joubert, to the lieutenant general of the police, the consuls, and all the merchants of Nîmes for their advice; however, the council apparently approved the statutes before receiving advice from these local officials. On 14 October 1710 the State Council confirmed the statutes that had been written and negotiated in 1709 and 1710. 62 The 1710 statutes retained [End Page 514] both of the propositions hotly debated for the 1706 statutes: the grand mass on the Day of Saint Louis (25 August) and the mastership requirement. Ironically, the guild that in 1706, 1707, and 1708 had fought strenuously against the maîtrise in 1709 and 1710 prepared guild statues that included the maîtrise, and would spend 1711 and 1712 defending the introduction of the maîtrise into Nîmes.

Basville’s entry into the case marks an important transition: the statutes conflict shifted from a judicial affair to an administrative one. The documents that exist from this stage retain the judicial character of the parlementary stage. In fact, both factions began their interactions with Basville by sending him copies of the documents prepared for the Parlement of Toulouse. Within the administrative setting, however, Basville could shape and structure the conflict as he saw fit. His heavy hand appears in the two principal changes in the statutes conflict between 1708 and 1710: the resolution of the conflict between the contending factions and the united guild’s preparation of statutes that included the maîtrise.

Basville achieved the guild’s reunification by forcefully simplifying the issues under contention. He recognized that the Valette faction had played the religion card principally to discredit the Bonisol faction. The Bonisol faction never had rejected the grand mass as the Valette faction had claimed. The abjured Protestants’ unified rejection of the statutes did not represent a “Protestant conspiracy.” Rather, it reflected the defensive reaction of nouveaux convertis rallying to the defense of their falsely charged former Huguenot brethren. The pragmatic Basville had no intention of letting religious passions (or rhetoric) derail the resolution of this conflict. Once Basville took authority over the case, all allegations of heresy vanished as he suppressed the religious overtones from the statutes debate. The letters sent between Montpellier, Nîmes, and Paris, raised only economic issues. In effect, Basville served as a filter, purging the controversy of extraneous religious contexts and instead focusing discussion on the economic disputes that divided the guild. The Parisian administrators had no inkling that the controversy had had religious overtones until the third stage of the statutes conflict erupted in 1711. Basville, for his part, offered the Valette faction a sufficient inducement to abandon religion-based arguments: the new Nîmes hosiery guild assumed the accumulated debts of both factions. 63

With the confessional division resolved, Basville turned to the second [End Page 515] task: writing new statutes for the hosiery industry that included the maîtrise. Like nearly all royal administrators, Basville believed strongly that an industry as large as the stocking-frame knitters of lower Languedoc needed guild statutes, including the maîtrise, to organize its affairs and regulate production. Royal administrators, as previously noted, believed that production regulations in combination with letters of mastership preserved a product’s reputation and thus secured its market share. In addition to these economic goals, a clearly organized guild structure offered Basville greater oversight of the new stocking industry, including the possibility of extracting fiscal benefits for the state. Because the majority of the guild spent the previous three years fighting just such statutes, Basville’s task may have seemed steep; however, much common ground existed between Basville’s goals and the economic interests of the guild majority.

Basville emphasized the importance of the maîtrise in maintaining high-quality production; however, the maîtrise also benefited most workers in the hosiery industry. For the ouvriers and fabricants, labor competition served as an important economic concern. Without the maîtrise any woolen artisan in Nîmes could take up the production of hosiery simply by purchasing, or less commonly by leasing, a stocking frame. The introduction of the maîtrise would limit labor competition for the fabricants and ouvriers. In addition, the statutes explicitly forbade non–guild members from subcontracting work to anyone within the guild, thereby limiting the ability of Nîmes’s négociants to consolidate the industry under their economic control. Thus the fabricants were protected from the efforts of the négociants to reduce them from independent artisans to ouvriers no longer working for their own accounts.

The marchands were in a paradoxical situation. On one hand, they were attracted to the maîtrise as a hedge against the encroaching power of the négociants. With the maîtrise in place the négociants would have to work through the marchands to gain control over the industry. On the other hand, the marchands disfavored the maîtrise because they benefited from the large labor pool that kept wages down. Here, Basville found an appropriate bribe for the marchands to secure their support for new statutes—a bribe that would allay their concerns over labor and wages. The process of negotiation by which all factions in the guild came to support the statutes and the maîtrise is lost to us; however, the resultant arrangements suggest the nature of the compromise reached. As discussed earlier, in 1700 the hosiery guild, working through the Nîmes town council, arranged to have Basville set aside the State Council’s arrêt of March 1700 that limited bas au métier production in Languedoc to the cities of Nîmes, Toulouse, and Usèz. [End Page 516] With the arrêt not enforced, use of the stocking frame spread rapidly into the Nîmes hinterland, where the marchands faced severe competition. Nîmes négociants, with their control over the access to international markets and long-established contacts in the Nîmes hinterlands through their dominance over the silk trade, were well positioned to dominate the rural hosiery industry. The marchands’ control over the growing rural hosiery production also was threatened by the Nîmes merchants’ two chief economic rivals, Montpellier and Lyons, who sought to orient toward themselves the growing hosiery industry in the Garrigues and the Cévennes.

This was the source of Basville’s bribe. By overturning his previous ruling that had set aside the execution of the 1700 arrêt, Basville could provide the Nîmes hosiery guild legal authority and political leverage over this rural production. The arrêt had required all producers of bas au métier in Languedoc to withdraw into one of the three cities authorized to produce bas. The guild never intended to require several hundred families to suddenly move to Nîmes, but the guild used the threat of such a tactic to force hosiery producers in the small towns of the Garrigues and the Cévennes to negotiate an agreement with the Nîmes guild that required all producers to register with the guild, to pay guild fees, and to obey guild regulations. Through these requirements the Nîmes merchants directed the industry toward Nîmes and away from its rivals, Montpellier and Lyons. Equally important, the marchands could use their legal privilege to participate within the industry as leverage against the encroaching power of Nîmes négociants in the rural production, forcing them to work in collusion with the marchands. The guild’s marchands would lose a free labor pool in Nîmes but would gain greater control over an even less costly labor pool spread throughout the Nîmes hinterland. Furthermore, the ouvriers and fabricants would face less competition within Nîmes.

In 1709 and 1710, faced with a powerful intendant and a Council of Commerce determined to establish a closed-guild system in the Nîmes hosiery industry, the hosiers switched their allegiances and prepared new statutes nearly identical to the 1706 statutes written by the Valette faction. As payment, less than three weeks after the final approval of the 1710 statutes by the Parlement of Toulouse in November 1710 (the statutes having received royal approval in October), the hosiery guild requested and Basville issued an ordinance that reinstated the 1700 arrêt, thus securing the guild’s authority over the countryside. 64 Unfortunately for the guild, before the merchants could [End Page 517] exploit the advantages that this ordinance gave them, the hosiery guild faced a new challenge to the 1710 statutes.

The shift of venue from the judicial to the administrative arena furthered the guild’s political education. The guild transferred the political skills it learned at the local and regional levels to the national level. Most important, as the statutes received final approval, the hosiery guild for the first time hired an agent in Paris to oversee the technicalities of seals and signatures: Voigny, barrister at the Parlement of Paris. Voigny informed the hosiery guild in clear detail about the procedures and activities of the Council of Commerce, the required signatures and seals, and the fees to pay. While the information in these initial letters between the guild and Voigny appears rather mundane, the guild saw that Voigny could follow clearly and accurately the development of an affair before the council. The guild recognized in Voigny someone who might provide valuable information as Jean Coste had for the Valette faction in 1708. Little could the guild have known in 1710 how valuable Voigny would prove in only a few months.

Between 1706 and 1710 the Nîmes hosiery guild negotiated and resolved its internal conflicts in both provincial and Parisian venues. At a basic level, the guild gained experience working with lawyers and barristers. In its interactions with its legal agents, the guild learned how to shape its arguments for specific political contexts, whether the courts of law or the administrative system. More significant, the guild learned, through its lawyers and its direct interactions, the procedures and activities of a newly created royal council that specialized in commercial and manufacturing issues—the Council of Commerce. In its interactions with the Parlement of Toulouse, the stocking makers had experienced largely unilateral communications. The factions presented arguments to the court and then the court issued a ruling. In shifting from a judicial to an administrative venue, a new communication pattern emerged. The guild learned that the administrative system permitted discussion and negotiation over economic issues—a sense of dialogue, even “polylogue,” predominated. In this new and less rigid policy-making setting, the guild saw the need to obtain information about the council’s activities and to seek means by which to influence its deliberations. With the employment of Voigny, the guild began to establish a network for this purpose. In short, in the Council of Commerce, economic policy making began to look far more participatory than in the law courts, and the guild recognized the need for effective participation. Finally, the guild had learned these lessons broadly among its membership, an education expanded by the creation of the guild’s board of directors. By 1710 the Nîmes hosiery guild had served [End Page 518] a five-year term as political apprentice, accumulating knowledge and experience. The political skills that the guild would demonstrate during the controversies of 1711 and 1712 indicate that by 1710 the hosiery guild had moved well beyond apprentice status.

Stage III: Guild Statutes—Conflict within Nîmes

With the confirmation of the 1710 statutes, the stage was set for a final conflict. This time the dynamics were much clearer. Both Nîmes’s woolen artisans and its silk and broadcloth négociants recognized that the creation of a privileged monopoly through the maîtrise hindered their ability to operate in the stocking industry. In 1711 the artisans and the négociants entered the statutes controversy to defend their interests. As with the 1700 arrêt, the confirmation of the 1710 statutes had not been the final step in its enactment. The provincial intendant retained the authority to set aside statutes and regulations in consultation with Parisian authorities. In 1711 the woolen artisans, the négociants, and the maire et consuls of Nîmes (hereafter called the anti-maîtrise party) appealed to Basville to suspend or set aside the 1710 statutes. Basville heard their request and ordered the opposing groups to meet with the abbé Robert, vicar general of Nîmes, to discuss the issue. Robert oversaw several meetings during which he and the anti-maîtrise party pressured the hosiery guild wardens to change several provisions in the 1710 statutes, especially the introduction of the maîtrise. The hosiery guild became dissatisfied with the negotiations, and on 30 May 1711 the thirty directors of the guild forbade the wardens from participating in future conferences. Instead, the directors voted to pursue full execution of the 1710 statutes.

The anti-maîtrise party, in collusion with the abbé Robert and a few marchands en bas, responded by writing new statutes for the hosiery guild that eliminated the maîtrise and appointed new guild wardens. Surprisingly, after two years coercing the hosiery guild to accept the 1710 statutes with the maîtrise, Basville authorized these new 1711 statutes—an amazing volte-face motivated by his efforts to bring long-term stability to lower Languedoc at the end of the War of the Camisards. 65 The hosiery guild quickly sent an appeal of Basville’s ordinance to the controller general, asking him to revoke the 1711 statutes and instead enforce the provisions of the 1710 statutes. 66 In 1711 and 1712 the guild and the anti-maîtrise party debated the two sets of statutes. During the [End Page 519] conflict the Nîmes hosiery guild worked diligently to affect (or negotiate) the policy outcome. In addition to the mémoires that the guild addressed directly to Basville and to the Parisian authorities, the guild built a network of useful individuals. It engaged two lawyers, Caumette and Pacotte, to represent the guild’s interests to Basville and at times sent guild members to Montpellier to speak personally with him. 67

The guild also corresponded frequently with Voigny in Paris. Parisian agents such as Voigny offered their clients information and provided additional paths by which clients could make their views known to Parisian administrators. For example, on 8 August 1711, Voigny warned the guild that he feared that its request would be unsuccessful because Basville had advised the Council of Commerce to enforce the 1711 statutes. Nevertheless, Voigny assured the guild wardens that he would give their request to the controller general Nicolas Desmaretz. A month later Voigny wrote that he had met four or five times with Caumartin de Boissy, who the previous day had presented the case to the Council of Commerce, including a request Voigny had given to him on the guild’s behalf. At the council meeting, Voigny continued, the council had been surprised at Basville’s ordinance that authorized the 1711 statutes and had written to him asking for an explanation. Until the matter was resolved, however, the council advised enforcing the 1710 statutes. A few weeks later Voigny informed the guild that Caumartin de Boissy was vacationing in the countryside and nothing could be accomplished until he returned the following week. 68 A week later Voigny apprised the guild that Desmaretz had decided to send the affair before Basville to investigate (an edict authorizing this was issued three months later on 22 December 1711). 69 Also, Voigny encouraged the guild wardens to write directly to Desmaretz, as they had wished to do, to inform him of the maire et consul’s motives in the conflict. 70 Throughout these letters, Voigny informed the guild about both the procedures within the council and the attitudes of the various officials, especially Caumartin de Boissy and Desmaretz. By September 1711 the guild knew that the controller general, the Council of Commerce, and particularly Caumartin de Boissy were disturbed by and skeptical of Basville’s actions. Soon thereafter the guild learned from Voigny that [End Page 520] the council fully supported the provisions of the 1710 statutes, especially the maîtrise.

The frequent contact that the guild maintained with its Parisian agents became central to the process of negotiating economic policies. Voigny’s access to the highest royal administrators assured the guild a role in the negotiating process, and the guild communicated with him weekly. As an agent who informed the guild that the Council of Commerce believed Basville had acted improperly and that the 1710 statutes should be preserved, Voigny provided important information. He held the dominant position in the relationship, and the guild hesitated to act without obtaining his advice. Nevertheless, the guild plotted its strategy and shaped and sharpened its arguments as its agent informed the guild of the dynamics of policy making at the Parisian level. 71

The Nîmes hosiery guild did not limit its activities in the capital city to Voigny. In September 1711 the guild wardens wrote to the Paris hosiery guild seeking its assistance with the Council of Commerce. The Nîmes wardens asked the Paris wardens to go to Voigny’s home where they could read the documents and be assured of the justice of their cause. 72 The Paris guild wardens took an interest in the case. In April 1712, Voigny wrote to the Nîmes wardens that the Paris wardens had visited him. He added curtly that he did not need any assistance, stating, “I will neglect nothing [that is] in your interest.” 73 The guild also contacted Joubert, general syndic of Languedoc, who sent information to both parties about the controversy. 74

The arguments developed by the anti-maîtrise party reiterated the religious arguments raised by the Valette faction and the economic arguments raised by the Bonisol faction in the first statutes conflict. 75 [End Page 521] First, the anti-maîtrise party asserted that the 1710 statutes had been created by the “Protestant manufacturers of stockings,” who sought to introduce the maîtrise by falsely claiming that the manufacture would be ruined without the regulations. Such claims served only as scare tactics (esprits brouillons) that would lead to the ruin of the stocking trade. Moreover, the anti-maîtrise party warned, assembling eight hundred to nine hundred individuals for guild elections could only be dangerous, especially when so many hosiers were favorably disposed to the Protestant religion. Certainly the state should fear the esprit du fanatisme that might overtake such a gathering. Second, the anti-maîtrise party vigorously and concisely defended the traditional liberty of manufacturing in Nîmes. The 1710 statutes violated the privilege that permitted all workers in Nîmes to exercise their craft without the need for a maîtrise. The 1710 statutes, which violated Nîmes’s tradition of public liberty, could only be pernicious to the good of commerce. The production of bas au métier had grown substantially under this liberty, the anti-maîtrise party asserted, and creating a privileged monopoly would limit the number of apprentices, causing commerce to diminish.

The Nîmes hosiery guild now found itself in an odd position. Having previously defended Nîmes’ traditional liberty of manufacturing, the guild now turned its talents to attacking these arguments. In its mémoires and letters the hosiery guild largely ignored the religious attacks made upon it and instead developed an argument that upheld the liberty of Nîmes while still supporting the maîtrise. 76 The stocking-frame knitters drew two distinctions to ground their case: “Liberty in commerce makes it flourish, but license in the arts and crafts degrades them and makes them fall into decay.” 77 First, the guild distinguished between trade and manufacturing—between commerce and the crafts. Commerce needed, even thrived, on liberty. The arts and crafts, however, did not: “It is a general policy of the realm, for the good of the state and of the natural order, that the arts and crafts each have their distinct and separate functions.” 78 If the distinctions between the crafts disappeared, “this would throw the arts and crafts into confusion, stopping [End Page 522] not only their progress, but also causing them to decline from the perfection that they can happily attain.” 79 The hosiery guild tied the protection of the crafts to the existence of the maîtrise. Eliminating it, the guild argued, would permit all types of people to make stockings and would destroy the “discipline of the regulations” that contributes to the perfection of stocking production. The bas industry flourished in Nîmes when artisans manufactured high-quality stockings in demand outside of the French realm. If any person may produce bas, the hosiery guild asserted, the quality will suffer and other nations will no longer desire French stockings. The woolen artisans, who lacked training in the stocking frame, produced poor-quality stockings, the guild asserted, adding that the defective merchandise would reduce trade, cause the ruin of many families, and drive down wages, leading to further fraud and more defective merchandise. 80

The hosiery guild thus developed a middle position in which it supported the liberty of commerce as vital to trade while supporting the maîtrise as a guarantor of manufacturing quality. The guild reinforced its argument by drawing a second distinction—between liberty and license. The guild asserted that under the claim of liberté publique, the anti-maîtrise faction in truth proposed liberté effrénée (license or unbridled liberty). Such license would destroy the manufacture of bas. According to the hosiery guild, the 1711 anti-maîtrise statutes sacrificed “good order to the interests of some individuals under the pretext of public liberty, which must always be well extended and have certain limits, since otherwise it degenerates into license.” 81

When the hosiery guild appealed Basville’s ordinance in favor of the 1711 statutes, the statutes controversy made its last shift of venue—to Paris and the Council of Commerce. The council had been alerted to the hosiery guild’s appeal (probably by Joubert) and requested that Caumartin de Boissy raise the issue with Desmaretz. In a letter to Desmaretz, Caumartin de Boissy described Basville’s ordinance as “astonishing,” for only the State Council could issue guild statutes. 82 If Basville believed it necessary to change the statutes, he should have proposed the changes to the controller general, rather than making the changes under his own authority.

Caumartin de Boissy was also astonished that the négociants and the woolen artisans had written statutes for the hosiery guild. Further, he added, the Council of Commerce found several provisions of these [End Page 523] new 1711 statutes insupportable, disrupting the order that the council had worked hard to establish in this new industry. Speaking for the council, Caumartin de Boissy informed Desmaretz that the council would have proposed receiving the hosiery guild as appellants to Basville’s ordinance and ordering the execution of the previously authorized 1710 statutes; however, the guild’s request lacked proper form. Therefore, the council advised Desmaretz to write Basville and have him examine all the facts, but also to indicate to Basville that Desmaretz intended to have the 1710 statutes enforced. 83

At this point another controversy entered the fray: that between the centralization of economic policy making in Paris and the powers of the provincial intendant. In Basville the position of provincial intendant found one of its most powerful and dynamic individuals. The gossipy Saint-Simon referred to Basville as the “king and tyrant” of Languedoc. 84 When Basville had taken control of the original statutes conflict, he clarified the issues under contention and convinced the reluctant guild to accept the maîtrise. When the controversy flared again, however, Basville found himself in a perplexing situation. Although he had strongly supported the 1710 statutes, both the political and economic leadership of Nîmes strongly opposed them. In 1711, Basville had suppressed the last remnants of the War of the Camisards only the previous year. An uneasy peace had settled on eastern Languedoc, and Basville had no desire to stir up trouble. He needed the support of local leaders to reestablish the routine economic and political activities through which a lasting peace could be secured.

Faced with strong opposition to the statutes, Basville first sought to forge a compromise by ordering the parties to negotiate a settlement under the direction of the abbé Robert. When this effort failed and the hosiery guild withdrew from the process, Basville chose to act forcefully. He permitted the remaining contestants to finish writing statutes for the guild and authorized them under his own authority. As in 1708 and 1709, he took the initiative to resolve the issue locally and then turned to Paris for confirmation of his actions. Unfortunately for Basville, however, the disgruntled hosiery guild now had other avenues by which to seek satisfaction. Even before Basville informed the Council of Commerce of his actions, the hosiery guild had its Parisian agent appeal Basville’s [End Page 524] actions directly to the controller general and to the council. The guild sought to shape the council’s reaction to Basville’s actions before Basville had explained himself. Voigny handled this task adroitly, for he soon informed the guild that the council thoroughly disliked Basville’s actions, both politically and as a matter of economic policy. The guild now had a powerful ally and knew it. With its secure political clout, the Council of Commerce eagerly challenged Basville’s actions, which clearly had violated legal procedure. The Nîmes hosiery guild had learned that all politics was not local.

In late 1711, Desmaretz followed the council’s advice and ordered Basville to investigate the matter further, but he also informed Basville that the 1710 statutes should be executed. Basville heard arguments from all sides in the controversy, and in October he responded to Desmaretz. 85 As might be expected, Basville defended his actions, asserting that Nîmes had never “suffered” the word maîtrise because men of all estates were permitted to work on and direct the work of any product. In a less than veiled reference to the War of the Camisards, Basville warned that if the state attempted to force the maîtrise on Nîmes, this town next to the Cévennes would revolt. In any case, the changes made in the statutes did not seem essential, Basville continued, and only a few of the less important fabricants had demanded a return to the 1710 statutes. 86

Basville’s letter to Desmaretz had a certain catchall quality, alluding to the traditional privileges of Nîmes, the threat of revolt, and the insignificance of the changes and of those rejecting the changes. The Council of Commerce responded with a stronger focus, intent on defending the original 1710 statutes. Caumartin de Boissy, writing for the council, simply ignored the issue of Nîmes’s traditional privileges. Instead, he offered the example of a well-regulated industry that had grown substantially: the Levantine broadcloth industry in Languedoc. 87 The regulations, he argued, had ensured the reputation of the broadcloth of Languedoc and thus the growth of its commerce in the Levant. Furthermore, he added, the regulation of broadcloth for the Levant had not caused rebellions. Similarly, the bas of Nîmes, which competed with stockings from England, must perfect its manufacturing through application of guild regulations. 88 Caumartin de [End Page 525] Boissy then turned his attention to a clear rejection of Basville’s actions in authorizing the 1711 statutes. If the statutes needed editing, he asserted, Basville should have brought the matter to the attention of the controller general and not contradicted the State Council’s authorization of the 1710 statutes. His action revoked all the provisions that provide order for the industry—apprenticeship, journeyman status, and inspections. The Council of Commerce was not jealously defending the 1710 statutes, Caumartin de Boissy asserted, but if Basville saw necessary changes, he should have written to the controller general so that any changes in the regulations would be made in full knowledge of the cause. 89 In this last point, the Council of Commerce’s claim to preeminence in economic policy making becomes fully evident. The council, not a provincial intendant, had the expertise to understand the full context of economic policies.

Despite the Council of Commerce’s rejection of Basville’s actions, Basville’s advice contained an insight on which was built the eventual settlement to the conflict. Basville defended neither the traditional privileges of Nîmes nor the importance of liberty in commerce and manufacturing. Rather, the pragmatic Basville focused on the inability of Nîmes to accept the word (mot) maîtrise, which challenged the town’s identity as permitting the liberty of manufacturing to all people. In the first half of 1712, a compromise was forged on Basville’s observation. Basville suggested the central step in the process: maintaining the provisions of the 1710 statutes that created a closed guild but eliminating the word maîtrise. 90 In the compromise finalized by the arrêt of 5 July 1712, the word maîtrise disappeared from the statutes, but retained were provisions of the 1710 statutes that in fact limited the number of individuals permitted to manufacture bas au métier or to have it manufactured: three years of apprenticeship, two years of compagnonage, the requirement to present a pair of stockings to the guild wardens for their approval before being received into the guild, and, most important, limiting each guild member to two apprentices. 91 Yet guild membership remained open by ancien régime standards, for the entrance fee into the guild was a modest 50 livres. In practice, the guild wardens often waived the apprenticeship and compagnonage requirement for anyone, including woolen artisans, who had experience in the craft. Labor competition would be restrained but not eliminated. In short, the hosiery guild in Nîmes was created as a corps et communauté without [End Page 526] the word maîtrise but with much of its consequences. 92 The hosiery guild formed a privileged monopoly, but it did so by creating a cross between the open guilds of the Midi and the closed guilds of northern France. 93

The nature of the compromise suggests the motivations of the various factions in the last stages of the statutes controversy. By late 1711 the various actors in Languedoc—Basville, Joubert, the town council of Nîmes, and the several guilds—understood that the Parisian administrators were committed to the creation of statutes for the hosiery guild in Nîmes on a closed-guild model. 94 When this result seemed inevitable, Basville focused his efforts on preventing the political turmoil that he feared such an action by the Parisian administrators would cause. At the same time, the Nîmes town council concentrated its efforts on a single issue—preserving the traditional privileges of Nîmes (or at least the appearance of these privileges) by opposing the maîtrise. In this sense the town council succeeded, for the word maîtrise did not enter Nîmes, even if the hosiery guild did obtain monopolistic privileges. Basville forged a compromise so that the Nîmes political leadership could accept the statutes while still claiming to have defended local traditions and privileges. For its part, the hosiery guild willingly sacrificed the word maîtrise in favor of gaining its reality. 95

The hosiery guild celebrated an amazing victory in 1712. Opposed by the political and economic leadership in Nîmes and the powerful Basville (not to mention the woolen artisans), the Nîmes hosiery guild retained the substance of its 1710 statutes. The guild’s victory rested firmly on the political skills developed during these years. Between 1708 and 1712 the guild established a network of individuals with whom it communicated in an effort to influence economic policy making at both the local and national levels. Certainly, the guild’s barrister and lobbyist in Paris, Voigny, served as the most important figure in this network, as he persistently defended the guild’s interests [End Page 527] before the Council of Commerce. The guild also hired lawyers to influence Basville in Montpellier and sought other means (the Paris hosiery guild, regional officials such as Joubert) to influence the outcome. This is not to say that the guild’s victory rested on its own authority. The Council of Commerce provided the political authority. State administrators on the council sought to centralize both economic policies and the process of economic policy making in France. Further, the council believed in the importance of reputation in economic activity and in closed guilds (with the maîtrise) as defenses to reputation. Here, the goals of the guild and of the council coincided, if for different reasons. But the guild, with the skills and network it developed, took the active role in making this “coincidence” politically meaningful. Through Voigny, the guild developed a relationship with the council, gained knowledge of the coincidence, encouraged the council in its views, and used its knowledge of the council’s opinion to resist pressure from Basville and the others to negotiate away the central provisions of the 1710 statutes.

With this victory secured, between the 1710s and the mid-1750s the hosiery guild solidified and expanded the political support network it had developed during its years of political apprenticeship. The Nîmes hosiers corresponded frequently with royal, provincial, and municipal officials, hired permanent agents and lawyers in Nîmes, Montpellier, Paris, and Toulouse, and occasionally coordinated its political efforts with other hosiery guilds throughout France. Within one month after the final confirmation of the statutes in 1712, the guild requested that Basville reissue his 1710 ordinance through which the guild would extend its authority over rural hosiery throughout lower Languedoc. In 1713 the Nîmes guild negotiated an agreement with the towns and villages throughout the Garrigues and the Cévennes that extended the provisions of the 1712 statutes to the entire region, including the right of inspection. This agreement benefited the fabricants and ouvriers because limiting masters to two apprentices restricted the size of the growing rural labor pool. The agreement also benefited the marchands. The Nîmes négociants had long dominated production throughout lower Languedoc; however, the 1712 statutes limited the use of the stocking frame to guild members and forbade non–guild members from subcontracting work to anyone within the guild. Thus the marchands could force the négociants to work through them, rather than around them, in any efforts to consolidate the industry. And, of course, the 1713 agreement benefited the marchands by directing the hosiery industry toward Nîmes and away from Lyons and Montpellier. Between 1713 and 1754 not a year passed without the guild becoming involved [End Page 528] in a legal or political matter that resulted in deploying part or all of its political support network to defend its economic privileges throughout lower Languedoc. Nevertheless, while the guild continued to gain political experience over the years, its masterful victory in 1712 signaled that its days of political apprenticeship were over, at least within the administrative political networks of the early eighteenth century.

Ironically for the fabricants and ouvriers, their victory in 1712 soon had a hollow ring. In the 1720s and 1730s stocking production turned increasingly away from woolen stockings and toward silk ones, especially within Nîmes. The Nîmes négociants had experience with the highly differentiated silk industry, which required careful oversight from the purchase of raw silk (often at the fair at Alès) and continuing throughout the production process. As the production of silk hosiery expanded in the 1720s and 1730s, and then spread to the larger towns in lower Languedoc in the 1740s and 1750s, the négociants formed partnerships with the marchands of the Nîmes hosiery guild, consolidated the industry, and proletarianized the workforce. 96 By midcentury, Nîmes’s large commercial houses had centralized the hosiery industry. 97 The fabricants and ouvriers had won a surprising victory in 1712, but the fruits of that victory were not long enjoyed.

The language used by the hosiery guild during the controversy of 1710 to 1712 suggests another important point. Judicial language and assumptions still weighed heavily on the case. The guild benefited from the fact that the 1710 statutes had been fully authorized by all officials and thus remained in effect throughout the conflict. And the anti-maîtrise party, as the Bonisol faction before it, gave extensive emphasis to traditional liberty of manufacturing in Nîmes as the basis for its argument. The administrative system, however, was not the judicial system. Although the royal officials in the Council of Commerce all had training and experience as maîtres des requêtes, the merchant-deputies on the council did not. They were experienced négociants and merchants. [End Page 529] Throughout the first half of the eighteenth century, the council’s administrative system provided greater leeway for innovative economic arguments than the judicial system. Not as bound by legal form and procedure, the council became a place where, within limits, merchants and artisans tried out innovative arguments. This experimentation occurred most frequently in contexts such as those in which the Nîmes hosiery guild found itself in 1711 and 1712. When arguments based on judicial precedent disfavored one party in a conflict, that party became more innovative and experimentive in its arguments, often basing its arguments on economic rather than judicial rationality. 98 In 1711, since judicial precedence gave more weight to the ancient liberties of Nîmes than to the recent statutes of one guild, the Nîmes hosiery guild developed an argument based on economic rationality. Fortunately for the guild, the Council of Commerce provided a forum open to such innovation. And the Nîmes hosiery guild, to its credit, had learned how to operate politically within this forum.


Politicization is a wonderfully slippery term. Its vagueness alerts us that politicization can hardly be considered a singular condition or develop by a single process. If we hope to understand politicization historically, we must mark out the forms that it has taken, the groups it has affected, and the contexts in which the process has occurred. I am not proposing to establish a taxonomy of politicization; rather, I am suggesting that politicization must be defined specifically, historically, lest it become another empty concept applicable to almost any situation.

Beik has argued convincingly that common urban people in the seventeenth century were very capable of “thinking politically” and remained informed about political affairs. 99 The Nîmes hosiery guild also thought politically, but the context in which its political thought occurred differed dramatically from the urban revolts that Beik studied. The hosiers underwent a process of administrative politicization in which the guild members learned a series of political skills useful for a certain set of political practices. The guild shaped arguments for specific political contexts, hired and worked with political agents, learned how the bureaucratic system functioned, and built networks to exert influence and obtain information. The guild applied these skills to local and national institutions. Some of these skills were not particularly [End Page 530] new for guilds. They long had interacted with Parisian officials, most commonly to have guild statutes confirmed. In the seventeenth century, guilds and other individuals occasionally wrote letters of protest to the controller general. Despite these similarities in form, the political activities of the Nîmes hosiery guild constituted something new: the participation in a stable, routinized, and durable system of administrative politics unlike the haphazard participation of guilds in the political system of the Renaissance state.

In terms of economic policy making, this new administrative system was based in the Council of Commerce. Between 1700 and 1720 the council organized an administrative system that established, oversaw, and enforced economic policies. This system purposely fostered, and created the means for, participation in the policy-making process by merchants, manufacturers, guilds, and artisans throughout France. The council sought advice on economic policies and established a norm of participatory policy making. Rarely would the council establish new economic regulations without first consulting the various interested parties and often entering into extended negotiations over the framework of economic policies. 100 In the controversies in Nîmes, the council negotiated for two years with the guild, and then before authorizing the 1710 statutes, the council sent the statutes to Nîmes to be reviewed by the various interested parties: the town council, the négociants, the woolen artisans, and the locksmiths.

In response to this system of participatory policy making, the Nîmes hosiery guild and other economic actors established stable networks for political involvement with the Council of Commerce. While state administrators in these years sought to accumulate data and information on manufacturing so as to craft effective economic policies, guilds and individuals learned the importance of gathering information about the administration so that they could negotiate effectively with it. As the Council of Commerce created an effective administrative system to oversee economic policy making and the enforcement of those policies, extending its regulatory reach across and into the French hexagon, thousands of local individuals and groups, such as the Nîmes hosiery guild, willingly reached upward to involve themselves in forms of participatory policy making and to bring Parisian administrators into local conflicts. 101 If an individual or group did not find satisfaction in local forums to resolve conflicts, the central state now provided a last avenue of appeal. As the state sought to regulate [End Page 531] economic activity, so individuals and guilds sought to use the state to promote their own economic advantages. State power expanded but in a more cooperative fashion than suggested by ubiquitous images of the “aggrandizing French state.” Politicization occurred not only in response to a state seeking to regulate private affairs, but in the process of negotiating economic policies both with the state and among various interested parties. The Nîmes controversies of 1706 to 1712 originated from conflicts within the guild, which then brought various organs of the state into the conflict. An image of politicization that only posits the state as the hostile enemy of the individual, confronting the individual and provoking him or her into political consciousness, ignores the politicization that occurred as individuals confronted one another and sought to bring the state into their conflicts to promote their own personal advantages.

The participatory policy making that developed in the administrative system of early-eighteenth-century France relied on a bilateral relationship, but it did not imply an egalitarian framework for politics. The state controlled the official system in which economic dialogue took place and the tone of that dialogue. Administrators brooked neither overt nor excessive criticism of the monarchy, the state, or the administrators themselves, yet at the same time the administrators in the Council of Commerce sought advice on state economic regulations. Merchants, manufacturers, guilds, and artisans (and their legal representatives) learned how to debate and discuss state economic regulations while still maintaining a deferential tone and formules de politesse, and they learned how to suggest changes in state policies without presenting their suggestions as a rejection or criticism of state authority. Individuals learned how to present their private affairs to state authorities to highlight the advantages that a new policy would bring to the state—through increased tax revenues, social stability, or general economic growth, for example. The administrative process of politicization did not establish “criticism” as its characteristic discourse, as Habermas claimed had resulted from the “continuous administrative contact” between the state and the individual.” 102 Criticism was one possible result, but there were others. The administrative system rewarded the ability to manipulate language in the process of discussion and negotiation. The state held the upper hand in the relationship, and merchants and other economic actors had to respond to that political fact. Learning how to respond fostered its own set of political skills. [End Page 532]

The Council of Commerce provided a forum in which the members of the Nîmes hosiery guild developed a repertoire of political skills through interaction with the organs of state. The guild was far from alone. Between 1700 and the 1750s the Council (and later Bureau) of Commerce heard more than ten thousand cases from merchants, manufacturers, guilds, artisans, and even day laborers. With its administrative effectiveness, the council reached even into the villages and hamlets of rural France. 103 Such recognition seriously undermines any focus on politicization that only looks at forums for politicization that were distinct from the state. 104 To understand how popular politicization occurred in France, it seems imperative to investigate those many and varied contexts in which individuals learned about politics. Rather than leading us away from the state, such an investigation leads us back to the state and its expanding role in eighteenth-century French society.

David Kammerling Smith

David Kammerling Smith is assistant professor of history at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Ill. He is coeditor, with Richard Lim, of The West in the Wider World: Four Millennia of Interaction, forthcoming from Bedford Books. He also is completing a manuscript on economic policy making, political structure, and economic language in France in the first half of the eighteenth century.


For their helpful comments and friendly conversations on earlier versions of this article, the author thanks Lynn Hunt, Joy Kammerling, the anonymous readers of French Historical Studies, and the members of the Wabash Valley French History Group: Brad Brown, Clare Crowston, Jim Farr, Dean Ferguson, Paul Hanson, John Lynn, Rene Marion, Kevin Robbins, and Whitney Walton. The author also thanks the French government, the University of Pennsylvania, and Eastern Illinois University for generous assistance in funding the research on which this article is based.

1. William Beik, Absolutism and Society in Seventeenth-Century France: State Power and Provincial Aristocracy in Languedoc (Cambridge, Mass., 1985), 15–16, 223–25, 242–44; and Sharon Kettering, Patrons, Brokers, and Clients in Seventeenth-Century France (New York, 1986), 12–39, 225–31.

2. James B. Collins, The State in Early Modern France (Cambridge, 1995), 142–46.

3. See Thomas Schaeper, The French Council of Commerce, 1700–1715: A Study of Mercantilism after Colbert (Columbus, Ohio, 1983); and David Kammerling Smith, “Au bien du commerce: Economic Discourse and Visions of Society in France, 1700–1750” (Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1995).

4. Roger Chartier, The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution, trans. Lydia Cochrane (Durham, N.C., 1991), 16–17.

5. On this point, see Robert Darnton, The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France (New York, 1996), 172.

6. Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Thomas Burger (Cambridge, Mass., 1989), 25–26 and chaps. 1–7 more generally.

7. Chartier, Cultural Origins, 16–17.

8. Darnton, Forbidden Best-Sellers, 188.

9. See Steven Kaplan, Provisioning Paris: Merchants and Millers in the Grain and Flour Trade during the Eighteenth Century (Ithaca, N.Y., 1984); idem, The Bakers of Paris and the Bread Question, 1700–1775 (Durham, N.C., 1996); Michael Sonenscher, Work and Wages: Natural Law, Politics, and the Eighteenth-Century French Trades (Cambridge, U.K., 1989); Gail Bossenga, The Politics of Privilege: Old Regime and Revolution in Lille (Cambridge, U.K., 1991); and Schaeper, French Council of Commerce.

10. Immanuel Kant, “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Intent,” in Perpetual Peace and Other Essays, trans. Ted Humphrey (Indianapolis, Ind., 1983), 31–32. Emphasis in original.

11. Ibid., 32.

12. Ibid., 33. By the term right (Recht), Kant means “justice” in a normative sense.

13. Certainly, other institutions besides the state—the church, for example—also would provide forums for politicization.

14. Habermas, Structural Transformation, 25–25, 29, 37–38. Habermas emphasized the centrality of the printed word, especially in commercialized form, to the formation of the bourgeois public sphere.

15. Although created in 1700 as the Council of Commerce, the council functioned as a bureau within the State Council. In 1722 the council was renamed the Bureau of Commerce, a title more accurately reflecting the role it always had served. Despite a change in name, the council/bureau retained institutional unity from 1700 to 1791. A new Council of Commerce created in 1730 rarely met and had no significant relationship with the Bureau of Commerce. On the history of the Council/Bureau of Commerce in the early eighteenth century, see Schaeper, French Council of Commerce; and Smith, “Au bien du commerce,” 21–44.

16. On the history of the stocking frame in France, see Léon Dutil, “La Fabrique de bas à Nîmes au XVIIIe siècle,” Annales du Midi 17 (1905): 218–51; P. M. Bondois, “Colbert et la fabrication des bas,” Revue d’histoire économique et sociale 17 (1929): 275–329; Julien Ricommard, La Bonneterie à Troyes et dans le département de l’Aube: Origines, évolution, caractères actuels (Troyes, 1934); Irena Turnau, “La Bonneterie en Europe du XVe au XVIIIe siècle,” Annales ECS 26 (1971): 1118–32; Jean-Claude Perrot, Genèse d’une ville moderne: Caen au XVIIIe siècle, 2 vols. (Paris, 1975), 1:400–411; Michael Sonenscher, “The Hosiery Industry of Nîmes and the Lower Languedoc in the Eighteenth Century,” Textile History 10 (1979): 142–60; and Line Teisseyre-Sallmann, L’Industrie de la soie en Bas-Languedoc, XVIIe–XVIIIe siècles (Paris, 1995).

17. See Archives Nationales (hereafter AN), F12 1397 dossier 2 (Amiens), Response of the Council of Commerce to request by Roye and Montdedier, 12 Oct. 1716; Avis des députés, 6 Mar. 1719 and 23 June 1719; and Letter from Guerran, Inspector of Manufacturing, 31 Jan. 1726. See also Bernard Wybo, Le Conseil de commerce et le commerce intérieur de la France au XVIIIe siècle (Paris, 1936), 51–53.

18. AN, G7 1696 #218.

19. For a copy of the arrêt, see AN, F12 781E #226. The eighteen cities were Aix, Amiens, Bourges, Caen, Dourdan, Lyon, Metz, Nantes, Nîmes, Olleron, Orléans, Paris, Poitiers, Reims, Romans, Rouen, Toulouse, and Uzès.

20. On this issue, see Smith, “Au bien du commerce,” 200–270, esp. 224–29. Also, on the economic thought of administrators, see Philippe Minard, La Fortune du colbertisme: Etat et industrie dans la France des Lumières (Paris, 1998), 151–82.

21. Other important areas of production were centered in Amiens, Caen, Metz, Paris, Rouen, and Sedan.

22. On the dramatic growth of the hosiery industry and its causes, see Sonenscher, “Hosiery Industry,” 145–52; and Teisseyre-Sallmann, L’Industrie de la soie, 104–13, 171–76, 186–202, 375.

23. On the vigor in the French economy in the late seventeenth century and early eighteenth century, see Paul Butel, L’Economie française au XVIIIe siècle (Paris, 1993); and Thomas J. Schaeper, The Economy of France in the Second Half of the Reign of Louis XIV (Montreal, 1980).

24. Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, The Peasants of Languedoc, trans. John Day (Urbana, Ill., 1974), 257–58, 294–96; Sonenscher, “Hosiery Industry,” 145–47; and Teisseyre-Sallmann, L’Industrie de la soie, 104–13.

25. Archives Départementales du Gard à Nîmes (hereafter ADG), IV E 76, “Répartition 1705”; see also ADG, IV E 103, “Catalogue des maîtres faiseurs de bas travaillant pour le compte d’autrui,” n.d., but from the 1710–12 period.

26. Sonenscher, “Hosiery Industry,” 157.

27. One hundred twenty-seven guild members owned two frames, eighty-seven members owned three frames, and thirty-eight members owned four frames. Only four members owned five frames. Those owning five or more frames are identified as marchands.

28. ADG, IV E 33, sec. 2.

29. Archives Municipales de Nîmes (hereafter AMN), LL 30 fol. 215.

30. ADG, IV E 33, sec. 2. In the controversies that erupted in 1706, the hosiery guild wardens explicitly stated that the guild incurred substantial expenses to have the 30 March 1700 arrêt set aside for Languedoc.

31. ADG, IV E 33, sec. 2.

32. ADG, IV E 102, “Délibération du corps des marchands fabricants de bas au métier,” 1 Apr. 1705.

33. ADG, IV E 40, “Extrait de faux délibération,” 3 Jan. 1706; and Archives Départementales de la Haute-Garonne à Toulouse (hereafter ADHG), B 1285 fol. 191.

34. See ADG, IV E 40, “Procureur général du Roi,” 30 June 1708; and “Délibération du corps des marchands fabricants de bas au métier,” 23, 25, and 29 Mar. 1706.

35. See ADG, IV E 40, Letter from J. Jean to Bonisol, 15 May 1706; and Letter from J. Jean to Bonisol, 26 May 1706.

36. See, for example, ADG, IV E 105, “Délibération du corps des marchands fabricants de bas au métier,” 30 Jan. 1707.

37. See ADG, IV E 42, “Délibération du corps des marchands fabricants de bas au métier,” 6 May 1708 (signed by seventy-two individuals). See also ADG, IV E 105, “Délibération du corps des marchands fabricants de bas au métier,” 8 Apr. 1706 (signed by twenty-eight individuals). In the controversies of 1710–12, the guild continued this practice with documents signed by even larger numbers of guild members. See ADG, IV E 103, “Délibération du corps des marchands fabricants de bas au métier,” 12 July 1711 (signed by one hundred sixty-six individuals); and “Délibération du corps des marchands fabricants de bas au métier,” 29 Oct. 1711 (signed by ninety-six individuals).

38. See ADG, IV E 41, “Requête et Ordonance,” 5 and 8 May 1706, “Pour Srs. Jean Valette . . .,” 19 Aug. 1707, “Inventaire des produits,” 28 Feb. 1708. See also ADG, IV E 102, “Inventaire sommaire,” 2 Feb. 1708.

39. ADG, IV E 41, “Pour Srs. Jean Valette . . .,” 19 Aug. 1707.

40. On the Camisards conflict, see Henri Bosc, La Guerre des Cévennes, 1702–1710, 5 vols. (Montpellier, 1985–90).

41. See ADG, IV E 102, “Délibération du corps des marchands fabricants de bas au métier,” 25 and 29 Mar. 1709. See also ADG, IV E 40, “A nosseigneurs de parlement,” 17 Apr. 1706; “Inventaire,” 17, 24, and 27 Feb. 1708; “Consulte faite par M. La Croix, avocat en Parlement,” 12 May 1706; “Moyens de faux,” 20 Dec. 1707; and “Devant vous,” 25 Jan. 1708.

42. The Bonisol faction was not always consistent in its facts. On other occasions, it claimed that of the twenty-six individuals who signed the 3 Jan. 1706 deliberation of the guild, five were illiterate and two signatures were forged. See ADG, IV E 102, “A nosseigneurs de parlement,” 19 Dec. 1707.

43. ADG, IV E 40, “Moyens de faux,” 20 Dec. 1707. See also ADG, IV E 102, “Délibération du corps des marchands fabricants de bas au métier,” 25 and 29 Mar. 1709.

44. ADG, IV E 40, Letter of Maire and Consuls of Nîmes, 6 Aug. 1707. See also AMN, LL 31, fol. 198v.

45. ADG, IV E 43, “Procès-verbal,” 14, 21, and 22 Mar. 1708.

46. On the guild vote, see David Kammerling Smith, “Pour gagner leur vie: The Language of Female Stocking Makers in the Nîmes Statutes Controversy of 1708,” Proceedings of the Western Society for French History: Selected Papers of the Annual Meeting 23 (1996): 349–60.

47. See the court’s ruling in ADG, IV E 104, 18 July 1708.

48. The guild’s prodigious record keeping began in 1706, yet oddly the guild’s correspondence with its various legal representatives is preserved in large quantities only beginning in late 1710. Some of the assertions in the following paragraphs are reinforced by the more extensive documentation of the guild’s client-lawyer relations after 1710. On this latter time period, see Smith, “Au bien du commerce,” 501–52.

49. ADG, IV E 40, Letter from J. Jean to Bonisol, 15 and 26 May 1706; and “Consulte faite par M. La Croix.”

50. ADG, IV E 40, Letter from J. Jean to Bonisol, 15 May 1706.

51. Sonenscher, Work and Wages, 90.

52. ADG, IV E 43, “Ordonnance de Montclus, juge mage et lieutenant général de police,” 20 and 22 Mar. 1706.

53. David A. Bell, Lawyers and Citizens: The Making of a Political Elite in Old Regime France (New York, 1994), 10.

54. See ADG, IV E 40, “Moyens de faux,” 4 Jan. 1708.

55. ADG, IV E 40, “A Monseigneur de Lamoignon,” May 1708.

56. See ADG, IV E 42, “Délibération du corps des marchands fabricants de bas au métier,” 6 May 1708. ADG, IV E 40, “To Mons. de Lamoignon de Basville,” 30 Apr. 1708. ADG, IV E 41, “2e requête presentée à Mgr l’Intendant,” 13 May 1708; “Mémoire sommaire à presenter à Monsieur de Basville,” n.d.; “Requête et pièces par les syndics des fabricants de Nîmes,” 28 Apr. 1708; and “Requête et pièces pour Srs. Jean Valette et Gonin,” 1708.

57. See the court’s ruling in ADG, IV E 104, 18 July 1708.

58. ADG, IV E 103, “Délibération du corps des marchands fabricants de bas au métier,” 4 Nov. 1708. In 1725 the guild requested and the State Council approved that the number of directors be reduced from thirty to fifteen because of the difficulties with arranging meetings for so large a body of directors. ADG, C 551, fol. 21.

59. ADG, IV E 15, Copy of Statutes, 9 Oct. 1709.

60. On the events between late 1709 and 1710, see AN, G7 1696 #217, Letter from Caumartin de Boissy to Desmaretz, 8 Sept. 1711. See also AN, G7 312 #189 and 190. AN, G7 314 #145, 146, and 147. ADG, IV E 103, Letters from Voigny to Syndics of Marchands Fabricants de Bas at Nîmes, 17 and 27 Oct. and 5 Nov. 1710.

61. AN, G7 1696 #217, Letter from Caumartin de Boissy to Desmaretz, 8 Sept. 1711.

62. For a copy of the statutes, the confirmation by the State Council, and the lettres-patentes authorizing the statutes, see ADG, IV E 15. For the Parlement of Toulouse’s registration on 24 Nov. 1710. See also ADHG, B 1887, fol. 186.

63. Simmering resentments between the Valette and the Bonisol factions over the guild’s finances plagued the guild with minor legal conflicts into the mid-1720s.

64. ADG, IV E 100, “Ordonnance de Basville,” 13 Dec. 1710. For the ruling of the Parlement of Toulouse, see ADHG, B 1887, fol. 186, 24 Nov. 1710.

65. See ADG, IV E 16, “Règlements et Statuts pour les marchands fabricants en bas,” 13 July 1711.

66. AN, G7 1696 #218, Report of Caumartin de Boissy, 26 Oct. 1711.

67. ADG, IV E 103, “Délibération du corps des marchands fabricants de bas au métier,” 20 Apr. 1711.

68. ADG, IV E 103, Letter from de Voigny to Marchands Fabricants de Bas au métier at Nîmes, 8 Aug. and 5 and 23 Sept. 1711.

69. ADG, IV E 103, “Extrait des Registres du Conseil d’Etat,” 22 Dec. 1711.

70. ADG, IV E 103, Letter from de Voigny to Marchands Fabricants de Bas au métier at Nîmes, 2 Oct. 1711. The Nîmes town council and négociants were closely allied by marriage and economic interests.

71. Richard L. Kagan has emphasized that competition among the abundance of legal professionals in the eighteenth century may have encouraged litigation even by rural peasants. Although Kagan places emphasis on the late eighteenth century, his evidence suggests an excess of legal professionals throughout the century. Barristers such as Voigny certainly would have found it lucrative to make use of their political connections to serve as lobbyists and agents for groups such as the Nîmes hosiery guild. Richard L. Kagan, “Law Students and Legal Careers in Eighteenth-Century France,” Past and Present 68 (Aug. 1975): 65–67.

72. ADG, IV E 103, Letter from the syndics of the Marchands Fabricants de Bas au métier of Nîmes to the syndics of the Marchands Fabricants de Bas au métier of Paris, 19 Sept. 1711. Beginning in the 1710s the Council of Commerce often sought the advice of Parisian guilds regarding guild and manufacturing issues in the provinces.

73. ADG, IV E 103, Letter from de Voigny to Marchands Fabricants de Bas au métier at Nîmes, 22 Apr. 1712.

74. ADG, IV E 103, Letter from Joubert, general syndic of the province of Languedoc, to Marchands Fabricants de Bas au métier at Nîmes, 6 Jan. 1712. During the controversies of 1711 and 1712 the position of merchant-deputy for Languedoc on the Council of Commerce sat vacant because of conflicts between the Estates of Languedoc and the chambers of commerce of Montpellier and Toulouse over the authority to make the appointment.

75. See ADG, IV E 16, “A Monseigneur l’Intendant,” n.d. ADG, IV E 103, “Requête des facturiers de laine,” 13 Apr. 1711. AMN, LL 31, fol. 369, “Registres des délibérations du Conseil de Nîmes,” 11 Apr. 1711. AMN, HH 3 #13, Letter from Maire et Consuls of Nîmes to Basville, 20 Aug. 1711.

76. The guild developed its arguments in a series of mémoires in 1711 and 1712. See ADG, IV E 16, “Mémoire pour les marchands en bas au métier de la ville de Nîmes,” n.d., “Moyens d’opposition,” 1711; “Requête des syndics des marchands de bas de la ville de Nîmes,” 1711; “A Monseigneur de Lamoignon,” 1711; and “A Monseigneur de Lamoignon,” 15 July 1711. See also ADG, IV E 103, “A Monseigneur de Lamoignon de Basville,” 1711; and “Instruction sommaire,” 1711 or 1712.

77. ADG, IV E 16, “Requête des syndics des marchands de bas de la ville de Nîmes,” 1711.

78. ADG, IV E 103, “A Monseigneur de Lamoignon de Basville,” 1711.

79. ADG, IV E 16, “Moyens d’opposition,” 1711.

80. Ibid.

81. ADG, IV E 103, “A Monseigneur de Lamoignon de Basville,” 1711.

82. AN, G7 1696 #217.

83. Ibid.

84. Louis de Rouvroy, duc de Saint-Simon, Mémoires, ed. A. de Boislisle et al., 43 vols. (Paris, 1879–1930), 11:11–12.

85. In fact, Basville’s response was sent to Caumartin de Boissy, but all official communication between the intendants of commerce and the provincial intendants went through the office and under the name of the controller general.

86. AN, G7 1696 #218.

87. Although disrupted by the War of Spanish Succession, the Levant trade grew substantially in the first half of the eighteenth century. See J. K. J. Thomson, Clermont-de-Lodève, 1633–1789: Fluctuations in the Prosperity of a Languedocian Cloth-Making Town (Cambridge, 1982), 2; and Tihomir Markovitch, Histoire des industries françaises: Les Industries lainières de Colbert à la Révolution (Geneva, 1976), 205–310.

88. AN, G7 1696 #218.

89. Ibid.

90. AN, F12 58, fol. 56–57v.

91. ADG, C 543, fol. 67, “Arrêt du Conseil d’Etat,” 5 July 1712.

92. This unusual legal status created interesting vocabulary problems for the guild. In the guild’s official correspondence, the members referred to themselves as marchands fabricants. In less official correspondence, however, the guild wardens used such terms as marchands en bas and fabricants en bas to distinguish among the members.

93. Emile Coornaert, Les Corporations en France avant 1789 (Paris, 1941), 24–27.

94. On the decision of Desmaretz to grant “toutes les modifications qu’il a été possible sans renverser entierement ce qu’il y avait de plus essentiel,” see AN, F12 1398, dossier Languedoc, Letter from Desmaretz to Basville, Dec. 1711.

95. In her interpretations of the statutes controversy, Teisseyre-Sallmann simplifies the controversy of 1706 to 1712 as a clear conflict between liberty and regulation. Teisseyre-Sallmann, Sonenscher, and Dutil simply ignore the conflict’s first stage from 1706 to 1708. Teisseyre-Sallmann, L’Industrie de la soie, 104–13; Sonenscher, “Hosiery Industry,” 142–58; and Dutil, “La Fabrique de bas à Nîmes,” 219–29.

96. Teisseyre-Sallmann, L’Industrie de la soie, 183–202; Sonenscher, “Hosiery Industry,” 151–55; and Smith, “Au bien du commerce,” 501–5.

97. Sonenscher, “The Hosiery Industry,” 156–57. Sonenscher overstates the case when he says that the formal provisions of the guild “were largely irrelevant to the real and economic relationships which grew up around the manufacture of silk hose.” The guild’s codified structure was one of several factors affecting the development of the industry’s structure. The power of the Nîmes commercial houses over the hosiery industry grew as the century progressed, and the guild statutes played an important role in the processes and means by which the houses established and maintained both economic and legal control over the industry, especially in the countryside. Sonenscher fails to see this development because he overasserts the dominance of the houses early in the century by relying on data from the 1760s and generalizing this information backward chronologically. Teisseyre-Sallmann more correctly sees development of the industry and indicates that the definitive separation of the productive sector from the “sphère du négoce” occurred around midcentury. See Teisseyre-Sallmann, L’Industrie de la soie, 186–87, 276–77.

98. See Smith, “Au bien du commerce,” 172–75, 543–52.

99. William Beik, Urban Protest in Seventeenth-Century France: The Culture of Retribution (Cambridge, 1997), 37–38, 109, 170–72.

100. Smith, “Au bien du commerce,” 134–75, 400–431.

101. Collins emphasizes the interactive quality to the expansion of state power. Collins, State in Early Modern France, 185.

102. Habermas, The Structural Transformation, 24.

103. On the extensive social, geographic, and demographic breadth of the individuals who had cases before the Council/Bureau of Commerce between 1700 and 1753, see Smith, “Au bien du commerce,” 75–121, 271–346, 400–431.

104. For criticisms of Habermas on similar grounds, see Jay M. Smith, The Culture of Merit: Nobility, Royal Service, and the Making of Absolute Monarchy in France, 1600–1789 (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1996), 265–69; and Bell, Lawyers and Citizens, 11–12.

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