Nobles of the Robe  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Under the Old Regime, the Nobles of the Robe or Nobles of the Gown were French aristocrats who owed their titles and rank to judicial or administrative posts — often bought outright for high sums. These positions were often hereditary and most Nobles of the Robe had inherited their title and position. They were the opposite of the "Nobles of the Sword" who based their nobility on their families' traditional function as the military class under the feudalist system. Together with the other classes of nobility, they made up the Second Estate in pre-revolutionary France.


Because these nobles, especially the judges, had often studied at a university they were called Nobles of the Robe after the robes or gowns scholars wore, especially at commencement ceremonies. The positions of the Nobles of the Robe were hereditary. Originally given out as rewards for services to the king, the offices became a commodity to be bought and sold. This practice became official with the edict of la Paulette. As hereditary offices, they were often passed from father to son creating a class conscience. Nobles of the Robe were often considered by Nobles of the Sword to be “more recent” nobles and were denied entrance into elite society. The elite Nobles of the Robe, such as the members of the parlements, fought for their status alongside the Nobles of the Sword in pre-revolutionary society.

Originally, the offices within the Nobles of the Robe were relatively accessible due to their venal nature. However, after the 17th century the descendants of those who had earned the titles as a reward for services to the monarchy fought to close off access to the class. The Nobles of the Robe protested heavily when the monarchy, in desperate need of money, would create massive numbers of such positions within the bureaucracy to bring in greater revenue.

The Enlightenment and the French Revolution

Nobles of the Robe played key roles in the French Enlightenment. The most famous, Montesquieu, was one of the earliest Enlightenment figures. During the Revolution, the more liberal nobles who supported the French Revolution tended to be Nobles of the Robe, whereas the Nobles of the Sword were more conservative and tended to oppose the Revolution.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Nobles of the Robe" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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