Attack on Seigneurial Dues
The petitions from rural communities focused in part on the abuse of seigneurial dues owed by peasants to lords for which, in principle, they received protection and supervision. But by 1789, on the verge of the French Revolution, these excerpts demonstrate that peasants considered their lords not as protectors but as exploiters who constantly turned the screws to extract ever more rent or other payments.
Condolences from the community and congregation of Lignère la Doucelle.
For a long time now, the inhabitants have been crushed beneath the excessive burden of the multiplicity of taxes that they have been obliged to pay. Their parish is large and spread out, but it is a hard land with many uncultivated areas, almost all of it divided into small parcels. There is not one single farm of appreciable size, and these small properties are occupied either by the poor or by people who are doing so poorly that they go without bread every other day. They buy bread or grain nine months of the year. No industries operate in this parish, and from the time they began complaining, no one has ever listened. The cry of anguish echoed all to the way to the ministry after having fruitlessly worn out their intendants. They have always seen their legitimate claims being continuously denied, so may the fortunate moment of equality revive them.
These inhabitants request that there be only two taxes in the realm, one called the land tax, and the other designated for industry.
That the fees regulating water and forests, crane's nests and Table marble be abolished, to be informed of the claims granted as leases, and that the woods and forests belonging to the crown be leased for periods of 100 years.
That the finance offices, accounting houses, and welfare courts be abolished.
That élections [tax collecting officials], salt granaries, milking, and other special fees be abolished.
That salt be marketable.
That all lords, country gentlemen, and others of the privileged class who, either directly or through their proxies, desire to make a profit on their wealth, regardless of the nature of that wealth, pay the same taxes as the common people.
That the rent paid to the seigneur be depreciable to the last twentieth, or to the last thirtieth if so desired, provided that property common to the husband and wife be exempt from division or resulting sale.
That the seigneur's mills not be obligatory, allowing everyone to choose where he would like to mill his grain.
That all of the goods paid as tribute, either owned by the common people, or exempt from the king's francs fiefs and repurchased by the seigneurs, be finally declared taxable.
That the corvées due to the seigneur be abolished, as well as the declarations or vows that are given them in cases where the seigneurial rents are being paid off.
That all seigneurial fees be abolished. Or at least that several of them be grouped together, for which each seigneur, for a limited time, can appoint an officer, failing which the king will provide him one.
That the children of common people living on a par with nobles be admitted for military service, as the nobility is.
That the king not bestow noble titles upon someone and their family line, but that titles be bestowed only upon those deserving it.
That nobility not be available for purchase or by any fashion other than by the bearing of arms or other service rendered to the State.
That all seigneurs that have more than a lackey in his service or in his wife's service, even though they be widow or daughter, pay to the king the sum of sixty pounds per year for each additional lackey.
That all the silk material, ribbons, chiffons, and merchandise imported from foreign countries be taxed at three times the current amount. That women wearing hats pay to the king twenty-four livres per year for each as a female head tax.
That those living off their worldly goods shall pay a land tax, as do the other inhabitants for their goods.
That church members be only able to take advantage of one position. That those who are enjoying more than one be made to choose within a fixed time period.
That future abbeys all be placed into the hands of the king, that His Majesty benefit from their revenue as the head abbots have been able to.
That in towns where there are several convents belonging to the same order, there be only one, and the goods and revenue of those that are to be abolished go to the profit of the crown.
That the convents where there are not normally twelve residents be abolished.
That no tenth of black wheat be paid to parish priests, priors or other beneficiaries, since this grain is only used to prepare the soil for the sowing of rye.
That they also not be paid any tenths of hemp, wool, or lamb. That in the countryside they be required to conduct burials and funerals free of charge. That the ten sous for audit books, insinuations, and the 100 [sous] collected for the parish be abolished.
That the businessmen and seigneur's guards, even those residing in their own homes, enjoy no exemption or privilege.
Finally, the aforementioned inhabitants request that the house of Saint Ursain previously of the Order of the Cross, located in their parish. And thus the goods and income which today are tied up in litigation between Prince Louis de Rohan and the clergy of Le Mans, be accorded to them and used to set up a hospital in view of the large number of poor living in the aforementioned parish. This would be governed by two administrators who would be chosen from among the better known inhabitants.
That minors making a profit from their wealth pay taxes as if they were adults.
That the seigneurs enjoy no privilege of customs or tolls, nor during measuring in the grain halls, fairs, and animal markets, in view of the fact that they no longer maintain the boards and bridges over their streams and rivers, where several people have perished.
That grain be taxed in the realm at a fixed price, or rather that its exportation abroad be forbidden except in the case where it would be sold at a low price.
That "eau de vie" [distilled] alcohol be exportable from one province to another.
That those making money from outside the parish pay taxes where their funds are located.
That two free roads be opened, one from Saint Denis near Alençon to Falaise, passing through the town of Lignères, and the other from there to Préz, in Pail.
It is also requested that in the realm there exist only one custom, one measurement, one system of weights, and a common order.
And finally, in the case where intendances exist, that for the convenience of the remote parishes, cities, and towns, since the aforementioned parish is over thirty leagues from Tours, that the king establish a commissioner to hold court in the city of Le Mans for questions of administrative jurisdiction and to hear the parish's complaints.
As decreed by the General Assembly, this sixth day of March, 1789, in the courtroom of Lignères.
Armand Bellée, ed., Cahiers de plaintes & doléances des paroisses de la province du Maine pour les Etats-généraux de 1789, 4 vols. (Le Mans: Monnoyer, 1881–92), 2:578–82.