By Stephen A. W. Chapco

An M.A. thesis in the Department of History.


The opening of the Estates General in 1789 came at a time of momentous national crisis. France’s separate Three Estates were summoned to meet and collectively decide about how best to remedy France’s many ills. However, the initial collegial spirit between the privileged First and Second Estates and the assertive Third Estate quickly evaporated. Antipathy towards certain nobles, particularly those perceived as corrupt and debauched, quickly crystalized in 1789 into hostile attacks on the entire Second Estate, who were all labeled dangerous “aristocrats”. The rapid disempowerment of one of Europe’s strongest élites is difficult to interpret without discussing the important role of widely produced anti-noble caricatures that targeted France’s nobility. Anti-noble caricatures, ranging from the malicious to the comical, were an essential component in the rapid sidelining and demonization of the nobility. From approximately 1789-1793 anti-noble caricatures constantly degraded and demonized their targets, in unrelenting and accessible imagery, marking them out as traitorous enemies. Caricatures not only helped convince the public that nobles were not only inhuman, but so dangerous in fact, that persecution and violence became options in order to purge France of its alleged aristocratic fifth columnists.

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