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Héraldique meuble Fleur de lys lissée.svg Héraldique meuble Fleur de lys lissée.svg Héraldique meuble Fleur de lys lissée.svg
Kingdom of France
Estates of the realm
French nobility
Seigneurial system
Louis XIV as the sun king

Ancien Régime (French pronunciation: [ɑ̃sjɛ̃ ʁeʒim]) refers primarily to the aristocratic, social, and political system established in France under the Valois and Bourbon dynasties (14th century to 18th century). The term is French for "Former Regime," but rendered in English as "Old Rule," "Old Order," or simply "Old (or Ancient) Regime".

As defined by the creators of the term, the Ancien Régime developed out of the French monarchy of the Middle Ages, and was swept away centuries later by the French Revolution of 1789. Europe's other anciens régimes had similar origins, but diverse ends: some eventually became constitutional monarchies, whereas others were torn down by wars and revolutions.

Power in the Ancien Régime relied on three pillars: the monarchy, the clergy, and the aristocracy. Society was divided into three Estates of the realm: the First Estate, Roman Catholic clergy; the Second Estate, the nobility; and the Third Estate, the rest of the population.

More generally, ancien régime (not capitalised, to refer to regimes other than the Ancien Régime in 14th to 18th century France) means any regime which shares the former's defining features. The Ancien Régime retained many aspects of a feudal system that had existed since at least the 8th century, in particular noble and aristocratic privilege, and was supported by the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings. It differed from that earlier feudal order in that political power had increasingly become concentrated in an absolute monarch.

The term dates from the Age of Enlightenment (first appearing in print in English in 1794) and was originally pejorative in nature. Similar to other sweeping criticisms of the past, such as the consciously disparaging term Dark Ages for what is more commonly known as the Middle Ages, the concept of Ancien Régime is layered onto the past as an expression of disapproval for the way things were done, and carries an implied approval of a "New Order". The term was created by the French Revolutionaries to promote a new cause and discredit the existing order, and was not a neutral historical descriptor of the past.

For some authors, though, the term came to denote a certain nostalgia. Talleyrand famously quipped:

Celui qui n'a pas vécu au dix-huitième siècle avant la Révolution ne connaît pas la douceur de vivre[1]: ("Those who haven't lived in the eighteenth century before the Revolution do not know the sweetness of living")

The reason for this affection was the perceived decline in culture and values following the Revolution, where the aristocracy lost much of its economic and political power to what was seen as a rich, but coarse and materialistic bourgeoise. The theme recurs throughout nineteenth-century French literature, with Balzac and Flaubert alike attacking the mores of the new rulers. To this mindset, the Ancien Régime expressed a bygone era of refinement and grace, before the Revolution and its associated changes disrupted the aristocratic tradition and ushered in a crude, uncertain modernity.

The analogous term "Antiguo Régimen" is often used in Spanish. However, although Spain was strongly affected by the French Revolution and its aftermath, the break was not as sharp as in France.


  1. ^ "Celui qui n'a pas vécu au dix-huitième siècle avant la Révolution ne connaît pas la douceur de vivre et ne peut imaginer ce qu'il peut y avoir de bonheur dans la vie. C'est le siècle qui a forgé toutes les armes victorieuses contre cet insaisissable adversaire qu'on appelle l'ennui. L'Amour, la Poésie, la Musique, le Théâtre, la Peinture, l'Architecture, la Cour, les Salons, les Parcs et les Jardins, la Gastronomie, les Lettres, les Arts, les Sciences, tout concourait à la satisfaction des appétits physiques, intellectuels et même moraux, au raffinement de toutes les voluptés, de toutes les élégances et de tous les plaisirs. L'existence était si bien remplie qui si le dix-septième siècle a été le Grand Siècle des gloires, le dix-huitième a été celui des indigestions." Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord: Mémoires du Prince de Talleyrand: La Confession de Talleyrand, V. 1-5 Chapter: La jeunesse - Le cercle de Madame du Barry.



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