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Abstract

To understand the nature of the seventeenth-century French church, one must understand the rural clergy and their parishioners; the majority of the population was rural. One glimpse of how the clergy perceived themselves and how others viewed them is given in the cahiers de doleances prepared by each estate for the Estates General of 1614. The article also explores the First Estate’s role in society and the reformation of the clergy proposed by all three estates. The elite are best represented in the cahiers of the First and Third Estates, while a cross-section of the Second Estate is represented. Nonetheless, J.M. Hayden and Malcolm Greenshields argue that it is a good source of knowledge about public opinion. The First Estate acknowledged a pressing need for reform within the cahiers, but only of rural clergy, and it wanted to control the process. The other two estates argued for reform of the entire First Estate, with greater involvement from the laity. Specific problems, abuses, ecclesiastical privileges, and reforms are described. Each estate had different expectations of the clergy’s qualifications and service, which are discussed.

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