Roland Mousnier, circa 1935
7 September 1907
|Died||8 February 1993 (aged 85)|
|Alma mater||École pratique des hautes études|
|Occupation||Professor of History|
|Employer||University of Paris|
|Known for||Social historian|
Roland Émile Mousnier (French: [munje]; Paris, September 7, 1907– February 8, 1993, Paris) was a French historian of the early modern period in France and of the comparative studies of different civilizations.
Mousnier was born in Paris and received his education at the École pratique des hautes études. Between 1932 and 1947, he worked as a school teacher in Rouen and Paris. During the Second World War, Mousnier was a member of the French Resistance. In 1947, he was appointed as a professor at Strasbourg University, before moving to the Sorbonne in 1955, where he remained until 1977. Keenly interested in social history, Mousnier went to the United States to learn sociology and anthropology. In 1934, Mousnier married Jeanne Lecacheur.
Mousnier was one of the few post-war French historians who was neither a member of the Annales School, or a subscriber to Marxist views of history. A right-wing Roman Catholic, Mousnier had a famous feud with the Soviet Marxist historian Boris Porchnev over whether peasant revolts in 17th-century France were a function of class struggle; he argued since the concept of class was largely unknown in that period, Porchnev was wrong to identify it as a driver. In Mousnier's view, social classes did not emerge as an important factor in French society until the 18th century, with the coming of a more market-oriented economy.
Mousnier's most notable claim to fame was his argument that early modern France was a "society of orders". In Mousnier's view, people in the period from the 15th century to the 18th century regarded honor, status and social prestige as far more important than wealth. As such, society was split vertically via social ranks rather than being split horizontally via class. Mousnier made it his life work to study how the relationships between different orders operated through networks of patronage. Mousnier referred to these relationships as maître-fidèle relations between those in the socially superior and those in the socially inferior orders. In general, Mousnier focused on elites in French society.
In his view, differences within the same order were more important than those between classes. Within the nobility, there were rigid divisions between the noblesse de robe, or Nobles of the robe, whose rank derived from holding judicial or administrative posts and were often hard-working professionals, unlike the aristocratic Noblesse d'épée or Nobles of the Sword.
One of his best known books, L'Assassinat d'Henri IV, or 'The Assassination of Henry IV' examined the climate of opinion and social context in 1610 France, in which a Catholic fanatic named François Ravaillac assassinated King Henry IV. Mousnier's conclusion was that there were numerous "potential Ravaillacs" in France who were looking for a chance to kill the King.
In 1964, he published the private papers of Pierre Séguier, who was Chancellor of France from 1635 to 1672. In 1969, he published Les Hiérarchies sociales , or Social Hierarchies, a study of the evolution of different civilizations such as Tibet, China, Germany, Russia and France; this was very critical of communist societies and those based on "technocratic orders".