Land of liberty?
In 1750 Victor de Riquetti, Marquis de Mirabeau, purchased the seigneurie of Roquelaure from the Duc de Rohan-Chabot, attracted, so it was said, by the ducal title included in the purchase price. Be that as it may, the future 'ami des hommes' spent the next ten years prodding an unenthusiastic Gascon peasantry into the roles envisaged by the Physiocrats in their blueprint for agrarian reform. Nearly simultaneously, government ministers also turned their minds to the supposedly untapped potential of the soil. Voltaire noticed the sea change in conversations with his contemporaries: discourse on agricultural topics had replaced drama and theology. Everyone was familiar with the techniques of enlightened farming, he suggested mischievously, save for the farmers.1 In the 1760s and early 1770s measures to encourage the ploughing up of wasteland (défrichement), to facilitate the subdivision and enclosure of common pastures and to relax controls over the grain trade flowed thick and fast. Bourbon ministers were acutely aware of concurrent developments in England and the north German lands, and not a little anxious at their own rather piecemeal progress in eroding rural 'ignorance'. Behind nearly every attempted agrarian reform lay fiscal imperatives which betrayed, in turn, a nagging preoccupation with Great Power rivalries. This anxiety — tinged with exasperation at the seemingly incorrigible risk aversion of ordinary country dwellers — provides a link between the royal intendants, revolutionary legislators and Napoleonic prefects.
The broad pattern of land use and ownership in each of the six villages has been described in chapter 1. It is now time to add to this information and to place it in a dynamic context. With the one notable exception of Neuviller, the physical environments in which our villagers spent their lives altered only gradually. Even in Neuviller, the reorganisation undertaken by____________________