Roland Mousnier

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, Mousnier worked as a school teacher in Rouen and Paris. During the Second World War, Mousnier was a member of the French Resistance. After 1945, Mousnier served as a professor at Strasbourg University (1947–1955) and at the Sorbonne (1955–1977). Keenly interested in social history, Mousnier went to the United States to learn sociology and anthropology. In 1934, Mousnier married Jeanne Lecacheur.[1]


Mousnier was one of the few post-war French historians who was a detractor of both the Annales School and 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 reflected class warfare or not. Mousnier denied there was much of idea of class in France during that period, which thus meant that there could have been no class war in 17th-century France as Porchnev maintained. 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.[1] Mousnier also published the private papers of the chancelier Séguier in 1964.

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 between such orders as the land-owning noblesse d'épée (nobility of the sword) and the bureaucratic noblesse de robe (nobility of the robe) were more important than differences between the nobility and the peasantry. One of Mousnier's best known books, L'Assassinat d'Henri IV ('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.[1]

Mousnier also produced the 1969 book Les Hiérarchies sociales (Social Hierarchies) that looked at how different civilizations such as Tibet, China, Germany, Russia and France were organized across time.[1] Les Hiérarchies sociales was very critical of communist societies and those based on "technocratic orders", and many have denounced the book as a right-wing rant against Communism.



  1. 1 2 3 4 Finley-Croswhite, Annette "Mousnier, Roland" pages 843-844 from The Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing, Volume 2, edited by Kelly Boyd, Fitzroy Publishers, London, Chicago, 1999 page 844


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