The socio-economic function of the Church in the Ancien Regime

The Church was used during the ancien regime by the landowning and urban nobility to preserve and maintain their political and social power



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(Caprichos)

The Church was used during the ancien regime by the landowning and urban nobility to preserve and maintain their political and social power.

The taking of a marriage partner amongst the nobility was not a matter of choice, but of family policy. By putting younger sons and other members of the clan into the Church, powerful families could be sure of three benefits:

  • Their capacity to 'legitimately' reproduce was limited, thereby reducing the dispersal of the family inheritance and the consequent impoverishment of the family's power base.

  • The family made payments to the Church in the form of benefices and chapels. These created unbreakable ties between the Church and the family property and kept investments made by the family within their control.

  • Some members of the family were placed in positions where their rise through the ecclesiastical hierarchy and the resulting benefits would be of value to the family.

If one also considers that the great majority of the clergy were faithful to their families' plans, even though they were unable to fulfil any ambitions for succession to the family line, it is easy to understand how advantageous the ecclesiastical structure of the time was to the nobility and the traditional bourgeoisie.

It should also be borne in mind that a large part of the Church's property, donated by various social classes, was an investment that more than paid for itself.


Bibliography

Alcalá Flecha, Roberto. Literatura e ideología en el arte de Goya. Zaragoza: Diputación General de Aragón, 1988.


Francisco Javier García Marco


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