Les conflits provinciaux, l’expansion de l’État et la puissance paternelle dans la Bourgogne moderne

Document Type


Publication Date



How are legal relations between parents and children created, defined, and sustained? When should children be considered adults capable of making their own decisions? Answers to this question are undoubtedly legal, but they are more deeply rooted in social, cultural, and political changes that affect the ways we envision family relations.

This study, published in French, looks at one small stage of the history of adolescence and minority in eighteenth-century French history, about fifty years before the French Revolution of 1789. It asks why, in an emerging age of Enlightenment that hailed individualism and liberty, did the legal elite in one French province decide that there should be no legal age of majority at all in their province. In other words, why did legal experts believe that children could be subject to their parents' authority into their 40s and 50s?

I argue that the answer to this question can be found in the politics of the day, particularly in debates among rival provincial bureaucratic institutions, and in the relations between the provincial government and the king in Versailles. I use legal commentaries, bureaucratic documents, pamphlets, and letters to show how this story played out between the 1720s and 1750s.

Later that century, during the French Revolution, liberals argued that a democratic society depended on the establishment of democratic practices within families. Children should be considered adults at twenty-one years of age. There should be limits to parental authority, just as there should be limits to a government's authority. They identified a politics that would permit parents unbounded authority over their children in the name of traditional family values as a roadblock to democratic reforms. The debate over when a child should be considered an adult continues today, in France and elsewhere around the world.

Publication Title

Annales de Bourgogne