Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord was the consummate survivor of the pre-revolutionary nobility. Bishop of Autun before 1789, then a prime mover in the nationalization of church property and the Civil Constitution of the Clergy; ambassador to London in 1792, then an émigré before becoming Foreign Minister under the Directory; a key organizer of Napoleon’s coup in 1799 and again Foreign Minister until 1807, Talleyrand then played a central role in the negotiations of 1814–15 which brought Louis XVIII to the throne. Despite his chequered political career, Talleyrand remained a great landowner. The village of Limanton, in the south-east of the department of the Nièvre, where he owned 450 hectares, furnishes an example of the disproportionate control of rural wealth which was the basis of élite power.1 While as many as 240 of the 777 inhabitants of Limanton in 1820 owned some land, 98 of these individuals possessed a combined total of 42 hectares; in contrast, the seven largest proprietors owned 2,851 hectares between them. The largest landowner was the marquis Bruneau de Vitry; however, most of the large proprietors were bourgeois, whether local men or from nearby Moulins-Engilbert. Nobles and bourgeois leased their holdings to other rural bourgeois who in turn leased the land to tenants in substantial farms of 30–60 hectares. These sharecroppers, many in the large multiple families (communautés) characteristic of the Morvan region of the Nièvre, furnished half their crops as rent, as well as paying rent for farm buildings and the State’s land taxes.
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