The “Particule”

The “particule” (the word “de” between the given name and the family name) is often taken to be a sign of nobility.

In fact, there are about 10,000 names in France that look noble (e.g., with the particle “de”), many more than are really noble. Conversely, there are noble families without the particle in their name: a large number of Napoleonic and 19th c. titled names which have no “de” element; but also families of Old Regime nobility which did not bother to add a particule to their name.  There are several examples among the old “noblesse de robe”: Séguier, ennobled in 1544, Talon ennobled in 16th c., Molé.

It is possible to change one’s name in France, though it is an arduous and costly process. Some families have changed their names and given it a nobiliary appearance. It is also possible to re-use a name which has become extinct (relever un nom): one needs to make sure that there is no one still entitled to bear that name, and obtain a decree of the Conseil d’Etat. This was the procedure followed by a M. Giscard, who legally changed his name to Giscard d’Estaing (the family d’Estaing became extinct with the execution of the admiral d’Estaing in 1794). such a procedure does not make anyone noble, obviously. His grandson, president of the French Republic (1974-81), ridiculed himself by asking for the seat of the admiral in the Society of the Cincinnati (he was admitted on an honorary basis).

Source: heraldica.org

Titled and Untitled Nobility

One has to be noble to be titled, but one could be noble without being titled.

The untitled nobility was always more numerous than the titled nobility. The difference between titled and untitled may not be so much due to the antiquity of the lineage as to the good fortune of some families on whom the sovereign bestowed titles. Since the mid-19th century, however, usage has become very lax, and little regard is paid to the authenticity of titles which people use; though no one usurps ducal titles which are too rare, there are many more people called marquis and comte than there should be.

Of the 4,000 or so noble families existing today, only about 1,000 have authentic titles (1/3 of pre-1789 origin and 2/3 19th century), the rest consisting of untitled nobility. There are 38 ducal titles still in existence, of which 22 are pre-1789. Only one title of prince created under Napoleon I is still in existence (see the page on peerages for more information on ducal titles).

Usurpation of titles had become quite common in the 18th century already. Even commoners adopted counts’ and marquis’ coronets in their arms. In many cases, the usurpation was politely tolerated and, over the course of a few generations, became accepted in legal documents, or even at the Court, although such recognition was never equivalent to a formal grant of title. Such titles are known as “titres de courtoisie“. In the 19th and 20th centuries, such usurpation became commonplace, and many untitled families call themselves count and marquis today.

During the Restoration period (1814-48), a House of Peers was created on the British model. For peers, a “declension of titles” was introduced as a form of courtesy title: whereas a British peer is created wih an assortment of lower-ranking titles for use by his heirs, in France the eldest son of the duke of X was called marquis of X, his eldest son was called count of X, etc. Later, this practice was informally extended to all titles, so that the children of a marquis call themselves count.

In modern usage, it is common to distinguish between the actual holder of a title: Pierre, comte de Sassafras and other members of the family who will call themselves comte Jean de Sassafras. This usage was unknown before the late 19th century.

Source: heraldica.org

Titles as part of the name (19th c.-20th c.)

The Revolution abolished the feudal system on 4 Aug 1789.  This completely removed the legal foundation of titles.  Titles of nobility were explicitly abolished 19-23 June 1790.

When Napoleon brought back titles, starting with the great officers of state in 1804 and the grand-fiefs of the Empire in 1806, and then the whole hierarchy of dukes, counts and barons in 1808, he did not restore feudalism.  He did try to give titles a landed basis, by laying down as rule that a title, to become hereditary, had to be formally attached to a land endowment called a “majorat”, whose contents had to be provided by the title-holder, and whose inheritance followed special rules (to avoid division at each generation).  The Restoration regime extended the system to the peerage it created in 1817, and to all other titles in 1824.  The requirement of a the majorat, however, was abolished in 1835, so titles were completely divorced from any landed connection.  Furthermore, from 1814 to 1824 a large number of hereditary titles were created that were not attached to any land. This was, in a way, completing an evolution that had started with the multiplication of “titres de pur honneur” in the 18th c.

French titles continued to exist, and many were created until 1870, when France permanently became a Republic.  The Republic did not abolish titles, however, and, based on existing laws and earlier jurisprudence, the courts have built up a legal system to deal with titles and their transmission.

Source: heraldica.org

Created titles (13th-18th c.)

From the 14th c. onwards, French kings began to create titles, initially dukes and counts (at first mostly for members of the royal family), and starting in 1505, marquis as well.  Whereas the old titles had arisen by custom centuries before and originally corresponded to an administrative function, the new titles were a status attached to certain fiefs, which (except in the case of apanages) conferred only a small fraction of the powers and privileges that went with the old offices.

The new titles were created by a written act of the king, letters patent, which specified the rights and duties of the new titled person, and the mode of transmission of the title to his heirs.   The letters patent of creation might place particular restrictions on inheritance or create specific remainders (see the examples of peerages).  The letters patent had to be registered by the court (parlement) of the region where the fief was located, as well as by the Chambre des Comptes, a fiscal auditing body, before they could be valid.

It is important to understand that a created title is nothing but a fief (that is, a particular type of real estate in the feudal system), to which the king has given a special status.  The rules of transmission remain that of a fief, except to the degree that the special status modifies them.  (In principle, fiefs that had been raised to be fiefs of dignity were to return to the crown upon extinction of the heirs of the grantee; but this was not enforced in practice).  Fiefs to which the king had added a rank were called royal fiefs (because the king became the overlord of such fief, no matter who the previous overlord was) or fiefs of dignity, because the attachment of a dignité was their distinguishing characteristic.  (The word dignité in general designated other ranks or positions that had some official definition, like clerical or judicial ranks).

An important difference with simple fiefs is that “fiefs of dignity” were indivisible, because originally only one person could hold the office (ordinary fiefs, on the other hand, could be shared).  French titles are thus born by one person at a time, because only one person can own the property. The equivalent of Northern European and German titles born by all members of a family or unattached to a land does not exist (with rare exceptions in provinces annexed in the East). However, a family might possess several titles, and the head of the family might distribute them among his heirs, as he would share his inheritance between his children. Indeed, titles were a form of property, and could be bought and sold freely before the abolition of the feudal regime in 1789.

All titles, whether feudal or created, were attached to a specific piece of real estate, governed by the rules of the feudal system.  The legal maxim was “pas de seigneur sans terre, pas de terre sans seigneur”: no lord without land, no land without lord.  And a title-holder was nothing but a particular type of lord.  The owner of the land to which the title was attached, if noble, had the exclusive right to bear the title. If he lost or sold the land, he lost the title. The land, and with it the title, followed special rules of inheritance of noble fiefs (usually by male primogeniture with succession by females in default of males), but the remainders could be modified, sometimes in very complicated ways, by will of the owner. The inheritor or purchaser of a land could use the title after payment of a tax and the (usually) automatic authorisation of the sovereign, if he was noble. There was also a custom that, for commoners, the 4th generation of possessors of a titled land could use the title.  But the ordonnance of Blois of 1578 made it impossible for a commoner who purchased a titled fief (fief de dignité) to acquire the title; however, it implicitly allowed that a noble purchaser could acquire the title, although some jurists thought that the purchaser required the assent of the king.  A commoner owning a county could call himself “lord of the county of X”, and collect feudal dues and domanial rights, but he was not “count of X”.

As always, there are exceptions.  Louis XIV was the first to create “titres de pur honneur”, that is, titles without fiefs: marquis d’Auray in 1700, marquis  Le Camus, marquis de Pillot les Chantrons in 1780 (see other examples cited by Alain Texier, Qu’est-ce que la noblesse?, p. 63). .  There are also the “ducs à brevet”, which were life-time grants of the precedence of dukes to particular individuals, oftentimes eldest sons of dukes.   An edict of 1770 made it possible to obtain a brevet of duc, marquis, comte or baron upon payment of a tax.

It might still be worthwhile for a commoner to buy a titled fief, as an investment. The return came not only from the agricultural activities on the land, but also from collecting various rents and dues, as well as fees and fines. In 18th century newspapers, it was common to see fiefs advertised for sale, as in the example below.

advertisement for fiefs, 1752
Lordships for sale from the bi-weekly Affiches, Annonces et Avis Divers, 29 May 1752. Notice that the third item for sale, Ermenonville, is a viscountcy, and is the place where the philosopher and writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau was buried in 1778. The advert describes the buildings (nice castle, recently built, with moat; stables, farm building, etc); lists the areas of land (field, pasture, woods, etc; 1 arpent = 1.25 acre). It carries with it the right to dispense justice, and several judicial officers are listed (they would be employees of the lord). It mentions by name one fief whose owner is a vassal of Ermenonville.
 

advertisement for fiefs, 1752
Advert from 12 June 1752. This is a is a marquisate, apparently auctioned in order to divide an inheritance. It says the title of barony dates from “time out of memory”, and the title of marquis was created 1657. The lordship spreads over 9 parishes. Revenue is given as 8 to 9000 F (about £300 at contemporary exchange rates), the initial bid is 148500. Revenue comes not only from the lands comprising the domain, but also the fees and rents collected (cens & rentes), and a right to levy a toll on the nearby river. Of course, the purchaser would have to receive the king’s permission in order to bear the title of marquis, but, if noble, he could call himself baron d’Anglure. otherwise, he would just be “seigneur d’Anglure”.
Created titles could not be transferred with the sale of the land, unless allowed by the sovereign, so created titles usually become extinct with the last descendant of the grantee. The letters patent of creation, to be valid, had to be registered by the appropriate courts, and the appropriate taxes paid. Oftentimes a land on which a pre-existing title existed (say, count) was elevated to a higher title, such as duke; upon extinction of the ducal title, the land reverted to being a county.

There existed a notional hierarchy of titles.  An edict of 1575, rarely enforced, established a minimum size and income for the land to which the created title was attached, thus establishing a hierarchy which was purely notional:

  1. duc (duke)
  2. marquis (marquis)
  3. comte (earl)
  4. vicomte (viscount)
  5. baron (baron)

Another rare title, usually considered below baron, was vidame.  There were no creations of the title of vidame.

It should be emphasized that this hierarchy is notional, and implied little in terms of privileges, precedence, etc. The only real differences were between

  • dukes-peers (peerages had special privileges attached to them),
  • other dukes,
  • all other titled noblemen,
  • untitled noblemen..

In everyone’s eyes, the most important factors in determining a family’s prestige were:

  • how long had a given family been noble (l’ancienneté),
  • into what other families did it marry (les alliances),
  • what positions its members achieved and what offices they held (les dignités),
  • what actions they performed (les illustrations).

Among nobles, one also distinguished between chevalier and écuyer..  These were not titles, but ranks within the nobility (with some exceptions; see further details). Any nobleman, no matter how recent, was an écuyer, and only noblemen could be styled as such.  Chevaliers (knights) were a subset of the nobility, which included all titled nobility, members of the orders of knighthood of the king, but also members of families of ancient nobility, even untitled.  The legal definition of a chevalier was very unclear, whether it was a matter of ancestry or a matter of eminence. In legal documents, those whose nobility traced to 1410 or earlier were called haut et puissant seigneur, while those whose families were connected by marriage to the royal house were très haut et très puissant seigneur. Foreign princes and princes of the blood were entitled to similar variations on the rank of prince.

It should be noted that “chevalier” was also used to refer to a member of an order such as the Knights of Saint John (a.k.a. Order of Malta) as well as members of royal orders: the use of the term makes it similar to a title (the chevalier d’Ancenis) but it was not; it simply indicated membership in such an order, a very common occupation for younger sons of the nobility.

Lord (seigneur) was not a title.  The owner of a lordship, even a commoner, was its lord.  The term “lord” only meant “the possessor of a certain kind of property” in the feudal system, a mixture of actual real estate and rights over people (rents and fees could be collected from them, certain obligations could be imposed on them, etc).  Someone who was only a seigneur was not titled.  All lordships disappeared when feudalism was abolished in 1789.

Source: heraldica.org

Titles as offices (6th-12th c.)

The origin of modern titles like duke, marquis, count lie in public offices held under Merovingian kings (6th-8th c.).

  • A duke (Latin dux, literally “leader”) was the governor of a province, usually a military leader.
  • A count (Latin comes, literally “companion”) was an appointee of the king governing a city and its immediate surroundings, or else a high-ranking official in the king’s immediate entourage (the latter called “palace counts” or “counts Palatine”).
  • A marquis was a count who was also the governor of a “march”, a region at the boundaries of the kingdom that needed particular protection against foreign incursions (margrave in German).
  • A viscount was the lieutenant of a count, either when the count was too busy to stay at home, or when the county was held by the king himself
  • A baron (a later title) was originally a direct vassal of the king, or of a major feudal lord like a duke or a count
  • A castellan (châtelain) was the commander in charge of a castle.  A few castellanies survived with the title of “sire”.

These offices became hereditary and attached to land over the course of time.  The connection to land came both from the fact that these offices corresponded to regional units of administration, but also because kings, rather than pay their officers’ salary in cash, paid them by giving them pieces of land, whose income was to represent the officer’s wages.  Although appointments were initially for life at the longest, both the land endowment (the “benefice”) and the office itself became hereditary.

In the later part of this period (9th-12th c.), the feudal system emerged, which brought a coherent system by establishing contractual relationships between all members of society, from the king down to the peasant.  The holders of offices were naturally integrated in these chains of relationships, being vassals of the king or another great lord (who owed them protection and to whom they owed loyalty and support).  They, in turn, were able to create their own vassals, by “infeoffing” land in their jurisdiction to others who became their vassals.  Hence the origin of baronies and lordships.

The French kings were successful in reuniting the country and asserting their central authority to the detriment of the great dukes and counts.  As a result, the governmental powers which had been lost to them over time were brought back again in the hands of the king.  It became accepted that such powers as titled nobles did hold came ultimately from the king himself.  Over time, by a combination of marriages, purchases and confiscations, the king of France managed to unite with the crown virtually all the ancient titles of duke, marquis and count.  This process was pretty much complete by the 16th c., so that, with a handful of exceptions, titles of duke, marquis, count, or viscounts in existence after 1600 are created rather than feudal in origin.

A few feudal titles of viscount, baron and vidame made it down past 1500.  Here are a few examples, with the names of the families that owned them:

  • counties:
    • Nevers (with Rethel and the baronny of Donzy): passed to Courtenay 1192, Bourgogne 1266, Flanders 1280, raised to a peerage 1347, 1459, 1464, 1515;  Bourgogne 1385, Clèves 1491, raised to a duchy-peerage 1539; passed to Gonzague 1601; sold to Mazarin 1659; raised to a duchy-peerage 1660
    • Tonnerre (Bourgogne): to Bourgogne, to Châlon 1346, to Husson 1453, to Clermont 1540, raised to a duchy-peerage 1572, sold 1684 to Louvois
    • Saint-Pol (Artois): to Châtillon 1219, to Luxembourg 1371, to Bourbon 1495, to Longueville 1601, sold to Elisabeth de Lorraine-Lillebonne, princess of Epinoy; passed on the death of her son in 1724 to his sister, princesse de Soubise
    • Vendôme: to Bourbon 1412, not united to the crown when Henri IV acceded but given by him to his mistress Gabrielle d’Estrées and her issue, extinct 1712, at which time it went to the crown
    • Armagnac: to Alençon 1497, to Albret 1549, united to the crown 1589 on the accession of Henri IV
    • Blois and Châteaudun/Dunois: sold to Louis d’Orléans 1397, united to the crown 1498 on the accession of Louis XII
    • Foix, Comminges: passed to Albret, then united to crown 1589
  • viscountcies were common in particular areas like Limousin, Poitou and Gascogne.
    • Limoges (Limousin): to the Comborn family in the 12th c., the dukes of Brittany in 1301, to Châtillon-Blois family in 1384, to Albret in 1481, united to the crown in 1589
    • Turenne (Limousin): to Comborn in 10th c., to Comminges in 1335, sold in 1350 to Beaufort, to La Tour in 1490, sold to the crown in 1738
    • Comborn (Limousin): in the family of that name, to Pompadour in the 16th c., family extinct early 18th c.
    • Ventadour (Limousin): raised to a county 1350, to a duchy 1578, to a duchy-peerage 1589; passed to Rohan-Rohan in 1727.
    • Lavedan (Gascogne): late 15th c. to Charles, bastard of Bourbon; to gontaut in 1610; to Philippe de Montault, raised to a duchy in 1650
    • Narbonne: to Lara in 1193, sold 1447 to Foix, exchanged with the crown against Nemours in 1507
    • Thouars (Poitou): to Amboise, to La Trémoille 1446, raised to a duchy 1563, duchy-peerage 1595
    • Rohan (Bretagne): in the Rohan family, 1648 to the Rohan-Chabot family; raised to a duchy-peerage 1603, and again in 1648
    • numerous viscountcies in Gascogne:
      • Couserans (to Comminges, Foix, Mauléon, Modave, Polignac)
      • Fézansaguet (to Armagnac 1140)
      • Gabardan
      • Gimois
      • Labourd
      • Magnoac
      • Maremnes
      • Marsan
      • Nébouzan
      • Quatre-Vallées
      • Soule
      • Tursan
  • vidames: see special page
  • sireries“, which were lordships of high standing or castellanies:
    • Pons (Saintonge): to Albret de Miossans 16th c., to Lorraine afterwards
    • Mortagne (Saintonge): to Aulnay, Clermont, Montberon, Coetivy, Matignon, Loménie
    • Coucy: divided in 1397, part to Orléans (united to the crown 1498), part to Luxembourg, then Bourbon (united to the crown 1589)
    • Beaujeu (with Dombes): ceded 1400 to the duc de Bourbon
    • Craon: to La Trémoille
    • Sully: to La Trémoille, sold 1602 to Maximilien de Béthune, raised to a duchy-peerage 1606

Source: heraldica.org

Numbers of Nobles

In 1789, there were 17,000 to 25,000 noble families, and estimates of numbers of individuals range from 80,000 (many contemporary estimates) to 350,000. Chaussinand-Nogaret finds 110,000 to 120,000 nobles, for 1/4 of which nobility had been acquired during the 18th c.(25,000 families, of which 6,500 ennobled, about 1,000 by letters and the rest by office). I would tend to believe him, rather than the 300,000 figure. The population of France was 28 millions, so that’s 0.4% of the population. Nowadays, there are about 3500 families of noble origin, of which about 3000 from before 1789. Not that the Revolution itself is to blame for the losses: only 1200 nobles were tried and executed during the Terror, and maybe 30,000 to 40,000 emigrated, almost all of whom returned eventually.

Number of noble families in France:

1789 25,000 Chaussinand-Nogaret (17,000 d’Expilly)
1900 5,033 Séréville and Saint-Simon
1927 5,151 Woëlmont de Brumagne
1947 4,528 Jougla de Morenas
1975 4,057 Séréville and Saint-Simon
1977 3,508 Valette

The discrepancies are due in part to the difficulty in determining nobility in a number of cases.

The decomposition of today’s noble families in terms of origin is as follows (Séréville and Saint-Simon):

1) pre-1789

nobility of knightly origin (14th c.)            365
nobility of ancient origin (15th c.)             434
nobility of origin (16th c.)                     801
ennobled by Letters Patent                       640
ennobled by office                              1010
annexed territories, foreign nobility            244

Total nobility of pre-1789 origin               3494

2) 19th century

First Empire (1808-15)                           239
Restoration (1815-30)                            267
July Monarchy (1830-48)                           21
Second Empire (1852-70)                           36

Total 19th century                               563

The first three categories are collectively called “noblesse d’extraction”, families for which there is no trace of ennoblement (equivalent to the German Uradel). The three categories are defined depending on how far back a proven line of descent can be traced. The first category also requires that the first traceable ancestor be a knight. Further refinements can of course be made: feudal nobility is made of families whose existence is known in feudal times (12th c. or earlier) and whose line of descent goes back to 1250 at least (there are about 50). About 160 existing families can prove that one of theirs was a Crusader (11th-13th c.).

 

Source: heraldica.org

Acquisition of Nobility

But one could also acquire nobility, and that was a numerically significant mode since the 16th c.

There were three main ways one could be noble:

  1. by birth: usually, but not always, from the father, and the mother could be a commoner. Some regions in Eastern France allowed for transmission of nobility by the mother, notable Champagne at least until the 16th century, and Bar until 1789 (subject to the prince’s approval), but otherwise an edict of 1370 restricted transmission to the father. Bastards of nobles became noble when legitimated by letters of the sovereign, until 1600 when a separate act of ennoblement was required (royal bastards were always noble, even without legitimation).
  2. by office: depending on the office, the holder of the office became noble eirher immediately or after a number of years, nobility was personal or hereditary, hereditary for 2, 3 or more generations, etc. There were about 4000 offices conferring nobility of some kind in the 18th century. Nobility thus attained was called “noblesse de robe” (for judicial offices; “noblesse de cloche” for municipal offices). Offices were usually bought, and oftentimes they were sold once ennoblement had occurred. The types of offices were varied:
    • municipal offices (in sixteen French towns: Angers, Angoulême, Arras, Bourges, Cognac, Issoudun, La Rochelle, Le Mans, Lyon, Nantes, Niort, Paris, Poitiers, Saint-Jean d’Angély, Toulouse, Tours). The offices were usually those of aldermen or members of the city council, but after 1667 the ennobling privilege was restricted to the office of mayor, except for Lyon (comtes de Lyon) and Toulouse (capitouls). The registered burghers of Perpignan were considered noble, an Aragonese privilege confirmed after French annexion.
    • judicial offices: members of the courts or Parlements were ennobled after 20 years or death in office for two consecutive generations (some courts, such as Paris, ennobled “in the first degree”, that is, at the first generation); a variety of other judicial offices carried similar privilege. These offices were bought and sold freely.
    • fiscal offices: members of the tax courts and state auditors, senior tax collectors and the like; also bought and sold.
    • administrative offices: various positions in the king’s household, and the several hundred offices of secrétaires du Roi, which ennobled in the first degree, and were bought and sold.
    • military commissions: in the Middle ages, the owner of a noble fief could be ennobled if he wasn’t so, but after 1275 a condition that three consecutive generations hold the fief (“tierce foi”) was added, and the privilege was abolished in 1579. The Edict of November 1750, when some military commissions were opened to non-nobles, it was decided that officers reaching the rank of general would automatically receive hereditary nobility. Officers of lesser rank who received the Order of Saint-Louis and fulfilled certain requirements were exempt from the taille (a tax on non-nobles); the third generation meeting the requirements received hereditary nobility.
  3. by “letters”: that is, by royal grant.  The king could always ennoble anyone he wished. The earliest examples date from the last third of the 13th century. In times of financial distress, the king sold such letters of nobility, sending them blank to his provincial administrators.

Note that one could lose nobility, by failing at one’s feudal duties (“déchéance”) or practising forbidden occupations (“dérogeance”): commerce, manual crafts were cause to lose nobility. Medicine, glass-blowing, exploitation of mines, maritime commerce, and wholesale commerce were exempted. Tilling one’s land was acceptable, but farming someone else’s (except the King’s) was not. A nobleman son and grandson of nobles was called a noble de race or gentilhomme (although the term of gentilhomme is often used for any noble by birth). If all 4 of his grandparents were noble he was a gentilhomme des 4 lignes (nobility of all lines, and not just the paternal line, was usually of little importance in France, though a prestigious lineage in female line could be a source of pride; the emphasis on nobility in all lines may be due to the particular requirements for admission into the Order of Malta from the 16th century). If his pedigree went further and no commoners could be found in the male lign, he was deemed a gentilhomme de nom et d’armes. These definitions vary from author to author, and are not very important. In general, the status depends primarily on the length of the pedigree, and everyone agrees that a gentilhomme is a born noble: not even the king can make a man into a gentilhomme. Adoption did not transmit nobility.

Source: heraldica.org

The Nature of Nobility

The French concept of nobility was very different from the English one. Whereas, in England, only a peerage bestows nobility on the holder, in France, nobility was a quality, a legal characteristic of the individual, which was held or acquired in specified ways, and which conferred specified rights and privileges. The manners of acquiring nobility being specific, French nobility isn’t the same as the English gentry either, which has no legal definition or status.

Nobility was usually a hereditary characteristic, but some forms of nobility could not be transmitted. When it was hereditary, nobility usually came from the father, but sometimes a higher percentage of noble blood might be required (counted in number of “quartiers”) or that the family be noble for a certain number of generations. A nobleman marrying a commoner did not lose his nobility, but a noblewoman who married a commoner lost it, as long as she was married to the commoner.

Nobility was an important legal concept, in particular because of the privileges attached to it. Taxes were originally levied to help the sovereign in times of war; and since nobles were expected to provide help in kind, by fighting for their sovereign, they were usually exempted from taxes. This privilege lost its rationale after the end of feudalism and nobility had nothing to do with military activity, but it survived for the older forms of taxation until 1789 (more recent taxes, levied in the 17th and 18th centuries, allowed for weaker or no exemption for nobles).

A number of offices and positions in civil and military administrations were reserved for nobles, notably all commissions as officers in the army. This privilege created a significant obstacle to social mobility and to the emergence of new talents in the French state. It remained very real until 1789.

Source: heraldica.org