Nobility seems like quite a concrete concept, a title is earned by familial lineage and cemented in combat for the good of his majesty the king. Within France’s social dynamic this seemed to be the case, until the power of monetary persuasion prevailed over birthright. The social hierarchy of France changed from the late sixteenth century to the late eighteenth century, when the French Monarchy defined nobility based on economics rather than military service and honor; thus the robe nobles were formed. However, the concepts of nobility seemed to evolve with glaring similarity to the volatility of the times as sword nobles took offense to exchanging the priceless cost of nobility they paid with their lives on the battlefield compared to the mere dollar amount paid by robe nobles. The concept of nobility which was once perceived through the lens of lineage and service would now be defined by virtue. The concept of nobility by virtue would eventually have a profound impact on France’s legacy and serve as radical trigger for political upheaval and the demise of French Monarchy.
It should have been expected the sword nobles would be opposed to selling government positions and political influence and would ultimately challenge the idea of nobility by virtue given their history. Gilles Andre de La Roque, sword nobleman who represents a proud legacy of warriors expresses this sentiment. In Document 9, Gilles states that the nobility traces back to a lineage that is both ancient and pure. He goes on further to state: “Someone who has recently received a noble title from the king may in time become a gentleman, but he can never be a member of this race of warriors, because he will always lack the ancient roots that it requires. However, as noted in the 1650 memoirs (Document 7), a robe noble says that the only way one can actually become a noble is through an appointment by the king. As a robe nobleman, he would likely want to establish this argument; especially since, he was not born into nobility. The philosophy shared by the robe nobleman was probably used to sway others to support his cause. Furthermore, these documents clearly show the separation between sword and robe nobles and disconnect of the true definition of nobility. Robe nobles found it necessary to focus on the king’s power of appointment rather than lineage given it gratified their nobility which was deemed fraudulent by the sword nobles. The king at the time as seen in Document 10 has to concede to the changing times and amend his guidelines for nobility in order to preserve the success of his bureaucracy. The king can be seen with a more clear foresight than his subjects who wish to divide themselves on the line of robe versus sword noble.
Nobility by virtue, though a predominantly biased viewpoint presented by the robe nobles, was the most important of the time because it showed a paradigm shift as power began to transition from those which earned nobility through bloodshed to the wealthy who afford to buy their influence. Document 1, which dates back to 1954 and was written by Jean de Taille, a sword noble who poetically describes a leader with a strong heart and the restraint of a gentleman. In essence, it is a moral blueprint for the French noble and sacrifices made to hold that honor. In contrast, in Document 2 a fellow, sword noble states bluntly there is no nobility without virtue. The articles are both written in the 1570’s. Document 4 confirms the transition of power into the hands of the rich, as Henri, the Prince of Conde (a sword nobleman) laments there is no reward for virtue and that what was once previously an exclusionary class of men is being overrun with undeserving rich impostors. In Document 6 King Louis XIII tries to discourage rich gentleman from engaging in duels. No doubt there were sword and robe nobles who fought over their claims to nobility