Date of Award

Summer 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

James R. Farr

Committee Chair

James R. Farr

Committee Member 1

Silvia Mitchell

Committee Member 2

Whitney Walton

Committee Member 3

Nancy Gabin


There is no question that early modern France was a patriarchal society. In fact, during this period, there was an increase in legislation further subordinating women under the authority of their fathers and then of their husbands. The legal identities of women as daughters and wives was officially negligible. However, this dissertation argues that in practice, family needs trumped the constricting legal prescriptions placed upon women. In examining the estate accounts, contracts, and family papers of the Saulx-Tavanes, Brulart, Le Goux, Joly, Marmier, and Baissey families, it is abundantly clear that women of both the noblesse de robe and noblesse d'épée were actively engaged in estate management which required negotiations of the legal hurdles placed in front of them. At least unofficially noblemen expected their wives to enter marriage armed with a cadre of managerial skills to be employed for the good of the family during their marriage and if necessary after. Furthermore, noble husbands, many of whom were legists themselves, seemed to have fully embraced women's negotiations of familial authority as commonplace. ^ Françoise Brulart was a member of the noblesse de robe in Burgundy, albeit of the highest echelon, who married a prominent member of the noblesse d'épée, Claude de Saulx-Tavanes. From the onset of their marriage, Françoise and Claude worked together in a sort of collaborative partnership, one in which he clearly depended on her to take an active role in co-managing the estate and family economy. Upon his death, rather than naming a male relative as the trustee over his properties, he left Françoise in charge. In her viduity, she increased her assiduous estate administration while successfully continuing to promote and defend the family rights and assets. Françoise's experiences and agency were far from singular. Through the analysis of documents involving not only Françoise Brulart, but also those of Louise Joly, Anne de Marmier and Anne de Baissey, it is clear that both in marriage and in widowhood, family success and advancement relied on the ability of noble women to administer the estates frugally, and to sustain, and if possible to grow, the family assets.