Work and corporate life in Old Regime France: The leather artisans of Bordeaux (1740-1791)

Daniel Joseph Heimmermann, Marquette University

Abstract

Bordeaux reached the peak of its prosperity during the eighteenth century. No other French city experienced the large scale of growth in the maritime sector as did Bordeaux. The commercial wealth of the city attracted immigrants from the Gironde and other parts of France, and the population of Bordeaux doubled during the century, making the city the third largest in France. Despite the influx of capital and immigrants into the port city, Bordeaux remained above all a traditional society with a traditional economy in which, throughout the century, the craftsmen dominated manufacturing. The trades that worked with leather numbered less than ten with the major trades, shoemaking, tanning, and saddlery, accounting for the vast majority of leather tradesmen. The dissertation describes in detail the processes and problems of pre-industrial leather and leather-good production. In addition, the work details the accession to the mai trise and the corporate organs of guild-life. The leather trade corporate groups, like other French guilds during the eighteenth century, witnessed a considerable amount of conflict within the ranks of the master craftsmen, with competing guilds and manufacturers, and with their own journeymen and their compagnonnages. An examination of the social status of leather worker reveals the great diversity of fortunes that existed among the leather tradesmen--ranging from the relatively wealthy tanners to indigent cobblers. During the second half of the eighteenth century royal interference and regulation were especially catastrophic for the city's tanners as the royal taxes on leather crippled not only the Bordeaux leather industry but also that of France during the latter part of the eighteenth century. Despite the fact that the Bordeaux guilds were able to resist the liberal reforms of Turgot in 1776, they, along with the rest of the corporations of France, met their end with the French Revolution. This guild study will not only offer to French historiography a much needed account of guild-life in one of the most important cities in France during the eighteenth century, but it will provide added insight into the world of pre-industrial labor and production.

Recommended Citation

Heimmermann, Daniel Joseph, "Work and corporate life in Old Regime France: The leather artisans of Bordeaux (1740-1791)" (1994). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9433779.
https://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations/AAI9433779

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