Rural Seigneurs and the Counter Reformation: Parishes, Patrons, and Religious Reform in France, 1550–1700
Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture
This article examines the role of lay seigneurs in religious change in the French countryside in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, during the Catholic Reformation and a period of socioeconomic change in land ownership and exploitation. The focus here is on middling and lesser lords—the rough equivalent of the English gentry, who held land in a single province or even pays and had a frequent presence in their parishes—rather than the great nobles who operated at a national level. Brittany
... nal level. Brittany is used as a case study, for it was a province rich in rural lords and because relatively good source material survives. It is argued that seigneurs were important patrons of religious innovation in the countryside, particularly in the parish church. They were rarely innovators themselves, but they lent support and resources to the introduction and maintenance of new devotional practices. Lords worked closely with clergy, sharing their aspirations and ideas. Four areas were particularly prominent in eliciting their support: appointment of clergy, support of missionaries, new devotional practices, and funding of building projects and liturgies in parish churches. These combined family strategies of enhancing social status and individual means to salvation which were indivisible in the world of the lay rural nobility. It was from a traditional understanding of lordship that patronage of religious reform stemmed.