I just finished an amazing book on Necker, the finance minister under Louis XVI.* The most interesting discoveries for me were the revelation that Necker was a friend of the rich (although that was not a big surprise), that he had promised but reneged on his promise to help the poor (ditto), and that he apparently also reneged on a promise to a certain Comtesse de C. This last nugget is wrapped around an artful device by the writer, James Rutledge.
Tucked within the pages of vitriol about Necker’s financial double-dealings is the story of a certain Countess de … to whom he owed 1,000 louis and perhaps her virtue. When she refuses to drop her case or the demand for reparation, It appears that Necker has her mauled by a mob of unruly workers who demand that she say, “Vive Necker” [Long live Necker]. At that point, the countess refuses, but not before shifting tactics and shouting out, “Vive le Tiers” [Long live the third estate]. Thereby one with the cause of the people, she is embraced by the formerly hostile mob, who joins her in touting the Tiers! The inset tale ends with the mob inviting her to join them for a drink.
Prominent in the resolution to this drama is the work of a symbolic figure that is often found in revolutionary literature. She is typically portrayed as hot-tempered, sometimes drunkenly, and prone to funny malapropisms, but her sense of loyalty to her sisters in the marketplace is equal to none. What is she called?
1. A couturière or dressmaker
2. A poissarde or fish-monger
3. An épicière or grocer
4. A pastry-maker or pâtissière
*[James Rutledge], Vie privée et ministérielle de M. Necker, Directeur général des finances, par un citoyen. Geneva: Chez Pellet, 1790. With thanks to Princeton University who sent it here via Interlibrary Loan.
Below is the very odd illustration which opens the “Supplement” where more evil deeds are laid out for public view. Il looks like Necker is taking a sledge hammer to the foundation of the republic. At its top stand symbols of the ancien regime who seem to be aiming at him. If anyone has any idea other ideas about what this symbolism means, please write in!
5 thoughts on “From Prairial to Pop Culture. Day Twenty-nine. Of finance ministers and market women”
To know me is to also know that I never put anything past people…the wealthy most of all.
Is that a quote by Necker? or Krazykenny? Either way it is perfectly relevant.
I am working on series of short essays concerning the French financial system in the eighteenth century and I was wondering if you were aware of any songs, ballads or the equivalent of nursery rhymes from the eighteenth century which referred to the “Trente demoiselles de Genève….” (directly or indirectly, but highly probable)
That is a really interesting question and no, I have not encountered anything like that. Who are the 30 demoiselles de Geneve?
Thanks for writing!
I came across this bit of history in the following study by Francois Velde and David Weir, “The Financial Market and Government Debt Policy in France, 1746-93,” Journal of Economic History, March 1992, pp. 31- 36
Click to access VeldeWeir92.pdf
Essentially, this was a scheme developed by a Genevan banker in the 1770s to take advantage of a perceived weakness in Necker’s rules concerning the purchase of life annuities. It appears to be similar to our recent Mortgage / Derivatives Scheme. It has been estimated that by the late 1780s approximately 1/6th of the French Public borrowings were in the related to such child annuity schemes.
Here is a popular blog version:
And here is the list of the thirty Genevan maids who comprised the 1782 offer:
Please let me know if you come up with any popular ballads or rhymes about this.