The Catholic nobility’s commitment to écoles libres in France 1850-1905

Elizabeth C. Macknight* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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In France the Falloux Law of 1850 set out the distinction between state-run public schools and écoles libres maintained by individuals or associations. This article argues that Catholic nobles' historic property-based and charitable ties with rural communities underpinned their foundation of écoles libres. Drawing upon private archives from different regions of France the article shows how networking between aristocratic laity and religious orders facilitated the running of these schools. Nobles' determination to guard a reputation for charitable patronage, especially in the locality of their landed estate, meant they were impelled to invest financially in écoles libres when it made no rational sense to do so. From 1879 successive governments of the Third Republic introduced secularizing legislation that clashed with the aims of Catholic school founders. Even when taken to court for breaking republican laws, nobles, nuns, and monks remained passionately committed to upholding the culture of Christian faith within education.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18-41
Number of pages24
JournalHistorical Reflections / Réflexions Historiques
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


  • Catholicism
  • liberté
  • nobility
  • religious orders
  • republic
  • schools
  • secularism


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