|Dowries, Preciputs and Gifts to the Newmarried Children: Comparative Cases Studies about Peasants and Noble Families in Brittany (19th-20th Centuries)|
|Rural Brittany is an intriguing aerea for analysing how different inheritance systems and types of social organisation coexist the one with the others during the 19th and 20th century. As egalitarian peasants shared small properties between their sons and daugters, without preference for any of them, nobility, after having restored big estates after the french Revolution, had maintained – despite of the Civil Code - a hierarchical organisagtion, based on patrilineal transfers to the eldest son. The comparaison between the social and economic reproduction of these different landowners rises a certain number of questions about the part played by economic constraints, law, kinship system and moral values in the different ways parents would help their children to settle down.
On one hand (as many other researches have pointed out) there were no dowries among peasants, whose marriages were concluded without written contracts and didn’t involve much wealth conveyance. The question is then to know how so many new domestic groups could manage to be created.
On the other hand, dowries, preciputs and legacy’s advancements were carefully detailed in noble families mariage contracts – although their application could end up whith clashes or even proceedings between members of the kindred. The paradox raised by the study of family cases is that it seems as if the lowest economic constraints (in the case of nobility) make the settlement of new household particularly problematical.
The aim of this paper is to explore this paradox through datas coming from an ethnographic inquiry hold in the aerea of Carhaix (center of Finistère) and from a stock of private archives concerning nobility of Northern Finistère.
Professeur de sociologie et d’anthropologie
Université de Picardie Jules Verne/CURAPP|