French Aristocrats That Flourished During The Revolution

May 12, 2023 | Aristocracy, France, Noble Titles, Royal Titles

During the millennia since a noble class first began to emerge in the days of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, there have been a number of occasions when being part of such an elite social group was less of a blessing and more of a curse.

In fact, there were such bleak periods for the nobility that it was considered dangerous to overtly claim any kind of social superiority or esteemed rank. 

The French Revolution & The Aristocracy

One such period of turbulence for the aristocracy was the era before and during the famous French Revolution. 

As the people of France rose up against the monarchy and the elitist regime, those in positions of power, privilege and influence were subject to extreme hostility from the working classes. As the political winds shifted in favour of the proletariat, it became perilous and ill-advised for many nobles to display their wealth or take advantage of any kind of social eminence. 

As the French Revolution progressed, large numbers of the noble classes fell victim to violent revolts, many had their wealth and properties confiscated and handed over to the state, and many others were imprisoned in appalling conditions. 

Yet these could be regarded as the fortunate ones, since there were numerous accounts of nobles and aristocrats meeting their fate at the famous Madame Guillotine. Even the King and Queen of France were unable to escape the worst consequences of the violent battle for equality, fraternity and liberty. 

French Aristocrats That Flourished During The Revolution

Despite the many tales of dark days for the nobility during the years of the French Revolution, there were also stories of hope, resilience, and not only surviving against the odds but actively thriving throughout the turbulence. 

While the definition of thriving may be relative, i.e. the success and safety of nobles during the Revolution may have been a far cry from the lifestyles enjoyed during the glory days of the aristocracy, it’s nevertheless true that not all of France’s nobles faced hardship or violence. 

Some even used their wits and social savvy to secure an even stronger future for themselves and their families, once the worst dangers of the social upheaval had passed. 

The Ponsardin-Clicquot Family

One family of French nobles that managed to thrive despite the dangers of revolution was the Ponsardin-Clicquot family. 

Madame Clicquot Ponsardin

Madame Clicquot Ponsardin – Léon Cogniet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This family line entered the period of the French Revolution as a group of wealthy industrialists, based in Reims in northern France, just a few miles from the centre of the political unrest in the capital city of Paris. 

The members of the family were not high-ranking nobles at this point, which perhaps gave them an advantage in terms of safety and political protection, yet they were undoubtedly among the wealthiest and most privileged members of the community. 

The family enjoyed the refined living and exquisite houses that the aristocrats of the period would have been familiar with, occupying an elevated status and influence within society akin to the blessings of an official noble title. 

The families of Ponsardin and Clicquot were united through the marriage of a young couple – the groom was François Clicquot, son of the wealthy Clicquot industrialists, and the young bride was a 21-year-old girl named Barbe-Nicole, who was well known and well-regarded within her community, as the daughter of a wealthy merchant, but was likely unknown beyond the city of Reims. 

Few would have suspected at the time that the young Barbe-Nicole would go on to first become a widow at the age of 26, and then take the entire world by storm as the head of a global luxury brand. For a woman to reach such heights in business was a rarity during the period of the late 18th and early 19th century, but for a privileged and wealthy woman to thrive and prosper during the darkest times of the French Revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic Wars was a remarkable achievement. 

Baron Ponsardin – Mayor Of Reims

The spectacular achievements of Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin-Clicquot were possibly given their foundation by her father’s guile and astuteness in the face of adversity. 

Her father, Nicholas Ponsardin, was a notable politician in Reims, a city that lies in the heart of the famous Champagne region of France. 

Through his political affiliation, astute social connections, and what could be diplomatically described as strategic loyalty, Nicholas Ponsardin rose within the community and beyond, securing an influential status within the political landscape and the higher echelons of society. 

Such was the status and esteem of the Ponsardin family that they were chosen to host Emperor Napoleon and his wife Empress Josephine as they traveled through the region and stayed overnight in Reims. This imperial allegiance was rewarded by a decree by Napoleon that made Nicholas Ponsardin the Mayor of Reims, a title that he was able to complement with the official noble title of Baron that he also acquired during his lifetime. 

The Famous Widow Clicquot

As the daughter of the ambitious and influential Ponsardin, it’s perhaps not surprising that Barbe-Nicole would also rise within the social and commercial strata during some of the most challenging periods of French history. 

Though she was a child during the height of the French Revolution, the young widow Clicquot become a business legend due to her triumphs during the trade blockades of the Napoleonic Wars. 

Thriving in the face of adversity was clearly a trait Barbe-Nicole inherited from her father, and she managed to not only prosper during some of the bleakest economies, but she was also able to build the great champagne empire that still bears her name – Veuve Clicquot. 

Along the way, she is credited with inventing the concept of a luxury brand, a niche category that has survived to the present day, adding a substantial proportion of the wealth of many modern nations. As the daughter of a Baron, and the child of the Revolution, the story of Barbe-Nicole is as inspiring as it is incredulous. 

While this wealthy and influential family line undoubtedly faced difficult times during the French Revolution and the years that followed, their success story is an encouraging fable of rising from industrial prosperity, through the ranks of the nobility and political power, and even establishing a world-changing business concept. 

This ambitious and talented family are an inspiring example of the ability of French aristocrats to not only survive social turmoil but to flourish and prosper in ways that benefited their families, their communities, and the wider world. It’s surely also a tale to cherish for champagne lovers the world over.

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