Vrouwen, salons en de ontwikkeling van het parlement. Een vergeten begin in de Franse negentiende eeuw


  • Henk te Velde


The French Revolution has often been considered to be the great watershed in the development of modern politics. The end of the Ancient Regime also seemed to spell the end of the political influence of women that was connected with the aristocratic culture of the salons. This article demonstrates, however, that aristocratic women enjoyed much political influence at the beginning of the 19th century, when they contributed to the establishment of a new political institution: a modern parliament. Modern parliaments have been built upon the agreement to disagree. In the 19th century this agreement presupposed the development of a common culture, and common standards to measure the achievements of parliamentarians. The culture of the salons, that were hosted by women, provided a common ground where parliamentary adversaries could meet. The hostesses participated in political discussions, arranged some political appointments, and contributed to a ‘civilized’ culture that prevented parliamentary fights from turning into civil war. Parliaments also needed an audience, and women partly constituted that audience. They sat in the galleries and admired the orators. To make institutions work and give them legitimacy is an important type of political power. To a large extent women had that power.