Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Romance Languages


Pierre-Marie Conlon




From 1770 until his death in 1778, Voltaire led a most vociferous campaign against the remnants of feudalism in France. The emphasis of his campaign was placed on the institution of serfdom, a system of seigniorial rights which entitled a lord to specific services and fees from his vassals. Voltaire's interest in serfdom was sparked by the fact that there existed some twelve thousand peasants living as serfs due to rights existing since the middle ages, at Saint-Claude, only a few miles from his estate of Ferney near the Swiss border. Voltaire's concern for these serfs was augmented further by the knowledge that the lords of Saint-Claude were in fact a group of twenty Benedictine monks.

The aim of this dissertation is to examine Voltaire's campaign, not only for the emancipation of the serfs or Saint-Claude, but for the abolition of feudalism
throughout France and for the establishment of a uniform code of law. This subject has never been fully investigated, and consequently, in light of the approach of the bicentennial anniversary of Voltaire's death, a study of the campaign for the serfs of the Jura mountains does seem appropriate.

McMaster University Library

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