Thierry, Jacques-Nicholas-Augustin

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Thierry, Jacques-Nicholas-Augustin


Born May 10, 1795, in Blois; died May 22,1856, in Paris. French historian, one of the founders of the romantic trend in French historiography. Member of the Académie des Inscriptions (1830).

Thierry graduated from the Ecole Normale in 1813. In 1814 he started working as secretary to the Comte de Saint-Simon. Although Thierry broke off relations with the comte in 1817, Saint-Simon’s ideas influenced Thierry’s conception of history. According to Thierry, the primary active force of history is the people, as opposed to the nobility, and the historical process is determined by the class struggle between the third estate (the bourgeoisie and the peasantry) and the privileged estates (the nobility and the clergy). The roots of the class struggle lie in the struggle of a vanquished “race” against its conquerors (in France, the Gallo-Romans against the Franks; in England, the Anglo-Saxons against the Normans), the conquering “race” subsequently becoming the privileged class.

Thierry set forth this theory of the races in his Letters on the History of France and History of the Norman Conquest of England. In the latter work and in his Stories From Merovingian Times, his romanticism is apparent in his emotionality of exposition, his dramatization of historical events, and his love for details that create local color. Thierry used chronicles and legends as his major sources. He considered the primary task of a historian to be the artistic reconstruction of past events with the aid of intuition. Unlike other romantic historians, he did not idealize the Middle Ages and portrayed them as an era of “military despotism” and supremacy of brute force.

After the July Revolution of 1830, Thierry unreservedly accepted the July Monarchy. As his political views became more conservative, his conception of history also changed. In his Attempt at a History of the Formation and Development of the Third Estate, written in the later years of the July Monarchy, he no longer emphasized the irreconcilable difference between the two classes (and between the two “races” in the past), and he noted the positive role of the nobility, its military valor, and its patriotism. Whereas earlier Thierry had glorified the Jacquerie, he now described it negatively, as leaving “only a hated name and sad memories” (Izbr. soch., Moscow, 1937, p. 41).

The Revolution of 1848, which revealed the antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, stunned Thierry, who had previously asserted that the class struggle ceases when the bourgeoisie is victorious, since the third estate is an indivisible class. Thierry attempted to prove that the conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat in 1848 was a historical misunderstanding that would not be repeated in the future. After the Revolution of 1848, Thierry no longer appeared in print; nevertheless, he had a strong influence on many European bourgeois historians.

K. Marx highly valued Thierry’s work on the history of the third estate and called him “the father of the class struggle in French historiography, ” but at the same time Marx revealed the bourgeois essence of Thierry’s belief in the unity of the third estate and in the absence of a historical basis for the antagonism within it (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 28, p. 321).


Oeuvres completes, vols. 1–10. Paris, 1851.
In Russian translation:
Izbr. soch. Moscow, 1937.


Plekhanov, G. V. “O. T’erri i materialisticheskoe ponimanie istorii.” Soch., vol. 8. Moscow-Petrograd, 1923.
Alpatov, M. A. Politicheskie idei frantsuzskoi burzhuaznoi istorio-grafiiXIXv. Moscow-Leningrad, 1949. Pages 61–84.
Reizov, B. G. Frantsuzskaia romanticheskaia istoriografiia. Leningrad, 1956. Chapter 4.
Kosminskii, E. A. Istoriografiia srednikh vekov. Moscow, 1963. Pages 370–82.


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