This database provides a digital edition of a unique account of the French Revolution: The Elbeuf Letters, 1788-94. It gives free public access to extensive extracts (never previously translated into English) from a series of notebooks kept by the duchess of Elbeuf, an extremely wealthy and well-connected member of the French nobility whose world was turned upside down during this turbulent period in France’s history. The Letters appear to be the duchess’s side of a correspondence with a female acquaintance, giving news of the latest Revolutionary developments. They provide analysis and personal reflections on the implications for the duchess herself, the noble class to which she belonged, the monarchy and the country at large.

The duchess kept a detailed record of the French Revolution until shortly before her death in early 1794, but her Letters have been almost entirely ignored by historians until now.  She resided in the eye of the Revolutionary storm in central Paris, and also experienced the upheaval in the French provinces and life as a temporary émigré in the Austrian Netherlands. She expressed open hostility towards the Revolution from its outset.

The Elbeuf Letters digital edition gives you access to the duchess’s voice through an extensive series of translated extracts from her writing. There are 31 fully-searchable Letter extracts for you to explore (totaling over 12,000 words). Users can follow the duchess as she travels between three locations, each of which adds a distinct flavour to this Revolutionary chronicle: her opulent private residence in central Paris, the Hôtel d’Elbeuf; her country estate at Moreuil in Picardy, sixty miles north of the capital; and a small apartment in Tournai (Belgium), to which she emigrated for six months from September 1791. You will find material on a wide range of influential individuals (from Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette to Revolutionary radicals like Marat) and many of the dynamics which underpin Revolutionary France’s fractious development, including: popular violence; state repression and the Terror; political debate and reform; the collapse of monarchical authority; and the impact of war.

Want to get started? Click on the Letters tab to access a chronological list, use the ‘Search the Letters…’ function to locate specific information, or browse the Letters via the People, Places, Themes and Institutions tabs.

Want more background information? There is plenty more to explore via the Resources tab:

-take a look at the blog for a variety of posts about the duchess, the content of the Letters, and other aspects of this AHRC project

-biographical detail on the duchess, discussion of the Letters as a historical source, and other information to help you get the most out of this material.

This digital edition has been developed by the Elbeuf Project Team (Dr Alex Fairfax-Cholmeley, Editor; Professor Colin Jones, Consulting Editor; Dr Simon Macdonald, Consulting Editor) in collaboration with the University of Exeter’s Digital Humanities Lab (Dr Lizzy Williamson, DH Lead; Dr Charlotte Tupman; Richard Holding; Gary Stringer; Eva Bodenschatz; Ollie Anthony; Julia Hopkin). The Project Team would also like to thank Courtney Priday (Digital Humanities Lab Intern) for her contribution to the visual design of the database.