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Ronan Love

History, University of Warwick

Thesis title:

Revolutionary Debts: The Politics of Financial and Moral Obligation in the French Revolution

Every student of the French Revolution knows that its outbreak was the result of the staggering debt crisis of the Ancien Régime. Historians, however, have not fully acknowledged how debt continued to inform the Revolution’s course and radicalisation. In light of this omission, my project explores how the politics of public debt not only prompted the Revolution’s outbreak, but also became a principal driver of revolutionary politics and the primary vehicle through which revolutionary government asserted its authority, legitimacy, and power.

In making such an argument, my project also investigates the relationship between financial policy and the theory and practice of sovereignty. As early as July 1789, revolutionaries decided to uphold the entirety of the Old Regime’s debt. The question, historians have asked, is why? Why not default on the debt and save themselves the expense? Whilst most scholars see this move as an ill-judged reaction to crisis, I argue revolutionary commitments to the debt betrayed their deep understanding of the connection between sovereign power and financial obligation. Sovereigns, after all, maintain their sovereignty by contracting, enforcing or breaking financial obligations. In the Old Regime, for example, the King exercised sovereign power by cultivating financial obligations – i.e. debt relationships – with various intermediaries, and he exercised such power by reneging on his promises when the terms no longer suited him. In 1789, the King could no longer exercise this power due to a variety of structural issues, leaving his entire mode of government discredited. By honouring the debt of the Old Regime on 17 June and simultaneously consituting itself as the National Assembly, revolutionaries, I argue, not only began a process to overturn the King’s moribund debt-politics, but also sought to establish their own sovereignty and constitutional power. After they had done this at the expense of the Crown, revolutionary government then sought to re-establish power over the Nation’s creditors and foster obligations to the republican regime amongst the population at large. This attempt, and ultimate failure, to reconstruct sovereign authority and remake French society around a new politics of debt is the object this thesis seeks to analyse. 

Research Area

  • History


'"Une Nation fidèle à l'honneur et à ses promesses": The Politics of Debt and Default at the End of the Old Regime, 1770-1789'. Conference Paper, M4C Digital Research Festival (July 2020).  

Conference Chair and Organising Committee, Pandemic Perspectives 2021: 'Reflections on the Post Pandemic World' (20 April 2021). 

'The Moral Economy of Privilege'. Conference Paper, Economic Justice in Early Modern Europe (1450-1850): Commemorating Fifty Years of E. P. Thompson's 'Moral Economy' Midlands Eighteenth-Century Research Network (21 May 2021).

Other Research Interests

  • History of finance 
  • History of political economy and political-economic thought 
  • Political economy of sovereign debt
  • History and anthropology of debt relationships 
  • Comparative history of revolutions and regime change 
  • Historical theory and its implications for history-writing 



BA (Hons), History, University of Warwick, 2015-2018. 
Dissertation: 'Recasting Bourgeois Revolution: The French Revolution and Modes of Exchange'. 
Felix-Dennis Dissertation Prize for Best Dissertation. 

MA, Modern History, University of Warwick, 2018-2019.
Dissertation: 'The Government of Obligation: Debt, Sovereignty, and Power in the French Revolution'. 
MA Dissertation Prize for Best Dissertation