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Pre-Acadian Life in France

Life in France
Politics & Religion
     France had been a Roman Catholic nation for centuries.  In the middle 1500's, Protestant Calvinism spread into France as Huguenots.  Civil war broke out in 1562 over religion.  At that time, 10-20% of France were Calvinists.  The poplulation around 1562 was about 16 million. 
     A low point in Protestant-Catholic relations came on St. Bartholemew's day in 1572.   Catherine de Medici (the queen mother) had the Huguenot leaders (who were in Paris for a wedding) killed.  Spurred on, tens of thousands of Huguenots around the country were murdered.
    Edict of Nantes (1598) said that Catholicism was the official religion of France, but Huguenots were allowed to worship in their own castles and a few other places.  Things were fairly peaceful for about twenty years.  Then the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) began as a Catholic-Protestant confict in Bohemia and spread to Germany. 
     France joined the war in 1632, sending men to help the Swedish.  In 1639, French armies entered the war directly.  It was France/Sweden against Spain/Austria. The war ended with the Peace of Westphalia. France was again the leading power of Europe, replacing Spain.  France took large parts of the Alsace. 
     Henry IV (1589-1610) encouraged Champlain's explorations of the New World.  His son, Louis XIII (1610-1642), was ineffectual as a ruler. Frances real leader from 1624-1642 was Cardinal Richelieu. Richelieu was first minister till his death in 1642.  Louis XIV took over as a boy in 1642.  For almost a decade, the country was actually ruled by his mom (Anne of Austria) and her paramour Cardinal Mazarin. 
France, c. 1600, Ortellius
France c.1600  by Abraham Ortelius
Rural Life
     Farming was by open-field system.  A large property owner's land was divided up like a patchwork quilt of smaller lots that hired laborers and tenant farmers worked.  It was very ineffecient. Crops were cut with a sickle, leaving more stubble for livestock to feed on. Landlords leased farms to tenants and collected rent ... often in crops (ie. 1/2 their crops).  Though serfdom had about disappeared by the 1500's, most of the population still lived under the domination of landowners.  There was a tax for everything ... rent to landlords, charges for use of the mill, bakery, wine press, when land traded hands, etc.   Access to the court system was questionable and full of fees and commissions. 
    The average person couldn't hunt on the landlord's land.  Some owned land and livestock.  They served as intermediaries between landlords and sharecroppers.  Those who had a small piece of land often worked it into infertility.  When a peasant proprietor died, his holdings were divided among his male heirs. 
     Bad harvests would occur about once a decade.  This led to malnutrition, then illness & death. They'd substitute grass, nuts, and tree bark for grain at these times. Widespread crop failures occured about every 30 years (1597, 1630, 1662, 1694).  This started a chain effect of population decline.
    Peasants often lived by bread alone 2 pounds a day if they were lucky.  The bread was dark ... a mixture of wheat and rye flour.  They also ate peas and beans, wine, beer, and sometimes skimmed milk.
harvest time
     Medical treatment was little more than crude guesswork, and totally out of reach of the poor.  Epidemics of dysentery, smallpox, and typhus occured regularly.   Water supplies were contaminated.  Bathing (once feared as a method of spreading disease) was rare. 
     The average marriage age was 25 for females, 27-28 for males.  They tried to wait till they had enough resources to establish a household.  Young couples lived on their own, not in extended families.  A son wouldn't inherit his father's property/finances until the father died.  A son was encourage to establish himself independently, and not to start a family until doing so. 
     Peasants had to submit to the corvée, working several weeks a year on local road maintenance.  There were few paved roads in France, though one did run from Paris to Orleans (main river port of France).  To travel by coach from Paris to Lyons (250 miles), it took ten days.  It was rough traveling; the roads were poor.
    Houses had 1-2 rooms, made of wood, plastered with mud or clay.  The roof was thatched with straw (which was used as fertilizer when replaced and as animal food when times were hard).  Furniture consisted of a table, benches, and pallets for sleeping.  Utensils consisted of a few earthenware plates, an axe, a wooden spade, and a knife. 
     Wives tended livestock and vegetables.  Women also worked in the fields or worked at home at knitting, spinning, or weaving to help with the family income. 
     Clothing for a man might consist of a shirt with no collar, knickers, a hat, stockings, and perhaps a hat.  A woman might wear a long dress with a white shawl and  a bonnet. 
     While the middle class males attended small private academies with specialized courses and females learned a few basics at home (language, music), there was no provision for the education of the poor.  Literacy in France in 1686 was 29% for males (less for females). 
     Village life centered around the church.  Religion provided a break from the daily grind.  They went to church for worship and to socialize.  Then they'd spend the rest of the day in village games. 
     They would sometimes make pilgrimages to a nearby shrine, drinking and dancing along the way.  Catholics joined organizations (confraternities) that provided mutual aid and a set of common rituals and traditions centered upon a patron saint. 
     Carnivals were also a relief. They put down the upper class and raised up the poor.  Annual harvest festivals, fairs, and traveling circuses occured. Other events were horse races, cock fights, and bear baiting.  They had taverns where men gathered to smoke, drink, gossip and gamble.  Stories (in books and by storytellers) of myth, legend, witchcraft, and superstition were common.
Thumbnail of 1635 map of FranceSection of Theatrum Orbis Terrarum sive Atlas Novus, 1635  by William Janszoon Blaeu
LINKS to Old France
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