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A Century of Conflict: the Economic and Social Disorders of the ‘Grand Siècle’

  • Hubert Méthivier
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Abstract

Let us finally reject the legend of the French seventeenth century, which sees it as an age of royal grandeur and unquestioning conformity, the apogee of the ancien régime, an age between a turbulent and strife-torn sixteenth century and an eighteenth century already stagnant and in process of dissolution. We are duly impressed by the monarchical exteriors of the Louvre and Versailles, the French hegemony in Europe and the achievements of classicism in literature and the arts; but the real social drama enacted in the towns and countryside of seventeenth-century France was something altogether more tragic. Foreign and civil wars, with their constant passage of troops, left ruin on the land. Gaston Roupnel1 documented well enough the almost thirty years of pillage and atrocity which made of Burgundy in the mid-seventeenth century an accurate enough reflection of the art of Jacques Callot. The ‘Grand Siècle’ was a harsh and insensitive age, when even the kindly Mme de Sévigné could recite with equanimity the atrocities committed in the suppression of the Breton uprising of 1675. It was an age when everything was in conflict, and nothing suggests an age of resolution, serenity and classical order.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    G. Roupnel, Les Populations de la ville et de la campagne dijonnaise au XVIIe siècle (Paris, 2nd ed., revised, 1955).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    R. Mousnier, Les XVIe et XVIIe siècles (Paris, 1954).Google Scholar
  3. [Editor’s note:] It is this work which has been the subject of extended adverse criticism by A. D. Lublinskaya in French Absolutism: the crucial phase, 1620–1629, trans. B. Pearce (Cambridge, 1968) pp. 6–38.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    [Editor’s note:] P. Léon, ‘La crise de l’économie française à la fin du règne de Louis XIV (1685–1715)’, in Information historique. Vol. XVIII (1956) pp. 127–37.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    [Editor’s note:] P. Goubert, Louis XIV et Vingt Millions de Français (Paris, 1966; translated Louis XIV and Twenty Million Frenchmen, London, 1970). See also supra, Chapter 1, pp. 28–9.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    [Editor’s note:] C. Carrière, Les négociants marseillais au XVIIIe siècle, 2 vols (Marseille, 1973). Also, C. Carrière (with P. Léon), ‘L’appel des marchés’, in Histoire économique et sociale de la France, 1660–1789, Vol. II pp. 161–215.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    [Editor’s note:] J. Delumeau, Le mouvement du port de Saint-Malo à la fin du XVIIe siècle, 1681–1720 (Institut de recherches historiques de Rennes, 1966); also, ‘Le commerce extérieur français au XVIIe siècle’, in XVIIe Siècle, Nos. 70–171 (1966) pp. 81–105.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    [Editor’s note:] M. Morineau, ‘Flottes de commerce et trafics français en Méditerranée au XVIIe siècle’, in XVIIe Siècle, Nos. 86–87 (1970) pp. 135–71.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    [Editor’s note:] For the expansion of the economic material of this chapter, see, initially, Histoire économique et sociale de la France, Vol. II, 1660–1789, and in particular P. Goubert, ‘Le “tragique” XVIIe siècle’, in Troisième partie, ‘D’une économie en contraction à une économie en expansion’. Also, R. Mandrou, Les XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles. (Nouvelle Clio), (Paris, 1967)—and the excellent bibliographies of both these works.Google Scholar
  10. 13.
    [Editor’s note:] It is interesting that Boisguilbert’s figure of 1695 was given by Locke in his Journal on 1 May 1676: ‘The rents of Lands in France fallen above ½ in these few years …’. Locke’s Travels in France, 1675–9, ed. J. Lough (Cambridge, 1953) p. 89.Google Scholar
  11. 15.
    P. de Saint-Jacob, Documents sur la Communauté villageoise en Bourgogne (1962).Google Scholar
  12. 16.
    E. Le Roy-Ladurie, ‘Montpellier et sa campagne’, in Annales, E.S.C. (1957); also Les Paysans de Languedoc (Paris, 1966; published in an abridged form by Flammarion, Paris, 1969, under the same title).Google Scholar
  13. 17.
    E. Mireaux, Une province française au temps du Grand Roi: La Brie (Paris, 1952).Google Scholar
  14. 18.
    J. Meuvret, ‘Le Commerce des grains et farines à Paris’, in Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine (1956);Google Scholar
  15. also, M. Venard, Bourgeois et paysans au XVIIe siècle: le rôle des bourgeois parisiens au sud de Paris (S.E.V.P.E.N., 1957);Google Scholar
  16. also, M. Philipponneau, L’évolution historique de la vie rurale dans le banlieue parisienne (unpublished thesis, 1955).Google Scholar
  17. 19.
    [Editor’s note:] See P. Goubert, ‘The French Peasantry of the Seventeenth Century: a Regional Example’, in Past and Present, No. 10 (1956; reprinted in Crisis in Europe, 1560–1660, ed. T. Aston, 1965, pp. 154–6), where Goubert estimates ‘a minimum of 12 hectares … in years of plenty, and 27 hectares in years of shortage’.Google Scholar
  18. 20.
    P. Deyon, Amiens, capitale provinciale au XVIIe siècle (Paris, 1967).Google Scholar
  19. 22.
    P. Goubert, Beauvais et le Beauvaisis; also, ‘Les techniques agricoles dans les pays picards aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles’, in Revue d’histoire économique et sociale (1957); also, ‘Aspects sociaux des manufactures picards et beauvaisiennes au temps de Louis XIV’, in Bulletin de la Société d’histoire moderne et contemporaine (1953); P. Deyon, ‘La production manufacturière en France au XVII siècle et ses problèmes’, in XVIIe Siècle, Nos. 70–71 (1966).Google Scholar
  20. 24.
    G. Pagès, ‘La Vénalité des offices dans l’ancienne France’, in Revue Historique, CLXIX (1932) pp. 477–95; ‘Autour du “Grand Orage”: Richelieu et Marillac, deux politiques’, in Revue Historique, CLXXIX (1937) pp. 63–97; also infra, Chapter 5.Google Scholar

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© Macmillan Publishers Limited 1977

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  • Hubert Méthivier

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