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

  • Hubert Méthivier


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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© Macmillan Publishers Limited 1977

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  • Hubert Méthivier

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