Though we have been having glorious blue skies this week, this is usually a time of rain, rain, rain; il pleut, il pleut, il pleut, hence Pluviôse in the Republican Calendar. Le Roy writes that this is a time when ponds are full of dirty water, farmers' fields are like swamps and everything that could do so is rusting. Then he goes on another of his rants against the ancien régime, that terrible time of despotic kings -- surely, he and Mark Twain would have hit it off?
Rarely, in his fury at the sufferings of the peasants before the Revolution, does Le Roy show any humour, but in writing about the cruel and spendthrift string of kings named Louis, he shares a rebus popular during the reign of Louis XIV against his Finance Minister, Colbert. We found it rather fun and share it here:
Venance France fer Colbert
G de la K la France
Which works out to say: "J'ai souvenance de la souffrance qu'a souffert la France sous Colbert." Pity that the words "beneath", "below", "under", etc. do not make for such clever games in English.
Less playful but more valuable for understanding why your French ancestor may have been so keen to leave are Le Roy's discussions of the many famines France endured. He quotes a monk who counted forty-eight times of famine during a period of seventy-eight years prior to the Norman invasion of England. Think what more bread in Normandy might have meant to British history!
Famines (disettes) in France during the eighteenth century occurred in:
- 1709 - a year of a bitter winter
- 1729 - a famine lasting two years when the price of bread reached nine sous per pound thanks to grain speculators
- 1740-1742 - a famine that was felt across Europe as crops failed. Four hundred thousand people died in Ireland; Sweden lost twelve per cent of her population; the Seine flooded Paris, and thousands of French died of hunger, but this seems hardly to have been the French king's fault though his decision to allow grain speculation to continue was certainly odious
- 1750 - a particularly bad famine in the southwest of France
- 1775-1776 - a couple of hard winters brought crop failures in some parts of the country, while other parts had perfectly normal weather. For this time of suffering and starvation, the entire court got in on the grain speculation lark. Queen, princes, clergy, ministers, all delighted in scooping some cash while people starved. Epidemics of typhus and dysentery followed
- 1789 - and we all know about the cake story and what happened next
It would seem that the eighteenth century was a time to get out of France and if your ancestors were among those who did, we do hope they found enough to eat in their new home. We cannot help but wonder if any of them ever went in for grain speculation.
© 2015 Anne Morddel