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How France Has Changed

Hard Times in France

Jean Valjean small

We are all suffering here with unusually cold weather for which we are pretty much always unprepared. Thus, pipes have frozen and burst at our little abode in the countryside. The outrageously expensive heater is working overtime to burn fuel faster than Malcolm Lowry could knock 'em back, though it may have greater discernment. Roads are not cleared and have been covered with solidly packed ice for a week. The temperature has dropped to lows so evil that they can come only from the heart of Lucifer. It is, as they say here, a catastrophe. 

Our kindly plumber tells us that there have been other years of such painfully icy froid, and he rattled off 1946-7 1956, 1974, 1985-6, 1993 and now. Of course, there have been other such catastrophes of cold, epidemic, and famine throughout history in France. Might as well list a few now, as this bit of history is useful for the genealogist to know, whether to guess a cause of death or a reason for emigration.

  • 1620 Political instability and revolt of the nobles against the king
  • 1626-31 - Constant political instability as Richelieu and Marie de Medici battle for power
  • 1628 The city of La Rochelle surrenders to the French crown
  • 1685 Edict of Nantes revoked and persecution of Protestants resumes
  • 1693-1694 Famine killed 1.7 million French people
  • 1720 The Great Plague of Marseille (where the Black Death first entered France in 1347)
  • 1738 The grain harvests failed
  • 1749 Such hardship that there were food riots and anti-tax riots in Paris
  • 1779 Dysentery epidemic
  • 1788 After a freakishly hot July, the winter brought extreme cold, -22 C in Paris; there were bread riots throughout the country
  • 1789 Extreme cold in January; French Revolution begins in the summer
  • 1803-1815 Napoleonic Wars
  • 1815 Final defeat of Napoleon and a rather vengeful invasion of the conquerors
  • 1830 Revolution in France
  • 1832 cholera epidemic throughout France killed over 100,000 people
  • 1836 Extreme cold
  • 1838 Extreme cold
  • 1847-8 “The hungry forties”, a time of  severe economic depression
  • 1848 Another revolution and another cholera epidemic
  • 1849 Another cholera epidemic
  • 1854 Yet another cholera epidemic, killing approximately 143,000
  • 1870-71 Franco-Prussian War, with the loss of the regions of Alsace and Lorraine; there was also a smallpox outbreak
  • 1873 Cholera epidemic
  • 1886 the first appearance of the disease, phylloxera, that was to wipe out many vineyards and put thousands out of work

Obviously, this is not a comprehensive or exhaustive list, but it does give some of the larger events. Perhaps one of the above touched the life of your ancestor.

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy