If your image of France is one of art, fashion and culture you have to remember that those things were only for the very rich. When I read about the history of France from the point of view of the average citizen it helped to put things in perspective. During the 18th century and the reigns of Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI French peasants were starving because they had to pay huge taxes. Nobles and the clergy were exempt, meaning that those who had the most wealth paid the least. For instance, there was a salt tax. Peasants had to pay a tax on the salt they used, by law every member of the family had to use 2 ¾ litres of it each year, neither were they allowed to take a bucket of saltwater from the sea. In one year, 5,000 adults and 6,000 children were arrested for contravening this law. Taxes to the king, the church and the local lord accounted for 82% of people’s incomes! If the peasant were a merchant, there were tolls to pay on roads and rivers. The nobles and the clergy had the right to hunt even over the fields of the peasants and their pigeons had the right to eat the poor people’s grain. The peasants had to use the mills, ovens and winepresses of the lords, for which they had to pay. The lords had also the right to demand that the peasants worked for them on certain days. No wonder the poor people ate snails and frog’s legs. In ‘The Story of France’ by Eleanor Doorly, she writes that when Voltaire had to flee for his life to England he wrote ‘Letters from England’ which helped to cause the Revolution. He described in that book ‘how happy England was to have a nobility who had no privileges and honest traders who were respected’.

 

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