The Peasants of Languedoc Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie (1966)

Foreword In the foreword the translator, John Day, states that his translation is based on the P.P. edition of 1969 which had a reduced Part one and other omissions. Also part 3 was summarised. So the translation is much abbreviated – "for small mercies " etc (see contents) . ‘Day’ states that ‘Ladurie’s’ two key statistical sources are the ‘compoix’, ie the land tax registers and the tithe accounts. Hearth lists, prices, wages, land rent, interest rates and profits were also used.

"Le Roy Ladurie breaths life into this stastical blueprint ---"

Introduction Le Roy Laudure explains that he came to this work in 1955 while studying the "origins of capitalism" and noticed the periodisation of rural history ie a century of consolidation of holdings followed by a century of subdivision. "I had begun by adding up hectares ---"By the end I could observe the activities, the struggles and the thoughts" ….

"I embarked upon a total history"

Part 1 The Malthusian Renaissance

Consists of 5 chapters, 45 pages

"The Low-water mark of a society"

Languedoc from the Rhone to the Garonne experienced a population explosion from 1000 – 1348 (the black death) "every immigrant received a plot on which to build, a few fields to ASSART and the protection of the church " (Dedham?) Towns sprang up under pressure of population increase.

~The Black death halved the pop. The town of Albi 1343 - 10,000 1357 - 5,000, from the compoix. By 1363 "the mountain plague" ‘equalised the casualty count’. At Nimes half the dwellings were still empty in 1498.

An inevitable concentration of holdings resulted – a phase of ‘atomisation’ (of 1322) was followed by a phase of ‘consolidation’ In 1460 189 landowners occupied the ‘same land area’ as 4922 in 1690. Obviously the concentration went into reverse to reach a though or nadir by 1690. Ladure states that the category of large estates carved itself a bigger share of the land from Louis X1 --- Louis X1V .

‘Lespignan in the 15th Century had a predominance of middle sized estates whereas 150 years later they had vanished, giving rise to a multitude of "Micro properties which survived intact and indeed expanded.

Ladurie addresses the effects on the population particularly the survival rate of the surnames. La Vigan 1,343 - 638 names

1,358 - 140 remained ( -78%)

"At Albi 8 out of ten families disappeared from the rolls". After 1500 the rare of attrition declined. A move from the ‘nuclear’ to the "extended family", developed in Languedoc – a resurrection of the "great household of archaic rural society ". He presents an interesting analysis of this phenomenon. In one case a father married his two daughters to two sturdy but penniless mountain brothers and all lived under the one roof "under the parents yolk". The father controlled everything so that the man of forty had 2 or 3 coppers in his pocket. There is a striking analogy to the rural Ireland of 1950’s with the " boy " still a "boy at 40 when he might be allowed to marry and bring in a wife.

Special clauses were inserted in contracts specifying the "old couples" rights "the grandfathers bed was sacred as was his ration of food". "Cursed be the grandchild who would sell the grandmother’s bedspread". Certainly replicated in the archives of 20 Century Ireland, perhaps up to 1960, 70?

Ladurie also delves into dowry clauses and "fraternities" which latter "succeeded in contaminating the marriage tie itself" He also explores "The misadventures of land rent" showing the response of the renter to reduced rents due to reduced demand due to reduced populations. He proceeds in Chapter 1 with an examination of wages in money, and in kind , showing the fluctuations and stresses acting upon them. He concludes Chapter one with a statement re the "great shipwreck of 1348". The wageworker improved his standard of living; The cultivator dictated terms; The peasant extended his plot. Connotations of Post famine Ireland ?


"Beginning in 1500, a new wave of pioneer settlers moved out onto the land".

Chapter 2 Population, Subsistence, Income: The "scissors" of the 16th century.

Chapters 2, 3, 4, 5 comprising some 100 pages concentrate on the fallout from the massive population increase beginning c.1,500. "The most striking fact of the 16th century between 1500 – 70 was the great boom in population". Central to the discussion is the "Malthus" doctrine re food / resources and population. "Scissors" in the above is at last referred to almost 100 pages forward "Mathusian scissors were opening up on every side: between population and production, between agriculture and stock raising, between wages and prices". Perhaps the final sentence of Part One best explains the essence of this extensive account. The Languedocian expansion of the Renaissance was of the ancient kind a multiplier of poverty.

Back to Ch. 2 and here Ladurie discusses the responses to the pop. booom. He examines the effects which basically was a failure, to farm the marginal land. Like pre famine Ireland – farming the mountain was a backbreaking descent into poverty and quickly abandoned once a choice presented. He delves into the "intensive" solution e.g. vine growing, olives etc. "But one swallow does not make a summer. Compoix 1521 17% vine, olive 11% wheat 72%".

Ladurie also examines in "The case of the ‘Cevernes’ the introduction of chestnut trees, coal , silk as a source of sustenance for a region facing starvation.

He uses the phrase "The Tragedy of Grain" to sum up Ch.2 "The production of human beings outran the production of the means of existence ..population a gallop, production .. at a snails pace."





Chapter 3 Land Subdivision, Land Concentration, Pauperisation.

In this chapter Ladurie deals with the question raised in chapter 2, ie the progressive shortage of subsistence at a more personal human level. ‘In 1492 the majority of landowners were above the poverty line. In 1607 the position was reversed. ‘Land subdivision devoured its own offspring’ Ladurie shows how this development led to a strengthening of the great estate in that the micro proprietor was forced to day labour on the estate. The lord "permitted the day labourer to partake of the pleasure of his purse" "Pauperization or the grinding impoverishment of the peasant population, relentlessly to the advantage of the "great" estate.

Chapter 4. Wages , Rents, The Impoverishment of the Rural Wageworker

The title brings to mind the image of the "spalpeen" and hiring fair of 19th century Ireland.

Again Ladurie sets out the reduction of the wageworker to beggary.

"They restricted their consumption of salt, meat, and fats" –

"bread and wine" – staple foods of the poor since the days of the last supper" –

"By about 1580 the poor man’s bread was black bread , the poor man’s wine was cheap piquette’ Ladurie examines concisely the women workers. Already burdened with 50% of man’s wages for the same work, it went even lower to 25% and this on a reduced male wage.

"From Narbonne to Barcelona "femmes de debauche stationed themselves at the gates of the cities". It brings to mind the route from Moscow Airport to the city center - very likely the same rationale 2,000 A.D.

Laduire exonerates tithes, quit rents and taille in this scenario in that, though a heavy burden they did not increase. Rather the entrepreneur, Bourgeoisie Peasants and Gentlemen Farmers exploited increased productivity, land concentration and reduced wages, primarily if not solely the latter, the easy option.

Chapter 5 General Perspectives

In this chapter Ladurie ranges widely. He discusses the world of the poor squeezed from two directions - reduced area of land per family and reduced wages for the family wage worker.

He deals with the food crisis of 1526 – 35, the arrival of plague, the exploits of usurers, the behaviour of public authority.

" The ‘little man’ was impoverished twice over as a wageworker and as a small holder". He examines rural capitalism and finds it wanting.

True, profit was made by profiteers but there was no restructuring of agriculture, no true economic development, just exploitation of a captive population.

Having come so far it is perhaps appropriate to take stock. Certainly Ladurie presents a ‘new’ and gripping history. Maybe the name ‘Democratic History’ is apt. since it is lives of the little people , those whom, - was it as Mrs Trump of New York observed as she faced a richly deserved stretch in Sing Sing " taxes? Taxes are for the little people" – that Ladurie portrays. I now know why it was published in 1966, having been begun in 1955. I could wish that it were done with less Maths - but perhaps that is not possible – definitely less ‘Frenchisms’ Mr. Day.

Part 2 - New States of Consciousness and Social Struggles

Chapter 1 The Paths of Scripture

In this chapter Ladurie considers two dramatic changes in Languedoc. Firstly, the change from the old (c. 1450 – 90). Romance, Languedoc language to that of French which change was confined to the vicinity of the Rhone Valley. Secondly he examines the arrival of the reformation to this "sharply contrasted cultural area of the Midi". He contrasts this with the backward superstitious ‘Catholic’ western Languedoc. He outlines the contrast clearly between the "rural section" of the town and the new "culturally segregated merchants & bourgeois. He enters in detail upon a discussion of signatures and degrees of literacy and logically traces the reformation and Calvinism to these "paths" . (see table) He explains the tension between " Huguenot Corders and Papist Peasants" between the "rustics and town dwellers".

He concludes, "Calvinism was – restriction of pleasure; -- usury; ascetisism by proclamation and capitalism by preterit ion " all combined in one ‘Jeans of Lancyyre" presented almost in the flesh and decidedly not a pleasant character.

Chapter 2 The Hugeunot Offensive and the Lands of the Priests.

In this chapter Ladurie briefly outlines the takeover of church lands by Protestants in Eastern Languedoc. Among others he details the rise to landed wealth of one Simon Fizes – " a lackey in his youth", obliging husband to Charlotte mistress of Charles 1X, counsellor to the king, secretary of finances governor of Montpellier".

Church Lands action 1563 - total bids = £6,000 Fizes total bids £12,500

"The lands of the Church - like public offices and the magistrates robe, … a means of enrichment" (Are you reminded - tribunals and appointments Ireland Summer 2.000?)

Nonetheless, Fizes did warn his Hugenot friends of the impending St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre 1572, though a protégée of the Guisses.

Chapter 3 The Tithe Reform or Revolution?

The immediate answer to the above question was neither ; the Calvanists confiscated the tithe. The beneficiaries were mostly Protestant bourgeoisie, eliminating Catholic Bourgeoisie and artisan Hugeunot bidders by intrigue or by force. However the tithe payers, Ladurie tells us went on strike which raged from 1563 – 67. This was also the age of the civil wars and the Church was forced to sell land to cope with the Protestant offensive. He outlines church land sales in Bezier 1557 – 89 of £26,000 and states that this equivalent is to be traced ‘just about everywhere’.

He quotes and amusing conclusion re. The ruined bishop of Montpellier "who was allowed visit his lost castle and have his people climb the tower and shout ‘ long live his lordship the Bishop’ three times at the top of their lungs". [is there a tower in Kinsealy?].

Chapter 4 Struggle and Action of the "lower classes"

The outcome of Chapter 3 was the ruin of the clergy and the enriching of the notables and bourgeoisie. It did not please the peasants who staged numerous local revolts. Ladurie describes three of these revolts. The carnival at Romans is the first he deals with, stating "what began as a popular revolution ended in an Elizabethan tragedy..The carnival, which became a revolt ended with a three day massacre and " the rebel chief hung upsidedown by the heels" The second instance was that of "the Croqants of Languedoc and Central France ending in a similar fashion, "Henry 1V, surprised, massacred and dispersed them".

The last uprising Ladurie deals with "The Campanere Militants " seems to have dragged on, being taken over by the "nobility of the towns and the local clergy". It petered out without the final massacre.

Ladurie isolates the cause of the repeated failure – "no eighteenth century enlightenment to give a rational direction".

Chapter 5 Witches Sabbaths and Revolts.

In this chapter Ladurie traces various superstitious episodes; eg 1493 Witchcraft in Cevennes, the most notable caster of spells being one Martiale - all tortured and reduced to ashes. He outlines a practice of "turning the world upside down". Mass with a black host, the priest with his feet in the air and standing on his head etc. etc.

Ladurie presents an account of yet another superstition, that of the aiguellette’, the dread of Satanic castration involving knots, strings, coins etc at the point of solemnising the marriage on the alter. Ladurie refers to this as the "complex of castration by ligature".

This aspect of the ‘History is not without logic since this "turning upside down " was vaguely an attempt to transform the state of affairs to the advantage of the oppressed. "The peasant insurgent was groping towards a world of shadows" .. mired in obscurantism.










Part 3 The Rent Offensive

In the forward, I omitted to mention that the translater John Day informs that Part 1 of Ladurie’s French text, had to do with the Human Geog. Of Languedoc. We now come to Part 3 which is Part 4 in the original and is here synopsised by ‘Day’ into some 3 pages dealing with the period 1600 – ‘50, a resume of some 90 pages of the original.

The ills of Languedoc did not alter in the new century. Population continued to outstrip sustenance but not at the previous high rate. Richelieu increased the state share; the Counter Reformation restored the Catholic Church’s grasp; The landlord had a selle’rs market. Taxes tithes and rent plus usury, in the form of the loan shark, combined to reduce the peasant the "workhorse of the State" to even greater penury. Revolts, again 1635, Rouerque 1643, Montpellier 1645.

Part 4 The Depression

In this the final part consisting of c. 100 pages in five chapters, the author has an introduction of some 3 pages entitled "Prices and Chronology"

1653 was the high point of the century for wheat prices and it was downhill with some blips eg 1661 /2 . "In Languedoc c. 1700 agriculture collapsed" but a woollen industry boomed . The overall cost of working the land was greater than the return. Ladurie examines price changes from the changing prices of gold, silver etc. as against grain price changes on the Beziers market. He notes a discrepancy and opts to turn to data on population.

Chapter 1 The vicissitudes of the Gross Product.

Ladurie in turn examines the story of wine, grain and olive oil 1650 – 1700. In all three it is a story of decline. He turns to livestock which in Languedoc was sheep. He deduces from the "carnencs" ie tithes on sheep that there was a major collapse in 1657 - 60 and a recovery from 1700. He notes considerable difference between prosperous expanding "town" flocks and stagnating rural flocks. He explains this in the context of the town market for meat to the well off who retained their prosperity despite decline all round them.

About 1675 – 80 money tithes were introduced and Ladurie draws extensively upon them to show the decline of what he terms "Real Aggregate Income". He converts all income into "the pilot value of wheat" and draws a comparison ranging from the early 16th century through the early 17th century to the highpoint of 1669 – 65 for gross real income. This decade of the 1660’s was shortlived boom and decline set in by 1680. In a section entitled ‘Terres Montes" (dead land ) the author outlines the desertion of the land by the population beginning in the 1690’s and proceeding up to the 1740’s when finally it began to be reversed.

Chapter 2. The New Demographic Depression

In this chapter Ladurie examines the Parish registers and Easter Communicant lists to show the population decline. He notes some minor instances of static pop. Associated with some wealthy villages. One inhabitant out of five in the Catholic countryside had disappeared between 1677 – 1740. The fall was effected by high mortality, late warnings and emigration to the towns and army .

Chapter 3 " From Land Subdivision to land Concentration 2.

A short chapter in which Ladurie outlines the process of land concentration from the taille payers lists. He ranges from the "low water in the fifteenth century through to a decline and recession in the reign of Louis XIV to a reversal C 1770, through the revolution up to c 1870. He sees two major demographic advances from Renaissance c. 1550 to revolution c 1685 and from 1770 – 1870 with a platform or trough 1680 – 1750.

He sees the land concentration of the late seventeenth century forward as both similar to that of the waning middle ages and also markedly different. The cause, decline in population was the same but the outcome was different. A return to the land occurred in the medieval episode mhile a conquest of the countryside by nobility, bourgeoise etc marked the latter.

Chapter 4 The Land is no Longer Profitable.

This title has implications for our own time of "set aside" by E.C. directive, by milk quota penalties by E.C. directives etc. etc. B S E slaughter.

Ladurie explains the "Death of Profit" from 1670 and "the Shipwreck of tenant farmers". He follows the rather sad story of one particular lease of a farmstead at St. Pierre. Thomas Lagarde, as a result of a drought , went into debt because he did not repay as he could not. He died "irrasible and penniless but still with his lease in 1692. One "Vesinet" took up the lease and the debt and he fared worse, perhaps. Vesinet, also described as irrascable by his landlords the Church Canons, was constantly at loggerheads with creditors, parliament, usurers, carters etc. etc. so by 1697 he was at the end of his tether, -- no seed, no workers, no credit, all debts -- or so it seemed. This guy was no push over --he reaped and sold part of his crop before it was ripe. In June 1698 he sold his remaining crop from the sheaves. He refused to thresh , did not plow. He was "frankly committed to agrarian sabotage" . He used his peasant clan, cousins etc in all his manouvers to keep the rent paid. 1700 finds our hero in prison for one month from whence he returns to his farm from whence, having slipped the key under the door, on Oct 5 1700 he left never to be traced again.




Chapter 5 The Savage Rebellions

In this final chapter Ladurie traces a series of rebellions beginning with that in the town of Aubenes 1670, spreading to the country side, vaguely fuelled by "rather nebulous democratic feelings" but mostly by superstition, prophesy, visions etc. In the second example , of the Cevennes, as a direct result of the Revocation 1685 The Hugeunot response in 1688 –9 was the Camisards revolt of which Ladurie gives a detailed account. One " Jurieu " who manipulated the prophesies of Usher the Armagh bishop, the square roots of the millennia, something about the prophetic cipher 1260, the Apocalyse Ch 11, 12 , 13 and the Scriptures …. "but it would respect private property" -- Nostradamus "humbug? Perhaps".

Ladurie insists on the importance of Jurieu’s "millenarianism" but adds, as vital, the "convulsive and prophetic hysteria. Central to this phenomenon was Isebeau Vincent, a 16 year old Hugeunot sheperdess with numerous revelations e.g. The Messiah in the person of William Prince of Orange was on his way to restore Calvinism and destroy the Papists and Louis XIV. Ms. Vincent went to the gallows but spawned an army of "convulsionaries and revelationers" The Hugeunot rising ending in 1705, was an "explosive mixture of prophetic neurosis and antitax ferment" the last of an era, the Old Regime.


A great agrarian Cycle

Ladurie entitles this section "conclusion" with the subtitle "A great Agrarian cycle". It is not afforded the name of a chapter or chapter no.

The initial 10 of the 30 pages do not seem to be a "conclusion" but rather repetitive. He sets out the concept of periodisation and presents four phases as "first second third and fourth" corresponding to "the low water mark" 1400 – 1500, "the advance" 1500 – 1600, "after 1600 maturity " and "the long period of recession" 1660 + Under the subtitle "Technical and cultural stumbling blocks he considers the "monetary famine" to be only partially the cause of 17th century recession. Rather he seeks the causation in technology which he says really is cultural and indeed spiritual. However in this latter period he says the "seeds of true growth" are discernible. He refers to viticulture and a developing manufacturing sector as enhancing chances of recovery. Here also he weighs the advances of literacy and its benefits, ie changes in behaviour - less violent, less superstitious, "practical minded composed individuals".

In the final subtitle "Malthus would be too late". Ladurie does present a definite conclusion . Perhaps the translator erred and it should read "Malthus was too late".

Either way Ladurie re-examines the Malthusian Doctrine of population and subsistence and concludes that in the new scenario of the eighteenth century the race between population and food would henceforth be a draw. The Malthus "curse" was lifted in the eighteenth century even before it was formulated by him in1798. Malthus "was born too late in a world too new". A pleasant conclusion to some unpleasantries.