The Low-Water Mark of a Society
The Century of Rarefied Population
The tragic demographic situation of the fifteenth century - the scarcity of people - was the overriding fact that lent land settlement, economic life, and social relationships their peculiar coloration on the eve of the great advance of the modern period.
People were rare, first of all, in relation to earlier centuries. Was not Languedoc the scene of an extraordinary demographic expansion between the year 1000 and the Black Death of 1348? The proof, in the absence of population figures, lies in the great reclamation and colonization movement of this period toward the coasts and toward the mountains simultaneously. In the coastal sector the advance took place across the plain-across the stagnant swamps which were reclaimed and settled en masse. It was the abbeys, employing vast amounts of capital and labour, that drained the marshes. The three monasteries of Psalmody, Saint-Gilles, and Fourquevaux, the latter a Cistercian abbey founded in 1147 on the banks of the malarial backwater of Scamandre, transformed the brackish waters between Nīmes, the Rhone, and the sea into virgin soil and the marshland into ploughland. Elsewhere, at the foot of the ancient hill of Enserune, a star shaped network of radiating drainage canals remains as tribute to the skill of the unknown master who originally conceived and carried out the project.
In contrast to the colonization of the plains, which was carried forward by the abbeys and the feudal landowners, the demographic advance toward the mountains tended to be democratic and individualistic. Here, numerous colonists came to settle on their own initiative, and the abbeys' role was confined to granting them certain privileges thanks to the organization of sauvetes - "those lands delimited by crosses where every immigrant received
12 Malthusian Renaissance
a plot on which to build, a few fields to assart and the protection of the Church." This was the case in the Montagne Noire and in central Languedoc between 1045 and 1102. Elsewhere-in the Cevennes, for example colonization proceeded in a simpler manner still; a spontaneous settlement sprang up next to an ancient castrum, or fortified locality. On the rocky soil, the pioneers laid out a whimsical field system-a mosaic of diminutive plots, each of which was barely the measure of a seeding unit. A few olive trees clung to the slopes. Petty farmer-knights, too poor to live as rentiers, presided over a swarm of settlers. The role of the Church was limited to creating anew parish when the time was ripe.
Finally, under the relentless pressure of population, an urban network of mushrooming towns sprang up. This urban growth in turn stimulated the rise of irrigated market gardening on the alluvial bottomlands nearby; the Trencavels, lords of Beziers, were collectors of cabbage tithes before they became pillars of heresy.
A mighty rise in population filled the parish network to overflowing, settled the towns, whose radius of attraction extended from the Rhone to the Pyrenees, contributed to the resettlement of Spain by French colonists, and set the stage for the miracle of the twelfth-century pays d'oc, with its booming spice trade, troubadour poetry, and Catharist ferment.
What was of capital importance was the drawn-out character of this population advance. It continued well beyond the Albigensian Crusade, which historians once mistakenly regarded as having broken the movement of expansion. At Montpellier in 1232, four years after the Treaty of Paris, six additional bakeries were being built to feed the inhabitants. And the demographic advance continued; land clearing, or debroussaillement, culminated between 1222 and 1340 with the creation of between four hundred and five hundred bastides. These new rural circumscriptions, asylums of liberty, succeeded in attracting colonists. To the east the Cevennes persevered in their development, and, stimulated by deforestation, the first peasant collieries-the "foxholes" of the rustic coal miners-appeared in 1240. One begins to hear of the coal of Ales, the first mined in France and as old as the oldest in Europe. Around 1300 the wave of settlement was still spreading, as attested by hearth lists which suggest a population increase of 23 percent between 1293 and 1322 in the rural lordships around Nīmes. In this region by 1293 the desolate garrigues had attained a level of population density approaching that of the eighteenth century. The lowland plains country, for The Low-Water Mark of a Society its part, was still riding the crest of the colonization movement at the beginning of the fourteenth century. The census takers of 1322 themselves did not fail to note certain aspects of population pressure such as immigration and the excessive atomisation of inheritances.
Harvest failures afflicted this superabundant population with redoubled frequency and fury. Out of a period of forty-six years (1302-48) Languedoc was desolated by famine and dearth for a total of twenty. The overpopulated fourteenth century was ushered in by four bad years in a row (1302-1305).
Embargoes were imposed on cereal exports, the granaries were searched, and grain stores were disposed of in forced sales. The Jews were singled out as scapegoats. Torrential rains in 1310 introduced another ill-starred cycle of lean years (1310 and 1313). Next came the harvest failures of 1322 and 1329, and the populace, following the example of the fanatical Pastoureaux, vented its anger on the Jews, the lepers, and the sorcerers. In 1332 the poor subsisted on raw herbs all winter long. The period 1335-47, finally, with its succession of bad harvests, must have been especially terrible. The poor, during these dozen years, suffered recurrent hunger. What a "magnificent" field of action for the Black Death of 1348, that holocaust of the undernourished:
We know of the effects of the pandemic in Languedoc from contemporary texts. They inform us that over half the members of corporate bodies were wiped out. They also attest to the high mortality in the religious communities, where the contagion was abetted by the cloistered life; at Montpellier, out of 140 preaching friars only 7 appear to have survived the plague.
Statistical sources confirm, with shades of difference and added precision, the sinister eloquence of the texts. At Albi, where the plague is neatly bracketed by the compoix of 1343 and 1357 and where the documents are much more complete than at Toulouse, the ravages of the epidemic were appalling; out of a total of ten thousand Albigeois, at least five thousand disappeared - a mortality rate of 50 percent. In the countryside, various statistical records, some published, others not, supply concordant figures. At Marsillargues, a large village on the plain, the "events" of 1348 constituted a veritable hecatomb that carried off more than 50 percent of the population.
At Ganges, a township in the Cevennes, the story was the same. In 1339, there were 305 electors present and accounted for at "the universal assembly of the men of the town of Ganges" for the election of syndics; in 1366 the
14 Malthusian Renaissance
Cevennes were prostrate, and more than half of the electors of Ganges had disappeared, leaving only 132 heads of families to answer the roll; by 1433 their number had fallen to 89.
Languedoc, in short-in common with the entire coast of the Gulf of Lion, the first zone attacked by the assault waves of microbes-was severely affected by the plague; more so, no doubt, than certain remote mountain districts like the Rouergue or the Beam, which reported fewer victims in 1348/49. But fifteen years later, in 1363, the "mountain plague" would begin to equalize the casualty count.
For the disaster was anything but transitory in nature. The population of Languedoc, having picked up momentum, if that is the word for it, continued to decline long after 1348, right up to the 1430's, in fact. Afterwards, it stabilized at an extremely low level up to about 1480 or perhaps 1500.
This was the case at Toulouse, at Montpellier, and also at Nīmes, where half the dwellings were still uninhabited as late as 1498. A simple reflection, perhaps, of the decline of the urban economy? Of the contraction of large-scale trade? No, it was more than that. Parallel studies carried out for villages both large and small reveal a veritable regional unanimity. In every instance in which we dispose of a series of compoix or of books of the taille, the same basic tendencies for the period 1348-1480 are evident: a demographic collapse followed by stagnation. Sometime near the middle of the fifteenth century, the population of Languedoc touched bottom. The demographic low-water mark of 1450 was, as a matter of fact, not only the lowest since 1300; it represents at the same time the lowest population level, the absolute minimum, recorded for the entire period 1450-1790.
The indications of this depopulation are extremely plentiful. For numerous villages or large rural centres it is possible to reconstitute the series of books of the taille, compoix or cadastres for which the tax base-in this region of the taille on real property-remained invariable for centuries. The series, in other words, are homogeneous and reflect the long-range secular movement (1450-1790). It would be a simple matter, thanks to the cadastres and the property tax rolls, to extend them right up to 1950.
Now, never did these villages, on the whole, possess so few taxpayers - so few heads of families, in reality-as in the .fifteenth century. In 1450 there were two to three times fewer persons subject to the taille than in 1680 or 1780. The expression "demographic low-water mark" seems perfectly appropriate for the period. Between the Middle Ages and the modem and contemporary periods-between the great medieval colonization movement
Mark of a Society 15
and single-crop viticulture-the population of Languedoc, like that of neighbouring Provence, for that matter, sank to its lowest level. The demographic shallows of 1450 ( or thereabouts) momentarily bequeathed a particular physiognomy to the region of Languedoc. Land settlement, the rural landscape? the crop systems, landed property, modes of exploitation, and the peasant life style all bore the deep imprint of this unique demographic situation-of this "zero degree" of population.
Consequences: The Rural Landscape
Depopulation and the decline of towns and markets was, to begin with, a fatal blow to specialized cash crops such as market gardens and vineyards, which were so thriving prior to 1350. By 1401 the moats of Montpellier, "once planted with gardens, orchards and vines," were "filled with briers and thorns, snakes and lizards." As for the vineyards, it seems they reached the height of their prosperity about 1250-1350. Local and foreign demand that of Genoa, and in some cases Paris-had stimulated their spread. For example, the fields of Lattes, which was a centre of cereal culture in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, had been covered with vineyards in the thirteenth. As late as 1353 in a certain village of the region of Beziers there were forty vines for every hundred parcels of land. The depression of the late Middle Ages completed the destruction of this vineyard, leaving only six vines for every hundred parcels at the end of the fifteenth century.
In 1520 recovery was under way, and the count was already back to twenty vines per hundred parcels. The retreat of viticulture in the declining Middle Ages was, for that matter, a phenomenon common to the entire Midi. It is met with in the Cōtes du Rhone as well as in the Guyenne.
On the whole, the marginal vineyard on poor land was the most seriously affected. It was the least profitable and hence the first to be sacrificed. For example, in the countryside of Lodeve, on the good alluvial land, the manorial dues in wine remained at exactly the same level in 1393 as in 1236, while the dues in grain declined by half-a sure sign of the persistence of viticulture. But a few leagues away, in the desolate ruffes - sterile red clay soils the vineyards which were well attested in the manorial accounts of 1236 had completely disappeared by 1393. These ruffes no longer produced a single
drop of wine. During the great retreat of viticulture (1350-1500) it was the profit motive (primitive though its calculation may have been) that decided the issue. The smaller number of peasants, producing for contracting mar
16 Malthusian Renaissance
kets on less congested lands, chose to concentrate their efforts in the vineyards of the plain, where the yields were higher and the profits surer. The garrigues, for their part, were abandoned to their unhappy fate. The reaction of the winegrowers of Lodeve was no different from that of the Florentine peasants who, on the morrow of the Black Death, were no longer willing to work any but the best land and left the inferior soils untilled.
Cereal culture was also retreating in the fifteenth century, and the ploughlands, the ager, contracted significantly. The double frontier conquered by the pioneers of the eleventh century-the swampy flatlands and the rocky mountainsides-reverted to woods and waste. In the coastal zone, the lands afflicted by "bad air" or creeping salinity - those bordering the sea or the swamps, eroded by saltwater and infested by the malarial mosquito - were the first to be surrendered. Entire parishes created during the great colonization movement of the eleventh century were abandoned forever after 1350.
Maureilhan, on the coast, counted three churches in the twelfth century. In more recent times, all that remained were a few miserable tenant farmers wasted by disease. At Frejorgues, the French Air Force recently built an airfield, never suspecting that a fifteenth-century desertion had paved the way to expropriation. Sometimes, however, a large isolated farmstead (mas) or ruined chapel still bears the name of the lost village! The desertions of Languedoc, although fairly numerous, were much less serious than the German desertions of the same period, which in some areas affected up to 40 percent of the nucleated settlements.
Are they comparable, on the other hand, to the English desertions of the late Middle Ages, when the lords, capitalizing on the anarchy of the War of the Roses, seized the opportunity offered by depopulation to evict their remaining tenants and convert the ploughlands into sheepwalks ? No, in Languedoc the Wüstungen do not have this premeditated character. In this respect, the example of Coussergues is significant.
Coussergues, an ancient Roman villa, its soil riddled with antique coins and broken pottery, was a small fortified village, a castrum surrounded by walls and towers, in the thirteenth century. In 1317 it counted twenty-four heads of families, a church dedicated to Saint Martin, some plots of land sown with barley and wheat, a few vines, some meadows, and some garrigue, where the inhabitants procured faggots of heather for their bake ovens and collected the trunks of evergreen and white oak trees. This democratic
1 Lost village in English in the French editions ( tr .note) .
The Low-Water Mark of a Society 17
settlement existed side by side with a number of isolated farmsteads surrounded by large domains.
In 1348-55 Coussergues was visited by two disasters: the Black Death and the Black Prince. The first decimated the castrum ; the second sacked it, forcing the survivors to flee. At the end of the fifteenth century the site was deserted. In 1496 a veteran of the Italian wars, a certain nobleman by the name of Pierre de Sarret, appeared on the scene. He shared with his mother a rich inheritance which enabled him to purchase the ruins, lands, and lordship of Coussergues. And not content with the acquisition of a dead village, this rapacious personage married, at the age of fifty, a young woman with a large dowry, one Jaquette de Bozene, the granddaughter of a money changer. Thanks to the dowry, Sarret was able to exploit his vast new domain; thus, the foundations of a great landed fortune were laid for the next four centuries.
The Wustungen of Languedoc do not appear to have been the result of premeditation on the lords' part as was the case in England. They were more a simple natural consequence of the catastrophes of the late Middle Ages, and the lords contented themselves with taking advantage of the situation. The final outcome, in any case, was much the same, if on a much more modest scale than in England: the reconstitution, in the course of time, of a certain number of great estates in the coastal region out of what had once been village lands.
But these handsome landed estates were still a thing of the future. In the fifteenth century the coastal plain of the Gulf of Lion presented a depressing spectacle. The abandoned drainage canals filled with stagnant water became the breeding grounds of malarial mosquitoes, and creeping salinity invaded the forsaken furrows. The salicorn, or soda plant, returned in force. In the 1480's it even paid the tithe. On the desolate coasts, the ports almost ceased to function. This was the fate, for example, of Lattes, the port of Montpellier where a single Romanesque capital and remnants of the ramparts are all that is left to evoke its ancient glory, and above all of Aiguesmortes, a precocious fossil of a town which has preserved intact the geometric street plan of its thirteenth-century founders.
On the mountain frontier of the old rural colonization movement, the collapse was less sweeping. Here, at least, one was safe from the ravages of malaria, which eventually wiped out the last islands of human habitation already eroded by the plague and the English war-in the coastal regions. In
18 Malthusian Renaissance
the mountains the villages and parishes were reduced in size, but at least they managed to survive, afflicted not so much by a mortal illness as by a process of chronic anaemia. The villages survived, but the hamlets succumbed. At Cessenon in 1374 there is mention of six associated hamlets in addition to the main village. In the compoix of the sixteenth century (1560), three of the six have disappeared. A mortality rate of 50 percent is high, even expired.
The fact is confirmed by the bourgeois of Cessenon in their complaints to a visiting commissioner for the Montagne Noire and the Espinouse in 1401: numerous masages, they reported, were in fact deserted; population was at its lowest point, with half of the land lying fallow; and the inhabitants had to stand guard over the harvests to protect them against the depredations of deer, stags, boars, and other wild animals. The forest, which was one-eighth of a league from the village, was encroaching on their pasture. Poverty was so widespread that the people were no longer able to pay the taille. The inhabitants petitioned the king to allow them, therefore, to cut wood in the surrounding forest for sale at Beziers.
Nothing is more striking in the complaints of these mountain-dwellers than their obsession with a luxuriant nature, whether animal or vegetable. It was nature's revenge for the great land colonization movement. The depopulated mountain valleys stopped producing grain and began, as one would expect, to produce wood. A forester like Lannoy, who was superintendent of waters and forests understood these problems and the magnitude of the danger. He endorsed the idea of a counteroffensive. "Go into the forest," he told the natives of the Montagne Noire in 1401, "cut the trees, assart, burn charcoal, break the soil to the plough, make ash, plaster, lime, graze your sheep and cattle, hunt stags, partridges, rabbits, boars and other wild animals; fish in the Orb and the Vernazobres to your heart's content." Lannoy's successors confirmed his prescriptions in 1444 and 1467. It was not until 1559, when the forest was retreating once more before the plough, that the superintendent of waters and forests would resume his vocation as protector of the wooded areas and contest the century-and-a-half-old forest rights of the local population.
The advancing forest carried all before it. It was not just wasteland or garrigue-a post cultivation association of plant life, a zone of sheep walks and grazing land (the saltus of the ancient agronomists)-that replaced the abandoned ploughlands. What was involved over and above this development
The Low-Water Mark of a Society 19
was a return to the original vegetation-to the climactic holm oak forest of the phytogeneticists. The ager gave way to the saltus. The saltus, in turn, retreated before the siltla. The ager-saltus-siltla balance shifted in favor of the last two elements. In the Bas-Rhōne at the site of Glanum, a stratum of burned woodland just above the archeological level of the thirteenth century could very well indicate, in this zone, too, the counteroffensive of the holm oak forest at the end of the Middle Ages.
In these spreading woodlands the invasion of wild game reached alarming proportions between 1360 and 1500. By the end of the fourteenth century, the lords of the Cevennes could no longer cope with it unaided, and in 1361-77, for the first time, the peasants of the barony of Hierle were granted the right to hunt and trap bears, wild boars, and stags. There was enough work to keep everybody busy; the brown bear of the Cevennes returned in force to the slopes of the Aigoual, herds of deer roamed the garrigues and the evergreen oak forests, the Causses were infested with wolves, and partridges were as common as chickens. And up to the beginning of the sixteenth century the peasants enjoyed unrestricted hunting rights, so unlimited did the reserves of wild game appear to be. The history of hunting that Marc Bloch advocated has its conjuncture, too.
The Concentration of Landed Property
In this depopulated countryside of advancing forest and teeming wildlife, what had happened to land distribution ? The compoix, cadastres, and tax records provide abundant information on this subject. In Languedoc, as a matter of fact, taxes were paid on real property, and the compoix attained a degree of precision not unworthy of a master cadastre of the nineteenth century. Studies of the earliest of these documents lead to the conclusion that the immense network of landownership was extremely loose at the end of the fifteenth century. Instead of the close-knit fabric of small properties and diminutive tenancies paying insignificant quitrents of the period around 1300, the dawn of modern times was characterized by a loose pattern of landholdings composed for the most part of medium-sized properties. It would be a mistake to see in this substitution an example of capitalistic concentration. It was simply a question of the inevitable consolidation of landholdings which went hand in hand with the demographic contraction of the period 1350-1450. A phase of of-of subdivision, as the census takers of 1322 called it-was succeeded by a phase of consolidation through inheritance.
20 Malthusian Renaissance
Let us have a look at the oldest series of compoix for Languedoc, those of Albi. In 1343, the 1,623 taxpayers of this town shared a total of f68,000 in cadastral property-real property, essentially, and above all land and vines.
In 1357 only 686 taxpayers were left. Their capital in real property was reckoned at 55,000 cadastral pounds, only some 20 percent below the prepandemic figure. Total property remained almost constant, but thanks to inheritance, individual properties had increased in value from f 400 to f800, on the average, and in size from 0.5 to 1.3 hectares.
A closer examination of real wealth confirms our preliminary diagnosis. If we arrange the taxpayers of Albi in a table according to the value of their property and compare the distributions of wealth in 1343 and 1357, we perceive that the number of petty taxpayers, especially the very poorest whose property (a cottage and a croft) was evaluated at less than ten litlres, diminished considerably in the interval. In 1343 this category represented 30.7 percent of all the taxpaying citizens of Albi. It represented only 17.8 percent of a total now reduced by half in 1357. The plague had decimated the ranks of these miserable property owners, who were so poor they were practically paupers. In 1343 they were crowded into two overpopulated quarters of the town. Between 1343 and 1357 these two islands of poverty lost 62 percent of their taxpaying population. The high mortality had contributed to the concentration of holdings in the hands of less numerous heirs: in 1343,11 percent of all property owners were worth more than one hundred litlres; in 1357 the figure had risen to 20 percent. The victims' goods had been joined to those of the survivors. Among these "nouveaux riches" was a certain Bernard Davisat, who tripled his holdings by 1357 thanks to the legacies of Guilhem Davisat and the widow T eisseire, both deceased sometime after 1343. This concrete example only serves to confirm the rule; the total number of individual properties declined by half, the average size of each increased in proportion, and as a consequence there were many fewer small-holds and more medium-sized properties and even great estates. Innumerable family dramas lie hidden behind these dry statistics. It is easy to imagine, as at Florence in the same period, and also in Normandy, the secret delight of certain heirs consoled in their hour of mourning by a deluge of unexpected legacies.
Does the subsequent history of Languedoc confirm that land structure was in an advanced state of concentration and consolidation in the fifteenth century? To find out, let us take the compoix of a random village in the province, a compoix based on a land survey carried out between 1400 and
The Low-Water Mark of a Society 21
1500, and compare it by surface areas or land values-depending on the documentation-with a compoix for the same locality dating from the sixteenth or seventeenth century.
Take the case of one large village of the Herault. At Saint-Thibery, 357 landowners were crowded together on 4,922 setbees in 1690.2 In 1460 at the dawn of the Renaissance, on the other hand, 189 landowners found themselves relatively disencumbered on roughly the same land area ( 4,569 setbees) .And among these, a veritable middle class, comprising 62 taxpayers, or one-third of the total, possessed proper estates of 20 to 100 setbees. This well-to-do group laid claim, all told, to half the village lands (2,354 setbees).
Two centuries later, in 1690, a table of the distribution of landed properties arranged from top to bottom in order of increasing size indicates that this middle class had practically melted away since 1460 (see Table 1). In 1690 the "middle" category of landowners (20-100 setbees) represented no more than 10 percent of the total and owned barely a quarter of the village lands.
On the other hand, a multitude of small plots appear at the top of the table. They constitute the poorest category-properties of 20 setbees or less. This group doubled in number and in overall acreage between 1460 and 1690, representing a veritable pulverization of rural property and leading to the emergence of a class of microlandowners. The decomposition of landholdings as projected in the compoix was the normal effect, in short, of an increase in rural population, and this sort of decomposition is not necessarily the sign of a healthy peasant economy. Many of the petty landlords of 1690 owned little more than a champ al Causse,3 where yields were barely three Itimes seed in the good years' And more than one would disappear forever in the crisis-ridden late years of Louis XIV's reign; the champs al Causse of 1690 were the "vacant holdings" of the next century.
The proliferation of holdings appears even more unhealthy when one Iconsiders how it came about. At whose expense, in fact, did the multiplicacion of village smallholds of the modern period occur? Was it at the expense of the great estates of the fifteenth century? In this particular parish, that was certainly not the case. The category of great estates (of over 100 setbees), far from breaking up to the advantage of the small peasants and landless laborers, carved itself out a bigger share of the cake between the age of Louis XI and that of Louis XIV. Holdings of over 100 setbees in 1460 comprised nine great landed estates which covered 1,490 setbees and
2Seeeree: generally between one-fifth and one-fourth of a hectare (tr. note) .
3Causse: limestone uplands of the Massif Central (tr. note).
22 Malthusian Renaissance
accounted for 30 percent of the village lands. By 1690 there were twelve great domains covering 2,237 setbees and accounting for almost half of the land. The great landowners progressed, the small ones proliferated, and the middle ones, caught in the squeeze, retreated prodigiously. It was the medium-sized holding, which was literally ground to pieces in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, that bore the brunt of the process of atomisation. In the fifteenth century, on the other hand - in this particular village - the medium-sized landholding for a brief time reigned supreme.
From a social point of view, these middle properties were not manorial or noble any more than they were bourgeois or urban. No more than a handful of strangers from the neighbouring town or noblemen whose names were adorned with the title moussen ("lord of ") turned up in the compoix of 1460. The immense majority of the estates, especially of the medium-sized estates (twenty to one hundred setbees), which constituted the typical form of landownership in this parish in 1460, belonged to ordinary villagers who were neither nobles nor bourgeois nor artisans, but well to-do peasants, farm managers, or simple cultivators endowed with mule or ox teams. They formed a sort of substantial yeomanry well provided with land and solidly ensconced on their domains.4
Paradoxically, this balanced land structure was the fruit of depopulation. How different from the polarized structure of the seventeenth century; in 1690 we have on the one hand the great landlords-Noble de Nattes, the abbot of Saint-Thibery, and others-holding half the village lands, and on the other the petty landlords crowded onto their miserable little plots. The old yeomanry of the fifteenth century retreated before the attacks of the big land. engrossers and disintegrated under the pressure of increasing numbers and the effects of partible inheritance. One is reminded ( without insisting unduly on the comparison) of certain phenomena of land dispersion characteristic of underdeveloped countries with rapidly growing populations in the twentieth century.
A similar process occured at Lespignan. In the fifteenth century the middle-sized and big estates (in excess of twenty-five setbees) predominated. A century and a half later, this land structure had collapsed. The largest estates survived, but the middle-sized ones had vanished, giving rise to a multitude of "microproperties" of doubtful economic viability.
Except in the case of Albi, up to this point I have used estimates of land area expressed in setbees ( or hectares) .For the two villages just considered,
4 Yeomanry in English in the French editions ( tr .note) .
The Low-Water Mark of a Society 23
it was impossible to proceed otherwise. Let us now see if the conclusions based on assessed land values confirm the deductions based on estimated land areas.
The assessments of surveyors, land experts, and compesieurs of the Old Regime are, as is well known, of great interest to the historian. They represent a serious attempt to appraise the quality of the land and are thus an inestimable boon to scholarship, for in certain cases a blind faith in surface areas leads to the absurdity of equating, for example, an acre of garrigue and an acre of good bottomland. Weighted land valuations, on the contrary, furnish a concrete and at the same time quantitative picture of the lands in question. A hectare or a setbee of "good" land was assessed by the compesieurs at anywhere from three and one-half to ten times the value of a hectare of "poor"land or garrigue. This procedure, which was common to all the compoix, makes it possible to transcend the geometric abstraction of hectares and arrive at the realities of weighted land measures based on comparative assessed values.
For various reasons, however, the indispensable comparison between the assessments of two compoix executed fifty or one hundred years apart is a delicate operation. On the one hand, changes in the value of the currency and price movements must be taken into account; in order to compare land values in the compoix of the same village between, say, 1480,1560, and 1650, one must eliminate these sources of error by converting the figures for each successive survey into their equivalent in weight of gold or silver or, better still, their equivalent in grain. The undertaking, in these circumstances, is hazardous, to say the least.
Furthermore, these delicate calculations are likely to be in vain. The compesieurs were concerned with fiscal effectiveness, not economic verities. Often they chose to ignore the real market value of the lands "assessed" and contented themselves insteaG with establishing a scale of relative values for the different soils from the most sterile to the most fertile, the latter to be taxed two, three, or four ~imes the former. The scale of values adopted for taxing purposes undoubtedly represented the real hierarchy of land values, but the figures themselves were generally chosen arbitrarily. The scale, in fact, was graduated in fictitious pounds - livres de compoix or livres livrantes - completely detached from the fluctuating market values of the lands in question. Comparisons of absolute values in two rompoix using different yardsticks-one from the fifteenth century and the other from the sixteenth or seventeenth-are of little or no interest.
24 Malthusian Renaissance
The fact is that in this difficult domain only two kinds of comparisons appear legitimate: First, there is the case of a family of compoix, brevettes, and r~lls of the talile. Take the example of a compozx exe~uted around 150?, a register used by the consuls, or by the greffier (tax registrar) under their orders, to draw up the annual taille or tax roll. If, for example, the total of individual property assessments entered in the compoix - the total allivrement - was one thousand livres de compoix (cadastral pounds) or, as the tax collectors preferred to say, one thousand livres livrantes, and if, on the other hand, the taille demanded of the village by the king was three thousand livres ( current) , one has only to multiply the property valuation for each taxpayer by a coefficient of three to find the sum of his tax for that year. The annual role des tailles, keeping in mind that the coefficient varied according to the taille and the year, represented, therefore, simply a resume of the compoix. And if the latter is lost, it is still possible to reconstruct the valuation for each taxpayer with the help of the rolls of the taille.
Not only that, but the greffier, in drawing up the tax rolls in 1510, 1520, 1530, and so on, took into account changes in landownership which "unburdened" the valuation of one taxpayer and "burdened" that of another.
These changes, noted down year after year in the margins of the compoix
in reference to the individual taxpayer's maniteste,5 were later incorporated in the successive rolls of the taille. A given compoix composed, let us say, in 1500 might be used by the consuls for half a century (1500-50), giving birth in the interval to a whole family of tax rolls (1501, 1502, 1503, and so on to 1549) .These tax rolls, if properly studied, tell the story of landownership at the village level.
Thus, in a given parish the mass of land parcels, fields, vines, houses, and other properties might be compared to a deck of playing cards. The compoix informs us, in the first case, what cards were dealt to the different playersin other words, the distribution of holdings among taxpayers or landowners. But as the years pass, the deck is continually reshuffled and redealt as a result of land transfers, legacies, consolidations, and subdivisions of properties. One taxpayer, who as a young man in 1500 owned three cadastral pounds of property, by 1540 has added to his possessions and is now worth perhaps fifty-five pounds. Another has died, and his twenty cadastral pounds of property have been divided among his four children, five pounds going to each. The book of the taille, allowing tor the relation between tax Manifeste: a detailed enumeration of the taxpayer's real property (lands or houses), including confines, land surfaces, and assessed value.
The Low-Water Mark of a Society 25
coefficient and allivrement ( assessed value) in that particular year, provides a complete picture of the distribution of "cards" at the date of its composition as well as the current allivrement of each individual taxpayer.
It is perfectly legitimate to compare the original compoix and a book of the taille derived from it fifty years later. The cards that keep circulating among the players are, in fact, always the same from start to finish. The indications of relative fertility-of poor land or good land-retained their validity from generation to generation. Ours is not a perfectly airtight comparison (no comparisons of land values or, for that matter, of land areas are) , and there will always be an irreducible dose of incertitude in quantitarive social history to delight the hypercritical. In the present case, difficulty arises from the fact that the face values of certain cards in the deck have been altered slightly-some wheat fields have been planted with vines and vice versa. It is possible, nevertheless - and herein lies the approximation proposed here - to determine beyond any doubt who has won and who has lost, and how. (To complicate matters, certain cards have also been torn into two or three fragments through acts of inheritance which subdivide fields and vineyards.
A good example is furnished by the village of Pontes, which boasts as fine a series of fiscal documents as anyone could hope for. A little before 1505, a compoix was compiled which, as we know, came out to f2,010 of allivrement in all. This compoix served as a base for the books of the taille of 1505, 1533, and 1539. The first of these "books," that of 1505, still bears the mark of the indigent demographic situation of the fifteenth century. The 105 local taxpayers came very close to the figure of 100 for 1427. After 1505 the usual advance in the taxable population raised the figure to 136 in 1533 and 172 in 1539, which represented an increase of more than 65 percent in one generation (1505-39).
To compare the books of the taille of 1505 to those of 1539, therefore, is to compare two ages separated by the demographic revolution. It permits us to view two documents of the same family, of the same compoix, in perspective and-keeping to the figure-to follow the same card game from the first deal in 1505, when the players were relatively few, to the last deal in 1539, when they were much more numerous.
A table of landed wealth at Pontes, arranged in order of assessed value, confirms the process reflected in the tables based on land areas studied earlier; namely, the progressive subdivision of holdings. The watershed, in this case, is the assessment of 20 cadastral pounds. In 1505 one taille payer
26 Malthusian Renaissance
out of every three or four (30 out of 105) had more than 20 cadastral pounds in the compoix, which represents a minimum individual holding equal in value to 1 percent of the village's lands ( which amounted, all told, it will be recalled, to f2,010 in assessed value). A generation later, the basis of calculatio.n still being the original compoix .revised to reflect transfers of ownership, only one taxpayer ill nine attained or exceeded this figure of 20 cadastral pounds, beyond which lay the domain of middle-sized or large landholdings. There were, therefore, fewer winning players with a fistful of cards and more losing players with only one or two cards or fragments of cards in their hands. In fact, 152 petty taxpayers with assessments below the critical threshold of f30 found themselves at the top of the table in 1539, compared to only 75 in 1505. Thanks to the rise in population, low assessments sprouted like mushrooms, reflecting the rise of a numerous, taxpaying cottager class. Conversely, the very end of the fifteenth century appears to be dominated still by middle-sized properties, the same that were destined to disintegrate with the population explosion of the sixteenth century. In this particular case, the study of land values serves to confirm the conclusion of the previous tables based on surface areas.
However, a family of books of the taille derived from a unique compoix does not take us very far in point of time. After sixty, eighty, or one hundred years, the original compoix or "matrix," crammed full of corrections and hopelessly disfigured by the record of countless transfers, had outlived its usefulness. It was necessary to compile another based on a new land survey and destined to give birth, in its turn, during the course of two or three generations to a new family of tax rolls serving to chronicle the constant changes in landownership. As previously noted, two such compoix and their respective families of tax rolls are hard to compare in absolute figures because of monetary and price fluctuations and above all because of the fictitious character of cadastral property assessments, which were concerned more with a scale of relative land values than with determining the actual market price of landholdings.
Must we then give up the attempt to compare the different series of compoix or tax rolls of a single village for lack of either a common system of land measurement or a common base of assessment? In this difficult impasse, one is forced to work with percentages-to content oneself, as is often necessary in the statistics of preindustrial societies, with indications of trends rather than with absolute figures.
Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert is located in the canyons of the Herault on a
The Low-Water Mark of a Society 27
steep mountainside of limestone cliffs that are broken here and there by ranks of ascending terraces planted with olive trees. The lands of such a village scarcely lend themselves to appraisement in hectares. What counts is the value of the land. In one place, a patch of barren garrigue or an outcropping of virgin rock appears in the jagged lapiaz or amid the stony scree. Elsewhere, on the banks of the Herault, there are verdant meadows worth a fortune compared to the garrigue of cistus and rosemary.
Now, it happens that this village, where the taille was imposed on real property, as was everywhere the case in Languedoc, boasts a splendid series of tax rolls based on successive land assessments, or compoix, which give the scale of wealth of all taxpayers for the years 1398,1442,1486,1570, 1615, 1654,1675, and 1750. But how is it possible to compare these different documents, which are homogeneous in regard to content but heterogeneous in regard to form? No two of them have the same compoix or the same cadastre as a common ancestor. Quite by chance, each of them is based on a different assessment and is therefore imppssible to compare in absolute figures with the one that preceeds or the one that follows. Thus, the total allivrement, or rather, in certain cases, simply the total tax imposed on the village, was f47 in 1398, f321 in 1442, f37 10s. in 1486, f84 16s. in 1570, f64 2s. in 1615, f1,043 in 1654, f397 in 1675, f352 in 1750, f8,364 in 1791, and so on. These are arbitrary totals in terms of absolute value, varying according to the method of land assessment used in compiling the compoix or according to the rate of taxation. All that mattered, to tell the truth, was the repartition among the different taxpayers.
Let us abandon, in this particular case, any hope of being able to compare absolute land values from one document to the next. In recompense, it is still possible to conceive of comparisons in terms of percentages. True, we do not know how big the "cake" to be divided up among the "guests" actually was ( that is, the actual value of the lands portioned out among the village landowners) .Still, it is possible to determine precisely the number of "guests" (variable) and the relative value of the portion assigned to each one. Those at the head of the table cut themselves a large slice of the cake.
The others, who were more numerous, had to content themselves with crumbs. Is it not of some interest to discover how the partition was effected in each generation ? Our ignorance of the actual value of the allotted landholdings is of less importance than it would be in the case of an urban economy, which is dynamic by its very nature. The elasticity of village lands, on the contrary, is stricdy limited, as can be seen by comparing their
28 Malthusian Renaissance
dimensions in different periods. The possibilities of growth of the total agricultural income of a given village in a preindustrial economy are fairly restricted, even when that economy is an expanding one. Because of this relative stability of the land areas and land values to be portioned out among the different landowners, problems of changes in the repartition, of changes in the percentages of land held by the various categories of owners, large and small, are of the greatest interest.
Saint-Guilhem, between 1398 and 1442, offers a classic example of the reconstitution of landed wealth during a decline of the taxpaying population (from 132 to 115). The critical threshold - the break line - in comparing the two years in the table of the distribution of wealth is situated at a point corresponding to an assessment equal to 0.8 percent of the total for the village: f0.38 in 1398 and f2.60 in 1442. The number of petty taxpayers holding a lesser percentage declined from 98 in 1398 to 68 in 1442. This movement was counterbalanced by the trend toward middle-sized holdings (each comprising more than 0.8 percent of the village lands) .There were 34 that fell into this category in 1398 compared to 47 in 1442. This is an important fact of social history. The reconstitution of landed property in the fifteenth century was not, in 1442, the result of capitalist concentration in the interest of one or two big village "caciques," whether nobles or bourgeois, but rather a movement that favored some four dozen middle landowners, the survivors or replacements of the more numerous peasantry of 1398; it resulted from the classic accumulation of legacies by a reduced number of possible heirs. In the sixteenth century, the middle-sized holdings reconstituted in the days of Charles VII tended to fly to pieces again under centrifugal pressures; the taxpaying population doubled between 1442 and 1570 (from 105 to 210), and as usual, the middle-sized properties caved in and splintered into a series of diminutive holdings.
On the other hand, as often (but not always) happened, the large properties toward the bottom of the table were also making progress between 1442 and 1570. By a process of polarization, and by virtue of a dialectic of opposites, middle-sized property was being eroded from both sides by small holdings and by large estates. In this particular case, the apogee, about 1450, of a yeoman class of rural landowners favored by the demographic lows of the fifteenth century is twice confirmed-by comparison with what went before and by comparison with what followed. The other villages, where it is possible to compare percentages, offer analogous evidence.
Thus, however one approaches the problem of landownership, whether
The Low-Water Mark of a Society 29
from the point of view of size, of absolute assessed values, or of assessed values expressed in percentages, the conclusions converge (and a study of the sixteenth century will furnish further proof on this point) .A widemesh network of landownership was forged in Languedoc on the eve of modern times with the help of a rarified population. It represents the projection of the demographic situation onto the pattern of landownership as reflected in the cadastres. With the modern period, some of the largest of these holdings were joined together and came to resemble veritable capitalistic units of exploitation. But this modern development toward concentrated landownership was not of the same importance as it was in certain regions of the north-England, for example, or Poitou. In fact, under the impact of the population explosion after 1500, most of these large units splintered anew into a fine network of smallholds.
The Reconstitution of Lineages
Up to this point we have been concerned with the abstractions of land structures. It is time now to consider the realities of human relationships and in particular the basic unit of rurallife, the peasant family. How was it affected by the W ustungen and the great demographic depression on the threshold of modern times? The complementary processes of disintegration and integration appear to have been at work here.
In the first place, a large number of families and even entire lineages disintegrated altogether. As yet fragmentary studies of family names in the cadastres shed some light on the phenomenon. Take the earliest example, that of Albi. A study of this nature concerning two important quarters of the town where the information in the two compoix is complete is extremely revealing. Out of 638 names inventoried in the Le Vigan quarter in 1343, 74 were still encountered in the same quarter in 1358 and another 66 in other quarters of the city. On the other hand, a total of 498 names, or 78 percent, had disappeared altogether. "Family names were sufficiently stabilized in the towns of the fourteenth century to reduce the incertitudes resulting from possible name changes to negligible proportions" (Prat, p. 18) .At Albi, in short, with the first major catastrophe of the times, eight out of ten families purely and simply disappeared from the tax rolls (as a result of physical extinction, of emigration, or of complete property loss) .This incredibly high figure is confirmed by other studies. Take the case of a hamlet near the Montagne Noire-the masage of Prades. In 1375 a census taker counted six poor families, or hearths, all but one of which were deemed to
30 Malthusian Renaissance
be paupers. All were destined to disappear, at least in the male line. In 1634 in this same hamlet, in fact, not a single person bore one of the old names. They must have been replaced by new immigrant families, forty-three members of which turn up in the tax rolls of 1634, twenty-five bearing the same name. Thus, the break between the late medieval and postmedieval family lineages is complete. The second have completely replaced the first, If to whom, at most, they may be related through the female line. Let no one presume to speak of the stability of the peasant family in this region in premodern times.
Is it possible to measure, approximately, and to compare the ratios of broken and uprooted lineages in fifteenth-century Languedoc? Below are some figures on the subject: at Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert, out of the 132 taxpayers of 1398, 78 bear a family name which is not to be found in the book of the taille of 1442. The same goes for the 117 taxpayers of 1442,62 of whose names are absent from the book of the taille of 1486. Family attrition, in other words, was intense; in every decade from 1398 to 1486 an average of 12.7 percent of all taxpayers disappeared without taxpaying male heirs (to be exact, 13.4 percent per decade between 1398 and 1442 and 12 percent per decade between 1442 and 1486).
To be sure, we are still a long way from the terrible hemorrhage of the plague period at Albi ( when eight out of ten families were uprooted or destroyed in fifteen years) , but the loss of substance was in any case considerable.
The counterproof is not hard to come by. After 1500 the rate of attrition of family names in the cadastres declined to a more reasonable level than that of the fifteenth century. In the same parish of Saint-Guilhem, fof which there is a book of the taille about every forty years up to the eighteenth century, one finds that the peasant families were much more solidly rooted in modern times than in the late Middle Ages. After 1500, between one tax list and the next only about a quarter of the taxpayers disappear from sight without leaving a trace of their names, as compared to well over 50 percent in the fifteenth century. 1f one compares the rates of attrition by decade, it appears that the turning point came about 1500. From that time on in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, the figure oscillates around 4.5 percent, never exceeding 6 percent, per decade. On the other hand, between 1400 and 1500, as we have seen, the rate held steady at 12-13 percent. The fifteenth century was without any question the age of broken family lines.
For Fontes an excellent series of compoix and books of the taille afford
The Low-Water Mark of a Society 31
analogous statistics. In this village, too, the rate of attrition of family names in the cadastres by ten-year periods reached its maximum between 1427 and 1505 (8.5 percent per decade) .It declined thereafter, dropping to 3.0 percent in the seventeenth century, an age of relative security (when families could multiply peacefully in place and a fair portion of the prospective immigrants would be driven off by chasse-gueux) 6 which finally succeeded the late medieval "Time of Troubles." The villages knocked down their stone walls, but they erected social walls in their place.
In the fifteenth century, matters had not yet reached this pass. The ancient lineages unraveled and disappeared. The immigration of new families, no matter how intense, did not suffice, for the moment, to compensate for the losses. The reaction of the surviving families can be summed up in a few words: close ranks and reconstitute the solidarity of the lineage. Families were reconstituted in the same way that properties were-stitched together like the fields and meadows. In fifteenth-century Languedoc there was a move to substitute the extended patriarchal family for the nuclear family, to reconstitute the "great household" of archaic rural societies.
This passage from menage to lignage took place in Languedoc, and especially in the Cevennes, in the depression environment of the period 1350-1480. Naturally, some extended family groups, fraternities, or, frereches existed prior to this time, even in the prosperous twelfth and thirteenth centuries, but as Hilaire has pointed out, "these communities spread rapidly beginning in the second half of the fourteenth century, a phenomenon closely connected with the economic crises of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries." In fact, economic difficulties and social regression in the late Middle Ages laid bare, underneath the formalisms of written law-of Roman law, which was theoretically sovereign in the Midi-the old bedrock of customary law. And family structures inherited from the distant past experienced a surprising revival on the eve of modern times.
For the Montpellier countryside there are notaries' registers going back to the end of the thirteenth century. Beginning abruptly about 1350, these records attest to the presence of a series of patriarchal or lineal or fraternal institutions in peasant society that were practically unknown to preceding generations. From this time on, these practices spread and developed withlout interruption. The following examples are found in the deeds: the fictitious transfer of one-third, one-half, or even the entire patrimony to the
6 Chasse-gueux: "beggar chaser," a person charged with expelling vagrants and migrants (tr. note).
32 Malthusian Renaissance
children's names during the lifetime of the father (a legal fiction thanks to which the latter expressly retained the usufruct of all his property and continued as long as he lived to exercise paternal authority over the household, including his married children and their families); and family communities composed of three couples tightly bound to one another, like one case dating from 1452 in which a father gave his two daughters in marriage to two brothers, sturdy but penniless fellows from the mountains, and the young couples promised to live under his roof ( a feu et a pot) in total obedience under the parents' yoke.
Another characteristic of these extended families of the fifteenth century, in addition to the phenomenon of subordination, was the almost total promiscuity of the old couple and the young menages. They lived under the same roof, eating and drinking "the same bread and the same wine." There was a sole money box, and the patriarch retained the keys. Without the express consent of the parent, the married son did not have the right to more than five sous for himself (a pathetic figure, this forty-year-old scion of an extended family with two or three coppers in his pocket) .The father's oppression was compensated for, however, by the obligation he assumed to nourish the young couples, to administer wisely the common grain bin and wine cellar, and to anticipate the family's food needs. The function of command implies the reciprocity of services rendered.
The strict cohesion of the family group created severe strains among its members-strains which reached a breaking point if the father, a widower, remarried and introduced a stranger into the family circle. For that matter, certain widower patriarchs did not hesitate to resort to this "blackmail of the stepmother" vis-a-vis their married offspring who shared the same roof.
"If you do not treat me fairly, I'll remarry," Hugues, a peasant in the cevennes, warned his newly married children who were living in his house. In our own day, the Dominici case, extreme though it is, serves to remind us that it is not always easy to live under the law of a mountain patriarch, a mixture of Jupiter and Ubu.7 The grande maison of Languedoc is afar cry from the bucolic ideal of a Florian. Andre Chamson's novels of
7 Gaston Dominici, a septuagenarian peasant of Lurs in the southern Alps, was convicted in November, 1954, for the brutal murder of a family of English tourists. The most remarkable aspect of the celebrated atJairc was the strongwilled patriarch's ascendancy over his numerous clan, which included everyone with any direct knowledge of the crime (tr. note).
The Low-Water Mark of a Society 33
the Cevennes picture those mountains as filled with family rivalries and repressed passions and sometimes as the scene of crime and incest.
Moreover, special clauses were inserted in the contracts in order to forestall the revolts that were always brewing against the old man of the house.
A contract providing for the community of goods specified that the grandfather's bed was sacred, as was his ration of food. Cursed be the young couple who would sell the one or reduce the other! And cursed be the grandchild who would sell her grandmother's bedstead and bedspread!
A study of the dowry clauses in these contracts is essential to an understanding of the phenomenon of community subjugation in premodern times. The veritable master of the wife's dowry in cases of community of goods was the husband's father. It was he who received and disposed of it.
Among the extended family groups that allied themselves to one another through marriage, the dowries passed from father to father, and in the cevennes in the fifteenth century one finds the classic clauses providing for the reversion of dowries which ethnologists consider one of the characteristics of the extended families of the Maghreb. In the Cevennes at the time of Louis XI, the son-in-law contributed a "dowry supplement" which he might recover if he left the family after the death of his wife. Naturally, before exchanging dowries, the great peasant families of the Montpellier region in the fifteenth century exchanged their young men and women from "power group" to "power group" at the end of astute, drawn-out negotiations.
All these clauses marked the astonishing reinforcement of institutions of lineage in the period 1350-1500. It was a paternalistic institution that was suffocating but protective of the children who resigned themselves to it (and hard on young girls who left it to follow their husbands). A lineage thus constituted was just as solid as a nuclear family. In both cases, divorce was unknown. In the extended family, elderly couples and young couples were riveted together for life-"married" for better and for worse.
The same factors that favored the extended family group also led, in the period 1350-1500, to the creation of innumerable "fraternities," which perpetuated the common exploitation of an undivided domain by the surviving sons after the death of the father. It is true that tacit or contractual "fraternity" is an ancient custom in the Midi, but the institution enjoyed a revival and reached its veritable apogee in fifteenth-century Languedoc. The term aiJrairamentum itself can be dated with certainty to 1420, not to men
34 Malthusian Renaissance
tion its characteristic provisions: the community of goods among brothers, who made symbolic reciprocal donations of half their possessions to one another; and the common life of the brothers' families, who ate and drank at the same table and shared profits and losses. From a psychological standpoint, the figure of the dead father continued to cast its shadow over the associated families of the sons who cohabited and shared in the undivided patrimony. If necessary, it was the lord of the village himself who saw to it that the dead father's will was carried out; it was he who prevented a recalcitrant son from effecting a unilateral division of the inheritance. The common life was all-embracing; hearth, homestead, bread, wine, cooking pot, table, purse, debts, everything was shared. The money of the frbeche was kept in a common coffer. Each brother had a key and the right to no more than five sous in pocket money. One of t~e brothers, usually the eldest, was at the helm and bore the distinction of gubernator of the common household. The dowries of the sisters-in-law, naturally, were added to the pool, to be returned to them only in the improbable event of a dissolution of the association. Texts of dissolution of such fraternities are in fact, rare. When one entered into a fraternity it was for life. It was an engagement of enormous import for each of the brothers, for their wives, and for their offspring.
In the fifteenth century, the fraternity in the Cevennes, the classic home of the institution, constituted a basic dimension of social life. It ended by contaminating all sorts of personal relationships. Friends were joined in fraternities; so were fathers and daughters! It was difficult to distinguish unions of interest from unions of affection. Take, for example, the case of Jean Rey. In 1446 his wife, "a bad woman," had left him, but happily Rey had a close friend, one Colrat, of whom he was very fond - a marital breakup and a strong masculine attachment (not without ambiguities in this instance and in certain others) .Rey and Colrat, in short, formed a fraternity, bestowed all their goods reciprocally on one another, worked their common holding together, and promised that if Marguerite, Rey's unfaithful spouse; wanted to return "to live with them" and conducted herself "like a good wife," the two friends would be understanding; they would welcome her to their home; they would pardon her.
Beginning in 1440 the Cevennes seem to have been seized by a veritable delirium of "fraternity" which succeeded in contaminating the marriage tie itself. Fraternities between spouses began to multiply. The young couples assumed all the obligations of "fraternity" : goods, life, and labor in common,
The Low-Water Mark of a Society 35
and a common purse with the classic five sous of pocket money allotted to each partner. The only special clauses in the case of conjugal fraternities concerned the mutual obligation of faithfulness and the husband's duty to dress his spouse in a befitting manner. Certain young married couples joined by a fraternity contract even promised to be at one another's beck and call, "day and night, like brothers"!
The reconstitution of the extended patriarchal or fraternal family group in the Cevennes region of Languedoc at the close of the Middle Ages is an important fact of ethnological history. The movement's time limits are well defined. It began about 1350, when contracts of this nature suddenly began to proliferate, and it reached its climax about 1450-1510; after 1550-60 acts of family community or fraternity are again rare in the notaries' rolls of Ganges and almost nonexistent in those of Montpellier. The institution did not disappear entirely, but from that time on it played a fairly minor role; it tended to become a relic of the past.
Georges Duby has shown how the crises of the tenth century and of the year 1000, with the collapse of the political-social hierarchies, had led to a short-lived revival of institutions of lineage. In the same way, the crises of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries favored the next and last revival of the extended family group in France. It was a momentary but widespread phenomenon. Was it not in precisely this period, in 1484 to be exact, that one finds mention, in the region of Caen, of a family of ten couples and seventy souls sharing hearth and pot?
It would be too much of a platitude to account for these phenomena solely in economic, fiscal, or social terms. It was, above all, the anxieties of the fifteenth century and, by contrast, the urgent emotional need for security that these engendered which explain the general return to similar family archetypes. Neither the dislocated monarchy nor the weakened feudality was capable of providing the individual with the moral and material protection he needed. The "libidinous structures of the state" (to paraphrase Freud) collapsed, or proved ineffectual during the course of the wars with England. Needless to say, the individual might still feel a distant affection for his king, an affection mixed with reverence and modeled in an abstract way on the love he felt for his own father, but he knew that from now on he would not receive in return for that affection and obedience the benefits his ancestors normally enjoyed: social order, the right to work in peace, security, and the mutual advantages that come from a respect for legality. And
36 Malthusian Renaissance
so the individual reappraised-in his ties of affection as in his legal arrangements-his natural protector, the father-patriarch, or his substitute, the older brother.
For all that, psychology, no matter how deeply rooted, was not the only factor. Without any question, the temporary vogue of large family units was tied to the particular circumstances of vacant holdings ( W ustun gen ) and the depopulation that prevailed prior to the great demographic advance of modern times. According to historians of the institution, it was in the mountain regions that the frbeches sprouted like mushrooms in the fifteenth century - in regions of loose and scattered settlement where the land is often unrewarding and difficult to work and during a period when labor was scarce and expensive (bearing in mind fifteenth-century depopulation and the rise of real wages). The large mountain farms, about 1420-50, were faced with a difficult dilemma. Such units could not be operated by a single couple without capital, considerable cash income, and hired labor - impossible conditions. The alternative was to quit the land or else revert to the most archaic and most effective form of mountain land settlement - the large peasant family which supplied its own work force without recourse to hired labor. It is clear that recourse to the frbeche helped maintain islands of human settlement on the rocky mountainsides of the Midi in the fifteenth century. It was the same frbeche that promoted the first attempts to recover the abandoned arable, about 1467-1508, and the new pioneer inroads of the plow in forest and waste. It was not until after 1550, when a dense population (and a numerous labor force) was again solidly implanted in the mountain districts, that the frbeches, the great oppressive, fraternal families of the Cevennes and the Vivarais, their historic mission accomplished, finally gave way to simple nuclear families and small farming units or to great capitalistic farmsteads (mas) of the sort recommended by Olivier de Serres.
The Misadventures of Land Rent
These, then, are the problems of land utilization on the threshold of modern times from the point of view of landownership and from the point of view of the peasant family-the basic unit of agricultural production. As always, it is the statistical series that permits one to characterize and compare the same domain or the same type of leasehold from one century to the next.
The Low-Water Mark of a Society 37
Let us consider the case of the estates of the cathedral chapter of SaintNazaire of Beziers, with its magnificent series of accounts and lease contracts covering a period of four hundred years (1380-1780) .In the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries these estates were always let, either to tenant farmers for rents in grain or money or else to sharecroppers for 50 percent of the grain crop. In contrast, towards the end of the fourteenth century the canons of Beziers were much less demanding. Their tenants of 1384 and 1389 were required to pay only a modest two-fifths of the harvest in rent, even for a veritable wheat factory like the farm of Saint-Pierre, located in the fertile plains country. Not far away was the big farmstead of Viala, whose tenant of 1393 and his successor of 1397 had to deliver a mere quarter of their crop to the chapter. But the sixteenth-century tenants of Viala - in 1544 and 1587-retained only half their crop. They surely would have envied the lot of their predecessors in the days of Charles VI. It was the landowners who were to be pitied, during the reign of the mad king, for their humble quarter of the harvest instead of the portion their successors collected under Francis or Henry III.
With the coming of the fifteenth century, the landowner continued to lose ground to the working tenant. The good land of Saint-Pierre, which returned two-fifths of the crop to the landlord in 1393, gave up only onethird in 1413. For every thirty sacks of harvest grain, the canons of SaintNazaire received fifteen in the sixteenth century, twelve in 1393, and only ten in 1413. Pity the poor canons of 1413! Their tenant, on the other hand, was much better off than his distant replacement of 1585, Who was areal fifty-fifty sharecropper on that very same farm of Saint-Pierre.
Four leagues away, on the best soils of the region of Narbonne, in 1430 the richest condamines paid a mere quarter of the harvest in rent. In the Lauraguais to the west, another bountiful granary, between 1350 and 1450 "it rarely happened that the cultivator had to pay more than a third of the harvest to the landowner, and often he kept three-quarters or even four fifths for himself, ...the system was very advantageous to the farmer" (Wolff, 1954, p. 76).
It is most unlikely that lower yields accounted for lower land rents. The techniques of cereal culture and agricultural productivity scarcely varied in Languedoc from the fourteenth century to the seventeenth century. Languedocian lease contracts and inventories as early as 1384 mention mi-garach and mi-rastouilh-the classic two-course rotation still practiced without change on the same lands in 1542 and 1780. In regard to the number of
38 Malthusian Renaissance
plowings, another factor in soil productivity, farmers in the days of Charles VI or Charles VII were at least as industrious as their successors at the time of the Holy League or the Fronde. At Saint-Pierre, Ermengard counted seven plowings per year in 1384, and Agulhon, nine in 1389. The plowmen of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries would do no better .
Neither the fertility of the soil nor productivity varied significantly, but if agricultural production remained comparatively stable, its distribution was altered markedly. In the modern period it favored the landowner. At the end of the Middle Ages, on the contrary, it favored the peasant. And the causes? One, at least, is well known. In that depopulated world, much land remained idle; it could be had for the asking. And the landlords were no longer in a position to dictate the terms, for if late medieval society was glutted with land, it was short of labor. The peasants could set, even dictate, their conditions and modify the division of the harvest to their own advantage at the landlords' expense.
The landowners of the fifteenth century, consequently, found themselves in a difficult position. It is true that their estates had a tendency to expand as a result of the general consolidation of landed property, but if they wanted to take advantage of this process, to live better off their more extensive properties, they had to learn to exploit them directly and to add the more substantial revenues of the agricultural entrepreneur to the meager rents of the absentee landlord. They had to abandon the role of rentier for that of gentleman farmer. This is exactly what they did. Take the case of the great estates of the canons of Narbonne, for example. After 1550 and in the seventeenth century these lands would often be sharecropped or let for quitrents.
In the fifteenth century, on the contrary, direct management triumphed. The canons recruited their harvest hands themselves and directed the haymaking, reaping, binding, and threshing. All of these routine and ignoble tasks were willingly left to their tenants after 1550 and in the seventeenth century just as fast as rising land rents sufficed to meet their needs.
Under Louis XI there was no intermediary between the canons and their farm workers. A simple steward, or bayle, transmitted the work orders in 1478-82. His mandate was very limited. He himself worked the land, and his wife did the cooking. The basic direction remained in the hands of the canons, who kept the accounts, paid the bayle's wages and those of the other workers, and distributed their annual rations of wheat, olive oil, salt, wine, and piquette ("sour wine"). The bayle himself was simply a somewhat
The Low-Water Mark of a Society 39
better-qualified farm worker, an illiterate corporal from the ranks of the hired hands who was paid the wages of a good plow-hand.
These were the consequences of the low level of population at the end of the period 1350-1480. Landholdings increased in size, but then so did the peasant's share of the harvest. The winner, in these circumstances - or at any rate the one who lost the least - was not, as a rule, the landlord who lived off his rents, but the working landowner, whether peasant, noble, priest, or bourgeois, who personally assumed the role of farm manager.
In view of all this, did the conditions of late medieval society favor the development of rural capitalism and, for example, of a class of large-scale tenant farmers-of agricultural entrepreneurs "without land but with money in their purse" with which to exploit the lands of others? It appears not. Let us return for a moment to the great estate of Saint-Pierre near Beziers. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it is already possible to distinguish certain characteristics ( still incomplete) of capitalistic agriculture. A big farmer, the parish kulak, operated Saint-Pierre with dozens of mules and oxen and hundreds of sheep. He produced every year some thousands of setiers of grain. One or two centuries earlier, in contrast, according to the disconnected series of land leases at our disposal, the situation was very different indeed. The lands of Saint-Pierre were unified, but not their operation, which was divided-in fact, all but pulverized. In 1389 seven hectares of estate land were let for four years to three peasants in severalty.
Then, in 1413, the entire mas was let in seven lots for one-third of the produce to seven poor peasants, cultivators from a neighbouring parish. One leased thirty setbees of ploughland for six years, another ten setbees, and another six or eight. They had neither money nor tools. The chapter had to sell some of them a plow frame, a heavy iron reille ("plowshare") and their only yoke of plow oxen, all on credit ( sixteen litlres in six years) .On the contrary, under Francis I, Sully, or Louis XIII a single tenant farmer, a veritable captain of agriculture, assumed command; he was the sole master of the ship apart from the landowner himself.
And yet by the fifteenth century the conditions of landownership necessary, in theory, for the development of capitalistic agriculture were present: broad estates dating back to ancient Gallo-Roman villas or medieval manors. What capitalistic agriculture lacked at the end of the Middle Ages was not land and buildings, but money and labor. One is acutely conscious of the absence of a class of well-to-do, enterprising peasant landowners.
40 Malthusian Renaissance
To be sure, there already existed in Languedoc at the end of the Middle
Ages a certain number of capitalistic tenant farmers. On September 8, 1395, one Jean Montagnac leased the vast grange of Amilhac for four years at a yearly rental of forty livres. By this act alone he qualifies as a rural entrepreneur on a big scale. But individuals like Montagnac did not really begin to appear in large numbers until much later. Without exception, when one compares the tithes, granges, or villages of the fifteenth century with the same tithes, granges, or villages in the sixteenth or seventeenth century one perceives that capitalistic tenant farming was still in its infancy on the threshold of the modern age.
The reasons? Lack of money was the primary one. The monetary famine of the fifteenth century is an established fact. In Languedoc it would not begin to dissipate until the reign of Francis I. Between 1453 and 1504, in more than one village, even the royal taille was payable in olive oil or grain, a fact that was never repeated, to the best of my knowledge, after 1505. The same monetary factors that prevented the emergence of a wealthy landbuying and land-engrossing bourgeoisie in the towns inhibited the formation of a capitalistic farmer class in the countryside.
Monetary difficulties were compounded by other factors relating to the distribution of aggregate farm income. Was not whatever the cultivator gained from the forced self-restraint of the landlord cancelled out by the demands of his hired hands? This raises the next question (after land rent), that of farm wages at the beginning of the period under study.
The Golden Interval of Wages ,
The period around 1480 was the golden age of wages. The expression is appropriate, with certain reservations, for town workers whose money wages consituted their main income. Is it equally true in the case of the typical farm worker, whose base wages in kind were supplemented every year by a few copper coins?
The lot of the rural proletariat, in fact, depended on the movement, barely studied until now, of mixed wages in money and in kind. Let us consult the archives of the granges administered by a cathedral chapter. One carefully worded contract fixes the conditions of employment of the farm steward, or bayle, and his subordinates, the plow-hands or boyers. This particular contract was concluded at regular intervals in the period 1475-1510 and is still attested to on different occasions up to 1600-50. 1f the economic clauses were increasingly severe, the other terms did not change at all from one century
The Low-Water Mark of a Society 41
to the next, thanks to which fact comparisons are possible. The bayle received from his masters (the canons of Narbonne) a fraction of his regular pay in cash. He was also paid a cash pittance or companage to contribute to the support of his family and the plow-hands (it was dispensed chiefly for meat). In kind, he received grain, wine, olive oil, and salt, also for himself, his family, and the plow-hands. This represents a typical case of mixed wages for a group of farm workers. 1f we compare, point by point, the three components of the bayle's wages for the first hundred-year interval at the beginning and the end of our series (1480 and 1580), we shall see to what extent the farm worker of the fifteenth century belonged to a privileged category.
1. Money Wages
In 1478 the bayle's money wages on the two contiguous granges of La Bastide and Vedilhan were the same; Beraud Crozat received twenty-four livres and twelve sous per year "for himself and his wife." His colleague on the neighbouring mas was paid the same wage. What had happened to money wages one hundred years later? Surprisingly, when one remembers the enormous price inflation that occurred in the interval, the figure had increased only slightly by the end of the sixteenth century. In 1571-75 it was still twenty-four livres (eight ccus) at La Bastide and Vedilhan; it was thirty livres in 1583, twenty-five in 1590, and thirty-six in 1593, 1596, and 1600. In 1480 the bayle's twenty-four livres represented a fairly handsome wage, equal in purchasing power to thirty setiers of wheat, or almost the annual wheat ration of three farm workers.8 On that pay "madame" bayle could, in the days of Louis XI or Charles VIII, permit herself the luxury of a few fantaisies de toilette .On the other hand, the thirty or thirty-six livres that Jean Cassagnol, bayle of La Bastide, was paid in about 1583 or 1593 as "wages for himself and his wife" were the equivalent of no more than eight or ten setiers of grain (in the measure of Montpellier), barely the annual ration of a single farmhand. The difference spells the radical deterioration (by two-thirds) of the purchasing power of the bayle's annual wage.
It is true that the work force of both granges was allocated a supplementary sum of money, the "companage," for various purchases, but especially for meat. In 1480 the companage at La Bastide for Beraud Crozat, his wife,
8 In setiers of Montpellier: one setier = forty-nine liters.
42 Malthusian Renaissance
and three plow-hands, one a boy, came to f12 6s. per year, or f2 9s. 2d. per head. With respect to this pittance payment, the canons of Narbonne later behaved like certain modern employers. Without tampering with the basic wage, they sweetened the pot with "bonuses" (for productivity, for transportation, and so on). In the sixteenth century, as we have seen, the canons kept the bay/e's wages, properly speaking, at a very low level, but they raised the premium of companage at both granges from f2 9s. per head per year in about 1480 to f 6 in the period 1585-90-an almost threefold nominal increase at a time when the price of meat had increased fourfold. The reductiOn of companage in real terms is unmistakable, but it was not nearly as outrageous as the reduction in the basic money wage examined previously.
3. Rations in Kind
If wages in kind had suffered a decline in the sixteenth century comparable to that of the two components of money wages just studied, the rural proletariat would have had to call it quits.
Nothing of the kind occurred. In terms of quantity, the rations that the canons allowed their farm workers did not diminish between 1480 and 1580; the quality, however, deteriorated-the workers ate white bread under Louis XI and black bread under Henry III. In 1590 the work force of La Bastide received a ration of seven setiers of wheat and three setiers of rye per person per year.9 At Vedilhan the ration was rather less: five setiers of wheat and three setiers of rye. The coarse breid that the farmwife made of these eight to ten setiers in the grange's bakeoven was no less abundant but a lot darker than that of 1480. Around that time, in fact, the farmhands on the two granges were still eating like bourgeois. Not that their bread was made of the very best flour, but at least it was of pure wheat. Every worker on both granges was allotted eight setiers of wheat in 1482, and not a trace of rye or other coarse grains. During the course of the sixteenth century the employers did not cut back on quantity, but they began to skimp on quality.
In certain cases, even, the farm worker was paid less in pocket money but ate more bread at the end of the sixteenth century than in the fifteenth century. At La Bastide, as we have seen, he received eight setiers of wheat around 1480 compared to ten setiers of grain ( seven of wheat and three of rye) around 1580. His bread was darker, but there was more of it at the time of the Holy League. All in all, the fifteenth-century ration was no better than the late sixteenth-century ration in terms of calories, but it was more costly
9 In setiers of Narbonne: one setier = seventy liters.
The Low-Water Mark of a Society 43
than and not as coarse as it would be a hundred years later towards the close of the religious wars.
Not only did the farm worker of Languedoc in the last third of the fifteenth century insist on having money in his pocket and white bread on his table, but he was also a big drinker of good wine. In 1482 on the same farms, the annual ration of an adult laborer was set at 1 muid of red wine supplemented by 0.4 muid of piquette.10 A century later, around 1580-90, the ration of red wine had been cut by 20 percent to 0.8 muid. The difference was made up by a piquette ration of 0.65 muid instead of 0.4 muid. At the close of the fifteenth century, white bread and good wine; at the end of the sixteenth century, black bread and piquette: Was the late fifteenth century a happy age all around? The ration of olive oil was also larger then than it was later.
The question of the salt ration was another one of capital importance, especially since the region of Narbonne lies so close to the saltworks of Sigean.
The canons of 1580-90 were close-fisted fellows like their contemporary, Olivier de Serres (who declared naively, "with respect to the wageworker, pay him as little as possible"). They neglected to supply their workers with salt. The farmwife, because everything has its price, was expected to pay for salt out of her pittance money, or else each worker out of his personal wages.
On this point the canons of 1480 were more generous than their niggardly successors living off fat prebends. Under Louis XI they allotted five quarters of salt to the five adults on each mas-one quarter per person per year .
In summary, compared to the miserable devil unlucky enough to be living
in the age of Henry III, the farm worker of the late fifteenth century was not badly off at all.
So much for the bayle or plow-hand who received a regular food ration from his ecclesiastical employer. The lot of the worker who was paid enrirely in kind with a share of the produce (as was the case of harvest hands) was also quite a happy one in the last third of the fifteenth century. Every year, as we have seen, troops of workers came down to the plains to hire out as harvest hands to cut (segar) the grain crop. Their leader, or captain, first reached an agreement with the employer, or landlord, concerning the per;centage of the total harvest to be set aside for his labor and that of his men.
Following a steady decline during the course of the sixteenth century, the figure finally hit rock bottom about 1600-30-on the average the seventeenth sheaf, or barely 6 percent of the total harvest. And sometimes it was even
10 Muid: usually approximately 650 liters (tr. note).
44 Malthusian Renaissance
less; in 1620, Jean Escanecabios, an illiterate cobbler, assumed, on behalf of himself and his companions, the "enterprise" of harvesting the wheat fields of La Bastide for the nineteenth sheaf, or 5.3 percent of the crop. These N arbonnese reapers were decidedly "pauperized" compared to their fifteenthcentury predecessors. In 1478, in fact, Bernard Pontes and some companions formed a group to harvest the same wheat fields and received, as reward for their labors, exactly the tenth part - decimam partem - of the crop, a sort of second tithe, if you like, and twice as much as was allotted their successors of 1620. Seasonal harvest hands, in the centuries that followed, never managed
to carry home grain sacks as well filled as that.
In this manner, the fortunate reapers of 1480 reduced the profits of the rural entrepreneur by a like proportion. It is true that the latter's gross income in 1480 was swollen by the depressed level of land rent, but his net income, after meeting expenses, was eroded-amputated, in fact-by the sharp!
Increase in wages. This rise in wage rates was itself determined by the state of the labor market. The rural work force, reduced by the decline in .population, dictated its terms to the argncultural employer. Our conclusIons concerning the farm worker's income, whether it consisted of bed and board or of a share of the produce, confirm what is known about the movement of urban wages in Languedoc at the end of the Midle Ages. At Toulouse following the Black Death, the surviving workers took advantage of the labor shortage to demand higher wages. The plague forced the rich to loosen their purse strings; apprentices' salaries rose steadily between 1350 and 1450, and empioyers, desperate for workers, recruited seasonal labor from as far away as Brittany and set women to work at the hardest tasks.
Meat and Wheat
An increase in real wages and a general improvement in the living standards of the peasantry was brought about by the relaxation of demographic pressures and by the resulting alleviation of the problem of subsistence. The plague of 1348 unquestionably signaled the beginning of the period of rarified population in Languedoc, a period which includes the whole of the fifteenth century. Rarified population meant that wheat was plentiful and cheap. After 1351 the periods of scarcity were less frequent, occurring only once every ten or every twenty years. The demographic depression resolved the problem of subsistence by brutally eliminating the surplus population.
In the long run, this improvement led to changes in diet-in the people's
The Low-Water Mark of a Society 45
daily bread-and in the agricultural balance of bread cereals. From this point of view, the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries represent a critical juncture. Prior to that time the peasants ate barley bread; later they would eat bread made of meteil, a mixture of wheat and rye. But in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries the peasant's loaf was made of pure wheat flour.
First, take barley. For most of the Middle Ages, the rotation of cereal crops in Languedoc followed the ancient Mediterranean pattern. The staple bread grains were hard wheat and barley. In the plains country, in the twelfth century, these two formed the basis of all land leases. In normal years the poor subsisted on barley, and at Nimes at the end of the twelfth century it constituted the pilot item whose price indicated the state of the market. It is true that rye was already being cultivated in the Middle Ages on soils of the central plateau that were better suited to it, but in the plains of Bas-Languedoc it remained practically unknown as late as the fourteenth century .The inventories of grain stocks in 1323 mention, for the lowlands, nothing but sacks of wheat and barley. The grain exchanges were called orgeries11
But perhaps this medieval barley was mainly for porridge, wheat being the only bread cereal? No, this is too simple a view. The barley of Languedoc by 1200 was unquestionably, as far as the populace was concerned, a bread cereal, too, and not just the stuff polenta is made of. A baking ordinance composed in 1196 at Montpellier is explicit on this point. At that time the rich ate bread made of the best wheat flour; the rest of the people ate coarse bread of a mixture of barley and wheat or simply barley bread, heavy and hard to digest even after repeated sifting.
The medieval cultivation of winter barley (still called early barley or escourgeon) for bread in two-course rotation with wheat (escourgeon, falrow, wheat, fallow, escourgeon, and so on) represents a regional practice that has largely escaped the attention of historians. The reason is that in France this particular rotation was found in its pure state (in its heyday) only along the Mediterranean littoral-the Mediterranean of barley eaters.
The moment one scales the mountainous amphitheatre that delimits on the north and west the realm of winter barley, the moment one begins to ascend the Alps, the Rouergue, the Haute-Cerdagne or to penetrate the humid regions of the Aquitaine basin, the familiar ordi of the medieval documents, of Provence and Languedoc is replaced by rye and oats. In contrast to the
11 Orgerie: from orge, "barley" (tr. note).
46 Malthusian Renaissance :
authentic Mediterranean peoples who ate bread made of barley, the natives of the Alps and the Rouergue and other mountain-dwellers had been eating rye bread for centuries.
And indeed, the crop rotation-winter wheat, fallow, winter barley, fallow-is practically unknown in continental France, which practices instead a two-course rotation of wheat and rye with fallowing in alternate years or, farther north, a three-fiel9 rotation of winter wheat followed by a spring sowing of barley or oats, followed by a year of fallow. In France and elsewhere, the two-course rotation, with alternate sowings of wheat and winter barley, is a specifically Mediterranean practice. Where, indeed, is it that one finds barley eaters in ancient and prehistoric agrarian societies if not in the Mediterranean countries-among the inhabitants of Enserune or Jesus' disciples or the starving multitudes of the Apocalypse-none of whom had ever tasted rye bread but were ever faithful to barley like the earliest agriculturalists of the Fertile Crescent? In the Middle Ages, the ancient cropping system based on wheat and barley survived intact from Castille to Greece, and the agrarian landscape was everywhere similar to the landscapes of Languedoc and Provence. The ecology of the Mediterrean lands, where lack of rainfall is favorable to barley, long served to preserve the ancient structures against the invasion of rye and oats, latecomers to the scene from more humid regions.
Now, beginning (very approximately) in 1400, the vast mantle of barley cultivation, which still covered the southernmost region, was rent in different places by gaping fissures. Languedoc offers, in fact, a remarkable example of this process, especially in the region of Beziers-Narbonne. There, as late as 1384-97, the tithes were still paid one-third in touzelle wheat, one third in barley, and one-third in a mixture of the two called raonage; in 1391 and 1397 the harvest workers received a food ration consisting half of barley and half of wheat. In all this there is no mention of rye whatsoever.
In 1384-97, therefore, barley cultivation was still in full vigor, but the end of its reign was approaching. In the Lauraguais, the harvest censuses show that barley was still a major crop in 1375, that its importance had declined considerably by 1400, and that it had practically disappeared by 1418. At Beziers-Narbonne, winter barley was still in a very strong position as late as 1400, but by 1480, when the interrupted series resumes, it had almost disappeared. The contracts no longer specify that the harvest workers receive 50 percent of their food ration in barley, as was the case eighty years before, but that they be given the whole amount in wheat. In just three generations
The Low-Water Mark of a Society 47
the wheat revolution was victorious, and the traditional peasant diet had been radically transformed.
In the early years of the sixteenth century, wheat was the king of bread cereals and all but undisputed lord of a realm it was forced to share with barley in the fourteenth century and with rye in the seventeenth century. The ecclesiastical granges of Beziers in 1527-31 were let for rents in kind consisting of 90 to 100 percent wheat. In the period 1650-90, on the contrary, the same lands paid no more than 40 percent of their rent in wheat, and the rest was in rye diluted with a little oats.
Let us consider for the moment the first step in the process: the passage from a mixed regime consisting of wheat and barley to a single-crop regime of wheat alone. This change took,place between 1400 and 1480 (probably about 1400-20) and represents, everything considered, a significant improvement in the standard of living. The proof is that the "old days" of heavy, coarse barley bread evoked nothing but unhappy memories, not the slightest nostalgia, in the sixteenth century. Winter barley, or escourgeon, wrote Olivier de Serres, is a vulgar food good for the poor in cases of extreme need, but otherwise fit for horses-a fodder and a cathartic. Estienne was of the same opinion. Escourgeon was a famine grain suitable perhaps for the poor devils of perigord. Rye was infinitely preferable. It gave young girls a firm and rosy complexion. Pliny had once drawn a contrast between the earliest Romans, who were barley eaters, and the citizens of the Urbs in his own day, fastidious wheat eaters. "Barley," he said, "was good enough for our forebears, but today it's only good for the horses."
In simpler terms, one may speak of a wheat cycle (fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries) interposed between a medieval barley cycle and a modern rye cycle. Such a phenomenon is of multiple significance. First of all, it is demographic; if one could get along without barley at the end of the fifteenth century, it was because in a normal year there was enough wheat to go around - because, thanks to a sort of reverse Malthusianism, population had retreated faster than the means of subsistence. Its significance from the point of view of land use derives from the fact that the barley-growing areas coincided with the zone of typical Mediterranean agriculture (barley, in act, is still in our own day a major crop in Spain, Greece, and the Maghreb).
By its rejection of barley in the period 1400-80, first mostly in favor of wheat, Iter for a wheat-rye-oats rotation, Bas-Languedoc tended, in this particular aspect, to depart from the classic Mediterranean model (barley in rotation with wheat) and to draw nearer to the continental model of wheat-rye-oats.
48 Malthusian Renaissance
Another complex phenomenon, determined both by the retreat of arable and by the rise in the standard of living, was the strong position of stock raising on the threshold of modern times. Take the case of F ntes, a village studied earlier. In 1505 the population was still sparse: 106 native taxpayers, only a handful more than in 1427, when there were 95, and many less than in 1695, when the number had grown to 248. Now, this underpopulated village possessed more livestock in 1505 than it ever would again-2,948 head of sheep and goats as compared to only 1,917 head (a good third less stock for a population three times more numerous) in 1693. "
At Coussergues, the deserted village annexed by Pierre de Sarret, the herds of 1503 ( comprising 2,500 sheep belonging to the lord or entrusted to the care of a tenant plus 219 goats, 29 oxen, 54 cows, 16 horses, and 98 pigs) were larger by far than any of the herds that have grazed these lands since that time. Sarret, the fifty-year-old former soldier, assisted by his young wife, his ten children, and his two "bastard-matadors," the irascible Jeanny and Michou, was running a real sheep and cattle ranch. The diagrams of Therese Sclafert serve as confirmation. Provence, too, boasted larger herds of cattle, sheep, and goats in 1471 than it ever would again, right up to 1956. Grasse, today the city of flowers, in the fifteenth century was the sheep capital of the entire province.
At the very close of the Middle Ages, the masters of the Midi, a land short of peasants but teeming with livestock, were the insolent graziers. "The four of us carry more weight than all of yoU, numerous though you be," a group of them declared in 1433 to a handful of family heads who were struggling as best they could to defend the depopulated village lands of Aniane against the depredations of grazing sheep.
The contraction of ploughland and the spread of pasture and waste was a windfall for the graziers. Did the rise in the standard of living and the increase in meat consumption similarly enrich the butchers ? It is indeed remarkable hoW well the butchers' guilds seem to have weathered the depression of the fifteenth century. At Montpellier, in the quarter of Saint-Firmin, 458 taxpayers are listed in the com po ix of 1404 compared to only 294 in 1435.
The ranks of the clothworkers were decimated, but there were more butchers, more butchers for fewer people-seventeen mazeliers (mutton butchers, for the most part) in 1435 compared to fourteen in 1404. And in the quarter of Saint-Mathieu, where there was not a single mazelier in 1404, three turned up in 1435.
The traffic in meat, then, from grazier to butcher, was more intense than before, despite the misfortunes of the age. This is not to be wondered at.
.ture was abundant, and, in addition, depressed wheat prices in this
'iod of depopulation, as well as the higher purchasing power of wages,
red the way for a greater consumption of meat.
rhus, fifteenth-century Languedoc offers the example of a dialectic of
)d and ill fortune. Following the great shipwreck of 1348 and succeeding
:ades, there emerged, little by little, several remarkable cases of social pro)tion. The wageworker enjoYed a higher standard of living than ever
fore. The cultivator dictated his terms to the landlord. The peasant pro:etor himself rounded out his plot of land. All these groups were eating
tter; that is, white bread made of wheat flour, which is more nourishing
m the traditional barley bread of their forefathers because it is richer in
Iten. A generous nature offered them broader pastures, more wild game,
d all the resources of the conquering forests. The virgin lands and abanned fields provided a challenge to the hardy peasant assarter with only
i large family to aid him. A cruelly decimated population discovered new
llrces of strength in the midst of misfortune, in this contact with the revenated earth. And, like the cleric Who hoped to salvage the patrimony of
e Church, the lord who sought to safeguard his family's position had no
ernative but to follow the peasant's example and become an active farmer,
Jess he was to take up the life of a bandit chief.
Land alone-that is, landed capital-was, for a time, highly unprofitable.
could be made to yield a profit only if exploited directly, preferably by
'ge peasant families ( thereby avoiding the payment of excessively high
1ges) .It was not enough, in other words, to own land. One also had to
~ that it was worked, by the members of the extended family group itself
The "primary sector"-the direct production of the fruits of the earthospered to the detriment of landed fortunes based on shrinking rents
ittle matter whether manorial or capitalistic in nature) .This reconsecra)Q of active farming laid the groundwork for a new expansion of the rural
About 1480-1500, in any case, we are in the presence of a sturdy, vigorous,
~l1-nourished populace in the process of rapid renewal following the recent
)rooting of the majority of family lines. It was a society stimulated by the
lundance of colonizable land, which also accounted for the weakness of
Ild rent. It was solidly implanted on its reconstituted domains in powerful
mily groups. Purified and rejuvenated by a century of trials and tribula50 Malthusian Renaissance
Itions, it was ready, for the second time, to launch an assault on the hermes
and the waste and to carve out new and larger holdings with torch, ax, and
plow. A population reduced to a minimum and concentrated on the best ,
lands contained within itself creative energies that were destined to explode :
like a nova in the opening decades of the sixteenth century.
By about 1480-90 the first symptoms of demographic increase appeared
in the Comtat and in the garrigues of the Montpellier region. Beginning in
1500, a new wave of pioneer settlers moved out onto the land.