Peasants in the 18th Century
When studying 18th century history one will often read about insightful intellects, powerful leaders, or even great military figures, but generally overlooked are the common people. These men, women, and children that make up the peasant society paid the taxes that supported militaries, upheld the land, and, in turn, contributed to history equally to the aforementioned figures. In the 18th century French peasants made up eighty to eighty five percent of the population, yet their presence in the culture is not focused on. The hardships that peasants went through, from poverty to malnutrition and even death, molded the peasant society into a culture of its own.
People with an abundance of wealth and power have been redundantly dominant throughout history. With this domination a social ladder unfolds itself, with the wealthiest and most powerful at the top and the commoners at the bottom. The French commoners of the 18th century, from begging peasants to wealthier peasants, were dominated in every aspect of their life by anyone who felt they were above them. While the monarchy was putting the burden of taxes on their shoulders, the noblemen were raping them of whatever remains they had through obligations and fees. The poverty that followed peasants led them to a life not fit for humans. In Professor Gerhard Rempel's "The 18th Century Town and Its Inhabitants" it shows that in France by the end of the century ten percent of the population were dependent on charity or begging for food for survival (2). In one incident the French authorities attempted to round up vagrants and beggars and incarcerate them for eighteen months, but this accomplished virtually nothing because the problem was socioeconomic (3). In Robert Darnton's The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History he speaks of peasant village life as being a "struggle for survival" (26). The family's expenses and responsibilities included taxes, tithes to the church, and feeding the family. By the end of the 18th century millions of these people in poverty went searching for a better life, but found themselves in a life of smugglers, highwaymen, pickpockets, and prostitutes (26).
Along with poverty came a problem for virtually all peasants: diet. In Merry E. Wiesner's "A Statistical view of European Rural Life 1600-1800" it shows that the common peasants diet included bread, cheese, and butter. Because of strict laws forbidding hunting, meat was rarely part of their diet, which led them to be malnourished,...