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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Tyler

History of France Part 4: Middle Ages - War, Plague, & Peasants.

A look at these three distinct topics will provide an interesting introduction to this fourth part of the story of France.

Medieval France was locked in war with Anglo-Norman England for much of this period. It began with William of Normandy's conquest of Saxon England in 1066, and continued off and on until 1337. In that year began the famous 100 Years War, which was more than 100 years long, lasting from 1337 to 1453. The war was fought to decide the future of France - an independent French Kingdom or two Kingdoms linked by the person of the English King. This latter solution was achieved only in the reign of Henry VI of England, and did not survive his reign.

The second window into Medieval France is provided by the Plague or Black death which ravaged the country from 1347 to 1352, killing somewhere between a third and a half of its people. It had inevitably consequences for the country and its people.

The third window is the life of French peasants, who formed over 80% of the population. There were slaves still at the beginning of the period, and serfs throughout much of it, as well as free peasants or villeins. A slave was wholly owned as a chattel by his/her master, whereas a serf was tied to his/her lord's land but had certain rights.

Finally mention should be made of the rich cultural life of the upper classes, ranging from magisterial architecture to music, and in particular Provencal troubadour romances, and the difficulties of entrepreneurial French Jews during this period, clouded by dreadful public outbreaks of anti-Semitism.

A very short selection of reading material not previously mentioned in the blogs:

Jonathan Sumption's multi volume history of The Hundred Years War

Sean Martin's A Short History of Disease which deals, inter alia, with The Black Death

The great French historian Marc Bloch's French Rural Society, which covers rural French history through the ages.

The Medieval Shepherd (Le Bon Berger) written in 1379 by Jean de Brie

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