On 1 August 1779, Pierre Reynes and his son Mathieu met the royal notary of the small south-western town of Villefranche-de-Lauragais to enter into a contract with the ‘high and powerful seigneur’ the Marquis d’Hautpoul, through his agent, Jacques Maurel.1 The farm the illiterate peasants were renting was a considerable one — about 30 hectares — and produced about a hundred setiers of wheat (20 setiers would feed a family of five) and a wide array of livestock, vegetables and other produce. This was, however, a sharecropping contract: the seigneur took 20 setiers in advance — whatever the volume of the crop — and half of the rest; after setting aside seed for the next year, the Reynes would be left with 15 setiers, less than their family needed. They were rigidly tied to a three-field system (maize and vegetables, wheat, fallow) and, while the proceeds from livestock were also divided, any extra forage had to be provided by them. Similarly, all the farm implements were the lessees’ responsibility. They were to buy young pigs, though the seigneur’s agent was to have half; in addition, they were to provide 108 chickens and capons and 600 eggs yearly. The lease was for one year only; should the Reynes not ‘do everything necessary’ to be good husbandmen (‘bons ménagers et bons pères de famille’), it would not be renewed.
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