The impression left by an English visitor to the French countryside towards the end of our period, Sir John Fortescue, is one of considerable poverty and hardship, with peasants reduced to eating apples, rough bread and offal in contrast to their better-fed English counterparts who ate meat and fish to their heart’s content. But Fortescue’s testimony is open to question on a number of grounds, not least his desire to show the French as a less happy people than the English because some of them lived under Roman law. The great many regional studies of the rural history of late medieval France which have appeared in recent generations paint a different picture of peasant fortunes. These same studies also consider afresh the supposed decline of the lay aristocracy and the church as landowners, and the reported rise of the bourgoisie as landowners, with their supposed interest in farming for profit.
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- Rural France, c. 1300–c. 1500
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- Chapter 2