History of the Vigneron: Patois Part 3.1, 1780-1880: Philosophy, Perception, and the Historian



By Dean Alexander


“The Burgundian patois, to use Sainte-Beuve’s picturesque expression — “a eu des malheurs” (has had misfortunes); it has never become a living language as the Breton and the Provencal have, and is therefore doomed, I suppose, to early destruction; as its older devotees die off, and the young peasant, versed in the language of towns, learns to despise his father’s tongue.” Burgundy: The Splendid Duchy, Allen Percy, 1872


A difficult question to answer: Why were the peasantry diminishing in number?

In particular, among those who lived in outlying rural areas and spoke patois Bourguignon  

This, the third in a series about the linguistic, and the consequential cultural changes in Burgundy, had begun with the premise that many rural peasants across Burgundy had economically been squeezed from the region (Weir 1976). These were the paysans whose families had survived on the margins of success and failure for centuries, working, often in misery, small tenured seigneurial plots. With the limited fruits of their labor, they paid their local lord their cens and seigneurial tailles, the tax collector their taille royale, and the church their tithing. Whatever the cost, this system gave them protection from bandits and armies, a secure place to farm that could never be taken away from them, and belief that there was something better out there, if not in this life, then the next. Following the French Revolution much of that security would be taken away. Although now free from seigneurial and church obligation, this class of rural paysan would now face the dawning 19th century with the distinct possibility they could lose what little they had always been assured of before.

La Pay des Moissonneurs Léon-Augustin l'Hermitte (1844 - 1925)

La Pay des Moissonneurs Léon-Augustin l’Hermitte (1844 – 1925)

Because villages were built as self-sufficient communities long before a well-established road system was designed, not all villages would find themselves near a road upon which significant trade would pass nearby.  So while growing industry, trade, and commerce was introducing connectivity and an interdependence of communities across France, and fostering significant socioeconomic change elsewhere, the peasants from these small, more isolated communities continued to farm their modest plots of grains and grapes just as their ancestors had before them. It would be this hyper-localized peasantry, with limited external inputs, who would be the last to speak the patois de Bourguignon in any significant numbers.

The population numbers of these rural villages were falling however, and with their dwindling numbers, the patois was being lost as well. The traditional explanation has been that these farmers were part of a rural exodus, leaving either voluntarily for the promise of a better life in industrial centers or having been forced off of their lands, either by losses due to harvest failures and famine or by other economic pressures. However, a close examination of the presumed pressures, opens up a myriad of other economic factors which were greatly reshaping of the financial economies and culture of the French peasantry. Furthermore, closer examination reveals that the explanation of rural exodus has had close associations with Marxist historicism, which while it does not discredit the concept of exodux, it advances the need for particularly careful research.

To answer what happened to these people, requires a deeper understanding

The heading here is an understatement. The historical record is so intertwined with the political, theoretical, and philosophical memes of the 19th century, (and of those of historians since) that they are difficult to separate. To answer this question will require a journey, that while long and seemingly circuitous, at least to me, it is revelatory in understanding what life was like for most people in Europe in the 19th century. I also implore you to read this history with a sense intimacy, this span of two hundred years is far more separated by technology, than it is by time. These are histories of people who were not so unlike ourselves, with concerns and stress for family, security, and livelihood. From the radical attending clandestine socialist meeting in a basement of Paris, to the peasant farmer whose only concern is feeding his family from the yield of a small plot, come so many economic, political, and social parallels between those lives of yesteryear and our own lives today.

There are so many priorities for this paper (which approaching the size of a short book) that its ties to the original linguistic series are tenuous, almost dubious; yet what is gained is so much greater than the promise of original mission.   Many of the questions which I seek to answer, I list as a road-map to the writing that is to come, and I believe it paves a fairly good understanding of the situation who the vignerons of Burgundy of yesteryear where, and how that has imprinted their descendants today.

The questions I will address are these:  Click Here to read the road map of inquiry for Part 3 (series).



This story must begin with the storytellers themselves.

As much as diving into the plight of the peasantry is appealing, it has become apparent the story must begin with the storytellers themselves. Traditionally, those who tell history would be the historians, but for French history, there is something of a reversal of roles: figures in history who’s political, economic and philosophical analysis are so so closely associated with the history itself, that their influence upon both the events of history and the viewpoint of the historian is indisputable. As I mentioned earlier, the main historical figure in question is Karl Marx, although other leftist thinkers have made contributions to France’s historical dialogue as well. The fact that Marx was, unintentionally, a remarkably good storyteller, makes his imprint on history that much more significant. Because of this, the understanding the relationship between the historical figure and the historian becomes important.

The challenge of historical honesty

The themes and meaning of histories have proved to be greatly colored by the theoretical context that each scholar carries with them, even before writing the first word. With the following statement, Marc Bloch, of the most influential scholars of modern French history, challenges himself, and his fellow academics, to approach and analyze their subjects as accurately, and impassively as possible.

“The historian is, by definition, absolutely incapable of observing the facts which he examines.” Marc Bloch

Bloch’s quote is but the tip of the iceberg on the challenges of accounting and the understanding of history. Professor Kaya Yılmaz of Marmara University in Istanbul writes: “The discipline of history refers not only to what happened in the past but also to the act of writing about the past”. This is distinctly true. The moment the pen hits the paper, the historian himself becomes indivisible from that history. Yilmaz continues, “The nature and function of historical writing is shaped by the theoretical presuppositions, by means of which the historian reflects on and writes about the past.” As such, the body of work which encapsulates the “history” of France, has been dominated by a handful of academic lenses, those histories are distinctly colored by each approach. The two schools of thought that dominate much of the body of the history of France, and thus this paper, those of the Annales School, and those who identify themselves as Marxists. It is important to note that both dominant schools of historian appraised history through an analytic, sociological lens, inspecting small data out of the lives of ordinary people, to come up with larger themes within society. So, as any good history should be, it is rarely obvious which intellectual stance of a particular writer.

Marx, historical stages, and posthumous academic acceptance

“History is being invented in vast quantities […]. It’s more important to have historians, especially skeptical historians, than ever before.” Socialist Historian Eric Hobsbawm, in an interview with the Daily Observer, 2002.


Karl Marx and Jenny von Westphalen were married in 1836

Karl Marx and Jenny von Westphalen were married in 1836

Marx’s text came out of a remarkably fertile time of philosophical/theoretical thinking, and like other philosophies of its age, it inspected, dissected, pondered and reshaped every aspect of the human condition and thought. But more than other philosophers, Marx’s writings were politically charged. He literally called on his readers to ‘wake up’ (to use a modern colloquialism), to have as Marx encouraged, “class consciousness”, to see that “labor” was “power” and as a class, they must “struggle”. He then packaged these words into seemingly sensible, but heterodox, economic models. This was very different from the writings of other philosophers who wrote for their peers; the approach Marx used was accessible and applicable to the non-academic. The educated lay-person could easily apply Marx’s work to virtually any western European “capitalist-industrial” system. In a final distancing of his work from other philosophical thinkers, Marx subscribed to moments of written crescendo, in which he would splay out words of incitement like “exploitation”, “oppressed”and “human labor”, with distinct intonations of anger. Given his unorthodox  style, it is not surprising that he was ignored by those whom he perceived to be his academic peers. (Kreis 2008).

In a 2014 column in ‘Philosophy Now’ magazine, Robert Caldwell, wrote that many of the manuscripts that Karl Marx had been laboriously working on over the course of his lifetime, remained unfinished when he died in 1883. We must consider that there is a difference between simply not finishing, and not being capable of finishing. These incomplete manuscripts suggest that Marx was both unable to intellectually wrap up all of those vague details which dangled from the theories contained within the Communist Manifesto and Kapital, nor was he able to explain why communism seemed no closer to reality than when its concept was first conjured up. 

Although these ideas are incomplete, and published five decades after his death without his consent, they have given scholars an addendum work that gave them a far deeper understanding of the thinking of Marx. But perhaps more important to us the lay reader, is the fact these extensive writings lack conclusions. This in itself suggests that Marx had difficulty explaining the inconsistencies theories which he had ceaselessly  promoted throughout his life. This picture of unsureness, and perhaps even doubt, is in stark contrast to the intellectually salient figure that we picture today, whom was so sure of his call to the proletariat to come to action.


Prince Louis borrows all his cast-off clothess from his uncle, Amédée de Noé 1848

Prince Louis borrows all his cast-off clothes from his uncle, Amédée de Noé 1848. Marx himself would mock the Bonaparte’s rise to power in the 18th Brumaire, “The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

Political satirist comte Amédée de Noé, was well-known for mocking the many leading socialist thinkers and politicians of the day, for borrowing their “original” ideas and peddling them as “new”(Hart 2014). Marx himself was influenced by idealist philosopher, and fellow German, Georg Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), in that “history is a progressive march from epoch to epoch”(Caldwell 2014). From this Hegelian historicism, in which man moves in successive stages toward freedom, Marx based his “Theory of History” where society moved forward toward communism in delineated economic stages ending in a Utopian community where, work was equally shared and no class was subservient to another. But where Hegel’s society is ever improving, Marx’s had a more uneven trajectory, based on the development and break down of successive class-based economic structures. Marx’s history began with an utopian-like origin, painting a fabrication of simple tribal communism, a of sharing of labor and resources. In Marx’s telling, this would not would not last however. The development of personal property, Marx claimed, created class structures, and from this, the world had become a far, far, more depraved and oppressive place. Yet Marx provided hope that things would get better again; that society will return communism, albeit in a much more advanced, and complex form. The stages of history, which Marx almost casually explains in The Communist Manifesto,  are present to varying degrees in many of his works, are:

  1. primitive communism
  2. slave society (ie. the Roman Empire)
  3. feudalism
  4. capitalism

The final stage of history, which was yet to happen, is Communism.

Marx explains how this will occur in The Communist Manifesto, writing: “Capitalism is its own grave-digger; its fall and the victory of the proletariat are alike, inevitable.” 

Despite the importance Marx and Engels lay upon historicism and historical materialism, they never wrote a definitive explanation of the “theory of history” (Green and Troup, 1999)  This, I suggest, ties directly back Marx’s unfinished manuscripts I mentioned earlier. It would seem that his many vague statements made in his early works, were based on his sureness that he could work out the details later. But it was precisely his inability to encapsulate the physical world into neat, compartmentalized, philosophical structures, that made finishing his works impossible, even after a lifetime of contemplation.

It was not until a decade or two after his death, that with a Marxist-communist movement that was truly sweeping Europe, did scholars begin to give an appraisal of Marx’s work. For some, such as Russian mathematical economist V. K. Dmitriev 1898, and fellow Russian economist and statistician  Ladislaus von Bortkiewicz, 1907, argued that, as author Henry Epps paraphrases, “Marx drew conclusions that actually do not follow from his theoretical premises”. But I suspect that Marx himself, at some level, had already come to that conclusion.


Read (here) deleted sections on Marx’s theory of History and Historical Materialism which were edited out for the sake of relative brevity

The ancient question of predestination vs. freewill

Marx would write in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte part I, 1852, that “men make their own history;” To be sure, this strong statement of self-determination.  Yet, later in Brumaire, he would write that men’s actions are confined, and driven by “circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.” This “circumstances existing already” quote defines entire the basis for both his theory of historical materialism and his theory of history. I find it ironic that Marx, a staunch atheist, should grapple with the same age-old question of predestination vs freewill that believers of faith have pondered for more than two millennia.

The bible teaches in John 12:27 of God’s predestination: ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.  Conversely from the old testament comes to this verse of freewill from Hebrews 5:14: “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” For the modern reader, this verse has been much more loosely translated as “God gave us the ability to think, weigh matters, make decisions, and know right from wrong” (jw.org 1986)

For the Marxist, the balancing of these two ideas is crucial, for if communism is to happen, there must be predestination, but conversely for it to happen, as the communist writer Mick Brooks writes (2002), that “We” (the Marxist activist) “need to understand how society is developing in order to intervene in the process.”


Marx’s ideas were evolutionary but seemed to be equally subject to frustration.

Over his lifetime, Marx’s ideas and approach could be said was in a state of evolution. However, I feel the word metastatic, would be more accurate, and denoting that the work was changing, but not finding the improvement that ‘evolution’ implies. This is a topic which the famed American political scientist, Noam Chomsky touches on briefly in his 2004 book, Language, and Politics.


My impression, for what it is worth, is that the early Marx was very much a figure of the late Enlightenment, and the later Marx was a highly authoritarian activist, and a critical analyst of capitalism, who had little to say about socialist alternatives.” Noam Chomsky.


prolateriateMarx’s earlier writings, which Chomsky here describes as stemming from the Late Enlightenment, which put in the social historian’s vernacular, was “socialism from below”. This philosophical stance requires that the application of socialism be done by the people themselves, not by some state or party apparatus, which itself formed class division. For many in the 19th century was, what socialist writer David McNally called, “the dream of freedom,” and this was a concept that was front and center within the work of Marx. McNally wrote in 1984 that “Marx was the first major socialist thinker who came to socialism through the struggle for democratic rights.”

In later years however, Marx increasingly lets suggestions that proletariat would need to be led, creep into his work. This approach is defined as “socialism from above,” and was a guiding concept that earlier socialist thinkers such as Gracchus Babeuf 1760-1797 and Adolphe Blanqui 1798-1854 had already embraced. Blanqui, was well established in Paris leftist circles when Marx arrived in 1843, believed that most Frenchmen, of whom fifty percent were farmers, sought only to be left alone to farm, and have legal protections to retain their personal property. They almost universally had no interest in the kind of wholesale economic change urban leftists proposed. Any revolution, they reasoned must be by the workers, and led by a socialist elite, and it would have to occur in Paris. Blanqui would not see the ultimate test of this theory, as he had died in 1854, but the social elite did lead the massive Paris uprising of 1871, which yielded disastrous results.

One has to wonder whether these changes in Marx’s outlook were due to a gradual acceptance of this far earlier position taken by Babeuf and Blanqui, which Marx had rejected earlier in his life, or that he was more simply vacillating on the mode with which, at least intellectually, to move forward. But even more than the fact that most French did not seem to support a socioeconomic revolution, the even greater problem was that the proletariat themselves seemed no closer to ushering out the stage of capitalism at the end of Marx’s life than it had at the beginning.

Dictatorship of the proletariat 

The term, “the dictatorship of the proletariat” was the fruit of one of Marx’s followers, Joseph Weydemeyer, who used the expression in 1852 for the title of an article he wrote for a communist German language paper, Turn-Zeitung. In a supportive response, Marx, in turn, used the phase in a letter to Weydemyer, saying that class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat.” and “that this dictatorship, itself, constitutes no more than a transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.”

It seems the phrase had resonance, which along with the term “vanguard of the proletariat”, are closely associated a later time and place; that of Lenin and the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Marx himself would not use the phase “dictatorship of the proletariat” in his own work, until 1877, when he wrote in “Critique of the Gotha Programme, part IV. In ‘Gotha Programme’, he suggests briefly that the dictatorship of the proletariat is a transitional (socialist) stage between a capitalism and communism.

For a true communist, Marx’s veering from his linear, predestined “theory of history“, would surely have been a troubling concept. The entire idea that a vanguard of revolutionaries should direct “socialism from above” is itself antithetical to the very idea of communism to which Marx had originally subscribed. It is, after all, a primary tenant of communism that any existence of a state (socialist or otherwise) represents the subjugation of one class over another. As mentioned, Marx saw this dictatorship as a temporary, transitional phase, necessary to implement the stage communism.

As if rushing to address this dichotomy to communism presented by Marx, Frederic Engels would write within “Anti-Dühring part III in 1877, that “the state is not abolished, that it dies out”*, due to its lack of necessity.  He expands on this later in the paper with the following excerpt:

“As soon as there is no longer any social class to be held in subjection; as soon as class rule, and the individual struggle for existence based upon our present anarchy in production, with the collisions and excesses arising from these, are removed, nothing more remains to be repressed, and a special repressive force, a state, is no longer necessary.” Friedrich Engels, Anti-Dühring part III , 1877

(*) dies or “withers away” depending on translation.

The Pont Neuf, Giuseppe Canella 1832, source Wikipedia

The Pont Neuf, Giuseppe Canella 1832, source Wikipedia

Meet me in Paris:

Marx and the French leftists


Following his expulsion from the Prussian Empire for his political writings and criticism of that government, Marx would live in Paris for only two years, from 1843 until the end of 1844.

Petit-patriots. Source unknown via tineye.

Petit-patriots. Original source unknown (via tineye)

No doubt, the robust activity of socialist worker organizations and secret communist societies in Paris of 1843, were as large a draw for Marx, as the job offer waiting there for him as a journal editor. The radical lawyer, Étienne Cabet, a utopian socialist, and the former Cote d’Or representative to the Chamber of Deputies, was there. Cabet had just returned from a five-year exile to England after being banished for his outspoken criticisms of the Louis-Philippe government. The even more radical, and anti-clerical, Théodore Dézamy was in Paris too, having just published in 1842 what historians Sirot, Cordillot,  Lemarquis and Pennetierin, have called “the most advanced theoretical work of French communism of the period”.

It was in Paris that Marx would meet and initially befriend leading anarchists Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Mikhail Bakunin. While all three shared a vehement distaste for capitalism, the anarchist position had equal disdain for democracy. This would prove to be a major stumbling block to their friendships, as democracy was a pillar of Marx’s socialism from below. Ultimately Marx would have tempestuous, and then adversarial relations with both men.

Their inevitable conflicts were indicative of the competition and rivalries which were common between leftists of the 1800’s. They battled on another for the type of change to implemented, for the loyalty of followers, and just as likely, they fought due to the hubris which dictated their desire to lead. Historian Ann Robertson wrote of the later Marx-Bakunin conflict, “As co-members of the International Working Men’s Association, they seem to have devoted as much energy battling one another as their common enemy, the capitalist system, culminating in Marx’s successful campaign to expel Bakunin from the organization” (2003). But this was to come later, long after Paris.

The “grinding poverty” of Paris

This level of socialist activism in Paris was in direct response to what Louis Patsouras describes as the “grinding poverty” which existed there. Within the city walls, there was a permanent force of “the unemployed”, which in 1842 numbered 150,000, men, women, and children (Sirot, Cordillot,  Lemarquis & Pennetierin, undated). Marx refers to this massive number of what might have bee a potential workforce as the “industrial reserve army”, whose existence, claimed Marx, put a downward pressure on wages (Marx, Kapital Vol. 1, 1867). 

Child laborers from the movie Oliver Twist, 2005

Child laborers from the movie Oliver Twist, 2005

But at best, this “reserve army” an unfit workforce, rendered physically weak by the squalid conditions and inadequate food available to unemployed French of working age. As a measure of this, ninety percent military-age men who applied to join the French Army were unable to pass its physical entrance exams (Patsouras 2005).

Urban crime in the 19th century was exceptionally high, with an estimated ten percent of the population resorting to criminality. Crime’s economic stablemate, prostitution, employed 50,000 women in Paris alone (Patsouras 2005). At that time, an estimated one-third of all children were illegitimate (Patsouras 2005, cites Langer 1969) indicating a breakdown of the family unit within a city 940,000. Sewage and water systems did not exist until Paris was rebuilt in the 1860’s, and human waste was thrown into the street to be collected. Cholera and other infectious diseases took their toll on these working and non-working classes, with 18,400 dying in Paris during the cholera outbreak of 1832. Indicating the breadth of class division, infant mortality in among the working class and the unemployed was twice that of the upper classes (Patsouras 2005).

marx and englesIt is against this backdrop that Marx worked as the editor of Vorwärts!, a Paris-based, German language, communist paper, where Marx established his idea that “class consciousness” was the “fertilizer” of revolution (Wheen 2008). His time in Paris came to an end when the Prussian government insisted the French authorities shut down Vorwärts! and once again expel Marx.  King Louis-Philip’s interior minister, François Guizot, a conservative-liberal, was only too happy to comply. While it was ultimately inconsequential that Marx should leave Paris, as French radicals were largely not responding to, or even aware of his work (Chretien 2013), Marx clearly harbors some resentment toward them, as made evident by the opening lines of The Communist Manifesto, which was printed in 1848.

“A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies.”



False revolutionaries

The Peasant War-Assembling Constantin Meunier -1875

The Peasant War-Assembling Constantin Meunier, 1875

To the Marxist, the many peasant and worker uprisings of this period of French history (1775, 1789, 1815, 1830, 1832, 1848, and most fatefully, the Paris commune of 1871) well-illustrated that desperate, angry people could, and did repeatedly take to defensive barricades. To those who witnessed these grim times (particularly in England), Marx was a reassuring voice, that at some point, the capitalist-industrial age, and the oppression would be over. Marx envisioned that, as capitalism collapsed under its own negligence and illegitimacy, it would be replaced by shared-worker responsibility. In turn, each man would gain an equitable share in the rewards of their labor. He, like others, adopted a word that  (John) Goodwyn Barmby, a utopian-socialist, claimed to have coined in 1840: “communism”.

The peasant uprisings of 1789, which may have been confused as “revolutionary” acts at the time, were short-lived and in retrospect, seemingly apolitical. This was a major stumbling block for Marxist ideology, which had to be explained. James Blaut, an American social anthropologist,  wrote (undated) that during Engels’ flight across France following the February Revolution 1848 and the abdication of King Louis-Philippe, that Engels “bitterly, bitterly, denounces the peasants in the regions he went through for not supporting the revolutionary process.”

Marx was ultimately forced to address the lack of revolutionary spirit among the peasantry, and was conclusory when he would famously write: “They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented” (Marx The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte part VII, 1852). Marx reasons within that text, that the act of agricultural production in itself presented an insurmountable isolation for the peasantry. The peasantry simply could not develop a larger, shared, social (class) consciousness. His frustration, and ultimate resignation to this fact is on display, with this backhanded comparison of both peasantry and France to a sack of potatoes.

“A small holding, the peasant and his family; beside it another small holding, another peasant, and another family. A few score of these constitute a village, and a few score villages constitute a department. Thus the great mass of the French nation is formed by the simple addition of homologous magnitudes, much as potatoes in a sack form a sack of potatoes.” Karl Marx, 1852


Executed National Guards following the communard surrender of Paris 1871

Executed National Guards following the communard surrender of Paris 1871


Next Up: dominant schools of thought: the historians


References for Part 3 (series)

  1. The Splendid Duchy Allen Percy, 1872
  2. The Houses of History: A Critical Reader in Twentieth-century History and Theory. edited by Anna Green, Kathleen Troup, Manchester University Press, 1999
  3. Marx’s Das Kapital: A Biography Francis Wheen, Grove Press, 2008
  4. Marx in ContextLouis Patsouras iUniverse, 2005

  5. The Philosophical Roots of the Marx-Bakunin Conflict, Ann Robertson, What’s Next, 2003
  6. The German Ideology Part I: Feuerbach. Opposition of the Materialist and Idealist Outlook, Idealism and Materialism, Karl Marx, 1845
  7. The Revolutionary Role of the Peasants, Nigel Harris,  Debate, International Socialism (1st series), No.41,December 1969
  8. Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society, By Karl Marx, Loyd David Easton, Kurt H. Guddat, Hackett Publishing, 1997
  9. The poverty of Proudhon’s anarchism, Todd Chretien, socialistworker.org, 2013

  10. Ethics Volume II, Henry Epps, Lulu.com, undated
  11. Chronologie indicative de l’histoire du mouvement ouvrier français, de 1789 à 1863, Stéphane Sirot, Michel Cordillot, René Lemarquis & Claude Pennetier, biosoc.univ-paris (undated)

  12. Language and PoliticsNoam Chomsky, AK Press, 2004
  13. “New” Socialist Ideas in the 1848 Revolution, David M. Hart, professor George Mason University, blog, 2014
  14. Socialism: Collectivist Solutions, Gregory Brown, UNLV, undated
  15. The History Guide, Lectures on Modern European Intellectual History, Steven Kreis, historyguide.org, 2000, 2008
  16. Socialism From Below, David McNally, International Socialists, Canada, 1984
  17. Logics of History, Social Theory and Social Transformation, William Sewell Jr., University of Chicago Press, 2005
  18. The Contemporary Review, Volume 41   Alexander Strahan, Isbister and Company L, 1882
  19. The income inequality of France in historical perspective, European Review of Economic History, Christian Morrison and Wayne Snyder, Cambridge University Press, 2000
  20. The Abolition of Feudalism in France, H.E. Bourne, Historical Outlook: A Journal for Readers, Students and Teachers …, Volume 10, McKinley Publishing Company, 1919
  21. The Remaking of France: The National Assembly and the Constitution of 1791Michael P. Fitzsimmons, Cambridge University Press, May 9, 2002
  22. What do people die of during famines: the Great Irish Famine in comparative perspective, Mokyr,  Cormac,  Ó grada, European Review of Economic History, 2002
  23. Peasantry and Society in France Since 1789, Annie Moulin,Cambridge University Press, 1991
  24. French Rural History (Routledge Revivals): An Essay on its Basic Characteristics, Marc Bloch, Routledge 2015
  25. The unique decline of mortality in revolutionary France, PubMed.gov
  26. Histoire et mémoire des immigrations en région Bourgogne, Pierre-Jacques Derainne, Université de Bourgogne, 2006
  27. The Little Ice Age in Europe, Proffessor Scott Mandia, Sunnyfolk Community College
  28. Great Historical Events that were Significantly Affected by the Weather: Part 9, the year leading to the Revolution of 1789 in France (II), J. Neumann & J. Dettwiller, The American Meteorological Society, 1990
  29. Rising Life Expectancy: A Global History, James C. Riley, Cambridge University Press, 2001
  30. Life expectancy infant mortality, Peter Lindert, UC Davis, 2007
  31. Liszt as Prophet: Religion, Politics, and Artists in 1830s Paris, Andrew Haringer, Columbia University, 2012
  32. City-Farm Wage Gaps in Late Nineteenth-Century France, Pierre Sicsic The Journal of Economic History Vol. 52, No. 3,  1992
  33. Why Did Fertility Decline? An Analysis of the Individual Level Economic Correlates of the Nineteenth Century Fertility Transition in England and France, Neil James Cummins
  34. A Social History of France 1780-1914: Second Edition, Peter McPhee, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003
  35. Manias, Panics, and Crashes A History of Financial Crises, Fifth Edition Charles P. Kindleberger and Robert Z. Aliber, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005
  36. French Rural History (Routledge Revivals): An Essay on its Basic Characteristics, Marc Bloch, Routledge 2015
  37. The Making of Urban Europe, 1000-1994,  Paul M. Hohenberg, Lynn Hollen Lees,  Harvard University Press, 2009
  38. The Economic Crisis of 1827-1832 and the 1830 Revolution in Provincial France, Pamela Pilbeam, The Historical Journal #32
  39. The Comedy of Protection, Yves Guyot, Hodder and Stoughton, 1906
  40. A Comparison of Burgundy and the Midi, working paper #I37,  David Weir, The Center for Research on Social Organization, , The University of Michigan, 1976
  41. The Famine as seen by the French: The Journal des Débats and the Great Famine 1846-1847La famine vue de France selon le Journal des Débats 1846-1847, Susan Finding, Cahiers du Mimmoc, 2016
  42. Proto-industrialization in France, Gwynne Lewis, Economic History Review, XLVII, I, 1994
  43. Sur Les Fluctuations du Climat de la France Septentrionale et Centrale Depuis le XVIIE Siècle, (speech) Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Collège de France, Académie des sciences morales et politiques, 2003

  44. France, Financial Crisis and the 1848 Revolutions, Hubert Bonin, Université Michel de Montaigne-Bordeaux, France, Undated
  45. For a review of the nineteenth century economic crises in France, Nadine Vivier, History & measurement (online) University of Maine, Western Historical Research Centre
  46. Agriculture and economic development in Europe 1870-1939 French studies, Nadine Vivier, IEHC 2006 Helsinki Session 60
  47. French Economic Situation 1847-1852. Yvonne, Crewbow, University of Lille, France, undated
  48. The Emergence of Modern Business Enterprise in France, 1800-1930 Michael Stephen Smith, Harvard University Press, 2006
  49. The Culture of the Mulberry Silkworm,  Henrietta Aiken KellyU.S. Department of Agriculture, Division of Entomology, 1903
  50. Annual Report of the Bureau of Animal Industry for the Year, Volume 27,United States. Bureau of Animal Industry 1912
  51. The European subsistence crisis of 1845-1850: a comparative perspective,  Eric Vanhaute, Richard Paping, Cormac Ó Grada, IEHC 2006 Helsinki Session 123
  52. The Myth of Free-Trade Britain and Fortress France: Tariffs and Trade in the Nineteenth Century, John Vincent Nye Source: The Journal of Economic History, Vol. 51, No. 1 (Mar., 1991
  53. Litigation and the policing of communal faming in northern Burgundy, 1750–1790″ by Jeremy D. Hayhoe , The British Agricultural History Society
  54. History of the French Language, Site for Language Management in Canada (SLMC), University of Ottawa
  55. French Economic Situation 1847-1852, Encyclopedia of 1848 Revolutions James Chastain, http://www.ohio.edu/chastain/dh/feco.htm , 1988
  56. Les vignerons de la Côte-d’Or au XIXe siècle. Robert Laurent, Year 1955 Volume 19 Issue 5 pp. 209-211,  L’Information Géographique

History of the Vigneron: Languages Part 2: the war on patois, and linguistic changes in Burgundy

1789-1914: the war on patois

Tho bourgeoise

The bourgeoisie

The a war on patois began shortly after the overthrow of the monarchy in 1789. Some saw a national language as one of the great tools which could unify the country. In the spirit of The Enlightenment, some in the new government fervently believed that the installment of a national language would bring égalité* to all men. Further, it was felt that the inability of a majority of a country’s citizens to be unable to understand political debate was undemocratic.

It is somewhat ironic that the choice for a national language should be the king’s tongue; but it is not all that surprising. After all, the new power base would ultimately belong the to the français speaking Bourgeoisie who controlled both the merchant shipping, and France’s industrial capacity. Under the monarchy, these wealthy businessmen had always pursued equality their own with the nobility.** That they spoke français, was the result of one such failed effort at parity. But despite their superior education, their great social refinement, their powerful positions in business, and sometimes extravagant wealth, they would always be a lesser man than the titled noble. It would take bloodshed to tear down social structure of birthright.

France was hopelessly behind both England and Germany in terms of the industrial development and output, being so deeply invested, both economically and philosophically, in its feudal agricultural economy. But where France did lead was in thought. France was, far and above, the world’s intellectual giant. France’s post revolution urban elite, developed a culture of scholarship that was producing thinkers who were making groundbreaking strides in science, medicine, philosophy, as well as the arenas of political and economic theory. Education, which these men held dear, was seen as the tool which would simultaneously and seamlessly spread both égalité and français as France.

(*) Égalité was a new term and concept thought to be first used in 1774. (Britannica) Although the leader of the Jacobins Maximilien de Robespierre was known to have said this in December 1790: “On their uniforms engraved these words: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. The same words are inscribed on flags which bear the three colors of the nation.”  The notion of  judicial égalité was set into French law in Article 6 of the Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen de 1789 (the rights of man). It pronounced that law “must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens, being equal in its eyes, shall be equally eligible to all high offices, public positions and employments, according to their ability, and without other distinction than that of their virtues and talents.“ (frenchmoments.eu/)  More on the French motto can be learned here.

(**) Like most men throughout history, equality is rarely sought for all men. The past has taught us that the definition of the term word ‘men’ can be endlessly manipulated, or complicated by exceptions. What they had sought was their own ability to stand as equals with the nobility and king. Taking this idea one step further, it would not be a stretch to assume that many of these very wealthy, proud, educated, refined men felt socially and morally superior. They likely did not common, and no doubt resented their ‘commoner’ moniker. In their new empire, they would not speak some lowly country patois. There was really only one choice for a national language. It would be français.


The stigmatization of patois

peasants and cart

A picking crew at the turn of the 20th century,

So, with great intention, the use of patois across France was stigmatized and societally degraded. In the south of France, those who spoke Occitan languages were acutely affected by the French governmental assault on its patois. There it was called Vergonha, or the “shame”. Linguists, Jean Léo Léonard & Gilles Barot wrote in 2012, wrote that “to be considered as a ‘patois’ is one of the worse curses that may happen to a language.”

The first and most famous leader in this fight was the cardinal Henri Grégoire, who wrote a report to the revolutionary government calling not only for the institution of français but the “annihilation” of regional patois. For those in Grégoire’s camp, patois was considered to be a force of obscurantism. Obscurantism was an interesting concept, that an obscurantist was an “enemy of intellectual enlightenment” and worked against the “diffusion of knowledge” (Wikipedia). The idea was the existence of patois was preventing information from being passed, and thus obscuring facts and details from being known.

Grégoire’s position was clearly extreme, as was many aspects of those revolutionary times, going as far to write that patois languages were “barbaric jargons and those coarse lingos that can only serve fanatics and counter-revolutionaries now!” However, among those who that sought to institute français, came to the task with varying viewpoints regarding these dialects. There were those who were overly passionate like Grégoire, that considered patois vulgar, with the “expression of ignorance, archaic prejudice, and obscenity”(Forrest 1991). But others described it as only capable of expressing simple emotion; be it “anger, hate, or love”. This was a significant slight by those men who cherished intellectual thought. Still, there were others viewed it with a bit more kindness,“believing it expressed a pastoral simplicity and closeness to nature” (Forrest 1991). To paraphrase Forrest, it was the language that the paysan spoke to his oxen and his dog.

The early 1800’s: turbulent politics and war makes a national language impossible

But the reality was that the First Republic’s national assembly was deeply divided and had limited time or attention to pursuing Grégoire’s linguistic passions. To this point, the events of the revolution had not disposed of Louis XVI. The king was now sharing power in a constitutional monarchy with the national assembly.

In what seems more of an urgent need a display of decisive revolutionary change, rather than having instituted a well-conceived plan, the fledgling government restructured the country into 83 new départements in 1791. These new departments were drawn to disrupt as many of the traditional, regional, and ethnic associations as possible, and this included patois.  The most highly cited example of separating a major city from its historical homeland is Toulouse. In 1793, Toulouse had a population of 52,612 and was one of France’s largest cities. It was decided break up the Languedoc, by splitting Toulouse off, in order to force new Haute-Garonne centric governmental and trade associations. While these did not sever the natural routes of trade from Toulouse to the Mediterranean coast, it would divide the old political interests that these regions had historically shared. As mentioned earlier, it was these Occitan speakers (langues d’Oc) who would feel the most victimized, by these kinds of actions by Paris. But there is little doubt that Paris did make special efforts to bring the sometimes defiant south, into the national fold.

Eugène Delecroix' famous painting of "Liberty leading the People" which depicts the July revolution of 1848

Eugène Delacroix’s famous painting of “Liberty leading the People” which depicts the July revolution of 1848

The attention of the reformers in Paris was intermittent at best, as upheaval was commonplace in the France the first half the 1800’s. France, from this time forward, would find itself at the center conflicts involving many nations. War, which many within the national assembly felt would unify a divided France, would now be entered into as a member of an alliance, but what unfolded was a new type of war with an unlimited battlefield. This kind of warfare had its battles spilling outside of Europe, across the open oceans, and in far-flung colonies, intended to disrupt and deprive the enemy of wealth and matériel needed to continue the conflict. The war between the major powers of Europe had taken on a new face, one that would define conflicts for the next 150 years. The term for this kind of battle was total war.

1830-1851: education as a political battlefield

Education, the sword with which Cardinal Grégoire’s war on patois was to have been waged, had already been badly neglected for several decades by the 1830’s. It is estimated that in 1835, only one person out of every four hundred thirty-five, attended any kind of school within France (Theis, guizot.com). Because of this, the use of patois went along unfettered. But beginning in 1830, with the reign of king Louis-Philippe, attention would be paid to restoring public education in France. Two men, working under two successive monarchies, would institute an expansive system of schools across France. François Guizot would begin the work in 1832, slowly breaking down many political barriers to the establishment of education. The second man, Frédéric-Alfred-Pierre, who is better known by his noble title comté de Falloux du Coudray, would finish re-instituting an educational system in 1849. Although at this juncture, there was no pointed assault on patois, the establishment of a robust system of schools meant that students all across France were now learning and spreading the langues français into their communities.

It was Guizot who did the heavy lifting in the redevelopment of schools in France. Guizot’s significant reputation as a great professor and statesman, eventually allowed him to negotiate the deep political divides between the conservative monarchist and the secular Republicans. Both groups were equally intransigent in their positions regarding the role of the church in education, and success of the implementation of any educational system was the result of years of mediation and compromise. In the end, a level of Church’s involvement in education was grudgingly agreed accepted by the Republicans in the assembly. Guizot’s accomplishment of instituting instruction for boys in communities with over 500 inhabitants, whether it was in the form of free secular or a private catholic institution, was a hard-fought victory (Theis, guizot.com).

The Black Stain, by Albert Bettanier (1887).


For the conservative right, who viewed secular education as nothing more than socialist indoctrination, the church’s limited presence in schools was not a settled issue. So in the wake of the Revolution of 1848, the newly formed, conservative-dominated assembly of the Second Republic quickly passed a new series education laws. Written by the comté de Falloux, who was the Minister of Public Instruction and Worship, these loi Falloux would greatly expand the role of the church in education. The laws also expanded education to include primary schooling for girls. Communities of over 800 inhabitants would now be required to build schools for girls as well, in addition to those that had been already been constructed under Guizot, for boys (in communities of over 500). The ease with which the loi Falloux had passed was made possible both because of the work was done by Guizot, as well as the anti-clerical Republicans were now had a minority representation in the Assembly.*

(*) This was the political backlash in the wake collapse of the financial systems across Europe, and the Revolution of 1848, allowing a conservative coalition of monarchists and Bonapartists to power. The short-lived Second Republic 1848-1852 was headed by president Louis-Napoléon.  Napoléon, the nephew of Napoléon Bonaparte, would lead a coup d’etat in 1852, when the assembly tried to block his re-election as president and would pronounce himself as Emperor Napoléon III.


1871: the political fallout of the Prussian’s defeat of Napoléon III

While francais was widely spoken in Burgundy by 1863, we know that clearly click to enlarge

The 1863 survey indicates that francais was in dual use with patois throughout most of Burgundy. It acknowledges that at the national level, the ministry of Instruction was at a minimum at least monitoring the spread Francais if not actively promoting it. click to enlarge

The defeat and capture of Emperor Napoléon III by the Prussians in 1870, and the ensuing siege and surrender of Paris in 1871 left the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate (appointed by Louis-Napoleon) and the National Assembly, with the duty of re-establishing a government. All had assumed that France would return to a constitutional monarchy, as aside from short twelve-year rule of the First Republic, and the four years under the Second Republic, France had only known a history filled with monarchs and emperors. Three factions sought their heir to take the throne: the Legitimists (supporters of a Bourbon king), the Orléanists (supporters of the Carpets – descendants of Louis-Philip), and the Bonapartists. The return of a Bourbon to the throne was accepted as the most “legitimate” claim to the throne. Charles X’s grandson, Henri d’Artois, Comté de Chambord had been poised to do so for many years. He had been the “pretender to the throne”, with every regime change, waiting, usually in exile, to be called to his duty. And in 1872 he had come so close to becoming the king of France. Yet his refusal to rule under the tri-colored flag would ultimately cost him the throne (Bicknell 1884). Because, while Henri de Chambord saw the tri-color as a bitter symbol of the fall of his family and of the revolution, to most Frenchmen the flag was a symbol of immense pride and a symbol of French military glory. They would not give up the tri-color, and Henri de Chambord would not be king.

With Chambord out of the picture, a panic set in amongst the Legitimists. In a masterful series of political maneuvers, Adolphe Thiers used the mutual fears of the Legitimists and Bonapartists regarding a successful Orléanists bid for the monarchy. Thiers positioned himself as a preferable pseudo-conservative alternative to an Orléanists usurping power. Despite Thiers longstanding Republican party affiliations, the Legitimists supported his bid for power as prime minister of the new Third Republic. Certainly, his brutal suppression of the socialists in the Paris Commune cemented his reputation as an authoritarian, and as a stalwart anti-communist, they allied their fears that they were not putting a staunch liberal into power.

The Third Republic proved successful at maintaining power for the next seventy years. Within the ensuing decade, the secular Republicans party would dominate in their legislative control of the Third Republic. Jules Ferry would come into party leadership, and ultimately as serve as prime minister for two short stints 1880-1881, and 1883-1885, yet he would play a pivotal role in the story of français overtaking the many patois as the primary language used in France.

Author’s commentary: Impressive, is despite all of the violent revolutions, and major traumas, both war and political, which have occurred in France, the constitutional government never fell regardless of some of the regime collapses which it was forced to deal with. The military too never forced a coup, and seemingly remained obedient to the National Assembly in times of transition. The country never fell into total chaos (depending on your judgment of the ‘Reign of Terror) which can occur with the fall of a primary ruler or a dominant government leader. The National Assembly was always there to maintain order as an “interim government” until it could be decided who would come to power next.

The 1880’s: renewed calls for national unity, and new attacks on patois

13th November 1936: A youth parade of Spanish schoolchildren makes its way along the road wearing the black shirts of the Fascists and carrying dummy rifles. Their home of Irun has been taken over by Rebel troops during the Spanish Civil War, and they have been converted to the Fascist cause. (Photo by Maeers/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

The Third Republic’s attempts to indoctrinate school children with nationalism and patriotic zeal during the 1880’s, were done with similar methods demonstration by Spanish fascists during the Spanish civil war. (Photo by Maeers/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

In addition to holding the position of the President of the Council of Ministers (prime minister), Ferry simultaneously held the position of Minister of Public Instruction and Fine Arts.  It is believed by most historians, that Ferry and others in France were so alarmed by France’s defeat at the hands of the Prussians, that it was considered imperative that every measure possible must be taken to strengthen and unify the country. A dramatic example of France’s fear of the future was that during this period, French school children were patriotically marched, made to carry wooden guns with fixed bayonets (Gaulupeau 2000).

So it was with this fear of again being conquered, that Ferry pushed through a series of strong educational laws in 1882. which along with making public instruction free and mandatory, divested France of the churches participation in public, primary education.

Republican leadership had always viewed the Church and its teachings as an organ of “superstition and regression” (Zantedeschi undated), but now their desire to rectify this perceived national weakness, gave them sufficient justification to pursue a stricter form of laïcité (the absence of religious involvement in the state). That it took ten years for the Republicans, to undo the Ferry laws of 1848, probably gives us a good idea of how long it took Republicans to gain majority control over the National Assembly.

Also important was the Ferry laws tightened requirements regarding the size of communities which were required to provide education for their children. From 1882 onward, any village with more than twenty children must provide a primary school education (Zantedeschi, undated). This dramatically spread the reach of education and the teaching of français, far more deeply into the sparsely populated rural regions, where patois still flourished.

As part of Ferry’s political objective of national unity, the education laws reportedly forbade the speaking patois on school grounds. According to Wikipedia: “Art. 30 of Loi d’éducation française: states that “It is strictly forbidden to speak patois during classes or breaks.”  I have not been able to locate any additional references to this, or any other the legal prohibition of patois on school grounds. However, Witold Tulasiewicz and Anthony Adams write in their 2005 book, ‘Teaching the Mother Tongue in a Multilingual Europe’, that Ferry published an open letter to primary school teachers in 1883, calling for the need to eradicate all “local forms of speech, whether languages, dialects or patois.” In Ferry’s words “…each school had to become a French-speaking colony in a conquered country” (Convey 2005).

"Speak Francais, Be Clean" painted on a school wall, photo wikipedia

“Speak Francais, Be Clean” painted on a school wall, photo Wikipedia

This was a letter that Ferry wrote on the eve of his leaving his first ministership in 1881, but the primary focus of the letter apparently was not on patois. Rather Ferry wrote of teaching both moral education and civic education in the enlightenment spirit of laïcité. Once again, among the scholarly writings of Ferry’s open letter of 1883, which there are plenty, I can find no other which mention his addressing patois. There is simply a stunning absence of information on this subject.

Shaming, may, or may not have been an “official” governmental policy, but it is more than evident that shaming existed on a systemic level, within the educational system, and elsewhere. There are hundreds of personal accounts of shaming and corporal punishment of students, by both teachers and other school officials. These many accounts readily contradict any lack of official record or scholarly study of the subject.

Wikipedia maintains two pages which cover the repression of patois. One is titled Vergonha and the other Language Policy in France.  Vergonha is the Occitan (Langue d’Oc) term referring to the “shaming” of the patois speaking population. It should be noted that the lack of scholarly work on the subject causes the Vergonha page to be noted for its need of citations. While a lack citation is not unusual in Wikipedia, since it is a relatively young resource, I suspect citations in this area will not be forthcoming.  After all, as the Vergonha page states, “shaming” is still largely a taboo subject in France.

How long shaming existed in schools, may significantly predate the Ferry laws.  Vergonha page on Wikipedia shows evidence of this. It cites a 2007 book written by professor and historian Georges Labouysse*, “Histoire de France, l’Imposture: The Lies and Manipulations of Official History“.  According to this text, in 1845, thirty-six years before the Ferry law, a Breton administrator charging his teachers to put a halt to patois in their schools.  “And remember, Gents” the administrator instructed, “you were given your position in order to kill the Breton language.” A second example given by Labouysse happened a year later in the Basque country. Here an administrator reportedly told his teachers: “Our schools in the Basque Country are particularly meant to substitute the Basque language with French…”

(*) Labouysse’s book title does raise a red flag to a partisan agenda. Although his name appears often in a google search, a Curriculum Vitae does not come up. But neither do I find any accusations of having a particular political leaning, an ax to grind, or having espoused any crazy conspiratorial theories.


Tying this all back to Burgundy: Bourguignon in atrophy

Modern day distribution of Languages of the Bourguignon. The Morvan is indicated by in green. The clumping of rural locations where the dialect is spoken at home, is often surrounded by locations where only the elderly speak patois. This suggests that the peasants are becoming "assimilated" into French language and culture, and the patois is being lost.

Modern day distribution of Languages of the Bourguignon. The Morvan is indicated by in green. The clumping of rural locations where the dialect is spoken at home is often surrounded by locations where only the elderly speak patois. This suggests that the peasants are becoming “assimilated” into French language and culture, and the patois is being lost.

So with the implementation of the Ferry laws of 1881, which in conjunction with the systemic use of the shaming and punishment of students by school officials, there was significant pressure across the country not to publically speak in the local patois. It would take less than two generations to cement français as the one language which was spoken almost universally across France. The final nail in patois coffin would be the four years that France’s men would spend hunkered down in trenches of World War I. To paraphrase Eugen Weber, they left for the war as peasants, and came back Frenchmen.

The penetration of français into the more isolated interiors of the country may have been a far slower where communities had fewer than 20 school aged children. However, there were other factors which were putting significant pressures on these regional languages.

The success of a language is all a numbers game, and small rural villages were quickly losing residents for various reasons. The first began around 1820 when birthrates everywhere across Europe began to decline.* This when coupled with a rural exodus which began around the same time meant that these communities were taking a big hit in population. This does not even factor in other rural economic hardships which occurred, only one of which was phylloxera. People were leaving these rural agricultural areas leaving fewer and fewer people to speak these languages. By 1988, out of a total population of the 1.6 million people who were spread across the four Burgundian departments, only 50,000 people (estimated) had some knowledge of Bourguignon (languesdoil.org).

In a 2010 survey done by Les Langues & Vous** revealed the information on the map to the right regarding the geographic locations where surveyors recorded patois to be spoken.  The darkest spots indicate patois spoken at home, and the red spots indicate that patois was only spoken by elders in that location. The open circles were areas where only français remained (map source: Léonard and Barot 2012)

Léonard and Barot write in their 2012 paper, ‘Language or Dialect Shift? Shifting, Fading and Revival of Burgundian Gallo-Romance Varieties’, that français had infiltrated the Côte more quickly than other provincial regions. This, they claim was for two reasons, the first of which was the region was covered by a dense network of monasteries. This is at odds with the history given by the University of Ottawa’s Site for Language Management’s position that the church’s teachings in Latin had actually hindered the spread of français.*** The contradictions in the analyses and interpretations of history are what make the study so consuming. The answers are rarely as they first appear.

Léonard and Barot cite a second factor, the abundance of closely spaced “mid-sized urban centers” from which français infiltrated the countryside between. This may have been a factor. If you look again at the map on the right and trace a line from Auxerre to Dijon, then down through Beaune, you will notice that there are very few remnants of patois.

(*) This is a complicated issue, especially when looking at small villages across Burgundy which saw population losses of 50% from 1793. This will be the subject of the next article. 

(**) I have found no Google reference to Les Langues & Vous, but this is apparently an educational NGO based out of Dijon.

(***) The Site for Language Management, however, did not give a time range for this position, and the period discussed may have been earlier, in the 16th and 17th centuries. Historians do know that one of the major reasons behind 1539, ordinance of Villers Cotterêts was to restrict the use of Latin, thus the influence of the Church. Thus, intendants and provincial administrators (the noblesse de robe) all spoke in French, and all official business of the state was performed in French. The development of French language (which I had originally planned to lead this article on patois, was moved to the end and will be discussed in an upcoming article. For better or worse, it keeps getting pushed back as I delve into new issues of how patois was affected by the national economic crisis, demographics, and how they both affected the people of Burgundy.


In Burgundy, français spread along the wine routes

A conclusion missed by Léonard and Barot is that this path between cities, is precisely the route first established by the old Roman Via Agrippa from Auxerre to Mâcon. Where Léonard and Barot’s idea falters is that along the road from Beaune, near Cluny, and again near Mâcon, there are still concentrations of patois speakersThis indicates, not so much that they are wrong, but that there are other factors involved. I believe the major contributor to the growth of français in this area, was the influx of money and people involved in the wine trade.

The economics of the region suggests that the transition to français along the escarpment of the Côte d’Or occurred as a natural developmentJust as I believe the wine trade had previously spread the patois of chalonnais along the same route, I believe it was the economics of wine which now hastened the spread of français. During the 18th century, with new roads open to the port cities, the wines of Burgundy had quickly gained great demand in Holland, Germany, England, and elsewhere.  With such demand, prices escalated quickly, many times higher than they had historically been. Wine was now big business in Burgundy. Trade now required communication and contract negotiations with both domestic and international partners, and these deals involved large sums of money. Fluency in français had become critical.

The wine industry was bringing considerable wealth into to the renown villages of the Côte, and it buoyed the fortunes of those who controlled plots in desirable locations, regardless of their social status. Their grapes were now worth more, and because of that, their land was worth more. For these plot holders, there was an incentive to learn to communicate with Francophones, particularly as more and more speakers of français were being drawn into the area, by both the money to be made, and the prestige that association with these vineyards brought. For those peasants who farmed the better plots of Gevrey, Vosne, Volnay, Meursault or Puligny, they would have suddenly found themselves with an economic incentive to learn this language that brought them financial success. A natural decline in of the use patois Bourguignon within these villages was inevitable.

But I believe there were other economic factors that were brewing, which when combined, would push patois out of the Côte. The old bourguignon dialect of chalonnais would virtually cease to exist with the exodus of the people who spoke it.

Le Jardin de Maubuisson, Pontoise by Camille Pissaro 1882

Le Jardin de Maubuisson, Pontoise by Camille Pissaro 1882


Coming up: The effects of the economic crises of 1840, Phylloxera 1850, rural exodus, and the declining birthrate on patois.




The Pretenders to the Throne of France, A. Bicknell, The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine November 1883 to April 1884

Vernacular culture as a religious rampart: Roussillon clergy and the defense of Catalan language in the 1880s, Francesca Zantedeschi, http://spinnet.eu/

Le Monde de l’éducation, Yves Gaulupeau, 2000, cited in From the Schoolroom to the Trenches: Laïcité and its Critics, Ian Birchall, paper given to London Historical Materialism Conference November 2015

Teaching the Mother Tongue in a Multilingual Europe, by Witold Tulasiewicz, Anthony Adams, A&C Black,  2005

Economic, Social and Demographic Thought in the XIXth Century: The Population Debate from Malthus to Marx, Yves Charbit, Springer Science & Business Media, 2009

The European subsistence crisis of 1845-1850: a comparative perspective Eric VanHaute,  Richard Paping, Cormac Ó Gráda, IEHC Helsinki, 2006

The Ideological Polarization of Europe in 1792, professor William Patch, Washington and Lee University, http://home.wlu.edu/

Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France 1870-1914. Eugen Weber, Stanford Univ. Press. 1976.

Schooling in Western Europe: A Social History, Mary Jo Maynes, Suny Press 1985

Teaching the Mother Tongue in France, Francoise Convey, Teaching the Mother Tongue in a Multilingual Europe, edited by Witold Tulasiewicz, Anthony Adams, A&C Black,June 9, 2005

Regional Dynamics Burgundian Landscapes in Historical Perspectiveedited by Carole Crumle

Languages and the Military: Alliances, Occupation and Peace Building, edited by H. Footitt, M. Kelly, Springer, 2016

Collective Action in Winegrowing Regions: A Comparison of Burgundy and the Midi – David R. Weir July 1976

Language or Dialect Shift? Shifting, Fading and Revival of Burgundian Gallo-Romance Varieties, Jean Léo Léonard  & Gilles Barot, 2012

End or invention of Terroirs? Regionalism  in the marketing of French luxury goods: the example of Burgundy wines in the inter‐war years, working paper Gilles Laferté Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique

Negotiating Territoriality: Spatial Dialogues Between State and Tradition, Allan Charles Dawson, Laura Zanotti, Ismael Vaccaro, Routledge 2014

‘Insofar as the ruby wine seduces them’: Cultural Strategies for Selling Wines in Interwar Burgundy,” Philip Whalen, 2009

The Abbé Grégoire and the French Revolution: The Making of Modern Universalism, Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall, University of California Press, 2005

From Savage to Citizen: The Invention of the Peasant in the French Enlightenment, Amy S. Wyngaard, University of Delaware Press, 2004

Reshaping France: Town, Country, and Region During the French Revolution, Alan I. Forrest, Manchester University Press, 1991

Le patois bourguignon, patrimoine en danger, Arnaud Racapé, France Bleu Bourgogne, 2015

History of the Vigneron: Languages Part I: Patois de bourguignon

View of Paris by Pieter Casteels II (fl. 1673–1700)

View of Paris by Pieter Casteels II (fl. 1673–1700)

A thousand years of patois

by Dean Alexander

It is ironic that history speaks so little about language, because other than extreme weather, the issues of communication, miscommunication, and the lack of communication, have likely shaped history more any other single factor. Indeed, these issues of communication are often difficult to pinpoint, and their consequences are often lost to history. However, this does not excuse histories which take slight note that on the eve of 1789’s French Revolution, eighty-eight percent of the population of France could not hold a conversation in French, or did not know any French at all (slmc.uottawa.ca). Nor is it sufficiently impressed that there were dozens of different patois spoken across France.

Tower of BabelMany histories gloss over the issue of language with no more than an occasional reference to ‘terms’ which were “in the patois of the region“. This leaves the impression that patois was no more that a colorful piece of slang, rather than itself being a distinct language or dialect. Such casual references do not convey any difficulty of communication within a population which had spoken an estimated six to seven hundred dialects (10th century), derived from three distinct mother tongues (slmc.uottawa.ca). Another (rather poor) estimate, was provided in a 1794 report by the revolutionary bishop of Blois, Henri Grégoire. He wrote that  with “thirty different patois, we are still, as far as language goes, at the Tower of Babel“.  That the bishop underestimated the number of dialects so grievously, suggests how little he really knew about these languages and the people who spoke them. Some modern scholars estimate there were as many as fourteen patois in Burgundy alone.

Whatever the number of patois, it is staggering that percentage of the population which did not speak French, and it invites a number of questions when considering the history of the vigneron. What was the history of language within Burgundy, and why was the French language so slow to be adopted there (and across the country)? How did the monarchy effectively overcome linguist differences? When did the français language arrive in the Côte d’Or, and what was its societal impact? What do we know about the regional Burgundian language; and lastly, does the Burgundian patois survive today? 

Note: for the remainder of this article, I will refer to the language of French by its French name, français. The primary reason for this is français was simply just one of many languages spoken in France.  A secondary reason for this spelling is all of the other language names have no English equivalent, it seems natural that the French language should be represented in the same format. I reserve the right to use the word ‘French’ to represent the language, when refers to its current day usage, or it allows me to avoid an awkward sentence construction. Also challenging was the decision whether or not to capitalize all of the languages and titles. In English we capitalize everything, but not-so-much in French. I opted for the later if the term was in français, but I did capitalize if it was an English usage. I’m sure I did plenty wrong on this account. Editing is not a strength of mine.

Part three of this article will deal with the development and history of français – it is integral to the French story, but secondary to the story of Burgundy. 


Language and the Côte d’Or during the ancien régime and beyond

The patois of Burgundy has traditionally been referred to by French writers as“bourguignon-morvandiau”.  That bourguignon comes from the same mother tongue as français, the langue d’oïl, does not mean that communication was easy between those who were purely bourguignophones, and those who were purely Francophones.  How difficult was this communication? An indication may lie in the fact that someone who spoke both français and a patois was said to be bi-lingual.

Along with hundreds of words which were decidedly different from français, some of which can be viewed here, the pronunciation of the words common to both français and bourguignon-morvandiau could itself cause one to have to listen carefully. Speakers of bourguignon  rolled their “r“s liberally when compared to that of the French speaker, and the “a”, “eu”, and “to” sounds are very marked, or exaggerated, in their pronunciation. The patios spoken from the Burgundy border north of Dijon, down through Nuits, and Beaune to the southern most vineyard area of the Côte d’Or was a bourguignon dialect called chalonnaise (Léonard and Barot 2012).




The Morvan

Patois bourguignon-morvandiau

The name “bourguignon-morvandiau” suggests that the language originated in the hills Morvan Massif, lies roughly 40 kilometers west of the Côte d’Or. This implications can be quite misleading, but the Morvan is really not a such a bad place to begin this story.

It is a rugged region of wooded peaks and high valleys. With the quasi-isolation the terrain presented in terms of accessibility, both communication and trade, in and out of the Morvan has always suffered. This has meant that the population, in addition to being quite poor, has been correspondingly under-educated. These factors have made this one of the last places where the ancient patois of Burgundy is still being spoken.

The Dorsale boisée is in brown, with Chateau Chinon pop. in 1876 was 2668, today pop. 2086.

The Dorsale boisée is in brown, with Chateau Chinon pop. in 1876 was 2668, today pop. 2086.

The Morvan’s quaint villages and small farms dot the region’s meadows, or were cut from its forests in an era of uneven logging regulation. As logging intensified to meet the nations demands for lumber, the population of various villages swelled by as much as forty percent between the years of 1840 and 1900.* The region’s resources, which included cheap, unskilled labor, were, as vividly described by Jean-Léo Léonard & Gilles Barot, absorbed “ruthlessly by the belly of Paris”.

It was from this poor and bloated population, which identified itself by its humble patois, that the daughters of the Morvan were sent to Paris to work as nannies and nursemaids. And over the decades, as thousands of young Morvan girls had worked in the capital’s wealthiest homes, awareness of the patois bourguignon-morvandiau grew outside of the region. It was only a matter of time before bourguignon-morvandiau would become synonymous with the patois of burgundy.

Over the centuries, it has been abundantly clear that the peasants of the Morvan have clung to their language as an integral part of the their identity. And although morvandiau has been a long-established written language, only a minority of its speakers ever learned to read or write it. That français has finally supplanted the regional patois as the primary language spoken is significant, but it is representative of the regression of patois all across France.

The biggest threat to morvandiau, is the Morvan’s increasingly diminishing population. In some of its larger villages, the population is a third or less in number than its 19th century levels. Because of this, it is impossible for “morvandiau” to retain the dynamic vibrancy which it displayed in the past.

(*) from levels established by the census of 1793

(**) 1793 was the first census by the new revolutionary government

(***) The population change shows the boom and bust economy during this period. Moux-en-Morvan in 1793 population was 1089, in 1872 the population swelled to 1688, and today (2013) Moux-en-Morvan has 564 people who live there.  Montreuillon lies along a feeder canal to the Canal du Niverais, allowed good transport for logging operations.  In 1793 had a population of 855, and it grew to a peak population of 1272 in 1976, whil today it has shrunk to only 286 inhabitants in 2013.


ijon skyline, source planetware.com

The Dijon skyline. photo: planetware.com

Dijon and the wine villages of the Côte d’Or

Approximately 40 kilometers east of the Morvan, lies the Burgundian provincial capital of Dijon. As the provincial seat of government, and as a major ecclesiastical and intellectual center, it was necessary to speak français by anyone of social position during the ancien régime. This was also true for commoners who aspired to gain wealth, or rise to a position of prominence.* As such, by the early 18th century (if not before), the bourgeoisie of Gevrey, Vosne, Nuits, and Beaune, would have all spoken français. This was a nécessité in order to conduct business with the right people in Dijon, Paris, or to meet with merchants of the great trading cities along the Atlantic coast.

The arrival of the français along the route des grand cru indicated that a new stratification was occurring at a societal level. There had always been a class difference between the nobility and the common man, but now, the knowledge of français created a new and important social demarcation between members within the third estate (Forrest 1991). There were now two major classes of commoner, a group which includes peasants, laborers, and artisans on one side, and the educated bourgeoisie on the other. One could easily tell them apart, if not by the clothes that they wore, but by the language they spoke.

 (*) This timing would coincide with the drive by Versailles to subdue the nobility and attain an absolute monarchy.


Across the Saône River: the Gallo-Romance language of Franco-Provençal 

Franco-Provençal or Arpitan. Difficult intelligibility among dialects was noted in the early 18th century. Wikpedia

Franco-Provençal or Arpitan. Difficult intelligibility among dialects was noted in the early 18th century. Wikpedia

For centuries, the Côte d’Or sat at a crossroads of two mother languages of patois: Langue d’oïl and Franco-Provençal (also known as Arpitan). In much of the three Burgundian departments of Yonne, Nièvre, and the Côte d’Or, patois in which the langue d’oïl was primarily dominant. But as one moved south and within Nièvre, and east within the Côte d’Or, the words and pronunciation typical of franco-provençaux became increasingly strong.  This was particularly true along the banks of the Saône River, which bordered the department of FrancheComté.

In the department of SaôneetLoire, which is home to the vineyards of Rully, Bouzeron, Mâcon, and Pouilly-Fuissé, the patois there are said to be transitional, conveying varying degrees of both the Langue d’oïl and Franco-Provençal. Nearby, just across the Saône River, in the Franche-Comté, Franco-Provençal  was the primary tongue.   In 1807, one French linguist, Jean-Louis Grillet, wrote that communication between various Franco-Provençal dialects was “difficult” (wikipedia). This comment instructs us on other linguistic challenges that at one time certainly existed within Burgundy, and across the realm.

Dissecting the ‘langues des bourguignons’

To study the dialects of a century ago requires that patois were literate, meaning there was a written version of them. As  James R. Lehning writes that the patois of the Loire had “apparently deteriorated in the course of the nineteenth century.” And in the arrondissement of Roanne,” patois existed in only an “attenuated” form (Lehning 1995). This is to be expected, as the use of français extended its reach into rural communities. But if this was already happening in the 1800’s, it is relatively impossible for us to know the extent of the changes which had already been made to patios by this period, and how much communication had already improved.

References to the patois of Burgundy is typically viewed as a single dialect. An example of this is found on the website of a group self-titled as Défense et promotion des langues d’oïl, – which interprets Burgundian patois as being bourguignon-borvandiau.

The English language pages of Wikipedia names the Burgundian patois bifurcates Burgundian patois into two dialects. The first is morvandiau which they define as a base of the d’oïl of central France, but with a stronger Germanic influences than standard français, and is peppered with hollandaise terms. These were no doubt picked up in trading wine with the Dutch. The second regional patois identified by the French language wikipedia is a hybrid oïl-franco-provençaux language, which it terms charolais-brionnais. This is the patois the SaôneetLoire, which lies on the southern border of Chassagne-Montrachet. While this is a more complete explanation, the reality is yet more complicated.

However, the French language version of Wikipedia (fr.wikipedia.com) breaks down the languages of the Morvan Massif itself as four dialects.*  Dialect breaks between areas of the Morvan show in pronunciations such as “ç’ost” vs. “y’ost” to say “there is”.  Other differences, in the northern part of the Morvan to take water is said as “gaujer” north, while in the south it it becomes “gauyer”.  For a speaker of français, who would say“prendre l’eau”, either pronunciation would be unintelligible.

This is not the only explanation however, as linguists often do not necessarily agree. Some regional sociolinguists have replaced the overarching morvandiau designation with 13 distinct regional dialects, that stretch across the four departments of Burgundy (Léonard, Barot 2012). The northern and western patois are primarily oïl with varying amounts of franco-provençaux influences, but as one moves southward, particularly into the department of SaôneetLoire, the langue franco-provençaux becomes increasingly dominate.

A less obvious, due to its distance from Burgundy, are the influences of the Occitan languages, once called lenga d’òc (or langue d’oc in French). Occitan, along with the langues d’oïl and franco-provençaux, are France’s holy trinity of Gallo-Romance languages. This Gallic-Roman mother tongue, forms the basis of many patois stretching from Spain’s Pyrenean Val d’Aran in the west, across the Languedoc, to Calabria Italy in the east. Although its area of use is separated from Burgundy by the Central Massif and the Limousin forest, there are numerous occitan words and inflections present in several of the southern bourguignon patois.


(*) There is no additional information regarding these divisions however.


map adapted from: Jean Léo Léonard & Gilles Barot (Langues de Bourgogne)

map adapted from: Jean Léo Léonard & Gilles Barot (Langues de Bourgogne)

The following are the fourteen patois of Burgundy

  • Morvan-Autunois was the dialect spoken in north-western Morvan.
  • DB is the label given to long diagonal swath through the length of the province, running through the heart of the Morvan, and extending down into the department of Allier. This swath seems to run right through what is referred to as La Dorsale Boisée, the ‘Wooded Dorsal’ of the Morvan massif. This is a line of heavily wooded peaks (500m-900m) which makes up the spine of the mountain range (fr.wikipedia). To this day, there are very few roads through this region, and it is likely to be very sparsely populated. Léonard  & Barot give no other reference is given to DB in the text. Is DB an abbreviation for something, possibly “base de dispersion“? Basic dispersion, refers to is the measurement of the variability in the data. Or “base de données” meaning database? I can find no answer to this.
  • Bresse, BL and RV: Sitting along the banks of the Saône, these patois are primarily francoprovençal in nature. Each are patois sits with very tight areas of use suggesting a rural, immobile peasant population, with little trade into or out of these regions. Like DB, there is no explanation for these apparently abbreviated BL and RV languages.  The nearby region of Savoy in the Franche-Comté, has significantly influenced the coloring the Bressan character. These were patois which were retained longer than in other areas, probably due to an immobile peasantry. Despite the long history of these dialects, these patois have been strictly oral in use, with no written bresse language ever having been developed.  A phonetic version was sketched out in 2006 to attempt to record and retain the dialect. Bressian speakers today are accused to overemphasizing the uniqueness of their patois, in regards to others. Pronunciation shifts when moving from savoyard bresse in the north, to bresse louhannaise in the south, although the variance is not considered to be enough to “hinder mutual comprehension” (fr.wikipedia).
  • Bresse-chalonnaise was spoken east of Dijon. The name and regional position suggests this is a hybrid of Bresse patois, and that of the chalonnaise.
  • Chalonnaise was spoken from the northern department of Haut Marnes, south through Dijon, and all through the Côte de Nuits into the Côte de Beaune. Perhaps somewhere near Chassagne,* the dialect was morphing to clunisois. 
  • Clunisois takes its name from the ancient Roman city, which lies on the southern-most portion of this patois‘ linguistic reach. The Patois is significantly francoprovençal in nature, the language which is spoken just across the Saône River. 
  • Mâconnais is the dialect that picks up south of Cluny, and to some extenis still being spoken within homes, in and around the city of Mâcon. Mâconnaise, like the Bressan areas which lie directly above it, is heavily influenced by the neighboring franco-provençaux. Mâcon, a city of 35,000, straddles both sides of the Saône River sits half in Saône-et-Loire, and half in Franche-Comté. Like chalonnaise, this is a patois with a long north-south area of use.  This is likely because a number good roads that ran parallel to the river, coupled with with river traffic, would have created continuity in the patois, over this elongated area. The shape of the area affected, is determined by the direction of the movement of people and goods along these thoroughfares. 
  • Charolais dialect sits in a wide swath along south-eastern Burgundy east of the wine regions of the southern Côte Chalonnaise, and the dialects adjacent to the Mâconnais spoken there.  Charolais, according to charolais-brionnais.fr, is language with a structure similar to the Oïl language yet laced with hints of Occitan (langue d’oc also lenga d’òc) and Latin. For example, the «a» sound replaces «e», while the «ts» is used instead of «ch». This region is noted for its massive coal mining operations in Montceau-les-Mines which pulled 2,000,000 tons from the ground per year, as well as its large iron, and steel industries based in the commune of Creusot. This industry was made possible by the opening of the Canal du Charollais (now known as Canal du Centre) in 1792.)
  • Brionnaise is typically associated with Charolais, but is separated in the listing by Léonard and Barot.  The regional marketing efforts by charolais-brionnais.fr say that “efforts to promote the dialect are championed by local celebrities like Professor Mario Rossi, who in 2004 published an Etymological and Ethnological Dictionary of Brionnais dialects.” Note, that it is titled “Brionnais dialects“; plural.
  • Matour is named for a village which is in the hills south and a little west of Cluny. Termed as being in ‘Upper Cluny‘, Matour sits at crossroads between Charolais, Beaujolais, Cluny and Macon. Like the other patois of nearby regions, this langue is transitional, part Oïl and part franco-provençaux.
  • Bourbonnaise: To the west and south of the Morvan, bourbonnaise was once spoken around the city of Nièvre (with a population today of 35,000). This area although technically part of Burgundy, it is separated from the Côte and Dijon by the Morvan. It a region which is influenced by nearby Allier, and patois of Langue d’oïl than the more Germanic franco-provençaux.
  • Roannais sit in the gap between the Morvan and the Central Massif, north of Lyon, along the southern Burgundian border with the departments of the Loire and the Rhone. Named for the department Roanne department of the Loire.
The roads across Burgundy in 1771. The map, which is labeled as "Carte itinéraire du duché de Bourgogne" is held by the National Library of France

The roads across Burgundy in 1771. The map, which is labeled as “Carte itinéraire du duché de Bourgogne” is held by the National Library of France

That there were multiple dialects, some of which were used within a very tight area, suggests that peasantry in these areas were relatively immobile. Intriguingly, a couple of patois had very long, vertical, north-south area of use, such as that of chalonnaise, which covered much of the department of the Côte d’Or. It is not a coincidence that this area of use should follow the path of the Burgundian wine trade, as it moves from Chassagne, up the path of the ancient the Via Agrippapast Dijon. The use of chalonnaise continued to the departments northern border, but is not clear if the dialect extended very far into the neighboring department of Haut Marnes.

MaconnaisThe economic situation of the chalonnaise speaking peasantry of the Côte d’Or, was not at all uniform. The very poor were likely to be immobile, while those with one or more holdings, particularly if one was in a renown cru, were likely wealthy enough to own a horse, and were able to travel to neighboring towns, perhaps to do business with their négociant, or their tonnelier (barrel maker), or to seek any other service or product that was not available in their own village. Those peasants who were able to travel, spread their sub-regional terms and pronunciations to other villages, while bringing new ones back home. This process would have developed a uniform patois, that over time spread over a larger area of use.

The patois spoken within the SaôneetLoire are much more confined in their areas of use. The fact that patois of chalonnaise stops near the SaôneetLoire border, likely means that there was limited trade between these regions, both of which lay immediately south of Chassagne. Patois with such small regional footprint such as the industrial Charlolais and rural matour, suggests there was little trade done with the peasantry there. Again, any lack of trade suggests two things: that the region was quite poor, and that they lacked mobility. Despite the Canal du Centre (then known as the Canal du Charollais) having been built through these regions, the local paysans had little use for a commercial waterway. Even collectively, theses small farmers had little or nothing to trade.  We also know that much of these areas south of the Côte d’Or was dominated by large farm properties, either capitalized, or private, which were controlled by less than one percent of the population, and this too created a population that was compartmentalized, as the small communities were separated from one another by very large farming estates.

(*) Unfortunately as is common with drawn maps, the two maps used are not of the same origin, and not accurate in configuration, lacking cities and other clearly identifiable markers. This makes precise identification of where these languages impossible. This imperfection of maps may be somewhat intentional, since the authors of them might not want to be pinned down to a precise statement that ‘X’ language is spoken in ‘X’ location.


Up next: Part II, The war on Patois



References for  Français and patois Bourguignon, Parts I, II, & III


History of the French Language, https://slmc.uottawa.ca/?q=french_history

The Original Grand Crus of Burgundy, Charles Curtis, MW, Wine Alpha, 2014

Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France 1870-1914. Eugen Weber, Stanford Univ. Press. 1976.

Schooling in Western Europe: A Social History, Mary Jo Maynes, Suny Press 1985

Regional Dynamics Burgundian Landscapes in Historical Perspectiveedited by Carole Crumle

Languages and the Military: Alliances, Occupation and Peace Building, edited by H. Footitt, M. Kelly, Springer, 2016

Collective Action in Winegrowing Regions: A Comparison of Burgundy and the Midi – David R. Weir July 1976

Language or Dialect Shift? Shifting, Fading and Revival of Burgundian Gallo-Romance Varieties, Jean Léo Léonard  & Gilles Barot, 2012

End or invention of Terroirs? Regionalism  in the marketing of French luxury goods: the example of Burgundy wines in the inter‐war years, working paper Gilles Laferté Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique

Negotiating Territoriality: Spatial Dialogues Between State and Tradition, Allan Charles Dawson, Laura Zanotti, Ismael Vaccaro, Routledge 2014

‘Insofar as the ruby wine seduces them’: Cultural Strategies for Selling Wines in Interwar Burgundy,” Philip Whalen, 2009

The Abbé Grégoire and the French Revolution: The Making of Modern Universalism, Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall, University of California Press, 2005

From Savage to Citizen: The Invention of the Peasant in the French Enlightenment, Amy S. Wyngaard, University of Delaware Press, 2004

Reshaping France: Town, Country, and Region During the French Revolution, Alan I. Forrest, Manchester University Press, 1991

Le patois bourguignon, patrimoine en danger, Arnaud Racapé, France Bleu Bourgogne, 2015

Peasant and French: Cultural Contact in Rural France During the Nineteenth Century, James R. Lehning, Cambridge University Press, 1995


Addendum to The roads of Burgundy

Carte itinéraire du duché de Bourgogne

Route Map of the Duchy of Burgundy

Today I found a map of the roads of Burgundy that was produced by the order of the élus of the etats généraux of Burgundy in 1771. Presumably this was done once they felt their road construction had been finally completed. Considering that it commenced in 1715, this was a very long process. As roads were to be built through a region, the peasants of that area were ordered to report for corvée, and provide their labor freely. This as I wrote in the article which can be read here, this tremendous suffering among the peasantry, which included most of those who farmed plots of vines on the Côte-d’Or.

Most of the names of villages and cities are illegible. So I have labeled the ones the few that I could make out. By manipulating the contrast and brightness, the roads however are somewhat easier to see. You can click to enlarge this image.


The roads across Burgundy in 1771. The map, which is labeled as "Carte itinéraire du duché de Bourgogne" is held by the National Library of France

The roads across Burgundy in 1771. The map, which is labeled as “Carte itinéraire du duché de Bourgogne” is held by the National Library of France

Burgundy: The History of the Vigneron, Part 3: Roads and the opening of the Burgundy trade



1715: new roads open Burgundy trade  

In the early years of the 18th century, France would commence building a system of a national highway system, which when finished over a half a century later, would be the finest in Europe. The province of Burgundy had been at the vanguard of these road building efforts and quickly found reward for its efforts, in the vastly improved connectivity with other economies across northern Europe. It was not long before commissioned agents, known as “voyageurs”,  were canvassing Europe for willing markets for Burgundy’s finest product, wine. Then, with contracts in hand, caravans of wagons were dispatched on road from Dijon, heavily loaded with casks of wine from negotiants cellars.  Some of these caravans went westward to Paris, but many made their way north, either to trading ports along the Atlantic, or turning eastward toward the hungry German markets.  On their return trip to Burgundy, the wagons came back loaded with all manner of goods, notably “fabrics, canvas, and cash” (Bazin 2002).  As the reputation of Burgundian wine grew, so did both the wine’s value and almost overnight, fortunes were made.

paysanThere was a darker backdrop to this story, however. Despite the tremendous benefit these roads provided to the region, their construction had come at a heavy cost the peasantry. These farmers, both men, and women, were pulled from their fields and vineyards, often during the critical times of planting and harvest, and forced build these roads without recompense. This duty, which was employed through much of the 18th century, was known as corvée royale; and it’s implementation caused tremendous hardship and widespread resentment within the peasantry. For some Burgundian peasantry, this resentment may have been short-lived, as the increased trade made the wine they produced far more valuable. This was especially true if their plot happened to in a famed vineyard or village. With such luck, their fortune, and future of their families may have changed completely. Others, however, were not so positively affected. If they did not farm grapes, or their plots were in lesser areas, their lives continued to be difficult. Most critically, with the coming revolution, it was these peasants whose future in Burgundy would become less secure. This begins the modern era of the Burgundian winemaker.

Nation-building 1715-1743

Once the nobles had finally submitted to the absolutist rule of the king, the stage was at long last set for the first major road building effort since the Romans had subjugated Gaul. But unlike the road constructed by the Romans, these roads would be designed for the connectivity of France, not to link a conquered province to the conqueror’s empire.  The development of this highway system was such a key step in the nation building of France, that historian Julian Swann would write that its completion was to be King Louis XV’s greatest achievement.(Swann 2003). While Louis XV was certainly was on board in completing this project, (by 1757 he was spending 7 million livres (7 million pounds of silver) on road and bridge construction , (Sée 1927),  it could be argued that Swann may have mislaid credit for the highway system at the feet of young Louis.

The passing of the torch: the regency and the minority of Louis XV

Louis XIV in 1701by Hyacinthe Rigaud in the Louvre Museum

Louis XIV in 1701by Hyacinthe Rigaud in the Louvre Museum

Kingship had passed from the 77-year-old Louis XIV (who had outlived both his son, as well as his grandson), to his 5-year-old great-grandson. Having inherited the throne himself while a young child, Louis was keen to the challenges his great-grandson would face.

Nearing his death, Louis XIV would name his nephew, Philippe II, who was the duc d’Orléans, to be regent. The regency was a position with king-like powers, charged with the duty of administering and safeguarding the kingdom until the young monarch would be old enough to reign himself. This was slated to occur in seven years time, in February of 1723, when Louis would turn 13.

Around this same period, the aging king would also choose André-Hercule de Fleury, the 67-year-old the bishop of Fréjus, to be his great-grandson’s tutor. Although the word tutor today would seem to be beneath a nobleman and bishop, this was a very important position. His job would be to mentor and prepare the young prince to rule a powerful European power, and this could only be done by someone who knew something about leadership, law, and the politics of the royal court.

These two men, both handpicked by Louis XVI, would in their turn, administer the French State for the next twenty-five years. During this quarter century, France would become an even greater power on the world stage.

Phillipe II duc d'Orleans

Philippe II, duc d’Orleans

Initially, the duc d’Orléans betrayed the trust that King Louis XIV had placed in naming him, by attempting to temper the absolutist state. Philippe II reversed several edicts such as noble’s the right of remonstrance which allowed the nobility to challenge and delay decrees of the crown. But more importantly, he replaced state ministers with councils made up of nobles, in a system referred to as Polysynody.  By 1718, however, it had become clear that the Polysynody was mired by the conflicting interests between the various powerful ducs and comtés on the council, not to mention clashes of their egos. It also became apparent that the noble’s deep-seated self-interest, often, if not typically, overrode the interests of the nation. And as a final coup de grace, rampant absenteeism by nobles on the council, stymied its ability to function. After three years, Philippe II had come to accept that the councils consisting of noblemen, had been a failure, and in 1718 he restored the ministerial system which he had inherited.

Cardinal André Hercule de Fleury

Cardinal André-Hercule de Fleury

In 1723, when Louis XV had gained his “legal majority” at age 13, and was now officially the reigning king, and unsurprisingly, he had little interest in politics. He desired that the duc to remain as regent, and although the duc did remain in the position, he would die that December, at the age of 49. With the position of first minister vacant, Louis would appoint Louis-Henri, duc de Bourbon-Condé to this role, but after three years he would replace him with his trusted tutor, André Hercule de Fleury, the bishop of Fréjus, to act essentially as his regent. Although a nobleman, and in a high position in the clergy, Hercule’s borne position was not equal to the others in the royal council. To balance this inequality, Louis XV, would make Hercule a cardinal 1726. Additionally, Louis appointed him as first minister, a title that Hercule would not use. Much like the strong hands of the cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin, before him, Andre-Hercule provided stable, authoritarian rule over France until his death in 1743 at age 90. It would not be until 1743 that Louis XV would truly assume the role of king.

Forced labor of the peasantry and road building

The influential French political writer, Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville (1805-1859), wrote at length about the corvée in his book L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution.*  He wrote that before the death of Louis XIV, the roads were either maintained by the state, or by the nobles who’s estates the roads passed through. This meant, by any true measure, that the roads were virtually not maintained at all. “Around this time,” de Tocqueville penned, the roads “began to be repaired with the aid of the corvée alone, that is, at the sole expense of the peasantry.” De Tocqueville lays this application of the corvée, utilizing the forced labor of the peasantry, in order to build the roads, at the feet of Controller-General Philibert Orry. In 1737, claimed de Tocqueville, Orry applied the corvée “to all of France”.** To better frame this statement, however, it is well documented that it was  Jean-Baptiste Colbert who first enlisted the peasantry for the corvée royale in the mid-1600’s.

Les Jeune Roi, Louis XV

Les Jeune Roi, Louis XV

It must be assumed, however, that the plans to expand the road system had already been laid out Louis XIV ministers, since it was in 1715, the year that the king died, that the élus of Burgundy*** had already commenced their road construction in Burgundy (Swann 2003). The budget at that time was 60,000 livres per year, but these funds would prove to be enough since it would only need to cover the cost of the construction mat, because by utilizing the corvée royale, labor would be essentially free. This construction apparently continued despite the ministerial shakeups in Versailles, that occurred during the first years of Philippe II’s regency. The Burgundians must have been particularly motivated, as they appear to have led road building efforts in France by perhaps as much as two decades. Indeed, Voltaire wrote in 1751 before the construction, that “the high roads were almost impassable.” For the landlocked economy of Burgundy, it was realized that prosperity could only come to the region if far better roads could be built.

An increased in trade commenced almost immediately, if the establishment of the first wine trading firms in 1720 (M. Marey and Champy) were any indication. Encouraged by this success, the élus had continued to increase investments into provincial roads and bridge construction until it had reached 100,000 livres per year in 1757 (Swann 2003). Whether they had been pressured to make the road improvements by Versailles, as Swann writes, or they self-motivated, as I believe, the élus had thrown the weight of the provincial government into the project.

(*) It is important to note that de Tocqueville’s writings about the ancien régime were neatly colored by the intellectual thought and politics of his time, as well as by his own innovative thoughts and perceptions.  As indicated by his noble title, (de Tocqueville is his title, not his name) he was of an old Norman family of noblesse d’épée, which escaped the guillotine by escaping to England. The family returned to France with the reign of Napoléon and was restored to their nobility under the Bourbon restoration. That said, he despised the return of France to a monarchy, in which a Bourbon king was restored to the throne for 18 years, between 1830 and 1848.

(**) Jean-Baptiste Colbert, King Louis XIV’s Minister of Finance, was actually the first minister to institute the corvée royal in the mid-1600’s, although it was only implemented to build roads within central France, and did not extend to any of the provinces.

(***) the élus were the full-time council which governed the province (pays d’état) of Burgundy, following guidance outlined by sessions of the états généraux. The états généraux was the convening of representatives of the three ‘estates’: the nobility, the clergy, and the commoners  (commoner representatives were most likely comprised of the bourgeoisie).

Subverting the intention of the corvée

This painting depicts Macadamized road construction which would not come until later in the early to mid 1800's.

This painting depicts macadamized road construction which would not come until later in the early to mid-1800’s.

The corvée had begun as part of the feudal seigneurial tenure agreement, which required the peasant to perform a certain number of hours of corvée per year. While many are quick to say this work was given without receiving pay, in actuality it was a payment by the peasant, to the seigneur, for the ongoing possession of the plot that they farmed. The corvée was initiated to maintain the lord’s communal properties, however large. These included roads, bridges, churches, ditches for water runoff, all which might be wiped away by a storm or had simply been degraded by the passing of years.

In earlier times, security was a very important aspect of the seigneurial agreement and the through the corvée, the peasants maintained the stronghold (castles/chateau or other fortifications) while it was the lord, and his nobles, whose profession was soldiering, did the actual fighting.

In times of danger, be it from mercenaries or other invaders, the local population could retreat within the walls of the chateau, where the lord would protect them. There, a store of wheat would be kept, and the lord’s ovens would produce bread for those that he protected. As such, the seigneur, held rights to possess ovens (often referred to as four banal ovens), and the lord charged banalités for their use.  The same held true for wine presses and grist mills, which only the lord had a right to own; there were banalités for their use as well. The lords often provided the horses, or oxen, as well as plows which made farming more efficient, for it was in the interest of both parties that production be as high as possible. Without the seigneur’s investment in these items, most peasants could never have afforded them.* There was a mutual dependence of noble and peasant, for one could not exist without the other, and as such, the ancient compact between noble and peasant continued for centuries. The peasants would farm the land with the materials provided by the seigneur, and it was the noble’s responsibility would protect and secure his realm, and his people. As such, the use of corvée in France was generally rare and light, when compared to corvées elsewhere in the world, such as Germany. (de Tocqueville 1851)

As the security of France was slowly assured by the end of the 1600’s,  it is easy to see how, slowly over time, the corvée morphed into more of a civic duty, as an obligation of the village had as a whole. And although in name these were the lord’s lands, they were in actuality the village “commons”. At some point, the villages became what are termed as having “corporate” identities, owned communal lands, and could be sued in judicial courts. (Sée 1927) There was a real sense that they were “in it together”.

(*) There is an indication in de Tocqueville’s writings in “The Old Régime and the Revolution”, that wealthier commoners, who did not fall into one of the many exemptions, may have been allowed to send their horses and oxen to work in their place. Exact details of this are not clear.

The birth of the corvée royale

Ancien Régime- the three estates. Political cartoon 1789

Ancient Regime- the three estates. Political cartoon 1789

So, when Jean-Baptiste Colbert, King Louis XIV’s Minister of Finance, initially confiscated the corvée for national projects in the mid-1600’s, it was a true perversion of seigneurial dues.  It is ironic, that by this time, the seigneurial corvée was now rarely exploited by the nobility in the 18th century (de Tocqueville 1851).  It wasn’t long into the 18th century that Controller-General Philibert Orry, whose position as bâtiments du roi (“the king’s buildings”) expanded the corvée from exclusively road building to a wide array of government projects. After 1737, it was used for many military and state constructions, as well as the most hated duty of providing the transport of military goods and supplies particularly in wartime (de Tocqueville 1851). This duty required the use of personal oxen and horses, no doubt many of which were maimed or died on the road. This work was paid for but at impossibly inadequate rates. (Carlyle 1902) 

The greatest resentment came from the timing of this backbreaking and often dangerous work, which was typically conducted in the spring and fall, avoiding the heavier summer rains, coinciding precisely with the times necessary to plant and harvest (Swann 2002).

The consequence of refusing to work the royal corvée was arrest. And, according to de Tocqueville, the peasantry was constantly being arrested for various reasons: “due to the corvée, the militia, begging, crime, a thousand other circumstances.” “Armed with the right to imprison recalcitrants at will, or send marshals to fetch them.” (de Tocqueville 1851 p.186) authorities implemented a harsh rule over the people. That said, the governmental infrastructure was limited in size, so controlling the populace was a bit like “whac-a-mole”, and insurrections and riots were rampant.

Note: It is important to understand when reading de Tocqueville however that he had a particular liberal ax to grind when writing about society. Regardless whether what he says is true or not, his bias can be seen in the following two sentences: De Tocqueville wrote that the ‘intendants’* found it “useful to refuse to employ peasants in repairing the roads of their own villages, in order that they be reserved for only the great highways…” and then de Tocqueville comments that was a “strange idea that it was suitable to have the poorest, and those who were least likely to travel, pay for the roads, this idea, even though novel, entrenched itself so naturally in the minds of those who benefited from it, that soon they could no longer be done any differently.” 

The economic impact of corvée, and the food riots 1693-1853

Food Riots 18th Century France

Food Riots 18th Century France

France, being an agricultural economy, must have acutely felt the burden of this demand upon its peasantry. There is some corollary evidence of this. It is written that the corvée left peasants unable to plant or harvest crops, which may have regionally affected the food supply, and the price of food. There is little doubt this affected the future ability of individual farmers to buy seed, pay the tithe, pay tailles (taxes), to buy wood for heating over the winter, and to feed their families. It is not clear that the corvée was widespread enough to impact the price of grain and other foods to rise, but all through this period there were widespread “food riots”.

The economic numbers do not support a correlation between the food riots and high food prices at a national level (Rotberg 2000), so we might also assume there was not a correlation between the corvée and high food prices.  However, there may well have been regionally price fluctuations that were behind the riots, and there may have been a correlation between the regional application of the corvée and the food riots. While this is unknowable given the incomplete information available now, over 250 years later, we do know there was tremendous resentment surrounding the corvée, and there were riots relating to food scarcity during the same period.

These riots were short in duration, but they did involve large numbers of people (Rotberg 2000). Each event was unique, and not organized, or part of a collective conscience. Each riot, depending on the region, seems to have consisted of a homogeneous segment of France’s most impoverished societies, the agricultural peasantry in some riots, and urban poor, or the industrial workers, in others. One such instance occurred along the Saône and in Macon in 1709, when peasants forced grain shipments to be halted.** In Troyes in 1740, (in the Champagne region just north of the Burgundy border), 600-700 industrial workers protesting the bailli of the bailiff (a bailiff was essentially a sheriff) for the lack of bread. After protesting, the workers invaded houses suspected of containing grain (Bouton 1993). Roteberg lists that food riots occurred in the following years: 1693/94, 1698, 1709/10, 1725, 1739/40, 1749, 1752, 1768, 1770, 1775 (the year of the Flour War), 1788/89, 1793, 1799, and these continued on through half of the 19th century until the last occurred in 1853/54.  

Historian Daniel Roche wrote that the intendant of Dauphine remarked at the time, most disorders began with “the people’s misery” (Roche 1998). In earlier times, these riots were flamed by the nobility to attempt to shake the authority of the king. But after the death of Louis the XIV, the nobles were no longer involved in such subversion. Now the “diffuse, sporadic, and scattered protest movements erupted in the rural areas, less often, in the cites” (Roche 1998). You may notice this observation is slightly at odds with Bouton, who wrote of various segments of the poor participated in each individual riot, but it is clear that unlike the rebellions fermented by the nobility against the crown (usually about taxes – Roche 1998), uprisings would now comprise solely the poor, that as Roche notes, are best explained by social class distinctions.

This might be interpreted as that the feudal relationship between the noble and the peasant had broken down. Previously, the noble provided security, land and equipment for a peasantry who provided labor. As the nobles contribution lessened, because the security element had been eliminated, there was now an inequity within this relationship. The nobility was now living off of the peasantry, yet contributing virtually nothing to the peasantry in return.

(**) It is notable that the food riots of winter of 1709/10, was the year following “The Great Winter” of 1708/1709 where the average temperature rested at 9 degrees below zero for weeks, and there were tremendous crop failures across Europe. These food riots occurred after a more normal harvest.

Protecting the taille and addressing the burden of the corvée

Riots and unrest, as well as constant application of the corvée, all diminished constant flow of tailles (taxes) into the king’s treasury. It is easy to see that there was a constant balancing act that the intendants must have had to address, as the application of the corvée directly lessened the amount of taxes that could be collected. From de Tocqueville: “In 1751 a receiver was apprehensive lest “the expense to which the peasantry were put for the repairs of the roads, would incapacitate them from paying the taille.” Throughout this time period, the intendants will be seen, repeatedly, standing against nobility for the rights of commoner, referring cases to judicial courts (known as during the ancien régime as  parlements) (Root 1992).

Political Cartoon, France Late 18th Century

Political Cartoon, France Late 18th Century

Behind the scenes, the motivation began with preserving the revenue stream to the king, but one senses that the intendants, truly felt an obligation of fairness and good governance. An example of this comes from intendant Monsieur Ducluzel, of Tours (240 km southwest of Paris). In defending his decade-long disregard of the Minister of Marine’s demands for peasant labor, Ducluzel wrote in December of 1775, that he defied the requests based of the abuses of the corvée, to both men and animals. The conditions of the work that such corvée involved can be garnered from this snippet of his letter: “the cattle are often lamed by drawing heavy logs over roads as bad as the weather in which this service is usually required of them.” (de Tocqueville 1851)

There were those in Burgundy’s provincial assembly (the États-Généraux) who were not unaware, or unsympathetic to the abuses of the corvée.  In 1739, after many years of heavy corvée implementation, there were finally calls in by assembly members  to limit the number of days worked and exemptions during periods where planting and harvest was taking place (Swann 2002).  Swann writes that one alcade, (a mayor with judicial powers),  advanced the need to “lighten a yolk that the peoples…find extremely difficult to support.”  The weight of the alcade’s statement, was biblical, referring to Kings 12.4 “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now, therefore, lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you.” * Given the deeply devout culture of the French at that time, and that a third of the États-Généraux was made up of the clergy, there is no doubt that these words resonated with many members of the assembly.  What is not clear to what effect these efforts to reform the estates corvée requirements were successful. In either case, the need for the heavy use of forced labor subsided after the roadways had been completed (Swann 2003)

But despite these efforts by some to reform the corvée, it is notable that the corvée still was in place in Burgundy in 1769. This 54 year period represents two full generations of the peasantry who had been conscripted to labor upon the province’s roads. It is clear that there was a real division of opinions regarding the use of the corvée, with impassioned critics referring to it as “a real evil in itself.” Some suggested that a system of payment should be instituted, as it had been in other provinces such as Limoges,**  Swann writes that “the reaction was at best lukewarm”.

(*) here from the King James bible, although the French during that period were likely using the Port Royal bible)

(**) It is important to note that some regions never adopted the corvée, but used contractors to perform the labor.  Languedoc (where there was already a history of agrarian revolt) and Limoges are two such examples.

Attempted reforms to the corvée under Louis XVI 1774-1789 

There were those who fought to end the corvée system, such as the intendant of Limoges, Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot. Turgot held the powerful position of contrôleur général under the newly crowned king, Louis XVI, from 1774 to 1776. Among his more innovative, even revolutionary programs, he had attempted to end the corvée, as well as suggesting the abolition of privilege. Needless to say, both of which were vehemently opposed by the majority of the nobility. The radical nature Turgot’s proposals are attested to by the brevity of his tenure. However, Turgot’s ideas would persist and flourish among the intelligentsia in this Age of Enlightenment and spread among the bourgeoisie. Toward the end of the decade, these ideas would be addressed again by the King and his ministers.

Antoine-François Callet - Louis XVI, roi de France et de Navarre (1754-1793), revêtu du grand costume royal en 1779: source Wikipedia

Antoine-François Callet – Louis XVI, roi de France et de Navarre (1754-1793), revêtu du grand costume royal en 1779: source Wikipedia

In 1779, king Louis XVI would, in response to calls from the bourgeoisie “capitalists, merchants, manufacturers, and other businessmen or financiers” who were “…resolutely bent on reform” (de Tocqueville 1851), make a grand suggestion that he would lessen the load of the royal corvée on the peasantry. This was le Siècle des Lumières, and repression was to be scorned; thus Louis XVI, the final Bourbon to sit on the throne, would seemingly loosen the yoke of the peasantry. The king would make this speech announcing the end of the corvée.

“With the exception of a few provinces (pays d’états), nearly all the roads of the kingdom have been made gratuitously by the poorest portion of our subjects. The whole burden has fallen upon those who have no property but their labor, and whose interest in the roads is very slender; the landowners, who are really interested in the matter—for their property increases in value in proportion to the improvement in the roads—are privileged exempts. By compelling the poor to keep the roads in repair, to give their time and their labor for nothing, we have deprived them of their only safeguard against poverty and hunger, in order to make them toil for the benefit of the rich.”  King Louis XVI, 1779

This great pronouncement amounted to little more than lip service, however. A few months later, writes de Tocqueville, the corvée was resumed. The nobility and the monarchy had work that needed to be done, and they couldn’t imagine another way to achieve it (de Tocqueville 1851). As such, in most of the country, the corvée labored on until the revolution began in 1789.


using pruning knife, (à la serpette) for Guyot VinesFor some peasants who were fortunate enough to have tenant plots in top crus in Burgundy, the trade expansion that these new roads provided, had brought an unforeseen prosperity. This money allowed them to take on plots from other peasants who were struggling, and to hire day laborers. In this way, the peasant could manage far more acreage than they could farm alone. As their wealth and position increased, these peasants were known as fermiers (farmers), which had a strong affinity to the traditional French gentleman’s position which had long been the sole position of the seigneur, the lord. This was an unheard of time of economic mobility in Burgundy, with this rudimentary capitalization occurring in the fields. Additionally, new faces were appearing on the Cote, as exceptionally wealthy bourgeoisie from Dijon and Paris were beginning to purchase valuable vineyard plots in the Côte-d’Or. These two groups, along with the nobility which would either survive the revolution or gain nobility after the revolution, would form the basis of the families who farm the vineyards of Burgundy today.

But for other peasants, whose backbreaking work built the “highways” of France, received little, if any benefit from the highways. They did not travel, and their Gamay, or wines from lesser known appellations, did not fetch the kind of money as those that farmed a plot of Chambertin, or Volnay, which were gaining in popularity and value as their fame spread across Europe. These peasants would find that neither their fortunes, nor their future would improve, and most would eventually lose their small holdings once the security of the seigneurial tenure was broken by the coming revolution.

(*) The états généraux was the provincial convention of representatives from the three estates, the nobility, the clergy, and the commoners (who were typically bourgeoisie) which every three years convened to debate the direction of Burgundy for the following three years. The élus were appointed council tasked to fulfill the administration of those goals. There were two other important positions to be cognoscente of, the Governor of the province who was always a great lord, and as well there was the intendant, who was a royal civil servant. Both of which were royally appointed. The governor lived at Versailles, always courting the favor of the king for personal and provincial business, while the intendant lived in the province, in this case, Dijon, and ensured the province was run in the interest of the king, reviewing court cases, tax collection, as well as regional and municipal issues.

References for this article

Evolution du métayage en France, L. Durousseau-Dugontier, Impr. Crauffon, 1905

Provincial Power and Absolute Monarchy: The Estates General of Burgundy 1661–1790 Julian Swann, Cambridge University Press  2003

Economic and Social Conditions in France During the Eighteenth Century, Henri Sée Professor, University of Rennes 1927

Histoire du Vin de Bourgogne, Jean-François Bazin, Editions Jean-Paul Gisserot, 2002

The Old Regime and the Revolution, Volume I: Alexis de Tocqueville, François Furet, Francoise Melonio 1851, reprinted University of Chicago Press, 1998

The Old Regime and the Revolution, Alexis de Tocqueville, trans John Bonner (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1856) Modern Translator: George Gerald Reisman

The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XII (Age of Louis XIV) Voltaire, (1751)

Social Mobility and Modernization: A Journal of Interdisciplinary History Reader, Robert I. Rotberg MIT Press, 2000

The Flour War: Gender, Class, and Community in Late Ancien Régime French Society, Cynthia Bouton, Penn State Press, 1993

Peasants and King in Burgundy: Agrarian Foundations of French Absolutism, Hilton Root, University of California Press, 1992

The French Revolution: A History in Three Parts I. The Bastille; II. The Constitution; III. The Guillotine, Volume 1Thomas Carlyle G.P. Putnam, 1902

France in the Enlightenment Daniel Roche Harvard University Press, 1998

Burgundy: History of the Vignerons: part 2, roads less traveled

Via Agrippa

Via Agrippa, the Roman system of roads that were built throughout Gaul early in the first century.


Roads less traveled

By Dean Alexander

Villa Agrippa along the Lyon-Saintes roadway in west-central France. http://www.st-martin-de-jussac.fr/

The ancient Roman Via Agrippa along the Lyon-Saintes in west-central France. http://www.st-martin-de-jussac.fr/

Throughout history, the four departments of Burgundy have existed in various states geographical isolation; partitioned from western France, by the mountain ranges of the Central Massif and the Morvan. For twelve centuries, only three woefully inadequate roads linked Burgundy to western France, and those, having been built by the Romans in around the year 20 BC, were in a state of disintegration. Whether lost to flooding or landslide, or its materials having been scavenged for new construction, in places, these roads ceased to exist altogether. Travel to and from Burgundy became increasingly slow, difficult, and dangerous.

This road system was never intended to support an independent France, and as such, their route selection, and the intellectual philosophy behind their design were ill-suited for reliance that the Gauls would place upon them.  Each aspect of their design would leave a lasting impact on the of future development of trade, communication, and ultimately the economy of France. This underdeveloped and crumbling infrastructure would leave Burgundy in a state of quasi-isolation, forcing it to develop independently for centuries, and delay the unification for France for a millennium.

To some readers, this ancient topic will seem unimportant, and seemingly unrelated to winemakers of today, but the geopolitical separation of Burgundy from central France was quite significant on both a regional and national level, and significantly shaped the identity of the winemakers of the 18th and 19th century. For the wine scholar, these are roads less traveled.

(*) This is true of the areas of the Rhone Valley and Provence as well.

Haut-Folin is tallest of the Morvan's three highet peaks, at 902 meters. Against this backdrop, only a few poor roads penetrated the densely wooded Morvan Massif. Lying directly between Paris and Beaune, the Morvan is a northern extension of the Central Massif. Although not terrible tall at its peak 900 meters, the 70 kilometers long Morvan has a 35 kilometers girth, which provided more than enough deterrent to easy trade and travel to or from western France. photo: wikipedia

Haut-Folin is tallest of the Morvan’s three highest peaks, at 902 meters. Against this backdrop, only a few poor roads penetrated the densely wooded Morvan Massif. Lying directly between Paris and Beaune, the Morvan is a northern extension of the Central Massif. Although not terribly tall at its peak 900 meters, the 70 kilometers long Morvan has a 35 kilometers girth, which provided more than enough deterrent to easy trade and travel to or from western France. photo: Wikipedia

Natural trade barriers: massifs, and valleys

While good roads and bridges cut with seeming ease through these regions today, the Central Massif and the Morvan, divided eastern and western France for centuries. Moving northward along the backside of the 1020 kilometer long Central Massif, sits Lyon; and just beyond the city, as the northern tip of the Central Massif falls away, a gap between the mountains develops before Morvan rises up again in the north. Because this area is hilly, defined its boundaries is not straight forward but is the gap is a fairly wide area of at least 50 to 75 square kilometers, .

Militarily, these are the kinds of gaps that armies seek to strike their enemy, but in the past two thousand years, no major advances seemed to have launched by any army through this gap. Why was this? A possible explanation is that this gap is covered by irregular hills and multi-directional valleys, through which the headwaters of the Loire and other rivers form.  Many of these headwaters are rivers in their own right, including the Allier, Arroux, Dore, Loire, Nievre, and Sioule Rivers, and each would have created their own fording challenges. Secondly, the valleys may have been swampy until they were drained in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This would have made the movement of equipment substantially difficult.

Northward from this gap, one will encounter the heavily wooded hills of Morvan Massif. This too stood as yet another obstacle to travel. Although the total elevation of the Morvan is not overly high, with its highest peaks being roughly 1000 meters, it can be rugged, densely wooded, and has an imposing breadth of 35 kilometers. Along the eastern foothills of the Morvan, is where the vineyards of the Côte d’Or are located.


For a more than twelve hundred years, since the times of Roman Gaul, the road system of France decayed more than it improved. The major routes remained those of Roman origin. It wasn’t until the early 1700’s, that road construction was given any priority, and that the natural barriers of trade to the west were finally lifted.


Via Agrippa: the first well-established roads in Eastern France

The first Roman routes, out of simplicity, skirted the Central Massif.  To the Massif’s south, the road hugged the Mediterranean coastline as it moves westward. At Arelate (Arles), which became an important Roman port and trading city, the Via Domita ran toward the Iberian Penisula, where it met with the Via Aquitania, which drove northwest toward Burdigala (Bordeaux) on the Atlantic coast. To move northward from Arelate, the road system of the Via Agrippa began.  Constructed for movement of legions to conqueror and control the unsettled regions east of the Central Massif, Roman leaders decided to establish Lugdunum (Lyon) as the hub of the expansive Via Agrippa road network. Archaeologists Ulrich Erdmann writes that the “geography of Burgundy was advantageous to the development of a strong infrastructure with busy roads from Lyon, the capital of the province, to Paris and the Channel ports, and to the Rhine.” (Ulrich Erdmann 2004) Because of this well-constructed road system, this was certainly the case during Roman times. And much later, the better sections of the road would continue to serve the basic economic needs of the region, right up until the revolution.

The Rise of Lugdunum

That the Roman engineers decided that Via Agrippa should radiate from Lugdunum (Lyon), made the city a very important trading hub. Lyon would link Rome to nearly all of its European provinces, including those in Switzerland, Germany, Northern France, as well as being the most direct route to its most far-flung northern European possessions, including the Netherlands, Belgium, and Britain. It is important to note, that the decision to choose Lyon as the hub of this road system, would impact Burgundy for centuries after the fall of Rome. This road was economic thoroughfare Burgundy would require to maintain its independence over such a long period of time.

In the best of conditions, trade in ancient times was slow, moving at the pace of a draft horse under a heavy load. Couriers and unburdened travelers and may have moved more swiftly, but these long distances required patience. To ease these troubles, Romans built small, well-appointed towns along the route to act as rest stations along the way, catering to the needs of the well-heeled traveler, and others.

Roman Gaul was generally peaceful and stable for centuries, and in fact, legions were generally not stationed there after 15 BC. (Woolf 2000)  Around 300 years after Gaul’s submission to Rome, every freeman of Gaul was offered citizenship (212 AD). This was not a special dispensation since it was granted to all lands within the empire, but Gaul was widely considered to be the most acquiescent and accepting of Roman rule.(Erdmann 2004)

The most important route, at least in regards to Burgundy’s connectivity to the rest of Europe, was the main, north-south artery of the Via Agrippa. This road headed north to Dijon, through Langres, and ultimately to the port city of Cologne on the Belgian coast. This was the road which would become instrumental in Burgundy’s wine trade, forever onward.

Peutinger map: the only map of the Roman roads in Gaul

Peutinger map: the only map of the Roman roads in Gaul

The conclusion that Lyon-Cologne was the most vital route is based partially on the fact that this road is one we know the most about. It appears far more frequently in literature than any of the other Burgundian roads, and that is true of writings from antiquity, until well after the French revolution. This repeated appearance in writings may have to do with its being the road to Langres, which even today remains an important religious center.  Langres had the distinction of being the seat of the Bishop of Roman Catholic church, as well as home to several Catholic religious orders. But this road also appears often this road as a major trading artery. That this can not be said about any other regional road, leads one to draw the conclusion that it was the primary route in and out of Burgundy. We might also assume it was the best-maintained road within Burgundy.

Two other, presumably important roads headed directly westward from Lyon. The first was a route that zigzagged over barren sections the Massif. This spur of the Via Agrippa eventually made its way to Clermont-Ferrand on the reverse side of the Central Massif, then ultimately on to Saintes in southwestern France. This route has been somewhat chronicled over the past two thousand years, but principally as part of the pilgrimage of le Chemin Saint-Jacques. Little of this Roman roadway remains, and its exact route is uncertain. A second spur of the Via Agrippa departed westward from Chalon. This route is referred to as the Lyon-Boulogne, although once it arrives in the Loire Valley it bifurcated, with one branch heading to Saintes, and the other to Boulogne. Unfortunately, we know very little about its route, as much of its roadway has been lost. Over the centuries, the stone, and other road building materials were removed for other uses, and dirt has covered much of the rest. Additionally, little is written about the Lyon-Boulogne, and most our knowledge regarding its existence comes from an ancient Roman map which was discovered in a library in Wormes, Germany in the late 1400’s.

Roman route selection

Agger Road

Since this road traveled through a forest, the high, raised roadway was likely built as a defensive platform to help legionnaires defend against ambush. This raised roadway would give a stretched out column of soldiers a chance to survive against a more concentrated force attacking from their flank.

Roman roads were as part of a larger military conquest strategy. As such, upland routes were chosen for the defensive advantage hills provided, and whenever possible track was selected which were devoid of forestation. Roman columns traveling along these routes were more able to repulse attacks where sight lines were longer. Along these highland routes, way stations were situated on hilltops, as they were far easier to defend.

Conversely, Roman roads avoided valleys, and dense forests, (Planhol, Claval 1994) as both of these terrains presented a tactical disadvantage of not being able to bring the “cohorts to bear.” (Heather 2010) While these overland routes provided security for columns of soldiers and their baggage trains, these overland Roman military roads may have proved difficult enough to deter less disciplined travelers.

But avoiding forested routes may have been more challenging than one might imagine. While today one fifth of France is timber land, consisting of roughly 25% oak trees, when Caesar arrived with his legions in Gaul in 58 BC, it is estimated that two-thirds of France were covered in forests, primarily of oak trees interspersed with thickets. (Thirgood 1971) Wide belts of sacred forests created the natural “frontier zones” which separated the various Gaulish tribes, which only the Druids were allowed to enter. According to  J. V. Thirgood, a professor of forestry at the University of British Columbia, the forests held a “psychological dread” for the legionnaires, involving forest warfare and mysticism.

Building roads in Britain, artist unknown, 1956

Building roads in Britain, artist unknown, 1956

Additionally, the need to find solid ground upon which to build roads was of equal importance. Before the construction of drainage systems, provided by the construction of France’s innumerable canals (ie. Canal du Centre opened in 1792), many of France’s valleys and plains were riddled with marshes. (Grabmayer 2009) This may have made these valley areas between the larger Loire and Saône Valleys unsuited for road construction, not to mention it was likely to have been covered in dense forests. Further, the many rivers that traverse the region would have required the construction several of large and costly bridges.

As much as road construction’s primary purpose was to allow Rome to project its power, its ability to facilitate trade was an expected byproduct of great importance. The roads were an artery of wealth, raw materials, and other valuables, which would economically feed Rome. Both legions and merchants traversed the roads from Gaul to the Italian peninsula, carrying with them all manner of treasure and goods. Caravans were loaded with from gold and silver to less glamorous ores such as lead and tin. They were loaded prized wines from Burgundy which were said to rival the best of the legendary Falernian wines, as well as casks (a Gallic invention) of wine the Rhone, as well as material goods, such prized Samian pottery. There was also a significant movement of grain, which included wheat, barley, and rye, all being transported from France to the Apennine peninsula.

Confusingly, the generic word for ‘grain’ in Latin the is the word “corn”. However, because in English “corn” only refers the vegetable which is indigenous the Americas, some writers have mistakenly understood that corn was grown in Gaul, and traded to the Romans. It obviously was not, since it was not ‘discovered’ by Europeans until sometime after 1492.

Roads dictated by geometrical theorem 

Ordered, but inefficient for trade? 

Examples of calculatiing distances by trianglation and Tales Theorem as used by the Romans. Drawings: Giovanni Pomodoro 1603

Examples of calculating distances by triangulation and Thales Theorem as used by the Romans. Drawings: Giovanni Pomodoro 1603

Historian Greg Woolf, argues that efficiency and connectivity of these roads were undermined by the Roman’s limited geographical knowledge of France, and that centering its hub on the city of Ludunum (Lyon) was somewhat arbitrary. (Woolf 2000)

This may have been true, but there was at least one other factor at play: the Roman ideology that the intellect must triumph over the random vagaries of nature. As such, the incorporation of Euclidean and Pythagorean theories was widely employed in many aspects of Roman construction, including roads.

Pythagorean theories were widely employed in many aspects of Roman construction.

Pythagorean theories were widely employed in many aspects of Roman construction.

The Roman designers conceptualized their roads as a Euclidean geometric equation: thus a road was “a surface is that which has length and breadth only”. The design of any “solid“, is matrix of point, line, and surface, and differs significantly the “solid” object it represents. (de Laguna 1922) Whatever difficulties of these theoretical ideals posed in applying to the actual, physical geography, was left for the on-site surveyors and builders to resolve. Surmounting the peaks, rivers, gorges, as well as marshy valleys, forced those who managed the construction to adjust as necessary. (Legion VIII Augusta)  Doubtlessly, there was pressure to complete the job as it was designed, and this may have led to the Roman reputation for overcoming obstacles, rather than building around them.

Having dedicated themselves to build roads to a Euclidean planar, rectilinear model, there are many examples of this in their road construction across the Roman Empire. Stretches of the road will persist for dozens of kilometers, in an unflinchingly straight line. These roads hold straight and true, over a variety of terrains, even when no direct line-of-sight was possible. The most extreme example of this is the Roman road from Bavay to Tongeren (in Belgium), which continues uninterrupted in its straight path for 70 kilometers or 43.5 miles (Gallo, Bishop 2006).  This, reasoned the Romans, would allow columns of legionnaires to arrive at a far-flung location in the most expedient, and least exhausted fashion.

To accomplish this feat of building long, dead straight stretches of road, Roman surveyors made visual sightings (of up to six miles) at night, by using fires. Where line-of-sight was not possible, surveyors attained sighting from hilltop to hilltop and utilizing theorems of similar triangles, enabling them to maintain their road’s undeviating course, with remarkable precision (Gallo, Bishop 2006).

No doubt, the Romans over thought their roads, in that  It is easy to see how this might prove problematic, in bypassing cities, or not connecting cities with did not fit into their intellectual sense of organization, and might delay a Roman legion’s arrival to a strategic location.

The consequence of Roman road design on a post-Roman France

Just as Gaulish tribes did not coalesce as a single body until the Romans artificially did so by force, once the Romans were gone, France once again splintered into its regional tribes once the Rome fell. No doubt, regional rulers, such as the Frankish King Clovis I, who triumphed over the last Roman military commander in Gaul, would have found the organizational structure of these roads frustrating. It is clear they inhibited movement of goods and communication in almost any direction that wasn’t en route to Rome. For this reason, Roman roads greatly dictated the regional trading partners. For example, travel from Reims, north of Paris to points southwest of Paris, such as Chartes, was extremely circuitous and would have discouraged trading and communication between these two areas within central France. One has to wonder if this de facto subdivision of France, was actually by Roman design, with the intent of keeping populations divergent, and unable to unify, thus making possible rebellions less viable.

By the Middle Ages, the roads of the Via Agrippa were in poor condition despite their immaculate construction. The efficient infrastructure necessary to maintain them had been lost well before the fall of the Roman Empire, which had been in a long period of decline.**

*King Clovis I, who would triumph over Syagrius, the last Roman military command in Gaul, who had held out a decade after Rome itself had fallen. (**) This would finally happen when Rome’s own mercenary armies, consisting largely soldiers of the Germanic Visigoth tribes, breached the walls of Rome in 476 A.D.

I have overlaid the Morvan and Central Massif on a map of the Via Agrippa derived from The Tabula Peutingeriana, also known as the Peutinger map. Peutinger is a medieval copy of a Roman road map from about the year 300 CE. The mapping was done mainly utilizing the research of Richard Talbert. To see the original map http://www.omnesviae.org/

I have overlaid the Morvan and Central Massif on a map of the Via Agrippa derived from The Tabula Peutingeriana, also known as the Peutinger map. Peutinger is a medieval copy of a Roman road map from about the year 300 CE. The mapping was done mainly utilizing the research of Richard Talbert. To see the original map http://www.omnesviae.org/

Roads and travel in the Middles Ages

carriage in mudTo write so extensively of the design and construction of the Via Agrippa is not to imply that roads were not built during the Middle Ages. But many of these roads were poorly constructed and degraded quickly. This meant that travel upon them became difficult not long after they were built, due to the marginal effort and low-grade materials generally committed to European road construction during the Middle Ages. Too often, little more technique was employed than clearing enough of the brush and trees so that carts could pass. Dust was a problem in the summer, and with periods of heavy rainfall, these rutted roads become deeply muddied, and often becoming impassable.

carriage crashMore important roads, perhaps as those which linked important holdings of the crown, cities with Duchés, or within Comtés, were built to higher standards. For these roads, workers used lime-infused dirts, like marl or fullers’ earth. (Friedman, Figg 2013) Lime (calcium) can have the capacity to stabilize wet earth by disrupting the alignment of the platelets in clay. This change in soil structure allows the soil to drain better.

These calcium-rich materials were apparently valuable, however, and were sometimes pilfered right from the center of the roadway. The result was that thieves created very large potholes, which, depending on their size and location, could seriously impede travel. Worse, after heavy rains, these pits would fill with water. With murky water obscuring their depth, these potholes became traps for the unaware traveler. Drownings did occur. (Friedman, Figg 2013)

Road fatalities were fairly common over the centuries, occurring when wagons or carts crashed or overturned. (Grabmayer 2009)  The Encyclopedia of “Trade, Travel, and Exploration in the Middle Ages”, almost humorously refers to these as “traffic accidents”, and both Friedman & Figg’s text, and Grabmayer’s paper note that numerous such deaths appear in “coroner” records.

Accidents were caused by the carts being flipped, spooked draft animals as the Friedman & Figg cite. Without a  doubt, poor cart construction, wear, and fatigue of the cart or wagon, in conjunction with overloading and poor weight distribution, also played a part in these accidents. But they would have been compounded exponentially by travel on these poor roads.

Roads of cultures

How roads were built, and how they were used, both represented a vast difference in culture between the Romans and the Gallic people. Paved Roman roads* were slippery for animals when it rained, and in general were hard on the hoofs of unshod animals. The Roman response was to find a solution. Their answer was fit horses and oxen with what was referred to as a hipposandal: special sandals were constructed from iron plates, and these plates were tied to the animals hooves by leather straps (Bakels 2009),  Of course, the medieval Frenchman had no such sandals, and may not have even been interested in obtaining them. As a habit, Gallic travelers tended to avoid these sections of road, particularly when utilizing hoofed animals. So instead of using the roads as intended, the Gauls drove their carts on the footpaths which ran parallel to the center roadway. (Grabmayer 2000) This caused other traffic, particularly those on foot, to create new impromptu paths, which also ran parallel to the Roman road. The practice of using multiple parallel paths to the old Roman roads expanded considerably as the Via Agrippa continued to deteriorate. and becoming increasingly difficult to navigate even for those on foot.

Christian Pilgrimage began well before the fall of Rome, and continues even today. Many of these routes are still used. More about pilgrimage and to see the original map, goto dappledthings.org/

Christian Pilgrimage began well before the fall of Rome and continues even today. Many of these routes are still used. More about pilgrimage and to see the original map, goto dappledthings.org/

Johann Grabmeyer writes that across a plain on which a Roman road traversed, as many as one hundred, more or less parallel paths might exist. Grabmayer does not cite this source, but the awareness that ancient historians and authors were prone to exaggeration, might be appropriate to keep in mind here. In any case, the point is clear, where the citizens of Ancient Rome had been ordered, purposeful, and methodical, the Frenchmen of the middle ages often sought their own road.

In another point of distinction, the Roman approach to road construction was to tackle obstacles head-on. By utilizing their superior engineering skills, and probably with the heavy use of slave labor, Roman road builders, built over, or removed impediments, whereas their Gallic counterparts of medieval France typically chose to avoid obstacles altogether. For instance, as Roman bridges eventually washed away due to a combination of neglect and flooding, the medieval nobleman rarely concluded that the bridge should be rebuilt, which would incur a major expense. Instead, it was typically decided that the road would perform a detour to an easier crossing point. (Grabmayer 2000) Unlike the Roman roads which had been built a prescribed width, and constructed in a specific manner to withstand both heavy traffic and inclement weather,

Also pointing to these cultural differences, as medieval roads were forced to cross overland routes, where obstacles are many and options to deviate are few, the many paths created ad hoc by travelers often become one path which became narrow, deeply rutted and increasingly risky. This was very different from the Roman roads which moved over similar terrain, as all Roman roads were built a prescribed width and constructed a specific manner to withstand both heavy traffic and inclement weather over a long period of time, with minimal maintenance being required.

*only some Roman roads were paved.

Travelers attacked by Brigands 1670, Nicolaes Pieterszoon Berchem

Travelers attacked by Brigands 1670, Nicolaes Pieterszoon Berchem

The rise of brigands

The dangers of travel in the 14th and 15th centuries were elevated substantially due to the marked increase in banditry.  Dmitry Shlapentokh writes that earlier in the Middle Ages, weapons, warfare, and violence had been the exclusive domain of the nobles. This was by design, the entire existence of the noblesse de l’épée (nobles of the sword) was predicated on the protection of his lands, and thus his people.  But it was precisely this long association of violence with social superiority and a higher social standing, which would prove to have very negative consequences.

As the Middle Ages came to a close, major socio-economic changes were occurring, not the least of which was that The Hundred Years War had democratized warfare. Violence was no longer the strict domaine of the nobles.  Weapons, which not only had the common man been prohibited from owning, but were far too expensive to procure, widely now available and inexpensive after generations of war. The sword, the weapon most equated to that of the noble, accordingly became the preferred weapon the bandit. Not only was the sword effective, but it symbolized both power and social prestige, as did, unfortunately, the weapon’s use. (Shlapentokh 2008)

Chronic war, the weak ineffective authority of the nobility, unreliable law enforcement, all led to a lack of security and a period of extreme uncertainty. For over three centuries, bandits robbed and murdered in a widespread fashion, making both travel and trade very dangerous. Still, merchants and travelers persisted. Banding together in caravans, they either armed themselves, or would hire armed escorts, to attempts to discourage attacks and make safe passage.

Aviary Photo_130982962587254885

Corduroy Roads have been constructed for thousands of years, to make wet marshy valleys passable. The period of time that they are serviceable depends on the environmental conditions the rows logs (which lay horizontally across the roadway) encounter, and the weight and frequency of traffic that the road experiences. Archaeologists have unearthed corduroy roads that are 1000 years old.

Deterrents to road construction

While one might assume that centuries of living under Roman rule might have instilled the idea that good roads were a key factor in the projection of power, Gallic rulers never appeared to grasp this concept. The was little effort to improve the connectivity of their cities and points of trade and create the ability to travel in all but the worst weather conditions. According to Hugh Chisholm’s surprisingly in-depth 1910 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica, that, although various Gallic monarchs in post Roman-Gaul attempted to maintain the “administrative machinery of the Romans”, that it proved to be “too delicate to be handled by the barbarians”.  This statement, however, rings somewhat hollow in its dismissive nature, as many of the administrative and municipal positions had been held by upper-class Gaulish people, for at least a century or more. As such, it is assumed by many historians that Roman thought, and Roman tradition had been interwoven into at least the upper class of Roman-Gallo society. These were not barbarians.

Louis-François-Armand de Vignerot du Plessis was famed for his debauchery. He controlled multiple Duchies, Marquis, and other land holdings making him very powerful during the 1700s. Each of the following titles represents a land that he "owned". Duke of Fronsac then Duc de Richelieu (1715), Prince of Mortagne, Pont-Courlay marquis, earl of Cosnac, Baron Barbezieux, Baron Cozes and baron of Saujon, marshal and peer of France

Louis-François-Armand de Vignerot du Plessis (1696-1788) was famed for his debauchery. Each of the following titles represents lands and people which were “his”. Duke of Fronsac then Duc de Richelieu (1715), Prince of Mortagne, Pont-Courlay marquis, earl of Cosnac, Baron Barbezieux, Baron Cozes and baron of Saujon, marshal, and peer of France. A powerful man such as this factionalized the power base and had to be controlled by the crown.

It is likely that the greatest obstacle to systematic road construction was the divisive nature of the noblesse de l’épée (Nobles of the Sword). From the time Viking invasions in the 9th and 10th centuries, power in France would be decentralized, with the king and kingdom playing a weak economic and political role. The ducs and comtés would preside quite independently, as sovereigns over their own lands. The farther from Paris the locale, the more the nobles were apt to chaff at the authority of the king. Rivalries between nobles could be fierce, and open warfare occasionally occurred between what were essentially small countries.*

Antagonism between neighboring nobles could create impassible trade barriers for merchants. Even the borders between etats (estates) were open, the nobility presented substantial financial deterrents to trade. High tolls were imposed upon merchants by each Comté (County) or Duché along their route. Other deterrents included the right of preemption, meaning a noble had the first right to buy the trader’s wares at a “beneficial” price, (Middleton 2005), as well as taxes which may have been imposed by nobles upon the final sale.

For those who understood the economic and political benefits of an effective road system, the decentralized power base within France created a complex, three-part chicken or the egg scenario. In order to build a national road system, the king needed enough economic and political clout to strengthen and centralize the government.  To fill the treasury, and gain that political and economic power, robust trade would be required. Yet the lack of lack of cooperation between provincial nobles derailed both trade any hope of constructing a national road system.

(*) National borders were not as they are today. While technically the King of France presided over all of the various lands within France, the actual extent of this unity can be seen in the fact that some powerful nobles controlled Duchés and Comtés within the King’s area of control, and as well as one or more Duché and Comté outside of France. Marriages were arranged for the consolidation of regional power, forging alliances, or even truces, with neighboring Duchés or Comtés. This was done en lieu of having any ability to accomplish any substantive diplomacy.

Did France’s agricultural underpinnings lead to nobles to derail trade?

France’s struggle with encouraging trade may have had its roots in the country’s agricultural underpinnings. For the entirety of Gallic history, up until the 1700’s, farming had been the engine of the economy. Seigneurial agricultural lands had provided the food for the cities and employed its rural population, which may have numbered as many 20 million peasants by the end of the 18th century.* While this may not have been a success story, the nobles, even those who had only nominal wealth, were both economically and socially tied to this system. For them, this system was very successful.

The noble classes were completely centrist in their focus. Their own activities of generating income from their estates, and achieving military glory on the battlefield.  Whereas they looked upon Bourgeoisie activity of trade with “disdain”. (Stilwell 2005) As such, Nobles would heavily toll the trade which crossed their lands and tax those who traded there. Whether the activities of social-climbing Bourgeoisie and their economic activities were regarded as a threat to the nobles way of life is not clear, but nobles did not allow overland trade to be easy.

French kings, who were essentially the penultimate noble, seemed to share the attitude that trade was definitively not noble. If one were to extend that premise, undoubtedly it would have been viewed as being beneath the needs of France.


Jean-Baptiste Colbert: one hundred years too soon

Jean-Baptiste Colbert presents his plans to le roi, Louis XIV

Jean-Baptiste Colbert presents his plans to le roi, Louis XIV

As the first true theories of economics would be developed until the le Siècle des Lumières (the Enlightenment), few at the time realized the positive impact trade would have on both economic, and political power for those that held it. But Jean-Baptiste Colbert, king Louis XIV’s powerful minister of finances, harnessing trade for the power and glory of France was a nearly singular focus. While some have written that Colbert was was not an innovator, borrowing his ideas from other men, but he was one of the first to employ what amounted to an economic plan, and to do it on a vast scale. Colbert worked in concert with the king in the attempt to wrestle power from the nobility and to centralize the government into an absolutist monarchy. One aspect this was to subjugate the nobles by forcing them to rescind tolls on road travel from industrial regions to the ports. He reduced taxes upon the Third Estate (most notably the bourgeoisie) who owned much of France’s industry as well as this merchant shipping. Far from aiming to slashing and nearly eliminating taxes like modern fiscal conservatives, he aimed at ultimately maximizing them. He is famed for his quote about determining the perfect level of taxation. He said:

“The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing”. 

In order to actually get goods from the industrial centers to the ports, Colbert recognized that the roads within central France were in desperate need improvement. Being a fiscally conservative, however, this was to done with the least possible expense to the treasury; so Colbert revived the feudal compulsory requirement of the corvée. The corvée had traditionally required the peasantry to give their time for civic construction projects as part of their seigneurial dues, but Colbert now instituted this on a national level.  The journée de travail, or “days of work” were deeply resented by the peasantry for obvious reasons, but in addition the corvée took them out of their fields at critical harvest times. Trade did increase, however, as goods flowed to the ships and harbors.**

Although Colbert presided over his trade policies for over 27 years, and he did truly make a meaningful improvement to France’s road system, as well as accelerate Frances development as a colonial power, economist  writes that his trade reforms were only partially successful.  Before his death, Colbert would advocate that France make a ‘quick’, military strike against Holland, in order to break that countries dominance on international trade. As this Rumsfeldian debacle dragged into full on war, Colbert would lose the ear of the King. The war was quickly draining the treasury, pressuring, once again, for the king to raise taxes.  Although the sequence & timing regarding the repeal of Colbert’s signature trade reforms is not clear, tolls and regional trade tariffs were being re-instituted in the years surrounding his death in 1683.

Further, criticisms of Colbert were that his infrastructure improvements were limited in their scope, linking only the port cities to industrial centers. None of these new roads, nor relief of the tolls on trade extended outside the center of France. Whether this was an issue of Colbert only attempting what he felt could be accomplished, considering all of the provincial nobility had not yet been subjugated by the king, or if his sole interest in the export of French goods in the international area, is not entirely clear. But the limited programs France did not in any way encourage internal communication or trade. Moreover, he failed to establish any lasting culture trade within France. At the end of Louis XIV’s reign, 30 years after Colbert’s death, not only had all tolls re-established, but they had doubled.

(*) The earliest census at the end of the 17th century were more estimates than counts, but the entire country was judged to be 19 million to 19.5 million people. Some estimates of rural population are given at 80%, but I have not found supporting documentation for this. By the time of the revolution, population had grown substantially to around 27 million.  (D. B. Grigg 1980)  (**) Colbert, was so successful and so driven, King Louis gave him many state positions, including the Secretary of Naval Affairs. From this pulpit, he ordered harbors and shipyards, and a massive program to build a powerful navy to project France’s power, half a world away.

Breaking the 1,200-year cycle

A Seaport, detail from port of Marseille, 1754, Claude-Joseph Vernet

A Seaport, detail from port of Marseille, 1754, Claude-Joseph Vernet

Unlike overland trade routes which were constricted by heavy tolls and taxes, sea trade had no restrictions beyond the number of merchant ships that could be built. The merchant elites* the need for lumber was extraordinary.  So much so, that for many years the proceeds from the royal forests amounted to a full a quarter of the income gained by the royal treasury.(Thirgood 1971) The bourgeoisie, with their seaborne trade, allowed France to flourished as a colonial power, and because France was able to grow as a colonial power, sea trade could continue to expand. Colonial cotton and sugar trade, along with the trader’s French involvement in the triangular African slave trade, was extremely lucrative, and “grew at twice the rate of other external commerce”. (Boulle 1972)

The growth of seaborne merchant trade achieved a successful formula in resolving the “chicken or the egg” dilemma that plagued overland trade. Its success came because at no point did it directly involve the nobility.

Ironically the economic power gained by the expanding sea trade would ultimately release the shackles that had bound trade within the French interior. This happened because it accelerated the French economy enough that it would finally give the French kings the economic and political power necessary to achieve an absolutist state. This, in turn, would loosen the bonds which had restricted overland trade for more than a thousand years. Tolls would be lifted, and road building would finally commence in the early years of the 1700’s.

(*) The term bourgeoisie (the french term for the business class) is handled gently by historians, given usurpation of the term by Karl Marx in the 19th century. Historians who write about the revolution do use the word bourgeoisie, but those writing about bourgeoisie in the sea trade are called merchant elite, in order to not give their writings the appearance of having a political bent.


Up Next: Isolation part 2.1 The Birth of Modern Burgundy: Road Construction after 1715


Reference Sources for Burgundy: History of the Vignerons: The Villages parts I – IV

New sources for Part 2

The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History, Peter Heather, Pan Macmillan2010

Encyclopedia Britannica Eleventh Edition Vol XXVI ed. Hugh Chisholm, Encyclopedia Britannica Company, 1910

Burgundy  as part of the Roman empire, Ulrich Erdmann, http://artbourgogne.free.fr/romanburgundy/ 2004

A Historical Geography of France, Xavier de Planhol, Paul Claval, Cambridge University Press, 1994

Roman Surveying, originally published as Elementos de Ingenieria Romana, Isaac Moreno Gallo, Terragona 2004, translated by Brian R. Bishop, Traianvs 2006

The Historical Significance of Oak, J. V. Thirgood, paper, Faculty of Forestry, University of British Columbia

The Western European Loess Belt: Agrarian History, 5300 BC – AD 1000, Corrie C. Bakels, Springer Science & Business Media, 2009

Societal Breakdown and the Rise of the Early Modern State in Europe,  Dmitry Shlapentokh, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008

Pilgrimage, Streets, and Traffic from a Cultural Historical Point of View,  Johannes Grabmayer (University of Klagenfurt) June 2009

Becoming Roman: The Origins of Provincial Civilization in Gaul, Greg Woolf Cambridge University Press, 2000

Trade, Travel, and Exploration in the Middle Ages: An EncyclopediaJohn Block Friedman, Kristen Mossler Figg,  Routledge,  2013

Point, Line, and Surface, as Sets of Solids, Theodore de Laguna The Journal of Philosophy, 1922

Histoire du vin de Bourgogne, Jean-François Bazin, Editions Jean-paul Gisserot 2002

Economic and Social Conditions in France During the Eighteenth Century, Henri Sée Professor, University of Rennes 1927

Early medieval port customs, tolls and controls on foreign trade, Neil Middleton, Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2005

Population Growth and Agrarian Change: A Historical Perspective D.B. Grigg, CUP Archive, 1980

Jean Baptiste Colbert, 1619-1683, Gonçalo L. Fonseca, New School for Social ResearchThe Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis

Slave Trade, Commercial Organization and Industrial Growth in Eighteenth-Century Nantes, Revue française d’histoire d’outre-mer  PH Boulle – ‎1972


    *    *    *   *   *

La Côte-d’Or à vol d’oiseau: lettres écrites à M.L. Havin, après la récolte, Auguste Luchet 1858

Gevrey-Chambertin: notice historique, topographique et statistique, suivie de promenade à Fixin, by Henri Vienne 1850

Journal of a Tour through some of the vineyards of Spain and France, James Busby, Sydney 1833

Peasant Proprietors and other selected essays,  Lady Frances Parthenope Verney Longmans, Green, 1885 –

L’état de la recherche sur la vigne, le vin et les vignerons en Bourgogne au XVIIIe siècle, Benoit Garnot,  2008

The Peasants and the King in Burgundy, Hilton Root, University of California Press, 1992

Evolution du Métayage en France, L. Durousseau-Dugontie, Impr. Crauffon, 1905

Centre d’Histoire de la Vigne et du Vin, Charlotte Glain-Fromont,  Bulletin de liaison Bulletin 30 janv-fev 2012.pdf

 LES Climats du vignoble de Bourgogne Dossier de candidature à L’INSCRIPTION SUR LA LISTE DU PATRIMOINE MONDIAL DE L’UNESCO Janvier 2012

Communities of Grain: Rural Rebellion in Comparative Perspective Victor V. Magagna Cornell University Press 1991

Infant and Child Mortality in Eighteenth Century France: A Function of Income? Hajime Hadeishi,  Bureau of Economics Federal Trade Commission, cliometrics.org 2010

Harvest Failures, Jennifer Llewellyn and Steve Thompson, 2015 Alphahistory.com

Cattle and Dairy Farming Part 1 United States. Bureau of Foreign Commerce  U.S. Government Printing Office, 1888 –

The Peasantry in the French Revolution P. M. Jones, Cambridge University Press, 1988

The Vile and the Noble: On the Relation between Natural and Social Classifications in the French Wine World, Marion Fourcade,  Sociological Quarterly 2012

Aristocracy, Antiquity, and History: An Essay on Classicism in Political ThoughtA. A. M. Kinneging Transaction Publishers, 1997

Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment By Michel Delon, Routledge 2013

Provincial Power and Absolute Monarchy: The Estates General of Burgundy 1661–1790 Julian Swann, Cambridge University Press  2003

History and Climate: Memories of the Future? Phil D. Jones, A.E.J. Ogilvie, T.D. Davies, K.R. Briffa Springer Science & Business Media, Apr 17, 2013

The Decline of Childhood Mortality Kenneth Hill. Department of Population Dynamics School of Hygiene and Public Health Johns Hopkins University 1990

The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography Graham Robb W. W. Norton & Company2008

The Story of French Jean-Benoît Nadeau, ‎Julie Barlow, Macmillan 2008



Burgundy: The History of the Vignerons: The Villages part I

The wine villages of the Côte d’Or in the 18th Century

By Dean Alexander

PommardReflecting on it, I find it amazing that the descendants of so many old Burgundian families still farm the vineyards, and live in the same tiny villages of the gold coast as their ancestors. Many of these families have lived there for more than two centuries. The Roty’s of Gevrey-Chambertin arrived there in 1710, and have now lived in Gevrey for more than three centuries, and the Mongeard family arrived in Vosne in 1620, just shy of four centuries.

Consider further, for many generations, all but the most wealthy, rarely traveled much farther than the fields that they worked, none of which were very far away. They often did not know the families from two or three villages distant, because to get there, many of them would have had to walk. They lived and died in the houses in which they were raised, and that was often the same house that their mother or father was raised.(1) For most urbanites, this is kind of stationary life is unfathomable. But this long history of a family being precisely in a single place, for so many generations, can only be explained by these people having developed exceptionally strong emotional ties to their village, their family, and to their land.

While to outsiders, the daily life of the farmer can only describe as repetitious and mundane, in the long view, the changes that have occurred on the Côte can be fascinating. Over the span of the past two to three hundred years, these fermier families have had, along with a certain amount of luck, the ability to adjust and adapt at crucial times.

First and foremost, they were lucky. To have had built up enough assets to handle disasters as they came can be a matter of luck. Any ship can sink in the perfect storm. But beyond that, they tenacious, yet flexible enough to endure nature’s worst. Examples of adversity the families of the Côte would face included: multiple, several near-total harvest failures, and more than a couple vineyard losses due to vine killing winters, hail, and flooding. Then there were the major diseases such as mildew (oidium in 1854 and downy in 1887) not to mention phylloxera.

The image of a peasant girl resting, is from the Paris Salon circa 1893.

The image of a peasant girl resting is from the Paris Salon circa 1893.

The political and economic challenges were relentless, included the lengthy French Revolution, multiple governmental changes, and economic and the catastrophes of wars and occupation. Had these families not been lucky, not had assets when they needed them, and not made the right decisions at the right time, they would have left been forced to leave, as many did. (Garnot 2008) Most importantly, they had the ability to make the jump from being simple paysans, meaning the peasant-farmers, who only just subsisted on small plots land, to fermiers who not only owned the land they worked, and more importantly, owned enough land they needed to hire people to help work the land they owned.

Gone from the Gold Coast now are those paysans.  Their small plots absorbed by larger landholders and their labor replaced in the fields professional vineyard managers and workers and supplemented day laborers.

Throughout the late 19th and most of the 20th century, it was an idealized version of these very peasants, who had been economically pushed out of the Gold Coast, by which the French viewed their own national identity.  The French viewed itself as the peasant: a stout, strong, determined, rural proletariat, who farmed the land, feed the nation and were called to war. (Lehning 1995) It was generally felt that the peasants were the backbone of the country. As such, it was with a certainly irony, that much later, during the 1920 and 1930’s, the fermiers of the Côte would begin to market Burgundy and themselves as synonymous with the already existent folklore of the ‘peasant farmer’. (Whalen 2009) This would be their guarantee of quality, their simple honesty, steadfastness, and hard work.


print of Gevrey Chambertin from Dr Jules Lavalle's 1855 Histoire et Statistique de la Vigne de Grands Vins de la Côte-d'Or

print of Gevrey-Chambertin from Dr. Jules Lavalle’s 1855 Histoire et Statistique de la Vigne de Grands Vins de la Côte-d’Or

The growth of a village

In an isolated locale, like the wine villages of the Côte d’Or, a census is a very good barometer of the health of its economy. As the economy heats up, as financial folks like to say, the population increases. Conversely, as the economy slows, populations tend to contract accordingly. In 1793, toward the end of the Revolutionary period, the first census of the new republic was taken.  At this time, the population of Gevrey was only 1,193. Over the next two decades, Gevrey’s population would grow only incrementally until 1831, when it would begin to expand over the next 50 years.

Phylloxera, in its steady march across France, would finally reach the vineyards of the Côte d’Or in 1880. However, rather than the loss of production forcing the population to contract, -as those “in the margins” were indeed displaced by a lack of field work, new inhabitants were arriving, largely replacing their numbers. A whole new industry had sprung up surrounding the fighting of phylloxera. As that battle was gradually lost, these jobs would eventually be replaced by those who would plant the vineyards again. These were people who had trained in the new skills of grafting vinifera Pinot and Chardonnay vines to the hybrid American rootstock. This carousel of workers kept the number of people living in the village fairly constant, but generally, the fermiers, the landholding farmers, many whose family names we recognize today, remained.

The census of 1881 revealed a population of 1,868. Shortly after the turn of the century, economic instability, and low wine prices, and falling vineyard values, would cause the lowest number of inhabitants since the census had begun, with a mere 1,543.  Gevrey’s population would fall even further during the interwar years, for in 1936 Gevrey had a population only 1,486, the lowest it had been after one hundred years of growth. These were grim times, and the fermiers and concerned politicians sought new ways to produce and market wine independent of the negociants that had controlled the industry since the 1750’s. These efforts, coupled with the Europe’s general economic recovery after the Second World War, has sent the population dramatically upward, with new industries which supported the now profitable wine growers and bringing with them hundreds of new jobs. The censuses of 1962 and 1975 marked how dynamic the recovery had been. (census figures: fr.wikipedia.org)

Population of GevreyThe population of the larger town of Nuits-St-Georges, a center for negociant trade in the mid-1700‘s, has been more stable than Gevrey. Nuits expanded through pre-phylloxera times but then remaining fairly steady for almost a century between 1866 and 1954. The town’s population saw minor fluctuations of alternately adding and losing 100 to 400 people, through the end of the Second World War, but these changes were a much smaller percentage of the population than the swings seen in Gevrey-Chambertin. This is likely that because of the town’s size, there was far more business operating in Nuits-St-Georges beyond the direct cultivation of the vines. As an overview: in 1793 Nuits had 2,541 inhabitants. It peaked just before phylloxera 1881 at 3,727 people. Today, after steady growth since the end World War II, (3,285 in 1946), the population now sits at 5,516 in 2008. (fr.wikipedia.org)

Stepping farther back in time

The old villages, tranquil wine smaller villages of the Côte d’Or, with their narrow streets and quaint houses, are quite easy to envision two hundred fifty years ago, during the time of King Louis the XVI, for these are remain small, sleepy, villages. Vosne even today has a population of a mere 427 people, and only 307 people live in the nearby village of Chambolle. Even with the tourists that mill around and support the restaurants and inns of the old, more touristy section of Gevrey-Chambertin, this section of town could not be described as bustling. It would seem as though place must be quite unchanged over hundreds of years. In your mind’s eye, just exchange the slow trod of oxen pulling a cart along the graveled highway for the cars that now ply the paved RN74.  Upon the once cobbled streets of the better sections of the village, add in horses and the staccato of their hooves. Wood-smoke, billowing from the chimneys of a few dozen open hearths; the day crisp, with fall in the air, and the vision should be complete.

But things have changed in these villages. Perhaps the biggest paradigm shift took place when the vines of Pinot Noir won out over Gamay.

(*) larger is relative, but considering the value of the land, and the wine made from it, these are not poor men. (**)The increase of population in the larger towns and villages is best explained by more wealth is created by both vignerons and by the tourist industry, the there are more jobs available to service their needs today. 


French peasants depicted in "Fin du Travail" by Jules Breton (1887)

French peasants depicted in “Fin du Travail” by Jules Breton (1887)

Economic battle between of Pinot Noir and Gamay

Winter 1709For many centuries, there was an economic and ideological battle going on between those who were planting the vines that produced the more consistently ripening Gamay grape, and those who would have all vines in Burgundy planted only to Pinot Noir.

For some, the battle was societal. While certainly it was recognized that Gamay could produce a high-tonnage of fruit, while still maintaining acceptable quality (for the masses), the noblesse d’épée (noble of the sword), the noblesse de robe (magistrates and parliamentarians of Dijon), clergy officials, and most acutely, the invested haut bourgeoisie, felt the Gamay wines were coarse and undeserving vineyards of the Côte d’Or. Most importantly, they rightly felt Gamay pulled down the reputation of the Côte in general. Gamay certainly did not add to the noble reputation that the upper strata of society believed the region should be allowed to attain.  Social standing and reputation in the 18th century was hugely important to those in a position to affect it, and cannot be underestimated in the context of where some Gamay should and should not be planted in Burgundy.

For centuries there was a vocal pressure to eliminate Gamay, and although it was banished by Philip the Bold in 1395, peasants continued to grow on the slopes through the end of the 19th century. In Morey“Of the 160 hectares under vine,” Auguste Luchet wrote in 1858, “90 are planted to Gamay.” Later in the text, he would write: “Gevrey has about four hundred hectares of vineyards, half in Gamay and one in Pinol (Noirien) mixed with a little white.”

According to Marion Fourcade, an associate professor at UC Berkeley, there were “periodic local ordinances” eradicate Gamay in vineyards of the Côte d’Or. In her paper,“The Vile and the Noble” (2012), Fourcade briefly mentions that those who pushed to expunge Gamay alleged its cultivation promoted various unspecified “health dangers”. As an economic problem, Gamay’s critics charged that its cultivation contributed to an increase in the fraudulent bottling of Gamay as Pinot Noir, or alternately, it was accused that Gamay was illegitimately blended with Pinot Noir. This no doubt occurred. But, as previously believe in the preceding centuries, Gamay was, in general, unworthy of the region.

LavalleDr Jules Lavalle, in his 1855 book, “Histoire et Statistique de la Vigne de Grands Vins de la Côte-d’Or, which was revered by many, calls Gamay “common,” and “ordinary,” claiming Gamay had “invaded hilltops and flatlands all around”. (Forcade 2012)   “God knows how awfully active the vulgar plant has been in driving away the fine plant, and what progress it makes every day! Our ancestors would have been appalled!” As translated by Fourcade.  In Charles Curtis’s translation of Lavalle (in which I did not find the aforementioned quote) in his book the “Original Grand Crus of Burgundy”, Lavalle writes “The vines planted in Gamay cover more than 23,000 hectares,(1) which one meets under the name of plante Mâlain,  plante d’Arcenant plant de Bévy” Additionally Lavalle condemns that “The yield can often extend to 50 and even 60 hectoliters per hectare.”

The choice to plant Gamay was surely decided, however, not by the ideological mindset, or by social consciousness, but rather by the wealth of the vigneron. The poor farmer could simply not afford the high-stakes gamble of Pinot Noir presented, with its pitifully small production of 18 hectoliters per hectare (Lavalle 1855), and its inability to consistently ripen its fruit completely  The peasant could not afford a single failed vintage, that the high-risk Pinot Noir grapes delivered this result on a fairly consistent basis.*

Moreover, Pinot, with its thin skin was particularly prone to rot and disease, it was far more difficult to make into a competent wine. In some years, Pinot vines would produce a completely unsalable crop. The wealthy landowning farmer (a fermier – as opposed to a vigneron) could take such a gamble with virtual impunity, because when it the Pinot crop paid off, the dividends of producing a great wine, far outstripped the losses incurred by poor to very poor vintages. The incredible demand (and payday) for wines from great vineyards, in these great years, continues to this day.

(*) It is not without note that the little ice-age, (which dates are contested) is generally thought to have begun in the 1300’s, and ended around 1850. Additional weather variations occurred, with extremely low temperatures materializing with disastrous effect in 1660 1709, 1740 and 1794/1795 and the last in the year 1850.

Grains are still a major crop in the Cote d'Or

Grains are still a major crop in the Côte d’Or. Here, adjacent to vineyards that produce Bourgogne Rouge on the outskirts of Gevrey, wheat, rye, corn and barley are regularly planted and harvested. photo googlemaps.com

The paysan of the Côte, a poly-cultiveur

While we think of only vines on the slopes of the Côte d’Or, the vineyards of the early to mid 18th century, were typically a polyculture. It was common for the vines to share the slopes with animals, fruit trees, and vegetable plots, depending on the site. (Swann 2003) However, as the 18th century progressed, economics would begin to crowd out polyculture off of the slopes.

Below the vines of the great vineyard slopes, upon low-lying fields, grew all manner of foods, particularly grains. Rye which grew well on the poor soils of northern France, corn, wheat and barley were widely grown; and in personal gardens next to their houses, the peasants often grew vegetables. It is well documented that the lower third of Clos St-Jacques was planted to alfalfa until 1954, but it is likely that it had been home to many different crops over the centuries.

Very few ‘vignerons’ during the 18th century actually worked solely with the vine, and those that did, according to historian Benoit Garnot, were in decline in the 18th century. He laments bleakly that “the tired qualification ‘winemaker’ seems to be socially rewarding.” (Garnot 2008)

Busby wrote, in 1840, that in vignerons in Chambertin would rip out dying provignage vines (which only survived ten years or so), and let the land fallow while being planted to sainfoin, a cover crop that flourishes on calcareous (limestone) soils. Planting sainfoin had dual benefits: it not only would the crop rejuvenated the topsoil with an infusion of nitrogen but it also the sainfoin was a good feed for their grazing animals. Those vignerons that had a cow or two, had them tended by a communal herder who took them to field for the day and returned them to the owner at night.

Jean-François Millet (1814-1875), Vineyard laborer resting, 1869

Jean-François Millet (1814-1875), Vineyard laborer resting, 1869

The fall harvest season was unrelenting and well-reported as being extreme in the exhaustion it created.  By the end of August, all of the rye, which was an important crop in the poor soils of north-eastern France, and the summer wheat, had already been harvested. Also already harvested were the other major crops, which included barley, colza, which is also known as rape, or rapeseed, was grown for lubricants, and hemp  (not to be confused with its relative cannabis), was also grown for seed, oil, wax, resin, rope, cloth, pulp, paper and, in this north-eastern region. (U.S.Gov. Printing Office 1888) This would give the paysan a month for the grape harvest, before the planting of winter wheat, which would begin straight away in October, after pressing and barreling of the new wine.

Centuries of stagnant agricultural practices

It is widely accepted that during the ancien regime, few improvement in farming had come to France. The tasks of the cultiveur were done in the least expensive manner; just as their fathers and grandfathers, and as well their great-great grandfathers had farmed the same land.

To the English agronomist Arthur Young, who visited Burgundy and elsewhere in France on the eve of the revolution, the inefficiencies of French agriculture was “quite contemptible’. He was so critical of French farming methods as to say that even the large capitalist farms were “villainous cultivated’. As far as investing in capitalization farming given the French methods, he declared “If I had a large tract of this country, I think I should not be long in making a fortune’.(Swan 2003)

Change was painfully slow, despite attempts by Dijon to push the people to adopt them. The problem really came down to money, and the peasants had none to invest in the changes necessary. A Burgundian representative to the National Constituent Assembly, during the first stages of the Revolution, explained the failure of previous attempts at agricultural reform:

“Oh you who complain of the intractability of the peasant when he refuses to adopt your new ploughs, your new seed drills…your deep furrows, your doses of fertilizer that are four times greater than what he can afford, before tripling his expenses in the uncertain hope of a tripled harvest, begin by putting him in a state of being able to buy clogs for his children.”


wheat fields Van Gough

 Up Next: The Villagers of the 18th Century


Additional Notes:

(1) Life was short and death rates of children under the age of ten were high. Because of this, and the general lack of excess money homes traditionally multi-generational. There will be much more about life and death on the Gold Coast in upcoming chapters.

(2) Charles Curtis, in his book “The Original Grand Crus of Burgundy”, takes these hectare figures, printed in Lavalle, at face value, and proceeds to discuss how they might be accurate. However, I feel, that they are as just as likely, a misprint,  so far off from the hectares, as they exist today, even taking into consideration the loss of so much vineyard land, post-phylloxera, that was never replanted around Dijon. One might also view these figures to be considered a fabrication, as a call to action against the Gamay scourge. Words are weapons. Because there appears to be no other at the ready figures of Gamay and Pinot Noir acreage planted in the Cote d’Or to compare Lavalle’s figures with, I choose to bypass the issue altogether. It isn’t all that germane enough to the already too wide of a scope of these writings, to deal with something I can’t bring to an adequate conclusion about. There are other fish to fry.




Reference Sources for Burgundy: History of the Vignerons: The Villages parts I – IV 

La Côte-d’Or à vol d’oiseau: lettres écrites à M.L. Havin, après la récolte, Auguste Luchet 1858

Gevrey-Chambertin: notice historique, topographique et statistique, suivie de promenade à Fixin, by Henri Vienne 1850

Journal of a Tour through some of the vineyards of Spain and France, James Busby, Sydney 1833

Peasant Proprietors and other selected essays,  Lady Frances Parthenope Verney Longmans, Green, 1885 –

L’état de la recherche sur la vigne, le vin et les vignerons en Bourgogne au XVIIIe siècle, Benoit Garnot,  2008

The Peasants and the King in Burgundy, Hilton Root, University of California Press, 1992

Evolution du Métayage en France, L. Durousseau-Dugontie, Impr. Crauffon, 1905

Centre d’Histoire de la Vigne et du Vin, Charlotte Glain-Fromont,  Bulletin de liaison Bulletin 30 janv-fev 2012.pdf

 LES Climats du vignoble de Bourgogne Dossier de candidature à L’INSCRIPTION SUR LA LISTE DU PATRIMOINE MONDIAL DE L’UNESCO Janvier 2012

Communities of Grain: Rural Rebellion in Comparative Perspective Victor V. Magagna Cornell University Press 1991

Infant and Child Mortality in Eighteenth Century France: A Function of Income? Hajime Hadeishi,  Bureau of Economics Federal Trade Commission, cliometrics.org 2010

Harvest Failures, Jennifer Llewellyn and Steve Thompson, 2015 Alphahistory.com

Cattle and Dairy Farming Part 1 United States. Bureau of Foreign Commerce  U.S. Government Printing Office, 1888 –

The Peasantry in the French Revolution P. M. Jones, Cambridge University Press, 1988

Peasant and French: Cultural Contact in Rural France During the Nineteenth CenturyJames R. Lehning Cambridge University Press, 1995

Insofar as the ruby wine seduces them’: Cultural Strategies for Selling Wines in Interwar Burgundy,” Contemporary European History 18.1 Philip Whalen (2009)

The Vile and the Noble: On the Relation between Natural and Social Classifications in the French Wine World, Marion Fourcade,  Sociological Quarterly 2012

Aristocracy, Antiquity, and History: An Essay on Classicism in Political ThoughtA. A. M. Kinneging Transaction Publishers, 1997

Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment By Michel Delon, Routledge 2013

Provincial Power and Absolute Monarchy: The Estates General of Burgundy 1661–1790 Julian Swann, Cambridge University Press  2003

History and Climate: Memories of the Future? Phil D. Jones, A.E.J. Ogilvie, T.D. Davies, K.R. Briffa Springer Science & Business Media, Apr 17, 2013

The Decline of Childhood Mortality Kenneth Hill. Department of Population Dynamics School of Hygiene and Public Health Johns Hopkins University 1990

The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography Graham Robb W. W. Norton & Company2008

Burgundy: the History of the Vignerons, Preface

by Dean Alexander

The research for the series Understanding the Terroir of Burgundy led me to some very unexpected places, and that path was far longer and much more circuitous than I ever could have imagined when I first began. My trek of discovery led me to write in a “knee bone is connected to the leg bone” kind of way, and I found that the subject matter began directing me onto a decidedly historically driven path. I realized that I had a completely new series of articles before me: to piece together how the families lived and farmed the Côte d’Or lived before the dawn of the twentieth century.

Vineyard workers with oxenI immediately realized that this history of Côte d’Or would prove to be difficult extract. There is little that is written directly about life in the Burgundian villages. Clive Coates’ work detailing various famous properties ownership, is well established, but beyond that, little seems to be written. If this history has been written, and it is out there, it may not have been digitized, it probably is only in French,(1) but in any case, it has been exceptionally difficult to locate.

There are a number of reasons for this lack of information.

The first is Burgundy (as we are interested in the region as it pertains to the wine), comes a small ribbon of hillside in rural France. And despite Burgundies production of one of the world’s great luxury products, it was something of a rural backwater. National politics did not originate from Burgundy; it was not a financial center, nor did great historical events take place there.

While we generically referred to the wine of the Côte d’Or as Burgundy, in reality, Burgundy a much larger area covering four departments of rural France. In fact, the Côte d’Or was fairly isolated, with most of its trade moving upon the most improved roads, which were to the north. The wines were traded to the Netherlands, and then across the Channel to England, or to a lesser extent northwest to Paris. Even then, these roads were extremely poor by today’s standards. This trade in a single direction indicates that the Cote d’Or was pretty much the end of the line in terms of travel. Yes, there were roads to Jura and of course the Maconnaise, but those roads were poor, and those trade routes meant the wines of Burgundy would need to compete with the inexpensive wines of Beaujolais and Macon that Paris consumed in large quantities. This meant that along with a direction of trade, came an equally limited flow of information out of Burgundy, something that recorded history requires. This would continue until wider networks of roads and rail lines were developed in the mid to late 1800’s increased travel and trade elsewhere in France and elsewhere in Europe. All of these factors makes finding and compiling information about this narrow strip of land in the countryside of France all the more difficult.

The history of the vignerons of Burgundy may not be important in the context of the larger issues of the times, but to those of us Burgundy lovers with the rare ‘historian’ gene within our makeup, are curious about this place where the great wine has been made for centuries. There may only be one or two of us out there who doesn’t say “who cares?” Yet I continue undaunted.

This new, yet to be written, series of articles really began as I wrote about erosion in Vosne-Romanee Les Damaudesin Understanding the Terroir of Burgundy.  I was struck by so many questions regarding this place and the people who farmed it.  Who were these small landholders, and what happened to them? What was their life like? Was their life in the Côte d’Or different from other peasants in the rest of France?  Was there economic security? How did the Revolution affect the Côte d’Or these people? How was life different for the people who farmed these vineyards before and after the revolution? What happened to the local nobility? What was their relationship to the peasants that worked for them? What were the real effects of phylloxera in Burgundy? How did phylloxera and the economy effect vineyard ownership and the peasants of Burgundy?

What we do know is that the families that farm Burgundy today, are, for the most part, the same families that farmed Burgundy in the 1700’s. Their history forms the basis of the wines that they produce today, and that makes their history important. Most of the people who farmed these famous vineyards were virtually invisible even as they lived and others would only gain even a footnote in history after they bought a parcel of a world-renown vineyard. All told, this is a scant bit of information.

But this is a period of time (I will cover 150 years between 1750 and 1900) that should be revealed, and not forgotten to history. As it is, it virtually only exists today as footnotes in scholarly texts, in support of some other broader historical exploration. I set out on with a goal to collect these widely spread granules of information and assemble them into something meaningful. I want to illuminate the story of these people, who as individuals, that from the moment they died, there was no trace of their existence.

Searching for Burgundy-related history via the internet is itself problematic.  The word Burgundy, in a web search, is first most closely associated with the color, especially in terms fashion, and then it is most closely associated with the Duchy (kingdom) of Burgundy which ruled much of the French interior before the middle ages until 1525. This was at least 200 years before the period that I considered would be relevant to the vignerons of Burgundy today. Gradually I learned how to tease out pieces of information using the internet, and one tidbit of information would lead to a keyword, with which I could find more.

HistorianWithout the internet, google search, and control+F, this research would not be possible, particularly in the short amount of time as I have compiled it. I must also credit amazon, which puts substantive previews of thousands of scholarly books, each which might only have one or two mentions of Burgundy within their pages. This feature this allowed me to search for information with a simple find command.  Without this resource, to write something like this would require access to a major university library, and possibly years of free time. But even if I had access to the physical books, without a search function, it may have been very difficult to find the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Even with the internet’s incredible search power at my fingertips, I never did find a history of the people of the of the Côte d’Or. At this point, I have 10,000 words of notes compiled (roughly 22 pages in 12 point font), and I think I have a well-rounded enough set of information to begin writing about Burgundy. My hope is that I can paint a picture of what it was like for the families that have lived there since at least the beginning of the 18th century, if not long before.

The story of the vignerons of the  Cote d’Or develops against the backdrop of France as an emerging superpower. This is a national history that is remarkably character rich, full of intrigue, drama, betrayal, and of course war, revolution, and for a couple of years, the heavy use of the guillotine. Comparably, the history of the rural Côte d’Or is somewhat sleepy, but it is these series of stormy, almost operatic, political events of the national stage, looms as an important Burgundian back story. The happenings in Paris, like a giant roulette wheel, changed the cast of moneyed, powerful characters who owned the great vineyards, and to various extents, dictated the quality lives of those who lived there. The one constant was that the peasants and most of the lower-cased Bourgeoisie continued on like they had for centuries.


(1) I have done many searches for untapped information in French, but it has not yielded much more information than English scholarly writings have since presumably those sources have already been mined.



Burgundy: l’Histoire des Vignerons, Part 1






Understanding the Terroir of Burgundy Part 4.5, Soil retention – the farming of Burgundy in the 1800s

Ancien Régime

A historical explanation for Les Damaudes’ retention of clay


Click to enlarge. Many thanks to Steen Ohman, of Winehog.org for supplying the Cadastre map of 1827

Click to enlarge. Many thanks to Steen Ohman, of Winehog.org for supplying me with the Cadastre Map of 1827

Changes in parcel division and parcel orientation

While there is no specific information regarding the history of Les Damaudes prior to 1952, the cadastre map of 1827* indicates that the vineyard was planted to vine at that time and that it’s division and orientation was very different in 1827 than it is today. This map indicates that at some point between 1927 and 1952, there was a total reorganization of both parcels and ownership. This reorganization also suggests that the owners of the parcels had abandoned this land. Had there been a continuity of ownership, there would be at least some continuity of plot divisions. Instead, the study plot cleaves through multiple plots shown in the 1927 cadastre.

The Ouvrée, the balk, and soil preservation

Many of the plots indicated by the map, were very small. The size itself is indicative of ownership by peasant farmers.  These small parcels were the remnants of the ancien régime; the open field system that created and dictated the agricultural fabric of France for over seven centuries. At the time of the revolution, a full third of Burgundian agricultural land was farmed under the manorial system and was converted to peasant ownership. (Loutchisky 1911)

Additionally, some of the larger parcels of Les Damaudes were oriented horizontally to the slope, so the rows followed the hillside.  These parcels were large enough and long enough to suggest they may have been plowed. These larger plots were traditionally sized by the amount land a man could work in a day with a pair of plow animals, were measured in ouvrées.(1) These larger plots, with their long, narrow horizontal orientation would not have allowed nearly the high rate of erosion as similarly sized vertical plantings of today do. Secondly, because these horizontal plots were relatively narrow, erosion was again curtailed, as storm water runoff would have been slowed by these closely spaced divisions.



All across Europe, serfs and villeins (freeman tenants) (2)  tended their plots, known as selions, just as they had for over seven centuries. Selions were traditionally divided by a raised, strip of fallow land called a balk indicating the end or beginning of one man’s plot and the beginning of another. The word balk (to pause or not proceed) originated from this practice of plot division.

Any break in vineyard planting, like plot divisions, roads, and walls, all have been shown to slow runoff by diminishing its velocity, thus easing the pressures of erosion.  So the small size of these parcels alone would have deterred erosion, but if these plots were additionally bordered by any kind of balk, these would obstacles would have minimized the velocity of the runoff. There is evidence that balks did exist in Burgundian vineyards, as Jim Busby Esquiredescribes walking along “grassy footpaths” while visiting the vineyard of Chambertin in 1840.  It is reasonable to conclude the small parcel divisions of Damodes, each likely separated by a balks or footpaths, were huge contributors to the fact that such a high percentage of clay was retained in this steep vineyard.

One foot in feudalism

At the time of the Revolution, feudalism, although waning, still existed in various forms. So on the heels of the French Revolution in 1789, when the National Assembly released all of the demesne (domaines) of King Louis XVI, the serfs and freemen tenants who farmed these lands were given the title of the plots they had farmed before the Revolution. This action would affect a quarter of the farmland in France, although in Burgundy this figure was higher. The royal demesne constituted 35% of the agricultural land in Burgundy at the time of the revolution, while it is estimated that church held the title of an additional 11% to 15% (Loutchisky 1911). This acts also released France’s 150,000 serfs, almost all of which had belonged to the Church. (Sée 1927)

Initially, the peasants were to pay for the release of seigneurial dues, but as the peasants could not pay with money they did not have, these release fees were withdrawn by the National Assembly in 1793. With a mere 38 years separating the revolution and the production of the 1827 cadastre map, it is likely that some of the owners of these plots had been former villien (freeman tenants) and were still working plots they had gained because of the revolution.(3)  

*For additional explanation of feudalism see Part 4: The history of erosion and man.

After the dissolution of traditional "demesne," or domaines of the Marquis and the church, peasants were given the rights to the land that they had always farmed as serfs. These parcels were called selions. After the phylloxera destroyed their vineyards, many of these peasant owners could not afford to replant their vineyards. A number of these lesser vineyards were not replanted for almost a century. Here an Image of a peasant girl resting, is from the Paris Salon circa 1893.

After the dissolution of traditional “demesne,” or domaines of the Marquis and the church, peasants were given the rights to the land that they had always farmed as serfs. These parcels were called selions. After the phylloxera destroyed their vineyards, many of these peasant owners could not afford to replant their vineyards. A number of these lesser vineyards were not replanted for almost a century. Here an Image of a peasant girl resting is from the Paris Salon circa 1893.

Although they were now landowners, rather than landholders, the peasant’s lot had not significantly changed. The wealthiest of them could earn a living off of the land as farmers, either on their own or in co-op with others as métayers. Many continued to struggle for sustenance, working also as day laborers, or worked a side trade (Henri Sée 1927).

In some ways, many of farmers were to be worse off for it for the dissolution of the feudal system, which through its evolution, had allowed significant freedom, and did not generally entail servitude. Additionally, the dues owed by the tenant farmers were far less burdensome than they had been in the middle ages, consisting of rent and a few days of compulsory labor on the nobles demesne (Sée 1927). Within this feudal framework, the Seigneur provided communally shared horses and plows, which all laborers used to make the work their fields.

With the removal of the feudal system, the peasant needed to provide his own tools, and that included the use of any plow animal.

A pair of oxen cost 300 to 400 francs at the time Busby visited France in 1840, and for all but the wealthiest peasants, this was an unfathomable price to pay for an animal.  Plows were also an expensive piece of equipment. Since a man with a pair of plow animals could work roughly six to eight times the area, than a man without one, the loss of access to a horse and plow predictably would have significant implications for the peasant farmer.  They now must attempt to use a shovel and hoe to try to farm the same area of land they had as a villein using the seigneur’s horse and plow. This loss of productivity (in terms of area) would require the peasants to either hire workers to help work their fields or sell (or lease) land they were not physically able to work by hand. If there was a positive side to this, having to hand-work these small plots was an additional factor in the preservation clay in the vineyard of Les Damaudes.

24,000 or more vines per hectare

It was either the small size of plots or the inability to buy plow animals (or both), that encouraged Burgundy’s farmers to literally fill every empty space of a vineyard with vines. It was common at the time, for Burgundian vineyards to achieve planting densities of 24,000 to 30,000 vines per hectare.

When visiting the great vineyard of Chambertin, James Busby recorded that in the half-hectare plots there,  a mere 15 inches of spacing existed between each vine. This was true not only between plants within a single row but between rows as well. Busby wrote that “The plants were literally crowded to such a degree, that it was almost impossible to set down the foot without treading upon some of them.” It would be seemingly impossible to plow a vineyard with such spacing, which meant all vineyard work would have to be accomplished with a hoe.

provignage illustrationThe peasant would achieve this enormous number of vines, essentially for free, by a technique called layering or provignage. This was the poor man’s answer to using cuttings, which were by then, being bred in nurseries from clones scientist had discovered to be resistant to various diseases. The cuttings were however very expensive and often used sparingly even by more wealthy land owners, only one cutting used for every three vines established. The other vines would be grown via provignage from the purchased cutting.

To perform layering or provignage, a trench was dug from a healthy plant to the location where the farmer wanted to establish a new plant.  He would then bury a cane or shoot of the vine into the furrow he had dug, with a layer of manure and then cover this with soil. Over the course of the next year, the buried cane (shoot) would develop roots of its own, and the vigneron would separate the two vines by cutting off the cane that started the new plant. Alternately, the two vines could be left adjoined, and in many places, there could be several of these Siamese vines connected to one another. The vineyardist would attempt to regulate the rows to be as straight as possible, but layering created such irregularity that Busby recalled that “it would have been very difficult to point out which way the alignment lay. For this purpose, the stocks and roots were twisted, and the different plants laid across each other in every possible direction.”

for a poor man, the game, or, as it was generally called, the large plant, was undoubtedly the best kind of vine, the quantity it yielded was so much greater than the other; and, to a poor man, the quality was not so much an object, for the large proprietors and merchants would never acknowledge his wine to be a fine one, and it was very difficult to sell it for a high price, however good.”
Journal of a Recent Visit to the Vineyards of Spain and France, James Busby Esq. 1840

According to Busby, a plant grown by provignage would produce grapes in its first year. However, the vines would become weak in 10 to 15 years time and would need to be replaced. This meant the 19th-century vineyard was in constant state tearing out and replanting.  In vineyards such as Chambertin, which produced exponentially more expensive wine, the vineyard owner could often afford lay fallow sections in which vines were removed. These fallow areas were then planted to sainfoin,  a cover crop that could be used to feeding horses, while simultaneously rejuvenating the soil with nitrogen that had been depleted by overcrowding the field (domaine in French) with vines. This alternate use would last for four years, and represented a significant cost, and could only be sustained by a vineyard that produced a wine that fetched high prices in the marketplace. This would not have been true of a vineyard such as Les Damaudes.

It is clear, that as of 1860, there were many vineyards in which the soils were still in relatively good shape, because of the farming methods of the time. There has been some historical record of vineyards, as early as the 1600’s, that required their soils to be replaced, (presumably due to rill and gully erosion) to cover exposed base rock. The tremendous expense of bringing in soils indicates that this erosion occurred in larger vineyards owned by a wealthy marquis or another nobleman, the church, or later, a member of the growing bourgeoisie, who would dominate the

sulpher treatmentsThis set the stage for the introduction of phylloxera to France and Burgundy. It would be too simple of a story to phylloxera wiped out the vineyards of France and eventually the vineyards were replanted with root-stock from American hybrids. While most accounts of the phylloxera blight in terms of total dollars lost and businesses going under; as in all economic downturns, there are those who lose everything, and those losses create opportunities for others. And that is the story of Les Damaudes. We know there was a wholesale change of plot ownership and re-organization parcel disbursement in the vineyard, that occurred sometime between 1827 and 1952. While precisely when and how remains a mystery, but there is no doubt that phylloxera played a large role in this story.

Jean-François Millet (1814-1875), Vineyard laborer resting, 1869

Jean-François Millet (1814-1875), Vineyard laborer resting, 1869

When phylloxera arrived on the doorstep of the Côte d’Or in 1775, it was clear that a peasant would not be able to withstand the loss of their vines. The peasant, who depended on every Franc for their day-to-day survival, could not afford the chemicals to treat the vines. They could in no way spend a year’s labor tearing our their vineyard. This was an impossibility. And they certainly could not afford the 3000 Francs per hectare it cost in 1880 to replant the vineyard. It almost seems silly at this point to mention they would not be able to afford to labor in the vineyards for the four years that the young vines would produce no fruit.  If they were lucky they would own other plots of land that produced produce or wheat that could sustain them. Otherwise, these peasants were likely many of the 1 million Frenchmen who would emigrate to Algeria or America in the 1870’s through 1900.

Ironically, as the grape growing peasantry was forced to leave their land in phylloxera affected areas, economically, in France, things were improving. For the unskilled worker, wages increased  2/3’s between 1850 and 1910. During the same period, GDP doubled, despite France’s involvement in the Crimean war and the disastrous Franco-Prussian war of 1870 which saw the fall of the Napoleon III and the second Republic. Likely, it was France’s continued imperial pursuits of colonizing parts of Africa and Asia artificially buoyed they French economy, but whatever the reason, the economic up-turn caused a growth in demand for wine and rising prices, and this promise of demand would justify replanting the most profitable of vineyards immediately.

Hopefully, this long, historical explanation of why the soils of Les Damaudes (and likely those in Cros Parantoux) retained their natural levels of clay, may seem reasonable. In my view, the retention of clay was two-fold.  Number one: the vineyard was farmed in small divided sections, and farmed by hand. Additionally, the larger parcels were oriented horizontally, limiting the distance between plots on the vertical axis. These larger plots or may not have been plowed in the 1800’s; but if they were, because of the plot shape, could only have been done across the slope, following the curve of the hillside. This would have limited erosion. Secondly, like Cros Parantoux, this vineyard likely lay abandoned for a lengthy enough period that ownership of the vineyard was reapportioned. The most obvious period for this to have happened was from the early 1880s when phylloxera struck to 1952 when this parcel was planted.



I defer to Steen Öhman author of winehog.org, who has carefully researched the available history – primarily ownership – of Cros Parantoux . Read his article here.



(1) The Burgundy Report has a breakdown of land that is significantly different than found in the book, Measures and Men Witold Kula  Princeton University Press (1986). Bill Nasson reports that an “Ouvrée is 4.285 ares; the area one man could work in one day” and a “Journal  equals 8 ouvrées, or 860 perches, or 81.900 ares and was the area one man could work in one day with a horse and plough.” This is very different than Kula’s writing that an ouvrée was a vineyard specific measurement that Burgundian used for the area that a man could work with a pair of plow animals, and a journeaux in Burgundy referred specifically to the size of a cornfield a man could work with a pair of plow animals. I was unable to find further supporting evidence for either account.

(2) Serfs of France had largely been “enfranchised” over the course of the middle ages. But this varied on where and when since control of France was spread over various Duchies. To give a general time frame when enfranchisement was occurring, Charles the Fair emancipated the serfs of Languedoc in two letters from 1298 and 1304. Upon gaining freeman status, serfs became villeins (this is where the word villain came from, meaning: scoundrel or criminal). They may have been enfranchised but in many ways, their situation had not changed all that significantly. As tenant farmers, they were still legally bound to the manor where they were tenants. They paid ‘rent’ either in the form of money or produce, and owed the noble of the manor a certain number of days of unfree labor each year, referred to as Corvée. This was simply a form of barter between the tenant and the nobleman. A similar arrangement is the sharecropping agreements referred to as métayage, meaning half.  This is another form of barter agreement, where the lease payment is in the form of a percentage of the product of the vineyard, in either grapes or wine.

(3) The life expectancy in France in 1828 was 37 years, thanks in part to the smallpox vaccinations that began in 1810. Earlier, in the 18th century half of all children died before the age of 10 years old, lowering the average life expectancy in the 1700’s to only 25 years. The period of the Napoleonic Wars, 1803 to 1815, saw a drop in average age to below 30 years. This happened again in 1870 following the disastrous (for France) Franco-Prussian, when the Napoleon III was captured, and Paris would later fall Germans January of 1871, in Bismark’s successful bid for German unification.


Additional reading

A History of French Public Law, Volume 9,  Jean Brissaud p. 317-318 Ulan Press (1923)

Economic and Social Conditions in France During the Eighteenth Century Henri Sée Professor at the University of Rennes 1927

http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s9479.pdf     European Wine on the Eve of the Railways, James Simpson


Understanding The Terroir of Burgundy part 4.4: Erosion: a challenge to the authenticity of terroir

Erosion Vosne wider implications

Our best understanding of soils of the Côte de Nuits:

In trying to grasp the relationship of the wines made soil from particular crus, many writers, myself included, had come to fundamentally incorrect conclusions regarding terroir. My version, could be summarized into this:

I believed that chemical and mechanical weathering of the limestone bedding naturally created soil types that were dictated by their position on the slope. Highest on the slope, the compact limestone soils were produced by the simultaneous production of clay and erosion clay. Lower on the slope, where transported clay enriched the otherwise arid, colluvial soils, I believed that if farmed carefully, clay production could remain in a relative of a state equilibrium with clay erosion. While, it most of these vineyards may not absolutely been in their natural state as when the Romans arrived, of many mid-slope Burgundy vineyards, I felt were relatively authentic in their terroir.  

A challenge to the authenticity of terroir:

Vosne-Romanée Les Damaudes, sitting upon the upper-most slope, with a 12% grade had equal parts clay and gravel in 2004. This is despite already having lost 54mm depth of clay sized particle since 1952. In the foreground, Vosne Malconsorts is allowed to grow it's grass in June of 2012. photo: googlemaps

Vosne-Romanée Les Damaudes, sitting upon the upper-most slope, with a 12% grade had equal parts clay and gravel in 2004. This is despite already having lost 54mm depth of clay-sized particle since 1952. In the foreground, Vosne Malconsorts is allowed to grow its grass in June of 2012. photo: googlemaps

The data of the 2008 paper by Quiquerez, Brenot, Garcia, Petit and Catena however, presented far wider implications than the study’s intended focus, being the impact of the erosion upon the soil. The study’s plot site, high up on the hillside, with a long, 12% grade, would challenge the perception that upper-slope Burgundian soils do not have high percentages of clay and silt. This vineyard, with its 40% clay content, at the onset of the study, is doubly surprising, given that the data showed these materials exhibit a high erosional rate out of the plot area. 

This study not only gives us a prophetic view of this vineyard’s future soil but also clearly illuminated a much more fertile soil in the past. Just as this vineyard once had an exceptionally high clay content, there is every reason to believe this was also true across the breadth of Burgundy vineyards, indicating a very different erosional story played out regarding the ‘arid’ soils of elite mid-slope vineyards. This information directly challenges the authenticity of the terroir vineyards as they exist in Burgundy today.

What the study of this vineyard tells us is that, at least on this site, there has been a relatively tight erosional timeline, with much of the damage occurring over the past half century. Additionally, the erosion is projected to finish its ‘third act’ in Les Damaudes, over the next 25 years, at which point it will have a classic Burgundian compact limestone soil.  While it would appear that mechanized farming as the most erosive in this vineyard’s largely unreported history, we know that there was massive erosion in other vineyards over the centuries. The remaining question is: What about the historical farming of this vineyard allowed its clay to remain in this parcel of Les Damaudes?

*This article is based on the findings a pair of studies chronicled in Part 4.3, and centers upon the upper hillside plot of Vosne-Romanée’s village cru of Les Damaudes.

Why is this study so important to our understanding of Burgundy?

It has slowly become apparent that the problem in talking about the terroir of Burgundy is this: We really don’t know what the wines of Burgundy might have naturally been, had men had both the knowledge and forethought to do what it would take to preserve these vineyards centuries ago. However, a study like this (click here) gives us the ability to hypothetically see both where this vineyard is going, and what it might have been like before man caused so much erosion upon the hillsides. We were lucky that the researchers chose this particular vineyard at the top of VosneRomanée for their study. Les Damaudes is a steep hillside vineyard (in the most revered of villages) that is only midway through its journey of erosional destruction.  A study of a vineyard from any of the other lesser appellations could easily be dismissed as not being applicable to les grands villages de Bourgogne. But with a vineyard within VosneRomanée, there is no doubt as to the applicability of the information, as this vineyard is in the immediate vicinity of some of the greatest vineyards in the world, including La Tache and Romanée-Conti.

soil projection

The projected future soil composition of Les Damaudes over the next 5 storms (roughly 25 years) Click to enlarge.

It has become increasingly clear through the research in preparing this series of articles, that vineyards like Ruchottes-Chambertin have been so seriously degraded by the techniques of the farming employed there, that the terroir we talk about today is one that wears immense repercussions of the farming practices of the past centuries. However, it seemed plausible, that the upper slopes could naturally have developed a compact limestone soil, (one that is 85 to 90% crushed limestone and only 10 to 15 % clay). But these studies re-orient our thinking, forcing us to realize that this is not a soil type that is natural to Burgundy. Because of that, it is not a terroir that is natural to Burgundy.

It is not to say that these vineyards, with their degraded soils, do not produce beautiful or interesting wines, but we must realize that this is a vineyard condition that has been inflicted by man. In the truest sense, Burgundy now has a terroir that has been drastically altered, metamorphosed by the actions of man.

Note: at the bottom of this article I discuss data gaps and the certain information the study might have provided which would have been key to a more complete understanding of the soil of Vosne Les Damaudes. 

2004: Establishing a soil base-line

Although the changes to the soil makeup after the 2004 storm were covered in-depth the latter half of Part 4.3, it is the basis for projecting what the soil make up was in 1952, so it bears a brief retelling now.

Click to enlarge. Adapted from the paper "Soil degradation caused by a high-intensity rainfall event : implications for medium-term soil sustainability in Burgundian vineyards" Quiquerez/Brenot/Garcia/Petit, Catena 73, 2008

Click to enlarge. Adapted from the paper “Soil degradation caused by a high-intensity rainfall event: implications for medium-term soil sustainability in Burgundian vineyards” Quiquerez/Brenot/Garcia/Petit, Catena 73, 2008

In June of 2004, a storm, which was unusually large for Burgundy, dropped 40 mm of water on Vosne Romanee over a 24 hour period. The effects of that storm were studied, and the researchers determined that the vineyard plot had irrevocably lost between 1.8 mm and 4 mm soil due to erosion, a vast majority of which were very fine particles under 63 μm in size.  The material lost was clay and silt since erosion most efficiently targets these tiny particles. (1)

To the right is a graphic I adapted from the study to show the grain size distribution of the soil after the 2004 storm. Each rectangle represents a range of particle size. I also included the before level of clay and silt sized particles to illustrate the loss of those materials, which was shown as 25% in a graph in the study.


1952: the soil content of the past

Given the study’s data, we can extrapolate, at least conceptually, what the clay content on these slopes the vineyard was planted in 1952.(2)  Starting with the fact 2004 the hillside contained roughly equal parts clay and gravel at 40+% each; the balance being sand, that we can add 54 mm more super-fine material (smaller than 63 μm) that it did in 2004.  If we assume that past soil loss rates were similar to that of the 2004 storm, we can postulate how much clay would have been present in 1952.  This figure would be much easier to arrive at if the researchers had given us the soil depth, which would allow us to estimate the volume of gravel (colluvium) and allow us a much more accurate estimate, but that information was not within the scope of the study.

Click to enlarge. Adapted from the paper "Soil degradation caused by a high-intensity rainfall event : implications for medium-term soil sustainability in Burgundian vineyards" Quiquerez/Brenot/Garcia/Petit, Catena 73, 2008

Click to enlarge. Adapted from the paper “Soil degradation caused by a high-intensity rainfall event: implications for medium-term soil sustainability in Burgundian vineyards” Quiquerez/Brenot/Garcia/Petit, Catena 73, 2008

The soil loss projections of the next five large storms, predicts that erosion will remove up to 20 mm in-depth in places. The lost material, it is expected would continue to consist of primarily be smaller than 63 μm in size. 

However, would it not be logical assume soil losses of previous storms were similar to that of the 2004 storm? If so, it would not be unreasonable to apply the projected soil loss, in order to estimate the vineyards clay percentage in the past.  If these big storms (of 40+mm rainfall per event) happen every 5 or so years, we can estimate that thirty years ago this same hillside may have had as much as a 70% clay content. How much clay existed before the plot was planted in 1952 can not readily be determined without establishing a rough estimate of the volume of gravel in the vineyard, but it is likely that the vineyard, may have had clay content 85%.  Such a high percentage suggests that either this plot was either not farmed before it was planted in 1952, or was farmed quite differently in the past than it is now. 

In Retrospect

We should not have been surprised that the soils of Burgundy are not as nature created them. We should have suspected something was amiss long ago because the soil type in Burgundy today is one of an arid climate. France, and the surrounding Burgundian countryside, however, do not have an arid climate at all. Rather the climate is classified as semi-continental, where rain is frequent and happens virtually year around. These soils would naturally have at least some petrogenetic development, which it is doubtful that any vineyard in the Côte d’Or does. We were told and simply wanted to believe that the wines of Burgundy are naturally and uniquely sparse of nutrients and clay. Additionally, we have not wanted to believe that, in the course of making these great wines, man has precipitously hastened the decline of the greatest vineyards of the world, though poor farming decisions that have been made throughout the centuries. This has never been truer since the organization of vineyards for the mechanization of farming.


Gaps in the data: deficiencies in quantification

As transformative as this study is to our understanding of the wines of Burgundy, the paper, unfortunately, omits some fairly important information. First and foremost, it is unclear how the samples for the data were collected, and secondly how well the data actually represents the soil of the slope in the root zone. The report does say that the soil of the vineyard was homogeneous in its makeup, and no petrogenetic development was observed; meaning the entire vineyard was the same, with no observable generation of new soil. This indicates that what little organic deterioration may develop was washed away by erosion, and no soil horizons (layering) could develop  Lack of soil development and soil horizons would be caused the dual soil disruptions created by regular tilling and erosion.

However, the problem lies in the word “homogeneous”. Even if at some point the soil was homogeneous from topsoil to bedrock, erosional changes to the soils would primarily affect only the material nearest to the surface, and then most acutely in the rill affected inter-rows. Now, even after one storm, the soil is no longer homogeneous in its makeup, because the soil at a certain (unknown) depth would contain more clay and silt sized particles than the topsoil. Now there would be two soil types.

Because of this, we must assume that the researchers collected a shallow soil collection for the sample in order to determine particle size.(3)  Quantifying the depth of this sample is critical, was this a  sample from the first 25mm (1 inch) or 50mm  (2 inches) or from deeper, say 200 mm (8 inches) of depth which is the deepest that most tilling reaches? Further, when the samples were collected: ie before or after anthropogenic resupply of the sediment was returned to the slope, and before or after the soil was tilled, are both important factors in understanding the distribution of soil.  Additionally, knowledge samples at various depths of the sample would be instructive as the effective depth of the erosional change. This is ever truer after workers had returned the sediment to the hillside, and tilled back into the soil.

Root development through soil

The root zone on a hillside vineyard is often restricted to no more than 300mm (12in) to 460mm (18in) represented by the brown strip in the graphic above.  Original graphic of unknown origin.

It would appear that the study only represents changes to the surface soil: those that would most be affected by erosion, and anthropogenic resupply of the sediment to the hillside. it is possible but less likely, that the soil sample may have been taken down to a 200mm depth (8in), which is the standard reach of a plow shear. But even if samples were taken from the 200mm depth, that is only 2/3s of the minimum depth required by a vine for its root zone.

Despite questions and any doubts these numerical omissions might create regarding the validity of the numbers and projections from the study, the value of this information far exceeds reaches far into the black hole of understanding that existed before. For this reason, I accept these numbers and build in a fairly wide mental fudge-factor when considering the above.



Puligny Folatieres after a rain

A tractor moves on the road between Paul Pernot’s “Clos des Folatières” and Les Clavillons in Puligny-Montrachet photo source: googlemaps


Musigny anthopogenic resupply

“Anthropogenic resupply” of redepositing the sediment back upslope is now done with heavy machinery at Comte de Vogüé. photo: Steen Öhman

Musigny anthopogenic resupply 2

Heavy machinery at Comte de Vogüé. Given a major cause of erosion is compression, it’s hard to imagine this is really helping the situation much. photo: Steen Öhman

*Special thanks to Steen Ohman, sleuth, and vineyard historian who writes the excellent winehog.org, for providing me with the 1827 cadastre Map show above.


(1) The variance between the 1.8mm figure and the 4mm figure was not explained, but it is likely that lower sections of the vineyard, which were subject to a higher volume of rainwater runoff, and had developed rill erosion, were subject to greater levels of erosional loss.

(2) While the study lumps both clay and silt into a grouping of material by size under 63 μm, according to Wikipedia, as well as other sources, say that silt is primarily made up of the parent materials feldspar or quartz. Feldspar is prone to chemical erosion, just as is limestone, both of which metamorphose into clay (phyllosilicate minerals + water and air), while quartz will not erode due the same contact with the carbonic acid in rainwater.  Although granite (the major source of quartz-silt) is common in the areas surrounding the Cote, like in Beaujolais, it is not found near the surface in the immediate area. Although silt has been washed onto the Cotes by alluvial action and transported to the soils of the Cote by wind erosion, I have to assume that silt-sized quartz fragments are a very small minority in the area’s soil makeup. For that reason, I often refer to the study’s grouping of material under 63 μm, simply as clay. Clay, of course, is actually smaller than silt. Although the size definition varies between disciplines 1–5 μm, the metamorphological change that occurs upon clay is the ultimately defines clay, not its size.  * an underlying reason that I identify this material may also be that — no wine writer has ever attributed any of Burgundy’s success to silt. Am I cowering in conformity?


(3) How else could one explain a 15% change in a clay content?  The planting bed must be at least 30cm  (12 inches) for vines to be viable. Most vineyards have this with a much lower clay content, often to 30% less. If we were to use 30cm depth as a baseline, it stands to reason that the depth is likely 30% more than 30cm, being at a minimum 40cm of soil over the base rock though there is likely more. So, if the soil is 400mm deep, and 240mm of that are clay minerals, a 4mm decrease in the clay represents only a 1.7% decrease in clay content in the soil.