By Janine Garrisson

A masterful new survey of sixteenth-century France which examines the vicissitudes of the French monarchy through the Italian Wars and the Wars of faith. It explores how the advances made below a succession of robust kings from Charles VIII to Henri II created tensions in conventional society which mixed with financial difficulties and rising non secular divisions to carry the dominion on the subject of disintegration less than a sequence of susceptible kings from Francois II to Henri III. The political drawback culminated in France's first succession clash for hundreds of years, yet used to be resolved via Henri IV's well timed reconnection of dynastic legitimism with non secular orthodoxy.

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In Quercy, one of the most backward provinces, even the larger villages were having schoolmasters appointed by their consuls from the 1450s, as were the equally backward Forez and Rouergue. 6 Elsewhere, song schools and the schools run by minor clergy provided pious children with elementary instruction. There is undoubtedly an element of truth in the remark of the Venetian ambassador Marino Giustiniano, made in 1535, that 'there is nobody in France, no matter how poor, who cannot read and write'.

The tailles doubled during the Wars of Religion, even if they were not always collected by the agents of the Crown. And, alongside royal officials, agents of the rival parties descended upon rural communities with their own demands. The more or less incessant fighting put additional strains on peasant budgets, whether for the defence of the village or for the feeding and lodging of troops from the regular or irregular forces. And war disrupted the markets and fairs, brought pillage and devastation, and thus helped push up prices.

Though the peasants were all landholders, they were by no means all of the same kind. To the extent that one can make sense of a complex system which, contrary to what is commonly thought, was changing throughout the century, one can identify three main 22 A HISTORY OF SIXTEENTH-CENTURY FRANCE categories. Small proprietors were by far the most numerous. Possessed of one or two hectares, they had to hire their labour out to make ends meet, working as unskilled labourers paid in cash or kind, or dabbling in cottage industry or sometimes in sharecropping.

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