Death's Arbitrary Empire -- McManners

Topics: Poverty, Disease, Death Pages: 3 (1008 words) Published: July 23, 2009
On this day 220 years ago, a group of French insurgents stormed a national arms house, the Bastille, and set off the events of the French Revolution. This changed France forever, bringing an end to the monarchy that had dominated the political landscape for years, bringing about the Napoleonic period and ultimately, Democratic France that we see today. Perhaps the driving force behind the movement could be pointed at the period of oppression rained down on the French peasantry by the nobility in the 17th and 18th centuries.

In a time period dominated by French excesses and lavish living by the nobility, most notably during the reign of the Sun King Louis XIV, more than 85% of the population was living in shackles of poverty. The social stratum was shaped like a pyramid with the wealthy elite occupying the top of the triangle. Most of the people spent their lives mired in the lowest level, and social movement was very unlikely. The richest members of this society had a 10-17 year life advantage over those who lived in extreme poverty. Economic prowess meant a better diet, better nutrition, and thus a better overall quality of life. Elite bourgeois dined on fine cheeses and meats and drank expensive bottles of wine from the Chateau region while peasants drank contaminated water and ate grain often harvested from diseased crops. Water for the peasants was often dug from shallow wells and poured through linen for sanitary purposes. Most French noblemen knew better, and kept a "wine-only" drinking policy. Diseased crops were fed to peasants in time of paucity, and often caused the deaths of many from diseases like tuberculosis and dysentery.

Also, the more status and economic power one had, the more likely it was the patriarch would be able to carry out the family name. Peasants barely had children and when they did, 9 out of 10 did not live past the age of ten. Surgeons and midwives were often responsible for the mangling of a child at birth. Many mishandlings...

Cited: Death 's Arbitrary Empire" By John McManners
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