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Meat Matters

Meat Matters: Butchers, Politics, and Market Culture in Eighteenth-Century Paris

Sydney Watts
Volume: 4
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 244
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  • Book Info
    Meat Matters
    Book Description:

    Paris from the 1680s to 1791 was a place and time of intense political debate and social unrest over issues of subsistence. The shortage of grain and the sudden rise in bread prices sparked the fires of urban protest and drew immediate responses from monarchs and statesmen. For several decades, historians have focused their studies on the grain trade that dominated French agriculture and whose surplus generated national wealth. Until recently, there have been few studies of butchers who traded in beef, veal, and mutton, as most historians regarded their trade as marginal to royal food policy, and-because of meat's relative luxury-not the object of popular discontent. Paris experienced a marked increase in the production and consumption of meat during this century. Both the greater demand for meat and the efforts of political leaders to ensure its consistent supply occurred against the backdrop of a transformation in Parisian society and politics, especially the Parisians' changing expectations regarding political leadership as onetime subjects became citizens. In this book, Watts examines why meat mattered to a growing number of Parisians and explores the political, economic, and cultural matters of the meat trade in order to illuminate more fully the changing world of Old Regime Paris. This study goes beyond the mechanics of production, distribution, and marketing of meat to include social institutions such as the guild, the family firm, and the political environment, as well as the culture's attitude toward flesh, blood, and violence that shaped the role of butchers in Parisian life. Sydney Watts is assistant professor of history at the University of Richmond. She is currently working on the history of Lent and secular society in early modern France.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-681-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xi)
    S. W.
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    In September 1774, former Minister Léonard-Jean-Baptiste Bertin (1719–1792) wrote to then Controller General Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot (1727–1781), remarking how the attitude of Parisians toward food provisions had shifted. As he explained it, butcher’s meat (that is, beef, veal, and mutton) represented “a commodity in some sort of first necessity, as is white bread.”¹ In that same year, a burgeoning demand for red meat—a demand that defied Lenten rules of fasting and fueled an expansive black market—dictated a royal edict to end state-enforced fasting. In October of 1790, the popular consumption of red meat had become a major...

  6. Chapter 1 The Political Economy of Meat
    (pp. 7-26)

    On October 5, 1789, the women of the central Parisian marketplace, Les Halles, marched all night to Versailles to “bring home the baker.” These self-elected representatives of the working poor took action to remedy what to them was a political crisis: The price of bread and meat had risen beyond what was just, and their king had neglected one of his primary duties to ensure the subsistence of his people. This popular initiative pointed to the political necessity of food staples, an urgent need that required direct confrontation with the head of state. Once in Versailles, they made their demands...

  7. Chapter 2 Meat and the Social Hierarchy
    (pp. 27-41)

    On a busy Christmas Eve, one of the great feasting days of the year, a young governess named Jeanne Marseille sent the housemaid to shop for meat at Master Butcher Drieux’s stall. The governess worked for the Non family in the Saint Eustache parish, a bourgeois household that had been a regular client of butcher Drieux over a year-and-a-half. Upon the maid’s return from the Quinze-Vingt butchery, Jeanne discovered that the meat Drieux supplied was not only rotten, but of the poorest cut. In her report to the police, she claimed the quality of the food “did not at all...

  8. Chapter 3 Liberty and Regulation in the Cattle Markets
    (pp. 43-61)

    Every Thursday a deafening cacophony awoke the villagers of Poissy in the early morning hours. Some of these sounds came from the nearby taverns where cattle merchants were carousing after their long journeys from regional fairs. The greatest noise came from the hundreds of cattle and thousands of sheep that had been driven to Poissy, a town dominated by its central square that looked over the river Seine and the Saint Germain forest, beyond which lay the western gates of Paris. The first cattle showing started at 4:00 A.M. in the summer months, 6:00 A.M. in the winter months; a...

  9. Chapter 4 Order and Disorder in the Urban Meat Markets
    (pp. 63-84)

    On July 23, 1729 a group of angry and frightened residents from the Saint-Bernard district banded together to complain to the city police about a neighboring butchery, in particular its scalding house that rendered fat from the animals slaughtered there on a daily basis. The neighbors’ previous complaints focused on the nuisance (that forced them to live with their windows shut in the heat of the summer), and for the wealthy nobleman who lived among them, the potential property losses (his tarnished silver and his apartments that rented out at a “vile price”). After several attempts to alert the city...

  10. Chapter 5 Guild Unity and Discord
    (pp. 85-104)

    During the period of Carnival, usually the Thursday morning before Lent, the butcher guild chose their prize fattened ox, known as the boeuf gras, decorated it with garlands of flowers and plumes of feathers, paraded it throughout the city, and finally offered it to the first president of parlement on the steps of the palace. On this ceremonial animal’s back rode either a young butcher’s daughter, or more often, a young boy, named king for the day, donned with a sash of royal blue, a sword, and a scepter. A dozen or more master butchers and their journeymen joined the...

  11. Chapter 6 In the Service of a Master: Apprentices and Journeymen
    (pp. 105-122)

    Four months into the meat-eating season, Jean Baptiste Nez, a garçon boucher, suddenly found himself out on the street in the middle of the night, looking for work. Hired by Master Butcher Antoine Rebourg for a weekly wage, room, and board, Nez felt that he had been treated unfairly and went to the commissaire to file a complaint.¹ According to the young stall worker, the master “ordered him to get up [and begin working] at midnight to do four cattle and twelve to fifteen sheep after having supped [and finished his work] at nine-thirty.” Nez had not eaten his final...

  12. Chapter 7 Building the Family Firm: Marriage and Succession
    (pp. 123-142)

    The Vollée family chose a wedding day in early February 1745, just at the end of the working season; Master Butcher Pierre Louis Vollée, the father of the groom, had many reasons to be proud. Not only was it the fourth wedding over which he was to preside, but each of his children’s marriages built upon two generations of merchant butcher businesses.¹ As a purveyor to the royal household of Madame la Dauphine and the guild’s syndic from 1745 to 1749, Pierre Louis Vollée benefited from his family’s prominence in the trade to gain access to the most privileged clientele...

  13. Chapter 8 Butcher Fortune and the Workings of Credit
    (pp. 143-160)

    Upon the death of Thomas Barré in January 1751, the public notary came to Barré’s home to inventory his entire fortune from his paper assets and butchery tools to every piece of linen stored in his hope chest. Alongside the hundreds of towels that the shop utilized in meat processing, his armoire was full of dozens of leather jackets (vestes de basane) that came from the finer pieces of sheepskin his shop produced. Barré stood as a man who not only made his wealth, but also displayed it personally. In his wardrobe, the notary inventoried three blue silk jackets woven...

  14. Conclusion The Rise of Meat
    (pp. 161-166)

    The classical interpretation of the French Revolution marks August 4, 1789 as the propitious moment of liberalism. That night, the members of the National Assembly abolished serfdom outright and ended the feudal regime that included seigneurial oppression, inequitable and burdensome taxation, and the absence of adequate representation. This event has been seen traditionally as the starting point of a series of dramatic reforms that broke with the absolutist, corporate structure of eighteenth-century France by eliminating the discriminatory privileges of titled persons and disaggregating the collective body of the corporation. Guild masters and mistresses, as members of this social structure that...

  15. Appendix
    (pp. 167-178)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 179-212)
  17. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 213-224)
  18. Index
    (pp. 225-232)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 233-233)