Extracts from A Parisian Journal

Extracts from A Parisian Journal, 1405-1449, translated by Janet Shirley from the anonymous Journal d’un bourgeois de Paris (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968).

[Note: These extracts from the diary of an anonymous resident of Paris (probably a cleric) provide detailed information on the politics of the day and living conditions in the city during the last decades of the Hundred Years’ War.]

1418, Death, p. 131

The death rate in and around Paris this September was higher than it had been for three hundred years, so old men said. No one who was struck by the epidemic escaped, particularly young people and children. So many people died so fast towards the end of the month that they had to dig great pits in the cemeteries of Paris and lay thirty or forty in at once, in rows like sides of bacon, and then a bit of earth scattered over them. You could not go out into the street day or night without encountering Our Lord being carried to the sick, and all the dying had the clearest perception of Our Lord God at the end that any Christian ever had. But, by what the clergy said, no one had ever experienced or heard of so dreadful or so fierce a pestilence nor one from which so few people once struck by it recovered. More than fifty thousand people died in Paris in less than five weeks. So many priests died that four or six or eight heads of households would be buried with one sung mass; even then it was necessary to bargain with the priests, what price they would do it for, and often people had to pay 16s. or 18s. p. and a low mass 4s. p.

1420, Poverty, p. 155

Within a week of their arrival the price of corn and flour went up so that a setier of wheat by Paris measure in the Paris Halles cost thirty francs of the money then current, good flour thirty-two francs, and other grain correspondingly according to its kind. There was no bread under 24d. p. a loaf, made with the bran, and the heaviest weighed no more than about twenty ounces. Poor people and poor priests did very badly in those days because they were only paid 2s. p. for a mass and poor people ate no bread, nothing but cabbages and turnips and such dishes, without any bread or salt. Bread got so dear before Christmas came that a four-blanc loaf cost eight blancs and even then no one could buy any without going to the baker’s before daybreak and standing pints and quarts to the bakers and their assistants. There was no wine then, either, at anything under 12d. a quart, but still you were lucky if you could get it, since by eight o’clock there was such a crowd at the bakers’ doors as one could never have believed without seeing it. Poor creatures! trying to get bread for their poor husbands away in the fields or for their children dying of hunger at home – neither for their money nor for all their crowding could they get any after that time; then you would hear sad wailing and weeping all over Paris, sad lamentations and little children crying ‘I am dying of hunger!’ In the year 1420 you might see all over Paris here ten there twenty or thirty children, boys and girls, dying of hunger and of cold on the rubbish heaps. No one could be so hard of heart as not to be greatly distressed, hearing them at night crying ‘Oh, I am dying of hunger’; yet the poor householders could do nothing to help them – no one had any bread, corn, firewood, or charcoal.

Source: <http://mysticwomen.mcmaster.ca/scriptorium/paris1.html>,
<http://mysticwomen.mcmaster.ca/scriptorium/paris2.html> [both seen 8 Jan. 2005]