A Statistical View of European Rural Life, 1600-1800 Between the 17th and 19th centuries, the average European s diets varied greatly due to natural causes. Most peasants lived in unsanitary conditions, far away from conventional medical help, and would live in a single room with a large family. Most farmers were illiterate especially in Southern Europe and their farming technology was not updated. Protestant Northern Europe had higher literacy rates because Protestantism encouraged individual bible reading, while catholic Southern Europe was highly illiterate because the Catholic Church did not encourage literacy in the least bit. The spread of education led to new ideas and farming techniques which developed from the cities and spread to rural areas of Europe. In different areas of Europe, the yield ratios of wheat, rye, and barley would vary; the climate would be a big factor in determining the yield ratio. According to Document 1, Zone I, England, and the Low Countries would have the high yield ratios. In Zone II, France, Spain, and Italy were not far behind England in yield ratios. In Zone III and IV, Germany, Switzerland, Scandinavia, Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary the yield ratios were very low, and from 1800-1820, they did not produce wheat, rye, or barley at all. Countries like England and the Netherlands had predictable weather patterns and were able to grow an abundance of crops. The farther East a country was, the lower its yield would be due to poor and unpredictable weather. The average European peasant’s diet was poor and not sufficient to human needs. Most diets included bread, cheese, and butter. Meat and vegetables were rare and eaten possibly twice a year. Most peasants were always on the verge of starvation and ate anything edible to survive. The average person’s requirements are about 2,500 calories to function normally. Few people even met the standards; most peasants were malnourished, since they did not meet all of the food group requirements needed for a healthy person. In France, food harvests were affected by variances in glacial movements, which caused changes in temperatures, thus affecting the harvest period. According to Document 3, during the maximum glacier movement, the temperature was at its lowest, yet had the shortest time of harvest along with a raise in prices. Right after the glacial maximum, the summer temperature would rise, thus lengthening the harvest period, lowering the price of grapes and wheat. For example, by corresponding chart 1 and 3 of document 3, in 1712, wheat prices went sky high due to lower average summer temperatures causing fewer amounts of days to harvest. According to Document 4, The salary of the typical agricultural worker would remain fairly static. The big problem was that food prices kept rising, and soon the worker did not make enough money to buy food. There was much uprising in regards to the sky high food prices, resulting in the French Revolution. In Southern France, according to Document 5, the Plague killed more than half of the population in some areas. At this time, the prices of wheat were quite low, as were the temperatures. This means that there were fewer people because of the plague, and with supply and demand pressures off, it caused less competition for food. According to Document 5, epidemics in Southern France in some places killed up to sixty-four percent of the population, leaving devastating effects. Document 6 states that in Europe from 1740-1742, the average annual number of deaths was up to 117, while births were only at 100. The average rate of births could not neutralize the deaths and caused the population to decrease. Marriages were even less frequent then births, which was also a factor in the population decrease. Document 7 shows that in Bresles-en-Beauvais, France, during the late 17th century, births were less common than burials. According to the chart, when burials were at their peak, so were the prices of wheat. When births and deaths were fairly equal, wheat prices were reasonable.
The life expectancy was around forty-five for most of the peasants of Europe. Different factors over the years would cause a decrease or increase in the average mortality rate. According to Document 8, the infant and child mortality in France during the 17th and 18th centuries varied from 580 to 672 deaths out of every 1000 births. Obviously, as sanitation, and technology spread, the infant and child mortality rates decreased. In document 9, we can see that the life expectancy in Colyton, England fluctuated dramatically between the 16th and 18th centuries due to natural causes, From 1538-1624, the High mortality age was 40.6 years and 45.8 for the low mortality age. But From 1625-1699, the high mortality age was 34.9 and the low mortality age was 38.9, here we see a great decrease due to the widespread deaths due to the Plague which occurred in the mid 1600 s. Finally, from 1700-1774, the high mortality age was 38.4 and the low mortality age was 45.1, during this period, the population was still recovering from the devastating after-effects of the Plague. In Document 10, the seasonal incidence of Mortality in rural areas of France during the 17th and 18th century is displayed. The months of February to April, and October had the highest mortality rates. October was during the harvest time, and perhaps people had the most contact with each other, causing them to be more vulnerable to spreading and catching diseases. During February to April, temperatures were freezing, and most probably many people would die of the cold, bad weather, and starvation. In Europe, the seasons would determine the tie of marriages and conceptions, due to weather, and traditional working hours. Documents 11 and 12 show the seasonal times of marriage and conception in France. The most popular months of marriage were February, November, and January. The least popular months were December, November, and January. November was at the end of harvest, and a convenient time for marriages, people also wanted to marry before December, the month of advent, while January and February are probably good marriage months because people were needed less for work. The first half of February before lent was also a popular marriage month because people would have to wait until after Lent for the next opportunity of marriage. On the other hand April, March, August, and December would be inconvenient months for marriage because April and March are the plantings times, while August is the harvesting time. Lent took up most of April, at time when the church would forbid marriages. December, during advent was the time of spiritual practice, and was also the month where everyone stayed home. Conceptions in France were at their peak whilst the crops were growing during June, May, and April while the most unpopular months of conception was October, August, and September. June, May, and April were the most popular months because people were together, and closest in contact with each other, while October, September, and August were the height of the harvest time, and people had little free time. In conclusion, many natural forces from the climate to diseases affected Europe s farming population causing famines, plagues, and other human disasters. The spread of education began reaching rural areas, thus improving farming techniques, transportation, and sanitation. With new farming techniques, farmers could grow more food per acre, protect it from diseases, and also used less manpower. Transportation was a major factor in that it allowed food to be transported across Europe, whereas before one region might starve while another region could be prosperous. Sanitation improved living circumstances and allowed more infants to survive to adulthood, increasing the population. All of these factors allowed Europe s illiterate, rural majority to escape the grip of natural forces.