The cahier of peasants in Menouville (1789)

This cahier, drafted in Menouville, outside Paris, in February 1789, is typical of peasant cahiers. It contains grievances about local conditions rather than matters of state or politics:

“In the year 1789, on February 25th, the assembly of the inhabitants of the parish of Menouville was called together by the sound of the bell in the usual way, and Monsieur le Cure read out the king’s letter summoning the Estates General.

We beg His Majesty to have pity on our farmland because of the hail we have had.

Also, we have a great deal of waste land which is covered with juniper, and this causes much trouble on account of the rabbits which are very numerous; it is this that makes us unable to pay the dues we owe to His Majesty.

We have no help from anyone to bring us relief. Our neighbouring parishes are better off than we are, their lords have given great alms in their parishes, but we can expect help from no one but His Majesty.

We have only a few good fields very remote from the village, the rest is wretched land very full of game and this causes very small harvests.

We have one small meadow which only produces sour hay, the animals refuse to eat it, this is why we cannot raise stock.

The soil is so bad that you cannot plant fruit trees, several inhabitants have planted a few but they don’t grow.

We state that salt is too dear for poor people.

We state that there should not be any tax men, there could be a levy put on drinks so that everyone would be free.

We state that there should be no militia duty, because this ruins many families; it would be better if His Majesty laid a small tax on each young man.

We inform His Majesty that our goods are too heavily burdened with seigneurial and other charges.

We inform His Majesty that there is a main road from Pontoise to Meru begun eight years ago, we did the corvee as we were compelled to, we have been paying out money for three years; there are stones in the said road brought by wagon eighteen months ago and no labourers to do any work there, which means that everyone has to go through the corn and grain at the side of the road, which does a lot of harm and brings complaints from the farmers who own the fields.”