Children and Families

Children are certainly authentic, especially since one was likely to have a new one every year or so -- although the odds roughly were 50-50 of the new arrival surviving childhood. Childhood was nothing special -- children were dressed like miniature adults and were expected to behave much the same way: like small people with no rights. In a peasant family, children went to work in the field or kitchen as soon as they could. The children of artisans and merchants learned their parents' trade. The sons of the nobility learned to be warriors and courtiers, and learned first-hand about the nature of service. Henri IV, who was a very indulgent father, is reputed to have told the dauphin that "I am the master and you are the valet." He also recommended regular beatings, as when the dauphin was king there would be no one to correct him. The daughters of the nobility learned to be accomplished and attractive pieces for the game of marriage politics. 
The Poulet Gauche does not have separate children's activities or children's areas. We may be able to find a quiet corner for a nursing mother (or wetnurse), but other than that we expect that children mingle with everyone else and are looked after by their nurses, tutors, and family servants. If you have a child that can do useful labor, we may be able to take them on as a message runner, spit turner, stable boy, etc.
 Noble or upper class mothers rarely raised their own infants. They were turned over to a wet-nurse immediately, and depending on their social status may have had a bevy of nurses to attend them. They also might be sent to foster homes, especially if they were of very high rank, to be raised as pages and learn the courtly arts. Henri IV's grandfather fostered him out to a country squire in Bearn, to be raised "bare-foot and bare-headed" among the people, in the belief that this would make a man of him. In Scotland, the Erskine clan traditionally had the raising of the royal heir at Stirling Castle.

"Childhood," when a child was in the hands of domestic women, lasted until about the age of 7. At this point, an upper-class girl might be sent to a convent for education until she was either called home to marry a man she had never met or told to take the veil and save the family the expense of her dowry. An upper-class boy would be put in the hands of a "gouverneur" and may be sent to a "college" or tutored at home. He learned Latin, a little philosophy, rhetoric, etc. In a school, the hours were long, the discipline harsh, the food bad, and the heating rare. All of this was thought to be good for one's character, if one didn't die under the regime. Until his death, even the formidable Cardinal Richlieu was a little afraid of his old schoolmaster. This emphasis on formal education for the nobility is new: Jehan du Lac's grandfather couldn't read and he never felt the lack. At the age of 15 or so, a noble boy was sent to learn the traditional arts of his class: riding, swordsmanship, dancing, and the arts of war. As peace returns to France, academies will be opened for this purpose, but it was often learned in another noble house. A son of the rising magistrate class would probably go to study law.

Of course, among the peasantry, education was never much of an issue. Among the artisans it would be acquired at home or in an apprenticeship, although a boy might be able to attend a cathedral school and join the clerical ranks. In the newer trades, like printing, literacy is rising rapidly.

Only the children of the upper classes married very young, as dynastic obligations were one of their social duties. The lower classes did not marry until a man had either acquired a piece of land to work or was established in a trade, while a woman and her family needed to save for her dowry. When times were rough, marriage was long-delayed, and when times were good, marriages happened earlier and produced larger families. The frustrations of young artisanal men in cities who had not yet acquired the rights to a shop and a family were often channeled into guild confraternities, "abbeys of misrule" and similar youth societies. The young men of the villages also had their group activities, which included the "charivari" -- the carnival-like mockery of hen-pecked husbands, newlyweds, and others. During the civil wars, this sort of frustrated young man made useful cannon fodder in the infantry -- a new role for his class.

What young urban and rural women thought is largely unrecorded. They helped out at home or went to work as domestic servants. Because women laborers earned 60% of what men did for the same work, they made up the bulk of the servant class and were often the majority of the hired farm workers as well. These women were not delicate -- of the agricultural work, only plowing and harvesting with a scythe were exclusively male. There were some trades dominated by women, like embroidery, so a young urban women might enter an artisanal apprenticeship. During difficult economic times, however, women's trades and the carrying on of a man's trade by his widow (a common occurrence, as most men married much younger wives) came under pressure from the frustrated journeymen mentioned above, who felt that they were being robbed of economic opportunities by women in the public workforce.

Marriage is usually arranged, especially among the upper classes where dynastic fortunes are at stake (less so among the humble). Since a man needs to be economically established before taking a wife, men usually marry younger women, whose chief assets are a satisfactory dowry and childbearing potential. Death in childbirth is common enough that a man may go through several wives. Then again, the age difference, especially in the artisan class, may leave a fairly independent younger widow to carry on her husbandís business. Marriage is primarily an economic and business relationship, not a sentimental one, and is therefore carefully contracted like any business deal. However, the anarchy of the wars has introduced a certain irregularity into affairs -- kidnapping of heiresses is not unheard of -- so laws have recently been passed making clandestine marriages performed without the consent of the parents illegal. The church naturally objects to this civil interference in their affairs. In response, the custom of publishing bans -- public announcements of a coupleís intent to marry -- is introduced at this time.


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-c. t. iannuzzo