That is one hell of a loaf! The Quality of Bread in France prior to the Storming of the Bastille | Marie Antoinette's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century: That is one hell of a loaf! The Quality of Bread in France prior to the Storming of the Bastille

April 11, 2011

That is one hell of a loaf! The Quality of Bread in France prior to the Storming of the Bastille

Vallayer-Coster, Anne, White Soup Bowl. 1771, oil on canvas.

Here is a fascinating account of the quality of bread in France right before the storming of the Bastille. Although this individual had the means to secure himself a decent bit of bread, you can just imagine the horror of those who could not, or if they did, received the worst of the worst.

"The nearer the 14th of July approached," says an eye-witness,' "the more did the dearth increase. 
Every baker's shop was surrounded by a crowd, to which bread was distributed with the most grudging economy... This bread was generally blackish, earthy, and bitter, producing inflammation of the throat and pain in the bowels.

I have seen flour of detestable quality at the military school and at other depots. I have seen portions of it yellow in colour, with an offensive smell; some forming blocks so hard that they had to be broken into fragments by repeated blows of a hatchet.

For my own part, wearied with the difficulty of procuring this poor bread, and disgusted with that offered to me at the tables d'hote, I avoided this kind of food altogether. In the evening I went to the Cafe du Caveau, where, fortunately, they were kind enough to reserve for me two of those rolls which are called flutes, and this is the only bread I have eaten for a week at a time."

Galart de Montjoie. ["French Society before the Revolution."] In Histoire de la Révolution de France. S.l.: s.n., 1797. 53, ch. XXIX, quoted in Hippolyte Taine, The French Revolution,(New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1913), 4.


  1. Family legend has it, that an ancestor on my mother's side arrived here because he stole a loaf of bread during the French Revelution. Legend also has it he had been a part of the court, but escaped the Reign of Terror. Anyway, he stole this loaf of bread and was caught, and the baker was given the choice of having him guilliotined or having him sold into servitude/slavery and keeping the money. The baker wanted the money, so du Raison was sent to Louisiana. Next relative I know of from that line is my great-grandfather, born 100 years later.

    Knowing a bit more about history, I'm not so sure how true this legend is, but it's good to know about the loaf!

  2. Thanks for the very interesting post! Now I want to look up more from the book you quoted above :D . I wonder if it's available in a good English or French version?

  3. @Lady Neferankh Oh I know I love this stuff too! They have a copy (2 vol. set) at the National Library of France (it is in French). Where are you located?