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In small towns, too, there were protests of all three types, except that the food riot was most commonly against a miller, a baker or a merchant. Town and country necessarily had different ways of meeting subsistence needs, and herein lay a source of incipient and occasionally open friction between those in town and country who needed to purchase grain or bread. These were all protests within a system which people assumed would never end. In the spring of 1789, however, people in small towns and villages began behaving in ways which challenged the structures of their world in unprecedented ways, through deliberate confrontation with local seigneurs.
As in Languedoc, there was an engrained assumption of belonging to a French polity. This was revealed in the economic demands of the parish cahiers of the Roussillon. That of St-Michel-de-Llotes demanded ‘[t]hat trade should be free throughout the kingdom’; [t]hat of Mont-Louis asked ‘[t]hat obstacles to commerce and trade in the interior of the kingdom should be removed, that every subject should have full and complete freedom to transport or have transported merchandise from one province to 32 Living the French Revolution, 1789–99 another’.
The terrifying immediate challenge for most French people as 1789 began was survival in the face of a crisis in the food supply, due to the impact on the 1788 harvest of drought followed by wild summer storms. The following winter was unusually severe across the whole country, and the high price of firewood further compromised the capacity of most urban and rural people to procure sufficient food. In the tiny southern village of Rouffiac, for example, hail and rain swelled the river Verdouble to a level where it carried away part of the bridge, ruined 100 ha of millet and beans, and washed away 1,200 hay-ricks, in all about half the year’s produce.