Sunday, April 7, 2013
La Gabelle: The Salt Tax
grenier a sel (salt granary) in La Chatre in 1698. La Chatre is a town in the Indre department about 300 kms due south of Paris. Other than to verify that this person actually existed, I'm not able to find out anything more specific about him. But I did learn some fascinating things about salt in my internet sleuthing.
Salt, as we know, is necessary for both people and animals. Before refrigeration, it was also a common way to preserve food and was a vital piece of every country's economy. In 17th century France, all salt had to be sold to a grenier a sel, a designated salt broker in each area. The grenier a sel set the salt's price, and then resold it at a higher rate to retailers. The salt was very heavily taxed. And each person was required by law to buy a certain amount of it each year, making it impossible to avoid paying this hated tax. Each region's tax was set at a different rate, so it was tempting for people to smuggle cheaper, illegal salt into their area for either their own use or for re-sale. Vicious penalties for smuggling, including death, made that a risky idea, though. Everyone had to pay the tax...except the nobility, of course. Special counselors, like M. Porcher, were appointed to make sure this tax was collected in their region and that the buying and selling of salt was controlled by the Crown. In the employ of the King and also making money by re-selling salt to retailers, I think M. Porcher would have been a very wealthy man! The salt tax, la gabelle, not only helped keep many kings solvent, it also allowed them to live in luxury and excess. Repeal of this oppressive salt tax was a leading motive behind the French Revolution almost a hundred years later!
The things you can learn from a pretty plate!