The Southwest of France

"France" of the 16th century (and even today) is not a homogenous  country culturally, linguistically, or even politically. Although at this time "France" recognizes a single king, different provinces have long histories of separate laws, parliaments, jurisdictions, customs, languages, and powerful feudal magnates. There is a particularly noticable cultural divide that sweeps through the county along an arc that is best delimited by the Loire River. North is the land of the historic Franks, French-speaking, Gallo-Germanic in heritage, where the King of France has his ancestral demesne. South is the land of the Gauls, Visigoths, and ancient Roman law, speakers of various Occitan dialects (Gascon, Provencal, Dauphinois, Catalan, and so on), the land of  troubadours and heretics. The south was essentially conquered by the north during the Albigensian crusades in the 13th century, but retained a very distinct local identity, relatively far from central control.

In the 16th century, this southern crescent also corresponds to a very strong concentration of "the Reform" -- the French Protestants known popularly as Huguenots. From 1562 to 1598 France suffered a state of continuous civil war known as the Wars of Religion between Catholics and Protestants. The war was marked by only a handful of pitched field battles, but a state of  seige, skirmish, and low-intensity guerilla war was endemic in many areas, especially the south. The Southwest was also significant because it was the ancestral power base of Henri de Navarre, king of Navarre, vicomte de Bearn, governor of Guyenne, leader of the Protestant party, and after 1589 King of France. In 1600 the country is at peace and the king, now ensconced in Paris and never to return to his homeland, is energetically encouraging rebuilding of industry, trade, and agriculture which had all been disrupted by years of war.

Jehan's particular corner of the Southwest is along the Dordogne River, in the region of the Perigord, near the home of Michel de Montaigne the famous essayist, the great wine capital of Bordeaux, and the chateaux of the Hundred Years War. The cuisine of this area was celebrated at a great Festin a year ago. As the Aquitaine, this region was under English control through most of the Hundred Years war. The English taste for fine claret is an ancient one, and the Bordeaux-English wine trade has been going on for centuries. In the 16th century, there are two great wine fairs every year, in October and February, where the city of Bordeaux  grows by an estimated 7,000 English who descend upon it for the wine trade. The English have their own quarter of town, and roam around in the winter to other southern ports trading wool for woad and other southern products before returning home.

This chateau near Ste. Foy-la-Grande greatly resembles the sort of country manor that Jehan lives in.