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Smuggling in Early Modern France

Caroline Spence

This dissertation will examine the crime of smuggling in early modern France from circa 1500 to 1789. Smuggling was extremely common in early modern Europe, but in France it was particularly widespread and often violent. Goods of every kind were smuggled in and out of the country, and especially within the provinces of the kingdom. However, little has been written in English on smuggling in early modern France. As a result, a considerable amount of the secondary sources read are in French. These sources tend to focus on one commodity or one area, yet this dissertation is a much broader examination of the topic, encompassing the entire country and several different commodities. The dissertation also required a visit to the Musée National des Douanes in Bordeaux, which has an archive containing documents relating to the national customs administration. Many of these documents were essential for my topic and period of study and have been included here. The primary argument of this dissertation is that smuggling occurred as a result of the indirect taxes that the crown levied on different commodities. The administration of the indirect taxation will be examined in chapter one. The second, third, and fourth chapters will discuss the smuggling of salt, wine, and tobacco respectively. Each chapter will begin by discussing how the taxes on these commodities caused them to be smuggled. Subsequently, the nature and methods of smuggling these goods will be examined. Chapter five will investigate who the early modern French smuggler actually was. The treatment of the tax collectors will be discussed, as well as the question of the increasing professionalisation of smuggling. The involvement of ecclesiasts, soldiers, nobles, tax collectors, women and children will be discussed. The dissertation will conclude that the fundamental cause of smuggling was the harsh fiscal regime and especially the irregular way in which taxes were levied throughout the kingdom.