Setting the scene
The city and its people in the mid-sixteenth century
in Authority and society in Nantes during the French wars of religion, 1559–98
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This chapter discusses the city of Nantes and its people in the mid-sixteenth century. The streets and quays of Nantes were populated by a rich variety of people. In the mid-century, it was the largest city of the province of Brittany, with a population of about 20,000, and, like all early modern towns, it had a sharply pyramidal wealth structure. Relations between city, province and crown, and between individuals, were understood in terms of law and contract; there were mutual obligations between different authorities and social groups. There was a strong moral and religious dimension to royal, civic and household authority, mediated through the theology and culture of the Catholic Church. The rise of Protestantism challenged the fundamental cultural premises upon which civic culture was based. More importantly, the sectarian and military conflicts unleashed from 1560 both threatened the effective authority of crown and city agents and called into question the relationship between the two.

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