Famine | Paris in 1590

Once more, medieval Europe found itself a fitting stage for Hell to manifest through human hands, this time, during a Protestant King Henry IV's siege upon Paris in 1590.

What religious and political sparks caused this quickly lost importance, as did all luxuries, status, and the taken-for-granted details of nobility and common life alike. Once trade routes were cut off by the attackers, it took merely weeks before the city's food stores inevitably dwindled down to a few measly bags of flour. Pride, stubbornness, bravery, perhaps stupidity, brought the city into general accord that surrender was not an option against the attackers. Though rations were enforced, no manner of charity or frugality could create sustenance for an entire city. Not indefinitely. 

But like many cities under siege, Paris would soon experience the consequences of defending ideals.

After the besiegers tightened their forces like a noose around the city walls, after the Catholic defenders of Paris left for night raids against the Protestant forces less and less to drive them back, murmurs for surrender within the city turned to pleas; threats once made at King Henry IV's men turned to bitter curses, instead, towards Parisian nobility and the Catholic Leaguers—growing just as anxious as the commoners, selling off carriages for meat, and after that, killing their horses, even house pets, to manage a few more morsels. 

Holding out in a city under siege cannot be called a nightmare.

Entry of Henry IV into Paris.

Entry of Henry IV into Paris.

As time thinned the masses, the city stretched its imagination beyond all demand, turning bark to bread and weeds to delicacies. Common objects, so long as they were edible by some means, became tantamount to gold, while currency itself seemed to lose all value. Parchment, hides, cloaks and satchels alike—anything made of leather or at once contained moisture was boiled until soft enough to tear, to spice, to devour or be sold as preciously as fine cuts were just months before. The deep growl of a deprived stomach became a commonplace sound.

As panic began to strike at them, the most destitute of society were cast out like rats by soldiers, some four thousand lives tossed upon the pikes of the enemy while those who committed the deeds turned to face the city once more, only to find it suffering the same fate only days after executing the 'solution'. 

1590 would be the year that Paris briefly lost its dignity, when families of virtue would discover cannibalism not so far beyond their palettes. The bodies of relatives whom succumbed to starvation were consecrated not for burial, rather for supper. The guilt would eat away at the those who indulged, but hunger's jaws clenched harder, and thus, made breaking these boundaries a bitterly numb pain. The people of Paris, their dawns and dusks punctuated by artillery fire and anxious screams, would quickly discover that the empty expanse of their stomachs was far greater than any capacity for morality. What lives survived the siege, though perhaps lacking outer wounds, would suffer fates more gruesome than death, living with recent memories which proved just how thin the barrier is between man and beast. 

The experience was ubiquitous. Unperturbed by wealth and titles, it swept through the city faster than the plague. All were affected. They watched how it turned nobles into ghouls and priests into thieves and hoarders, how it hollowed out the eyes and made bones appear to be abnormal protrusions beneath the flesh. But what's more harrowing still, is that each of them had all felt it—a shuddering connection to visceral necessity—a state of being in which they judged themselves, not by what charity they failed to lend, rather by the monstrous urges they resisted to spare others from suffering. 

The potential origin, of course, being their own hands. 

When Paris did eventually surrender, King Henry IV's soldiers did not storm, but instead marched calmly through the gates. Normally, sacking the city would be a reward for the hungry mercenaries after such a long-winded offense. Raping, pillaging, feasting and drinking, though an outlandish idea now, was in essence the treasure and even motivation for their bloody efforts.

But in the end they decided against it. 

After all, there was nothing left to take. 

The city was all skin and bones.