Patricians and Cheese

Patricians and Cheese

In the old country, I retrieved a history book I had found enlightening when reading it around the turn of the century. It's Patricians, Cheesemakers, Mercenaries.

It tells how the little state I come from, Fribourg, locked itself in a trade system with the Kingdom of France. Cheese making had been generalized in the small alps south of Fribourg (Gruyère) so that fewer farmhands were needed, the patricians of Fribourg exported the supernumerary young men and the cheese to France, while money came in along with privileged access to the salt output of eastern France (salt is necessary to produce cheese).

The patricians of Fribourg also sent their sons to be the officers in the regiments made of Fribourg people, thus the civilian order at home was reproduced and enforced in the regiment.

The money that came from France was kept in the hands of the patricians. They spent it on houses, chapels, works of art, and the extension of cheese production. Fribourg stayed firmly catholic, and that added to the stability thus reached. Proto-industrialization didn't happen, extra hands were not available and money was invested elsewhere.

Patricians brought back from France architectural tastes and many families built "Hôtels" that are still visible today. Those families are still around today and they still hold strategic positions in the small city.

What the patricians brought is visible, but what did the soldiers bring back from France? I guess it reinforced the position of French has the prestige language at home, but the book states that French as a command language in the French army was brought in by the Revolution. The King maintained various nationalities in his army, the usual trick of having mercenaries not mixing too easily with the population and thus bound in some forced loyalty. Swiss soldiers had tax exemptions too and that was not well-regarded by the average frenchman.

One note regarding language, the swiss officers in France of course spoke french, but their soldiers spoke their roman or germanic dialects. The command language in the swiss regiments was probably sitting somewhere between French and German. Command languages don't have to speak to the heart.

In French there is this expression of en "Boire en Suisse", Drink like a Swiss meaning to drink alone (or to drink hidden from others). Could it reflect the lone swiss soldier drinking alone at a small table, not mixing with the locals?

But I have the impression that many swiss soldiers stayed in France somehow, having met a girl there and becoming french subjects (the tax exemption probably ended at that point). There was a profession named "Suisse de porte", generally held by swiss ex-soldiers, "Swiss doorman", a guardsman at the entrance of a noble or bourgeois house in France.

There were also desertors, soldiers missing the greenery. My father likes to hum the Déserteur Gruyérien, the last song of a young man taken back and about to get in front of the firing squad. When you come from a green and very hilly place, the flemish north of France, its flatness and its sky so low must be depressing. Ironically, the song above states that the desertion trigger is another song, the call song for the cows to get milked. This category of songs (latin and germanic) were thus prohibited in the regiments.

Those patterns are probably found in other catholic swiss states, but with different cheese or merchandise. Switzerland still sends out swiss guards.