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The France that Bargrave encountered had only recently emerged from the considerable social, economic, and political upheavals of the later 16th century. The Wars of Religion, which lasted from 1562-1598, had caused much unrest between Catholic and Protestant factions across the country.
In 1598 the Edict of Nantes had brought the conflict between these two opposing sides to an end and provided a greater level of toleration to the French Protestants, known as the Huguenots. Nevertheless, the country remained unsettled and local tensions periodically rose to the surface. South-western France erupted into open rebellion once more during the 1620s when King Louis XIII reintroduced Catholicism into a staunchly Huguenot area. The results were explosive. Although suppressed in 1627 this region was a continual source of unrest throughout the reigns of Louis XIII and Louis XIV.
During the mid-17th century French government was dominated by Cardinal Richelieu and Cardinal Mazarin. Bargrave's visits coincided with the pursuit of expansionist, anti-Habsburg policies, by Mazarin who was, according to Bargrave, 'being in place of a guardian to the now reigning King of France, in his minority'. It was Mazarin, Bargrave tells us, who wished the young king to learn 'something else of worth and knowledge' while at play. He therefore caused 'Monsieur Desmartes, to invent a pair of cards that might have that effect'. When the king went to play cards he did so with a map of Europe and was not allowed to play actual card games until he had matched the symbols on the cards with their rightful place on the map.
We cannot be certain whether Bargrave travelled extensively across all of France or simply selected parts. However, it is known that when he travelled to France in 1646-7 he visited cities including Bourges and Sancerre in the Loire. From his catalogue he is also known to have visited at some point Doué in north-west France. Beyond these places, however, we can only speculate where else he travelled to and the places that he saw. Two French cities that we know he visited and collected objects from were La Rochelle and Toulouse.