Natalie Zemon Davis has led me back to a book I read last when in Sancerre, France, Carnival in Romans: A People's Uprising at Romans 1579-1580, by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, a scholar I suspect from the same school. (1979)
It is a beautiful illustration of her point that carnivals could be points where the lower groups rose against the higher, although in this case unsuccessfully. The upper class group in the town was already in open conflict with a group that might be described as "middling sort" when the carnival ball was held on 15 February 1580. Judge Antoine Guerin, who led the upper group, claimed that the sumptuously dressed Carnival queen, led the men to "suddenly realise the possibilities offered by the situation to pillage and plunder other of the upper-class ladies". (p. 211.) The ladies were frightened and there was panic, which led the men to decide to act, so he said.
They ambushed the man seen as the leader of their opponents, Jean Serve, known as Paumier, who had not been involved in the incident, and it seems not been warned. He was "struck in the face with a boar spear, then ... suddenly hit by two pistol shots and stabbed several times", (p. 215.) i.e the upper-class mob murdered him in cold blood.
After that came a predictable slaughter, judicial and extra-judicial. "On 2 March a special court of justice, a temporary detail of the Parlement of Grenoble, came to Romans. It began its job of interrogation, and sentencing, to torture and death by hanging. The incarcerated Paumier supporters, whom Guerin had spared the fury of his own faction, did not have a chance. They were given a bad time of it before they died." (p. 240)
I was writing this listening to the latest on the situation in Russia after the Beslan school siege; somehow today we seem to think these sort of things are exceptional events, which "never" happened in the past. So much for historical perspective.
On a more cheerful note, I've been meaning to point to a blog carnival, (perhaps the first?), over at Early Modern Notes.