In France, Gabelle was originally applied to taxes on all commodities, but was gradually limited to the tax on salt. In time it became one of the most hated and most grossly unequal taxes in the country, but, though condemned by all supporters of reform, it was not abolished until 1790. First imposed as a temporary expedient in 1286 in the reign of Philip IV, it was made a permanent tax by Charles V. Repressive as a state monopoly, it was made doubly so from the fact that the government obliged every individual above the age of eight years to purchase weekly a minimum amount of salt at a fixed price. When first instituted, it was levied uniformly on all the provinces in France, but for the greater part of its history the price varied in different provinces. There were six distinct groups of provinces, who were called pays (lit. "countries"; to be understood as an obsolete word for "region"), and classified as follows:
Greniers à sel (salt granaries dating from 1342) were established in each province, and to these all salt had to be taken by the producer on penalty of confiscation. The grenier fixed the price which it paid for the salt and then sold it to retail dealers at a higher rate.
The important differences in cost between various pays clearly show the reason behind the active contraband of salt that took place in France until the gabelle was abolished. The obvious idea was to buy salt in a region where it was cheap and to sell it under the coat in regions where it was expensive, at a higher price, but still less than the legal price. Such smugglers were called faux-sauniers, from faux ("false") and the root sau-, referring to salt. In turn, the customs guards tasked with arresting the faux-sauniers were nicknamed gabelous, a term obviously derived from the gabelle they sought to uphold. Faux-sauniers were sentenced to the galleys if they were caught without weapons, and to death if caught with weapons.
In 1675, the red bonnets in Brittany rebelled against the gabelle. They expressed a list of demands in a document known as the peasant code. In this document, the gabelle was personified, as was common in this age, especially with death and plague.