Because the Reformation had been severely discouraged in France, Bibles in French were rare, and the common people continued for the most part in ignorance of the Scripture.
The war against the Reformation was begun anew in France in 1685 when Louis XVI’s great-grandfather, Louis XIV, the Sun King, revoked the Edict of Nantes which guaranteed certain rights to the Protestants, and made Protestantism illegal. Some of the most learned and industrious men of French society had become Protestants, and they were persecuted so fiercely, that France bled its best and brightest to other countries whence they fled, or consigned them to tortures and dungeons until death claimed them.
See Wikipedia, “Edict of Nantes,” <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edict_of_Nantes>.
“The edicts of the king [Louis XIV] threatened books as well as persons with extermination. The Archbishop of Paris had compiled a list of works which the faithful could not read but at the risk of deadly injury. With this list in his hand the officer entered every suspected house, and whenever he found a forbidden book, he instantly destroyed it. … The records of Synods, and the private papers and books of pastors, were the first to be destroyed. Wherever a Bible was found, it was straightway given to the flames.”
J. A. Wylie, The History of Protestantism, Book 22: Protestantism in France From the Death of Henry IV (1610) to the Revolution (1789), Ch. 6, “The Prisons and the Galleys.”
The entire twenty-second volume of Wylie’s History is recommended for anyone wishing to dig deeper into the spiritual life of France preceding the Revolution.