They consisted of a dozen or more appellate judges, or about 1, judges nationwide. Laws and edicts issued by the Crown were not official in their respective jurisdictions until the parlements gave their assent by publishing them. The members were aristocrats called nobles of the gown who had bought or inherited their offices, and were independent of the King.
Histoire Des Avocats Au Parlement de Paris, 1300-1600 - Primary Source Edition
From to the Lord Chancellor , Maupeou , tried to abolish the Parlement of Paris in order to strengthen the Crown; however, when King Louis XV died in , the parlements were reinstated. The parlements spearheaded the aristocracy's resistance to the absolutism and centralization of the Crown, but they worked primarily for the benefit of their own class, the French nobility. Alfred Cobban argues that the parlements were the chief obstacles to any reform before the Revolution, as well as the most formidable enemies of the French Crown.
He concludes that the. Parlement of Paris, though no more in fact than a small, selfish, proud and venal oligarchy, regarded itself, and was regarded by public opinion, as the guardian of the constitutional liberties of France. In November , early in the French Revolution , all parlements were suspended, and they were formally abolished in September Conseil du roi , Lat. Originally, since c. The Paris parlement's jurisdiction covered the entire kingdom as it was in the 14th century, but did not automatically advance in step with the Crown's ever expanding realm. In , following the turmoil of the Hundred Years' War , King Charles VII of France granted Languedoc its own parlement by establishing the Parlement of Toulouse , the first parlement outside Paris; its jurisdiction extended over most of southern France.
The Parlement of Paris played a major role in stimulating the nobility to resist the expansion of royal power by military force in the Fronde, In the end, the King won out and the nobility was humiliated. The parlements could withhold their assent by formulating remonstrances against the king's edicts, forcing the king to react, sometimes resulting in repeated resistance by the parlements, which the king could only terminate in his favour by issuing a Lettre de jussion , and, in case of continued resistance, appearing in person in the parlement: the Lit de justice.
In such a case, the parlement's powers were suspended for the duration of this royal session. King Louis XIV moved to centralize authority into his own hands, imposing certain restrictions on the parlements. In , he ordained that a Lit de justice could be held without the king having to appear in person. In , he limited the number of remonstrances to only one. In —, however, the parlements resisted the taxes occasioned by the Dutch War.
In , the king imposed additional restrictions that stripped the parlements of any influence upon new laws by ordaining that remonstrances could only be issued after registration of the edicts. After Louis' death in , all the restrictions were discontinued by the regent, although some of the judges of the Parlement of Paris accepted royal bribes to restrain that body until the s.
These locations were provincial capitals of those provinces with strong historical traditions of independence before they were annexed to France. Assembled in the parlements, the largely hereditary members, the provincial nobles of the gown were the strongest decentralizing force in a France that was more multifarious in its legal systems, taxation, and custom than it might have seemed under the apparent unifying rule of its kings.
Nevertheless, the Parlement of Paris had the largest jurisdiction of all the parlements, covering the major part of northern and central France, and was simply known as "the Parlement". In some regions provincial States-General also continued to meet and legislate with a measure of self-governance and control over taxation within their jurisdiction. All the parlements could issue regulatory decrees for the application of royal edicts or of customary practices. They could also refuse to register laws that they adjudged as either untimely or contrary to the local customary law and there were customary law jurisdictions.
Tenure on the court was generally bought from the royal authority; and such positions could be made hereditary by payment of a tax to the King called la Paulette. After , during the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI , the parlements repeatedly challenged the crown for control over policy, especially regarding taxes and religion. Some, especially the Parlement of Paris, gradually acquired the habit of refusing to register legislation with which they disagreed until the king held a lit de justice or sent a lettre de jussion to force them to act. A furious battle resulted and after Louis XV died, the parlements were restored.
The beginning of the proposed radical changes began with the Protests of the Parlement of Paris addressed to Louis XVI in March , in which the Second Estate , the nobility, resisted the beginning of certain reforms that would remove their privileges, notably their exemption from taxes. They all tended to share the values of the nobility of the robe, which meant having a sense of duty to the laws and to their corporate body whose rules governed their lives.
They were certainly bound by the corporate ethic of outward unanimity even if the courts were riven with factions internally. For the s and s, Bailey Stone has refined this approach, and concluded that they were attached to the divisions of society into three orders and strongly believed in the justness of privilege.
In politics they displayed an ambivalent royalism, which resulted in their being devoted to the monarchy but denying it the wherewithal to function. A few radical judges, influenced by the Enlightenment, saw the future in the subordination of the courts to the commonweal. Then they claim that the parlement is a depository of the law. From the s the parlements make increasingly frequent references to the idea of a contract between king and nation, in which the courts represented the nation.
Nevertheless, as we have suggested, to deduce their intentions from the official statements alone is a mistake. So many statements juxtaposed one after another in Flammermont give the impression that the debate was essentially about theories and jurisprudence. That is to forget the nature of ancien regime politics, which was mostly about the defence of jurisdiction and privilege, the concern for which was often concealed behind more general principles.
Courts were perpetually skirmishing with one another, and problems that we today see as administrative or institutional they interpreted in terms of the rights and powers of corporate bodies. They tended to extrapolate the worst- case scenario from royal legislation or actions, and conceal the lesser issues by reading some fundamental theoretical point of jurisprudence or sovereignty into the case. Indeed, it was perfectly possible for small groups to manipulate their colleagues by appealing to the universal desire to defend their jurisdiction, by finding some such issue to unite everyone around, when their real aim was quite different.
Not everyone had to be won over for even a majority of one bound the institution as much as unanimity. Detailed studies of events, such as those of our examples in and , and others on the s, have shown that behind the apparently unanimous corporate statements the magistrates were not in fact united in their legal and political views. It was not always hard to persuade just enough colleagues to swing the debate. Many judges were idle and many were inexperienced; most felt condemned to remain in their place with no prospect of advancement until they became an honorary judge in retirement; some saw opposition as the only way upwards and out; few were competent in matters of state finances and the lawyers were much more expert in legal matters than most judges.
But it could all too easily go wrong. Therefore, to understand the diverse factors involved in the generation of opposition statements and stances we have to take into account both how the courts functioned in terms of procedure and each highly specific political situation. The crown had an advantage because it could use its official representatives as well as give pensions to senior magistrates to encourage loyalty.
Inside the parlement, hierarchy was extremely important. It was usually more productive to influence senior judges because debate was not structured democratically but hierarchically. The most senior gave their opinion first, and after the first few views had been expressed the other judges could effectively only agree or disagree with them, as any new view was unlikely to get a majority because all previous votes could not adhere to their view.
The system usually worked quite well, as long as the ministry was united. But there were some structural limitations. The fact that some of the leading robe dynasties had increasingly close relations with the court nobility in the eighteenth century takes on a new significance. Some developed ministerial ambitions, and lent succor to courtly factions and ministerial rivalries.
Furthermore, each minister had some clients in the courts relations, legal advisers or judges hoping for advancement to intendant, say , and if the ministers were at war with one another the system could break down as strings were pulled in different directions. Necker, M. Other factors were just as important: internecine rivalry, hotheaded youth, ambition and disaffection.
As we have seen, ambitious souls had little hope for advancement unless they made a nuisance of themselves. Wars were so costly that taxes and loans were necessary in a state in which the medieval belief that the king should only raise extra taxes in wartime still held sway.
In and the problem is that too great a burden was placed on the parlement for it to retain its credibility with the people without protests. So even if there was usually the potential to handle the parlement carefully, some fiscal crises were too big for the system to cope with. Trapped in a socio-fiscal system that came into existence under Louis XIV, the monarchy never could fundamentally reform its finances to a level at which it could escape recurrent fiscal crises in wartime.
Quarrels about religion were troublesome, but in the eighteenth century were not likely to bring the state to its knees, whereas the resistance to fiscal proposals was very serious. But when matters have once started, judicial forms and methods carry them rapidly along, and a decision once given, the wisest minds find themselves linked to the hottest heads; they cannot then, without violent shocks, abolish or reform the decrees of parlement. The ministerial group [parti] was expected to employ all the tricks of the trade. Pains must be taken to govern the parlements and to prevent the storms that arise there.
By a few deserved distinctions, by confidence, by concert of feeling, it would be easy to maintain the calmness and subordination of those great bodies. The most impressive action the crown could take was for the king to embody royal justice in person at a session of the parlement known as a lit de justice. After a highly formal consultation of the magistrates, the king as judge insisted upon his will being registered forthwith.
If the parlement persisted in its refusal to register an edict, the crown would certainly withhold patronage, and even make an example of rebellious magistrates by exiling them.
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Needless to say, such tactics, used injudiciously, could be equally counterproductive, stiffening resistance. After the reinstatement of the parlement in , its feud with the grand conseil continued. Foolishly, the Keeper of the Seals Miromesnil allowed the courts to win in That deprived the ministry of one arrow in its quiver. And yet, Miromesnil did this because he was confident he could control the courts.
His view was shared by distinguished advisers and ministers in this period. He emphasised the limitations in their outlook and the possibilities for ministerial control. This grand corps was characterised by ignorance of affairs of state, their wisdom was always far behind their century, and it was easy for an adroit minister to present affairs to them in a favourable light; their remonstrances were often agreed in advance with the Court and the reply ready prepared, and the most eloquent of them were quite commonplace.
Having successfully used public opinion against the parlement in , Bernis reflected that: The parlement has force only through that of the voice of the people; the fermentations in its assemblies are nothing if not supported by a public fermentation… the parlements must yield as soon as they are abandoned by the public. Probably it was a mistake then, and certainly seems so with hindsight. The magistrates returned not chastened but defiant and vindicated, with their powers to oppose ministers almost intact. In the s it therefore seemed as if risks could be taken.
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Magistrates and most ministers thought the monarchy was as solid as a rock, and continued with these games of bluff, when in fact this time the fiscal problems were overwhelmingly dangerous. There was, moreover, a self-centred arrogance in their approach, as they seemed to think they could judge the consequences of their actions to a nicety. We shall see that it does also matter who the individuals were and what political games they were playing. To fulfil the promise of this new approach, let us now examine the period more closely. Nevertheless, under Necker controversial rises in direct taxation were avoided, but after his resignation in relations between the controllers general and the parlement were increasingly strained.
Indeed, it could be argued that relations were apparently good because it was difficult for the parlement to refuse loans in wartime when it was traditionally accepted that the king had far wider prerogatives.
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By there were internal rivalries in the courts making it more difficult for the ministry to manage them. In the parlement there were serious differences on the issue of judicial reform, championed by president Lamoignon, who was using the issue to appear worthy of a ministry.
From to faction at court created further divisions that were reflected in crown-parlement relations. Its consequences were to be played out over the Diamond Necklace Affair and the registration of loans. Despite the implications for the Queen if Rohan were cleared of guilt, the affair became factional. Calonne hoped the failure would lead to the dismissal of Breteuil, so that he himself could change ministries to avoid the financial calamities he could see coming. This impossible situation was what led Calonne to try to avoid the parlement, by calling an Assembly of Notables.
Hardman has argued that at this point the classical political system had been stalemated. He is thinking of the inability to get taxes approved by the parlement, but although this was the case it is also true that the sheer scale of the problem made it difficult for the courts to agree to such large taxes in peacetime and retain credibility with the people.
And in this sense their call for the Estates General could be interpreted as reasonable, because the burden of assent to such wide plans was too heavy for their shoulders. In June , after the Assembly of Notables had been dismissed, the parlement returned centre stage: it was then asked to register the new taxes and new provincial arrangements for collecting them. But the magistrates felt slighted by the attempt to get around their jurisdiction and were not in a receptive mood.
Moreover, various interests were now attempting to exploit the parlement to further their own aims. In the background was the Orleans faction, sidelined during the Notables, but which always had royal ambitions that surfaced in times of crisis. With Calonne and Miromesnil gone and Brienne appointed first chef du conseil royal des finances, then principal minister when Laurent de Villedeuil became controller general, and with Lamoignon as Keeper of the Seals, the ministerial factions looked a little different.
Youth and shaken off the yoke of its elders. It is unclear where this specifically originated. On the one hand it had become a rhetorical appeal to embarrass the government; it was used by the parlement of Rouen in and , and taken up by other courts. According to a leading magistrate: In fact, everything that they put forward against the edicts [stamped paper and land tax] was only a pretext on which to base the demand for the Estates General.
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Their patriotic ideology took precedence over political acumen, for they really seemed to believe that the king was being misled by evil ministers and that all would be well if the king could only be enlightened by the Nation. As they were fine orators, masters of the new rhetoric, and prestigious members of the Company, their younger colleagues were putty in their hands.
As Sallier observed: The young men of the chambers of inquests came to the assemblies as if they had been marching into battle and everything assured them of victory in a fight that was too unequal.
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Apart form superior numbers, they had more unity than those they were attacking. Their orators pleaded a cause susceptible to those eloquent moments that always produce a great effect upon large assemblies. They appeared to be defending the rights and interests of the nation. Either from pride, or through lack of concern, the ministry had always neglected much too much the means that could preserve harmony between the court and the parlement; and having no means of corruption, it appeared to have not the slightest idea of the skill needed to mold and maintain the spirit of such an assembly.
He also points out that Lamoignon was not a good choice as chancellor, because he was already distanced from many judges. Thus they encouraged appeals to Paris from the Council of Flanders, the ducal council, and the Parlement of Mechelen. Dukes Philip the Good and Charles the Bold were attempting to build a coherent state in the Low Countries and argued that they possessed sovereignty there. They accordingly tried to hinder cases from being appealed to Paris, and once heard there, from being enforced in Flanders. Flemish appeals were always a small part of the total business of Parlement, reaching their apogee in Philip the Good's time, despite his efforts to make the Council of Flanders the superior of the Four Members of Flanders.
Until after there were always many more appeals from Walloon Flanders than from the Flemish areas. Dauchy concedes that the French kings hoped to use Parlement, their chief court, as an instrument to facilitate their goal of re-annexing the Walloon castellanies of Flanders, but at least before the period of Louis XI, and then only briefly, Parlement always acted according to law, never permitting itself to become a judicial arm of the French diplomacy.
There is even less intervention concerning subordinate officers. The fact that nearly two-thirds of Flemish appeals to Parlement were rejected belies the common opinion in Flemish historiography that Parlement was acting against Flanders as a political matter. Parlement was appealed to mainly cases concerning the competence of the Great Council of Philip the Good and later that of the Parlement and Great Council of Mechelen.
Of cases involving jurisdictional competence questions, 92 were in the period of Philip the Good. But until the Peace of Gavere most concerned ducal centralization within Flanders. Thereafter they concerned independence of the Burgundian Netherlands vs French crown. The relations of the four and after three "Members" of Flanders to the count and to Parlement are an important issue for Dauchy.
The Members, particularly Ghent, opposed the centralizing policy of the Burgundians, objecting to the counts' imposition of the Council of Flanders, and even more the central courts for the entire Burgondian domain, over them.