The Parlementaires and the Aristocracy, 1774-1786
If a complex of public roles and personal interests motivated the Parisian parlementaires to view the monarch and his government ambivalently, it also explains the ambivalence with which the justices regarded the aristocracy to which most of them belonged. On the one hand, Lefebvre d'Amécourt and his colleagues during the 1770s and 1780s moved in an opulent and glittering society that, converging on the capital and Versailles and dabbling in everything from ministerial intrigue to patronage of the salon and souper, fashioned innumerable ties between the highest families of robe and sword.1 Furthermore, the magistrates' landed wealth linked them even more closely with their aristocratic cousins of the sword: the prominent grand' chambriers and many of their juniors were great seigneurs in the countryside, and it was to the management and enjoyment of their estates that they returned during the Septembers and Octobers of their lives. In such seasons, vivre noblement was certainly their style. Still, during the other ten months of the year, the parlementaires were officers of the crown who celebrated and fulfilled the duties deriving from that professional role. Moreover, in a society avid for privilege, the men of the Parlement found their professional rank conferring favors upon them, fiscal and judicial as well as merely honorific, that most nobles of the sword did not enjoy.2 Robe and sword were probably drawing closer to each other in a general socioeconomic sense during the eighteenth century, but to the very end of the ancien régime the judges of the Parlement owed their unique combination of political and social prestige to their professional role in the monarchy.
These realities suggest that the parlementaires, in their judicial and political-administrative capacities, found it expedient to distinguish between an aristocracy viewed in more or less "static" terms, as a juridically sanctioned order whose privileges must be safeguarded, and an aristocracy viewed in potentially "dynamic" terms, as a caste that might strive to aggrandize its influence in the state. The magistrates were quite naturally concerned with many institutions and social groups other than the second estate during these years, but their reactions to certain judicial questions and public controversies involving noblemen do confirm that they made the distinction postulated above--and suggest furthermore
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Publication information: Book title: The Parlement of Paris, 1774-1789. Contributors: Bailey Stone - Author. Publisher: University of North Carolina Press. Place of publication: Chapel Hill, NC. Publication year: 1981. Page number: 92.
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