The Juristic Basis of Dynastic Right to the French Throne

The Juristic Basis of Dynastic Right to the French Throne

The Juristic Basis of Dynastic Right to the French Throne

The Juristic Basis of Dynastic Right to the French Throne

Excerpt

According to one of Louis XIV's twentieth-century descendants, it was the Sun-King himself who first tampered (albeit unwillingly) with the law of succession, the warranty of the Capetian dynasty, and thus opened (quite unwittingly) the breach with the fundamental law which was ultimately the undoing of the monarchy. For, as viewed in the year 1914 by Prince Sixte de Bourbon de Parme,1 when Louis XIV in 1713 had to disbar his grandson Philip, and Philip's descendants (of which Prince Sixte was one), from any future claim to the French throne, in order to have the European powers recognize Philip as King of Spain, Louis in that moment altered one of France's ancient customs, which he should always have held sacrosanct: namely, that those who were "capable of the crown" of France possessed this status as an inviolable birthright. In effect, Louis XIV bartered the foundation stone of Bourbon legitimacy in order to add a wing to the edifice. Prince Sixte highlights a notable instance of Louis XIV's proprietary attitude towards the royal office, which undoubtedly helped loosen the monarchy's ties to what might be called the "ancient constitution." The present essay will not probe the mentality of Louis XIV, however -- although at the end we may bring up the question again, to reflect how novel Louis' action really was -- but rather our aim will be to discover just what was the "fundamental law" which Louis XIV was supposed to have violated.

Prince Sixte devotes a good part of his book to the development of the law of succession in late medieval and early modern times. Much the same ground had been gone over just six years earlier, in 1908, in a study by Henri de la Perrière. La Perrière betrays monarchist sympathies no less than Prince Sixte, and in addition some Ultramontanist symptoms which induce novel but not quite defensible theses on the subject of royal succession in France.2 Both Prince Sixte and la Perrière also suffer from a common fault of national historians, to exaggerate the uniqueness of their country's constitution; this "constitutional patriotism" always limits the proper appreciation of foreign influences. But all these faults are still not the main reason for undertaking now a re-examination of the origin of the law of succession in France.

The major error of Prince Sixte and la Perrière -- and there can be included in this indictment most of the writers on "French Public Law" (the term preferred by many, in place of Constitutional History) -- lies in a self-deception about the nature of the fundamental law of the ancien régime. No one is deceived to the extent of saying that the term "fundamental law" was used in all ages of the monarchy: it is clear that the term itself was common only from the sixteenth century onward. But everyone seems to presume that the idea of a fundamental law must have been immanent in all ages. This may be accepted from a theoretical point of view -- that is to say, that at any moment in the history of the monarchy there must have been a consensus of opinion about the power and limitations . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.