The Parlement of Paris, 1774-1789

The Parlement of Paris, 1774-1789

The Parlement of Paris, 1774-1789

The Parlement of Paris, 1774-1789

Synopsis

Stone portrays the members of this great court of law as strategically situated individuals who worked to advance their own corporate pretentions while simultaneously advocating a precarious balance of monarchical, aristocratic, middle-class, and popular" interests. Their apparent radicalism on matters of consent to taxation, freedom from arrest, and political representation disguised their efforts to preserve the traditional legalistic French monarchy."

Originally published in 1981.

Excerpt

In late eighteenth-century France, the Parlement of Paris, while playing a vital role in royal justice and administration, helped frustrate critically needed reforms and thereby contributed to its own destruction and to that of the monarchy. There was an especially great irony in this situation, for, of the myriad institutions obstructing reform during those years, none stood closer to the crown or derived a higher prestige from French monarchical traditions than did this high court of law in the king's capital. The Paris Parlement could trace its origins far back into the medieval past and constituted, in the eighteenth century, the senior and most powerful tribunal in a network of parlements covering the entire kingdom. The parlements and other great law courts in the capital and the provinces dispensed royal justice and involved themselves in much public business of the realm, but it was above all the Parlement in Paris that by "remonstrating" against royal policies helped precipitate the final crisis leading to the Revolution of 1789.

Because the Parlement's clashes with the crown contributed to a political and social upheaval that eventually destroyed both adversaries, the clashes themselves have provoked much commentary over the years. Admirers of the enlightened ministers of Louis XV and Louis XVI have often condemned the parlementary opposition as negative and selfish, as stymieing the efforts of the Machaults and Turgots to doctor a sick ancien régime. Other historians, viewing the argument between the two sides with greater impartiality, have underscored crucial constitutional issues in the confrontation. Moreover, certain scholars from both of these traditions, along with other writers, have emphasized the aristocratic pedigree of the judges and assigned them a leading role in the aristocratic resurgence and revolution that supposedly preceded the middle-class and popular uprising of 1789. All of the Parlement's critics have decried the hypocrisy with which, they claim, the magistrates articulated popular grievances, and even advocates of the court's "constitutional" role have had to temper their respect for the Parlement's stand against Bourbon absolutism with recognition of the tribunal's defense of its own interests. It is true that accounts of the Parlement's behavior have seldom been purely positive or purely negative, and in any case they have often been developed with an eye to a broader consideration of the entire eighteenth- century . . .

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