and its limits, 1665–1671
Every student of French history knows that Louis XIV deprived the parlements of their most important power and function – that of opposing new legislation, especially fiscal legislation, when it first appeared before them. Given the tendency of the parlements to obstruct new legislation, frequently under Henry IV and Louis XII and periodically under Louis XV and Louis XVI, the reign of Louis XIV stands in sharp contrast in this regard. Curiously, however, even the most recent studies offer little in the way of narrative, analysis or background to explain how, why and under what circumstances the parlements lost their powers to obstruct new laws for the first time in their history. In treating this subject, most historians point to the ordinance of civil procedure of 1667, which curtailed the use of remonstrances by the parlements, and the declaration of February 1673, which regulated the procedure by which the tribunals registered the laws. But other kings had restricted remonstrances in ways that resembled the provisions of the ordinance; and few historians have appreciated the original features of the declaration, let alone explained why the government needed to enact it, once it had issued the ordinance. In any event, the mere citation of the laws of 1667 and 1673 cannot tell us how and why, or much about when, the government of Louis XIV, in contrast with both its predecessors and its successors, imposed its will upon the parlements in the registration of laws.1 The issue merits a fresh examination.
Like his predecessors, Louis XIV had to deal with two essential questions, those involving extraordinary and ordinary registration: 1) whether the king could resolve legislation disputes by the extraordinary method of compulsory registration, as in a lit de justice or its provincial counterpart; and 2) whether the king could make the parlements stop modifying and delaying laws that they received in the ordinary way, by mail or by courier. In 1667, Louis XIV tried to deal with both these issues in title I of his new ordinance on civil procedure. He succeeded only with the first, although that success amounted to a big step forward. Unlike any of his predecessors, this king made the lit de justice and the provincial forced registration into effective ways to get his laws registered, once