A History of Political Thought in the Sixteenth Century

By J. W. Allen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
CONSTITUTIONAL THEORIES § 1. ABSOLUTIST THEORY

IT was chiefly in the law schools of France that the absolutist theory of the monarchy was formulated under Francis I and Henry II. In the first half of the century the most important of these schools was that of the University of Toulouse, even though Alciati and Duaren and, later, Doneau and Cujas, all taught at Bourges.1 The study of the Corpus Juris was beginning to proceed upon new lines. The new school of jurists, of whom Jacques Cujas was the greatest representative, sought to connect Roman law with the actual life and institutions of the time in which it developed, and thought of it, not as a system of law for all times, but as one which could only be understood in relation to the state of society which had produced it. The public lecturing of Cujas only began in 1554, but ever since the publication in 1514 of Guillaume Budé great treatise, De Asse et Partibus, French scholarship had been taking an antiquarian and historical direction. The work of Cujas was only part of the effort of French scholars to reconstruct Roman society and its history. It must be noted that the growing ascendancy of this new school of jurists tended to diminish the influence of the Corpus Juris on the political thought of the period by exhibiting it as belonging essentially to the past. In 1567 Bodin complained that too exclusive an attention was given to Roman law: what was wanted, he declared, was rather a comparative study of all legal systems. The point is neatly illustrated by Cujas' own refusal to apply the results of his historical studies to the politics of his own day. 'Nihil hoc,' he would say, 'ad edictum praetoris.'

It would be easy to exaggerate the influence of the writing and lecturing of the French 'civilians'. They can have directly influenced few beyond professed law students. This, however, certainly does not mean that their influence was unimportant. Lawyers played a great part in shaping the policy and the theory of the monarchy in the sixteenth century, as they had done all through the later Middle

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1
Both Doneau and Cujas were pupils of Toulouse.

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