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The Range of Parlementaire Religious Options
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The Range of Parlementaire Religious Options

Each parlementaire generation arrived at and expressed its own range of options in the circumstances peculiar to its own decade, but a few generalizations about patterns are possible.

The century falls into two halves . Heresy was the dominant divisive issue from its appearance in the 1520s only until the early 1560s. After 1563, the fact that all previous attempts to resolve the issue had led only to civil war seemed to demonstrate that efforts to make allowance for reformist ideas beyond the limits set by the church were not merely futile but counterproductive. The fate of earlier advocates of toleration was also a deterrent. At the same time a new force, the Tridentine Reformation, posed a different threat from the opposite direction. More dangerous in every respect than the earlier menace, it threatened the total annihilation of the religious tradition and not merely its modification, by permitting the existence of an exceptional category. The Gallican issue consequently moved to center stage and held the spotlight for the remainder of the century, but the problem of dissent persisted and was never forgotten. On the contrary, every sign of leniency toward heresy on the part of the crown and the Gallicans, or attributable to them, however implausibly, was ammunition for the ultramontane party in its propaganda, both at home and abroad. With each Edict of Toleration marking a truce in the wars, heresy briefly recaptured attention.

Center positions held by the majority are consistent . A spectrum of religious postures between poles at either end is discernible in each period of tension, but the substance of the polar positions differs not only between the two parts of the century, as one would expect, but also in the time segments within each part. Significantly, however, throughout the century a comfortable majority of the court held firmly to center positions.

Mainstream attitudes toward heresy move toward the center, in a conservative direction . When heresy was uppermost, the spectrum went from a more tolerant, open, and generally more flexible position at one pole to


an intolerant and inflexible position at the other. With time, the orientation shifted in the conservative direction. A center position, that we might call moderate-conservative in say, 1528, would have stood at the extreme liberal end by 1548, except that those who probably held it were keeping it to themselves. It had become suspect because at the other, conservative, pole a harder-line view had crystallized. Strongly held by a faction of ultras led by Pierre Lizet, it was temporarily imposed on an uncomfortable but silent majority during the existence of the Chambre Ardente and thus could appear to be the opinion of the whole court.

Parlementaire attitudes toward heresy moved steadily in the orthodox direction, whereas views open to change in any degree dropped out of sight if not out of existence. Consequently those who followed the tradition and took no overt stand (the silent majority) then seemed more liberal by comparison with the ultra extremists who claimed to be defenders of the tradition against heresy—but in fact, French ecclesiastical tradition would have been mutilated if not destroyed had they prevailed. The special significance of the crisis period, 1557-63, was that it marked the highwater mark of this trend. The ultras overreached themselves by the attack on the centrist members; the attack boomeranged and the moderate-traditionalists under Séguier and de Thou were able to reassert leadership. Within a few months members of Parlement who had been arrested or who had absented themselves for fear of arrest, or worse, were readmitted after some gestures of conformity, with the exception of Anne du Bourg, an authentic heretic, who had been executed in the hysterical atmosphere of 1559.

Mainstream attitudes toward the ultramontane movement move toward the center, in a liberal direction . When the ultra-Catholic threat was uppermost, the spectrum went from a traditional, nationalist-Gallican position in the center (liberal nuances had disappeared) to the party-line ultramontanism of the League, which resulted in some compromises of the autonomy of the French church. This was the situation of the 1580s. The really radical extremists of the 1590s, who would have destroyed the Gallican liberties and set aside the Salic law (by accepting a sovereign who was both a foreigner and a woman), never gained adherents in the mainstream of the Parlement of Paris. The spectrum was, therefore, very much truncated; lacking both reformist and rigid orthodox extremes, it was actually an extended and internally differentiated center.

Thus, despite the big difference in emphasis between the two parts of the century and the contrasting directions in the movement of religious opinion in the two series of spectra, all the forces ultimately strengthened


the traditional center, which was already the option of a majority that never deviated in its allegiance.

Magistrates from lower robin levels act differently from the mainstream . Of course, in the general population some Frenchmen did choose to become Protestant and a much larger number did respond to the Catholic revival—in its later, French forms. Members of Parlement are to be found in considerable numbers among the latter in the seventeenth century, in movements founded by Cardinal Bérulle, Saint François de Sales, and especially in the Jansenist group, both of the latter two having embodied some features usually associated with Protestantism. In the parlements, in Paris and the provinces, there were a few acknowledged Protestants, but the many obstacles they faced severely limited their numbers and deprived the court of some able men who seem to have been natural-born parlementaires. The case of the Pithous is well known. The erosion of Protestant participation in the judiciary over four generations is illustrated by the Cappel family, documented in detail by Salmon.[8]

Jacques (I) Cappel, who died in 1541, was prominent in the parquet , as avocat général, but his son, Jacques II, despite his office of conseiller in the Parlement of Rennes, procured for him by his father-in-law Nicolas Duval of the Paris Parlement, was imprisoned in the Conciergerie in March 1560 and forced to resign his post and flee the country at the time of St. Bartholomew. After the creation of the chambres mi-parties in 1576, he was named to that chamber, in Paris, but was never allowed to exercise the office. In the revived civil wars of the 1580s, he was forced to flee again, to Sedan, where he soon died. As with the Pithou, the superior intellectual skills of the Cappel enabled them to have distinguished careers outside the judiciary; three of Jacques II's brothers made a mark in scholarly study of classical literature; his sons and grandsons were noted biblical scholars and professors of Hebrew.

As far as the record shows, there were no followers of the ultramontanism that violated the Gallican liberties, in the highest echelons of the Parlement of Paris, but this does not mean that the capital's entire legal profession was equally immune. Robins were to be found in both the ranks and the leadership of the League, even in the extreme wing—the Sixteen. But they did not belong to the mainstream , let alone to the elite core. This fact has led some historians to correlate adherence to the League in the legal pro-


fession with frustrated ambition and resentment of those at the top of the ladder.[9] Incontestably, the mainstream members of the Paris Parlement—and not only their leaders—stood aloof from the League, poured scorn upon it, and effectively blackballed any acquaintances or fellow professionals who favored it. Conversely, the greatest hostility of the Sixteen was directed against the court—in a verbal flood of violent and sometimes obscene abuse in satires and sermons, in physical threats against the members, and finally, in the murder of the premier président.

To isolate the religious issue from the traditional constitutional complex is impossible for members of the Parlement . The ultimate conclusion reached by this twentieth-century student of parlementaire mentalité is compatible with their own justification of their consistently conservative stand on religious dissent—although reached by a very different route: loyalty to the tradition (and, I would add, awareness of what they stood to lose by abandoning it) simply did not permit the religious question to be isolated from or taken out of the constitutional complex and considered in itself. The constitutional package was strong when kept whole, but the parts were fragile; parlementaires feared that once taken apart, it would be impossible to put together again.

This attitude was an important factor in keeping the Parlement in le parti conservateur from the 1520s (as proven by Farge) throughout the century. It also accounts for the virtual nonexistence of Nicodemism among ranking magistrates: although willing to concede some points regarded by the ultras as heretical, they clung to "the trunk of the old church . . . though she be a whore, still she is my mother."

Parlement's role in the high drama of the 1590s is generally reckoned as the finest hour of the Parlement of Paris in the nearly five hundred years of its history. The patriotic action of the loyal members who followed the king into the provinces while the capital was in the hands of the Sixteen, the personal heroism of many and their willingness to sacrifice everything in the nationalist-royalist-Gallican cause, earned them a high reputation, lasting for generations and only partially undermined by the fiasco of the Fronde. Of course, their cause was also the cause of the Parlement itself.

French magistrates of the last generation became more flexible, pragmatic, committed to the vita activa in a way that enabled them to synthesize fundamental and customary law, the French language, and the Gallican


liberties with the mystiques of the crown, the people, and the court into self-determined national culture. The ingredients had long been available; the threat of national annihilation in the 1590s was the fire that fused them into a whole, suitable to the dawning modern age that would take "exclusion of any kind of foreign interference" to be a prerequisite to the survival of the national community and its autonomous ordering.[10] In this achievement, the parlementaire mentalité was the indispensable ally of Henri IV, as the legist-practitioners became the ideological shock troops of la monarchie de France and took their places as guardians on the frontiers of social change.


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