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1 The Mainstream Parlementaires Who They Were and How They Got There
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Nobility, Property, and Family: the Parlementaire Dynasties

In order to appreciate the extraordinary thirst for office that is the hallmark of the robins , one should realize that royal offices, valuable as they were in


themselves, had an even greater value as the surest means of achieving three basic goals: nobility, of a sort, property, and the security and advancement of the family in both the short and the long run. Precisely which offices conferred annoblissement , and how, in theory, was carefully explained by Charles Loyseau at the opening of the seventeenth century. Historians have labored to interpret his abstractions (among others') so as to fit the facts of the ancien régime as revealed in their research. Concerning the relation of ennobled robins to the landed nobility of the sword, some (like George Huppert) emphasize the gap that was never closed, while others (like Franklin Ford) see the differences as mere nuances compared to their common privileges and the greater distinctions between both groups and everybody else. One (Davis Bitton) is impressed by the "crisis" in self-confidence of the nobility of the sword, which derived at least in part from the increase in ennobled officers.[80]

In my opinion, it is essential to realize what "nobility" signified to the officer class: it was a code word for status. The premise was a generally held belief, very strong in the robe, that there was a natural social order, ordained by God and by custom, and that nobility was the most honorable (secular) estate in that order. They sought for themselves (and their posterity) as honorable a place as possible. In the idiom and mentalité of the time, there was no other way to achieve the desired status except in terms of nobility. Theoretical and literary discussion by parlementaires, and especially their professional words and deeds, show that they were not at all confused or deceived about the differences between themselves and the noblesse d'épée , as has been recently, and wittily, noted by Huppert. He concludes a discussion of the contempt of magistrates for the rural nobles (whom they saw as


"ridiculously poor, ignorant, and inept . . . clinging to empty honors, really quite weak"). "The nobility in this perspective is good for one thing only; its elegant fleeces will serve to disguise the wolflife rapacity of the gentry as it takes over the land, the church, and the government."[81]

The robins sought three specific advantages: material rewards, privileges, and exemptions. The package that combined these conferred status, and the special mark of the highest attainable levels of status was annoblissement .

Money and land were the principal material rewards, obviously. Although it has been difficult to arrive at precise salary scales because of the ad hoc and ad hominem arrangements involved, and the fact that some of the most important emoluments were not part of the regular salary, we do know something about the value of offices and its sensational rise in our period, especially at the end of the civil wars, with the return of a strong monarchy with which the court was firmly associated. In 1597, the last year of the wars, one could obtain the office of conseiller for 10,000 livres; only three years later the going rate was 21,000; in 1606 it was 36,000 livres and continued to climb throughout the seventeenth century. As an investment, the financial yield was not impressive; in 1597 the annual return from the office of lay conseillers was fixed at 500 livres and represented only about 4.5 percent of the value of the office. It often cost more to maintain the necessary life-style than one could extract from the office, which, of course was heavily supplemented by income from lands, loans, and rentes . A successful magistrate made his money by exploiting the contacts and opportunities open to him through possession of the office, as Richet demonstrates in the case of the Séguier and others, notably in handling of legal business for les grands .[82]

The process was the same for officers of lesser status all the way down to the lowest rungs of the robe ladder. Simultaneously they would be acquiring land, by micro-conquête , in proportion to their power and their means. The operative characteristics of their mentalité here are emphasized by both Richet and Ralph Giesey: the habit of long-range planning, willingness to set goals that could be realized only in terms of generations, self-discipline to postpone gratification. Quelle perséverence chez nos robins! exclaims Richet.[83]


Robe privileges ranged from the basically professional, such as personal immunity from authority other than that of the king for actions committed and words spoken in the course of their judicial duties, to the ceremonial, such as rights of costume, ritual, and precedence for coronations, royal entries, and funerals. The most innovative and fruitful research of recent years has demonstrated that the significance of these ceremonies should not be underestimated. Sophisticated analysis has greatly enriched our understanding of ancien-regime mentalité . Aspects related to the political and historical values of the parlementaires will be discussed in chapter 3.

We have already seen that a privilege particularly exploited by the robin gratin was their access to benefices. These were claimed on the basis of an indult , that is, the right to ecclesiastical office granted by the church to Parlement as a collectivity, because of the court's role as guardian of the church in France. This claim was central to the image of the court as a corps mixte , that is, composed of both laymen and clerics, which figures significantly in their self-image, and in some of the key disputes with the crown.[84]

Exemptions can be regarded as a subcategory of privilege, especially exemptions from taxation. Some ancien-régime historians brush aside all other categories of class and order to maintain that the only real division between the privileged and the unprivileged concerned taxation. It is possible that the favorable tax status of officers as compared with merchants accounts for the loyalty of the former to the crown and the defection of the latter, in large part, to the League in the 1580s and 1590s, as argued by some historians. Parlementaires were exempt from the taille , the gabelle , and the aides . They also escaped the obligation of military service to which rural landowners were subject, and the obligation of billeting soldiers and foreign dignitaries to which the urban bourgeoisie was subject.[85]

Royal offices not only provided opportunity to acquire property, they became a form of property themselves, in the category called propres , that belonged to the lineage and had to be kept in the family of origin. Individuals of a particular generation had a lifetime use of them but not the right to dispose of them except to the legal heirs. In the coutume of Paris, where it was mandatory to set aside the propres for equal division among the heirs, a means by which too great fragmentation could be avoided was by the


lifetime advantaging of one of the heirs. At the parent's death, such an heir was obliged to report it back to be measured against what an equal share would have been. He or she then renounced the other rights of inheritance and kept the lineage propres . Because such a gift was irrevocable, parents sometimes postponed it until old age. Adult children thus kept dependent on (and often dominated by) their parents sometimes resented the practice.[86]

From the point of view of long-range planning and conservation of the estate, however, it was a useful strategy, as Giesey, to whom we owe the recognition of the legal and historical significance of propres , points out:

Successful compounding of a family heritage required that each generation sacrifice something of its own well-being for the sake of future generations. While resembling lawful entail in some ways propres differs in others. Entail guarantees the integrity of the family heritage by placing it beyond the control of any one generation, whereas propres reckons that each generation will play an active role in the family's rise to wealth. Many generations, therefore, had to live lives of delayed gratification in order to assure the lasting felicity of descendants far in the future.

In the same article the author goes on to show that, contrary to our modern assumptions, neither venality nor heredity resulted in "corruption" in the French magistracy; rather, the combination produced a felicitous arrangement that "served the nation in terms of public law," as "heritability attenuated venality's inclination to avarice by replacing it with family honor, while venality modified heritability's potential for incompetence by allowing a kind of capacitat to replace the usual majorat ." The resulting legal structure enabled those who were most astute at manipulating the system to establish dynasties in the sovereign courts, and rare was the successful family that did not have various offices among its propres , to be passed along through the generations.[87]

Considerations of office have led us to property and inheritance and thus to the family, the central social institution of ancien-régime France. Witnesses to marriage contracts, wills, baptisms, and other major transactions were drawn from both sides of the family in roughly equal numbers—as were godparents. The propres of the wife's family were protected against dissipation or usurpation by the husband and reverted to her own relatives according to the established formulae, if the marriage lacked issue. Wives


were of capital importance in the serious business of strengthening the family, and not merely as mothers. According to Richet, wives and matrimonial relations were triply important in the upward mobility of robe families: in bringing them to the capital; in introducing them into desirable and well placed Parisian milieux; and in helping them to reach seigneuries.[88]

Mésalliance was regarded as a social evil, because of its threat to the family, so the arrangement of good marriages, for daughters and for sons, figured in long-range family planning. Parental concern for the effects of marriage on the future of lineage and patrimony is reflected in the clamor for royal legislation requiring parental consent. In 1556, Henri II responded with an edict, the first such royal action, one of whose provisions was the threat of disinheritance for clandestine marriage, as marriage without parental consent was called. Diefendorf finds that the average age of marriage for young women in the families of the Bureau de Ville was eighteen years, whereas that for men was thirty-two years. Marriage and motherhood were the usual "career" of daughters, for which the twenties are the optimum years, while young men waited to establish themselves professionally—often attaining office in their late twenties. Demographic studies of Italian cities in the fifteenth century show similar patterns, for similar reasons, and their authors hypothesize that the restlessness or violence associated with male Italian Renaissance youth may well be a result. In Paris, these phenomena are especially to be found among the young lawyers, the basoche . This is interesting for the analysis of parlementaire mentalité in several respects; it may explain the notorious conservatism of the Parlement, in politics, in religion, and in their tendency to seek the ideal in the past (matters to be investigated in chapters 2 and 4). Yet one is less inclined to apply this to the elite—to their having already "sown their wild oats" and "gotten it out of their system"—because unlike the Italians, privileged parlementaires achieved office at a young age.[89]

Diefendorf documents the rise of the dynasties by citing many marriages that allied influential robe families, among the conseillers de ville, who were also in the Parlement. Indeed all the ranking families were allied by marriage to others in the same group. Although this is a common characteristic of elites in a given locality, and especially if there are professional bonds as well, the pool of suitable mates in this particular endogamous network, however small in absolute terms, comprised enough new blood and variety


of stock to maintain the vigor of the group. The highest level of the French nobility at the same period, for instance, is decidedly more inbred.

In both the Bureau de Ville and the Parlement, a nucleus of allied families at the center of the mainstream dominated the leadership. It was they who founded the dynasties. Diefendorf finds that sixteen (related) families provided 42 percent of the membership in the Bureau between 1535 and 1575, and with few variations, the same ones emerged in the Parlement. Nevertheless, neither body was reduced to a closed patriciate. Diefendorf has determined that 46 percent of the individuals who served were the only members of their family to hold municipal office during the period of her study. Furthermore, a majority (twenty-three out of twenty-eight) of the members of the sixteen leading families were "freely elected"—which of course does not preclude the exertion of influence in their behalf—and only fifteen obtained their office through resignation of a father, brother, or brother-in-law. The complexity of the network goes far beyond the family in the narrow sense. In the Bureau, a man like Louis Huault, who was among the eight individuals whose father, father-in-law, or grandfather did not come from one of the dominant families, could still have useful connections to the municipal notability: he was the stepson of a Sanguin, the brother-in-law of a Hacqueville, and the great-grandson of a Luillier; his daughter married a Bragelonge and his only son a Du Drac daughter.[90] In the Parlement, likewise, although "the court never became a wholly closed caste," and even in the eighteenth century more than two hundred individuals were the first of their families to serve, according to Shennan, it would be surprising if there were not some Ariadne thread into the parlementaire maze somewhere in the connaissances or parentage of any "new" individual or family.

Marriage strategies constituted one method to replenish and reinforce the elite nexus; another was the custom for fathers to plan the careers of their sons. Men attained their majority at twenty-five, which was also—in theory—the minimum age for an office in Parlement. The usual pattern in these families was for a son to begin practice at the Paris bar in his early twenties, before being provided with an office, usually of conseiller, about five to ten years later. The mechanics of the provision were usually handled by the father (in some cases father-in-law or uncle), and it was a generally accepted parental and family right. Occasionally there would be rival ambitions, even feuds, between branches of a dynasty, where two powerful


individuals each had his eye on the same family office for a different member of a younger generation, each looking out for the interests of his own branch. A classic case was the rivalry of Philippe Hurault de Cheverny and Christophe de Thou over the disposition of the bishopric of Chartres, succeeding Nicolas de Thou. Cheverny, the husband of a daughter of de Thou's (he was also chancellor of France), desired the bishopric for a son (a great-nephew of the incumbent through the maternal line). The premier président had other plans for his uncle's see, however. The dénouement of this story is interesting, because neither of the young men wished to follow an ecclesiastical career. The younger Cheverny eventually left the clergy, and Jacques-Auguste de Thou preferred the scholar's life to the administrative responsibilities of an important diocese. Yet Cheverny tried in turn to impose clerical careers on some of his sons and on both of his daughters.[91]

The independence eventually shown—though not asserted in youth—of these two representatives of the robe elite accords better with humanist theories about the individual's right to self-expression and autonomy than with the convention of family control. Among the highly educated, self-consciously humanist members of the robe, the right of the individual to choose his own career is explicitly stated, for instance by Budé and Ronsard. It is probably significant that the convention should usually triumph in a family like the de Thou, however, where the weight of tradition and of family authority would be much greater than in those less highly placed.

It is possible that paternal control came to seem excessive, even counterproductive. Diefendorf speculates that repeated humanist insistence on the autonomy of children may be a form of "social criticism" of the traditional practice, but Richard Douglas inclines to attribute such attitudes to special pleading.[92] Some of the most respected representatives of the robe mentalité worked out a kind of reconciliation or compromise between these two approaches. Pasquier counseled parents to make an effort to discover the natural talents and aptitudes of children in the course of their education. "Above all, one should not do violence to the natural character."[93]

We will never know what proportion of sons in parlementaire families resented their lack of autonomy, since few have left records of their sentiments, but we do know that 71 percent of sons of the Bureau de Ville fathers studied by Diefendorf entered the legal and liberal professions, with 45


percent of these holding office in the courts, excluding the chancellory, which would add another 10 percent. In both their professional activities and in their commitment to the city, they continued their fathers' pattern. Stocker and others have found this to be true in robe circles of some provincial cities as well as in Paris; it is the foundation element in the continuity of the robe tradition through the ancien régime.[94]

There were nevertheless modifications in the succeeding generations. Whereas 19 percent of the Bureau de Ville fathers had styled themselves merchants, only 5 percent of the sons did so, and whereas only 1 percent of the fathers was known to have a military career, or a military phase in the career, 16 percent of the sons did so. Both of these are, of course, indications of upward mobility, away from commercial origins and toward noble activities. The increase in benefices possessed by the sons over the Bureau de Ville fathers is also significant: none of the 90 conseillers de ville in Diefendorf's study were clerics, but 14 of their 145 sons, or 10 percent, were clerics. These were members of Parlement also, and they rose in the hierarchy to the rank of bishop (some, in the regular clergy, to abbot) and were able to turn the ecclesiastical office into family property. A significant revision of an old stereotype emerges from Diefendorf's detailed tables: younger sons of the city councillors in sixteenth-century Paris were not at a disadvantage compared to their older brothers. On the contrary, the younger siblings often achieved higher status. She speculates that the status of the family may have improved since the time of planning the career of the elder, an improvement that could be measured in financial terms and in prestigious contacts acquired. Not unrelated is Diefendorf's discovery that in-laws played crucial roles in the career patterns of the councillors, and not merely in family alliances and the acquisition of property.[95]

From this biographical-professional-sociological survey drawn from the standard sources and enriched by recent scholarship, a synthetic overview of the sixteenth-century parlementaires emerges, showing who they were and the general patterns of their careers, municipal activities, and family strategies. A sort of balance or reciprocal accommodation between contrasting tendencies seems to have been achieved: individuals and families of the robe were very ambitious and the situation allowed them plenty of scope—more, in fact, than would ever again exist. While new individuals and families continued to enter and to rise within the parlementaire leadership, the elite could also maintain itself and even increase in numerical strength


through strategic alliances; in material wealth through venality and long-term investments; and in professional and political leadership through exploitation of patronage and positions previously gained. Much social mobility can be discerned, although those who started further up the ladder had a better chance of arriving at the highest levels than those less fortunate at the outset—a condition not confined to sixteenth-century France. Yet there was also much continuity. Ambition and innovation did not displace tradition and continuity because the values and the goals of the mainstream parlementaires formed a coherent system that was passed from one generation to the next with some internal flexibility and variations, but fundamentally unchanged.

It is usual to view the Parlement chiefly as the main obstacle to the reforms proposed by the enlightened ministers of the crown in the eighteenth century, and rarely is a constructive role attributed to the magistrates except in their rally to Henri IV in the 1590s. Giesey, however, has a different perspective. For him, this group of families, with their "family possessiveness," was "essentially a stabilizing element in the civil order of the nation," a "socially integrative force over the centuries . . . that deserves to be put alongside the vaunted state-building of the Bourbon kings."[96]


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1 The Mainstream Parlementaires Who They Were and How They Got There
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