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

Although the history of the Parlement of Paris as an institution goes back to the fourteenth century, the parlementaire mentalité with which we are concerned originated in a particular set of historical circumstances in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. In chronological sequence, the first of these was the revival of royal power and national unity in the 1460s after the long disintegration of the Hundred Years War. The task was complicated by the struggle between two noble factions, led by the houses of Orléans and Burgundy. Paris having been dominated for some time by the Burgundian rebels, Louis XI was obliged to regain the allegiance of magistrates, among others, of that party, as well as to reward the faithful. In a series of skillful negotiations, he reconstituted the court and staffed it with able men. Office in the court offered considerably more scope for their ambition than had been the case in the medieval parlements. Notably an ordonnance (ordinance, or general law) of 1467 declared that royal officers could not be deprived of their offices without due process, and the old election procedures of 1446—by which three names were presented to the king to choose from—were reinstated.[1] These concessions to the Parlement


of Paris were later extended to those of Toulouse and Bordeaux as well. From this time on, in their dealings with the crown, the magistrates showed a degree of boldness and independence unheard of in earlier generations; we shall see them challenging every king from François I to Henri IV.

Already at the start of the reign of Charles VIII, in 1483, the members of Parlement asserted their right to determine its composition by presenting to the new king a roll, not of the court as constituted at the death of Louis XI, but as they wished it to be constituted; for instance, the sitting premier président was placed at the bottom of the list. Kings continued to violate the procedures in order to place men they favored for some reason (usually financial advantage to the crown), yet the court also continually strengthened its autonomy, especially through the exercise of the resignatio in favorem . While prominent families like the Briçonnet obtained their foothold through royal favor, as many as thirty-five out of sixty magistrates (in the middle years of the reign of Charles VIII) were admitted by resignation, that is, by co-option.[2] Moreover, the privilege was extended so that relatives of colleagues and members of the Paris bar could be favored when no immediate family member was available.[3] One result of this latter concession was the growing predominance of Paris lawyers in the Parlement at the end of the fifteenth century. Of the forty-nine conseillers listed in the reign of Charles VIII whose backgrounds are known, thirty-seven were previously practitioners of law in the capital and two others were professors of law there.[4] This influx of Parisians marked parlementaire mentalité in a number of ways, of which the most important was the overlap of membership in the Parlement with that in the city councils of the Hôtel de Ville, and the consequent harmony of the values of the two groups.[5]

Louis XII, who would emerge in the later sixteenth century as the parlementaire model of the good king—though not for this reason—felt that this trend toward monopoly must be checked. An ordinance of 1499 decreed that only one-third of the members of Parlement could be Parisians and that no father and son or pair of brothers could hold office at the same time.


This was never enforced, however, and "private venality" continued apace; the Hennequin and Le Coq dynasties were among those that originated in this way. But the king, the queen (Anne de Bretagne), and Louis's chief advisers, Georges, cardinal d'Amboise and Florimond Robertet, secrétaire de finances , also frequently intervened in appointments to the high court, a precedent for patron-client relationships between les grands and members of Parlement that would be fateful when the royal court and the kingdom fell prey to two rival noble factions in 1559.[6]

Of all the new tendencies, by far the most revolutionary was the practice of venality by the crown itself. In the financial squeeze that followed the loss of Milan in 1512, Louis XII sought a remedy in the creation of a number of judicial offices. Families of later prominence, such as the Tronson, the Hurault, and the Le Viste, were among the beneficiaries, as were members of the former Senate of Milan, like Jean de Selve (later premier président, 1519-29). As Denis Richet points out, the crown had been drawing on the prosperous bourgeoisie for aid ever since the "king of Bourges" began to reconquer his kingdom, in the middle third of the fifteenth century, with the result that they had obtained a dominant role in the reborn state et se firent grassement payer ce rôle .[7]

Compared to the explosion of offices and the regularization of venality in the reign of François I, however, all prior developments fade into insignificance and are seen as mere foreshadowings. The king ignored all the election procedures and established "royalized" venality once and for all, as a means of attracting needed cash quickly. The power of Robertet became ever greater; even Louise de Savoie and Marguerite d'Angoulême, the king's mother and sister, resorted to his intervention, as in the case of the nephew of Jean de Selve for whom the premier président sought an office.[8] Simultaneously, the chancellor, Antoine Duprat, was exploiting the situation to build a "party" or faction, loyal to himself in Parlement, by bringing forward suitable candidates, that is, men with money, ability, and ambition. By this ladder many of his fellow Auvergnats climbed up to the Parlement,


including Pierre Lizet, who would have an important impact on the court and the kingdom, as avocat du roi , président, and finally, premier président, 1529-49, when he became the leader of the ultra-Catholic faction opposed to the crown's more moderate religious policy.[9]

Parlement did not easily cave in to demands by the crown or les grands . The court repeatedly delayed action on François I's plan in 1521 to create a new Chambre des Enquêtes, the lowest of the chambers, with twenty members. Louise de Savoie, attempting without success to act as intermediary, let it be known that she might persuade the king to drop the plan if the members of the court would come forward with 120,000 livres tournois , but the court rejected both alternatives.[10] After a prolonged standoff, twenty new offices were created by an edict of January 1522. Those "provided" in violation of the rules included some to individuals who will figure in our study. The inflation of Parlement in return for "loans" was only one instrument of royal policy to raise money by any means. The creation of rentes on the Hôtel de Ville and François's attack on the financial oligarchy, culminating in the trial of Jacques de Beaune, sieur de Semblançay, were other means to the same end.[11] In order to appease the magistrates' fury, the king promised in 1524 that he would create no more new judicial offices, and in order to flatter the magistrates' sense of importance, he "requested" the court to depute three or four of its members to investigate the professional and personal qualifications (suffisance ) of all candidates.[12]

In these years (1520s), Parlement regularly resorted to the negative tactics of protest and delay, biding its time until circumstances should enable it to seize the initiative. The opportunity came in 1525, when François I was defeated by Charles V, taken captive, and held prisoner in Madrid for months, while his mother ruled France as regent. Details of her confrontation with the court will be included in our discussion of the Concordat of Bologna, the original bone of contention.

As tension between the crown and the court increased, the magistrates' self-confidence and professional esprit de corps also increased, and an elite nucleus emerged in the court, creating an inner hierarchy. This loosely defined group included most of the présidents, a few conseillers, and some representatives of the gens du roi , held together by family ties and mutual


interests, personal, professional, and intellectual. Most of its leading members recorded their ideas on major issues, sometimes orally, sometimes in writing, and as their views generally carried the day, I call them "spokesmen of the mainstream." There were, of course, exceptions who did not follow their lead, notably those who, on the one hand, were attracted to new and unorthodox religious doctrines, or who, on the other, joined the ultra-Catholic or Counter-Reformation faction.[13] In addition to family and professional ties, the elite had in common an avid interest in acquiring property, both real and movable, and active participation in municipal affairs.

In the strongly hierarchical society of sixteenth-century France, no sector was more status-conscious or elite-dominated than the milieux of the sovereign courts, and especially the Parlement of Paris, which crowned the pyramid. In general, the lesser courts aped the Parlement and the lower echelons of the legal profession aped the présidents—while simultaneously indulging in frequent and severe criticism of their superiors on some issues. The small number of defectors (on record) is striking, although there must have been more than the record reveals. Self-interest and prudence probably explain the consensus of mainstream mentalité now to be analyzed. This chapter presents a biographical and socioprofessional profile of selected spokesmen. The next two will outline and summarize their political-historical values (chapter 2) and their cultural and personal values (chapter 3).

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