Louis XV Asks the Parlements to Desist (1770)
The extended legal confrontation between the Parlement of Brittany and Louis XV lasted from 1765 to 1770 over the right of the central administration to govern directly in a province that had always had substantial autonomy. Supported by the other regional Parlements and by many commentators in the contemporary press, the judges defended their predominance in local matters and by implication, the distinct privileges, or "liberties," of each region of France. Louis XV responded by invoking absolutist doctrine, but the deterioration of relations with the Parlements convinced Louis XV that he had to act decisively. In 1770 a new set of ministers, led by the "triumvirate" of Chancellor Maupeou, the Abbé Terray as finance minister, and the Duke d’Aguillon as foreign minister, set out to reform the royal government by gaining even more power for the King’s hand–picked ministers, over the objections of the Parlements that such centralization would violate the "liberties" of the "nation" to participate, indirectly, in the government through the Parlements and regional Estates. This document excerpts the Parlements’ "last chance" in the sense that when the magistrates ignored these commands, Louis XV—frustrated by this continual opposition to his decrees—later dissolved all twelve Parlements by "exiling" the magistrates and selecting new ones for each court. The crisis came to an end four years later when Louis XV died suddenly of smallpox and his successor, Louis XVI, recalled the magistrates to their seats, setting off a new round of protest.
Louis, by the grace of God, King of France and of Navarre: to allpresent and all to come, greeting. The systematic approach, asuncertain in its principles as it is bold in its undertakings andwhile causing grave damage to religion and morals, did not follow thedecisions of several of our judicial courts. We have seen themsuccessively give rise to new ideas and advance principles which, atany other time and from any other body, would have been condemned asupsetting to the public order.
We have seen them resort several times to interruptions andstoppages of service, causing our subjects to suffer from delays inthe justice for which we are responsible. They hoped that theseproblems, to which our affection for our peoples makes us verysensitive, would force us to yield.
On other occasions they have handed in their combined resignationsand, in a singular contradiction, they have disputed our right toaccept these resignations.
Finally, they formed a confederation amongst themselves.They believed that they formed but a single body and a singleparlement, divided among several classes and spread among thevarious parts of our kingdom.
This innovation, first conceived and later dropped by our Parlement of Paris when it seemed useful to do so, still persists in our other parlements. It recurs in their decrees and verdicts which contain terms such as 'classes,' 'unity,' or 'indivisibility.' It is as if our courts forgot that several of them exist in provinces that were not part of our kingdom, but belong to us personally. Or it is as if they forgot that the establishment of each parlement took place on a different date, and that our predecessors, in creating them, formed them independently of each other and created no precedent for relations amongst them. They gave limits to each that we or our successors can extend or limit when the interests of our peoples demand it, and beyond these limits their decrees can only be executed by our orders. . . .
One of the most pernicious effects of this system is to persuade our parlements that their deliberations become more weighty, and already several of them, thinking that they have become more powerful and independent, have laid down some maxims heretofore unknown. They have called themselves the representatives of the nation, the indispensable interpreters of the king’s public will, the watchmen over the government’s administration and the settlement of the sovereignty’s debts. And soon, by not granting any validity to our laws until these laws have been adopted and sanctioned in free deliberation, they will raise their authority as high as our own, or and even above it. Our legislative power will thereby be reduced to the simple function of proposing our desires to them, while they reserve the right to prevent them from being carried out. . . .
We owe it to the good of our subjects and to the interests of themagistracy itself, even more than to the interest of our royal power,to halt the development of these dangerous innovations. However,before prohibiting them by our edict, we wish to remind our courts ofthe principles from which they must never deviate.
God alone has granted us our crown. The right to make the laws bywhich our subjects must be guided and governed belongs to us alone,without subordination or division. We direct these laws to ourcourts, which shall examine them, discuss them, and see that they areexecuted. . . .
We prohibit our parlements from employing the terms 'unity,' 'indivisibility,' 'classes' or other synonyms which signify and express that together they constitute but one and the same parlement, divided into several classes.
We forbid them to send to our other parlements, except inthe cases allowed for by our ordinances, any documents, titles,proceedings, memoranda, remonstrances, orders, or decrees relative tocases to be tried before them either by our orders or as a normalconsequence of their jurisdiction.
As also we forbid them to depose in their records or to deliberate on the documents, titles, proceedings, memoranda, remonstrances, orders, or decrees drawn up or handed down by other parlements, and order them to send to us all such documents. . .all upon the risk of loss or suspension of their offices.
We desire that, in accordance with the ordinances and in our name, the officers of our courts dispense to our subjects the justice we owe them, and that they do this without any other interruptions besides those authorized by these same ordinances. Consequently, we forbid them to cease their services, either as a result of their own deliberations or by interrupting these services due to all chambers assembling together during the session. This except in cases of absolute necessity, recognized as such by the first president with whom we shall consult. . .and this upon risk of loss and suspension of their offices.
We prohibit them, under the same penalties, from tending theirresignations, either combined or in unison, or as a result of acommon deliberation or oath. . . .
When we have listened as often as we deem necessary to understandand judge their comments, we shall persevere in our will and shallhave registered, in our presence or in the presence of the bearers ofour orders, said edicts, declarations, or tax letters. And we forbidthem to make any orders or pass any decrees that might tend toprevent, impede, or delay the execution of said edicts.
Similarly, we prohibit any person who shall have presided over thesessions, the officer who brought said edicts for registry, of anyothers, from signing any record of such orders or decrees. Weprohibit all recorders, clerks, or other officials from drawing upand authorizing any copying or engrossment of such decrees. Weprohibit all bailiffs, sergeants, or mounted police who might be soordered to proclaim or execute such decrees. All of this is upon riskof loss or suspension of their offices, and of being prosecuted andpunished for the disobedience of our orders.
Jules Flammermont, Le Chancelier Maupeou et les parlements (Paris: Alphonse Picard, 1883), 116–20.