The "Session of the Scourging" (3 March 1766)
The twelve highest royal courts, known as parlements, not only heard civil and criminal suits; they also had the responsibility of discussing and registering royal edicts before their enactment. Consequently, the parlementary magistrates could, when they saw fit, prevent the King from ruling; by the same token, the King could exercise a sort of reverse veto by forcing the parlements to register his edicts. He did this by convoking the judges of the parlements to a special ceremony known as a "seat of justice." Ordinary appearances by the King before the Parlement of Paris were known as "sessions." At this session in 1766, during the "Brittany Affair" (see Chapter 3 introduction), Louis XV verbally "lashed out" at the magistrates for asserting that they were linked to the Parlement of Rennes and all the other regional courts in a "union." In the King’s view, the idea of such a "union" interfered with his ability to rule over the French people.
This day, after the report on several cases and after the King's guard had seized control of the doors, the court was informed that the King was coming to parlement, and deputized Mssrs. . . . to go and receive him. . . .
When the King had taken his elevated position, had seated himself, and had put on his hat, he said, "I expect this present session to be of no importance. Mister President, assemble the chambers." The President, having put on his hat, said, "Go to the Tournelle, to the chambers, and send someone to the Court of Appeals at the Palace." When all these gentlemen had entered and taken their designated places, the King removed his hat, and, having put it on again, said: "Gentlemen, I have come in person to reply to your remonstrances. Monsieur de Saint-Florentin, have this answer read by one of your members."
Whereupon the Count of Saint-Florentin, having approached the King and knelt, took the reply from His MajestyÕs hands and, after retaking his place, had it passed to the above mentioned Joly de Fleury who read as follows:
"What happened in my Parlements of Pau and Rennes is of no concern of my other parlements. I have acted with regard to these two courts as my authority required, and I owe an explanation to no one.
"I would have no other answer to give to the numerous remonstrances made to me on this subject. However, their combination, the impropriety of their style, the rashness of the most erroneous principles and the pretension of the new expressions which characterize them have revealed the pernicious consequences of the idea of 'unity' that I have already prohibited, and which some wish to establish as a principle, even while daring to put it into practice.
"I shall not tolerate in my kingdom the formation of an association that would cause the natural bond of similar duties and common responsibilities to degenerate into a confederation for resistance, nor shall I tolerate the introduction into the monarchy of an imaginary body that could only upset its harmony. The magistracy does not form a body nor a separate order among the three orders of the kingdom. The magistrates are my officers, responsible for carrying out my royal duty of rendering justice to my subjects, a function that ties them to me personally and that will always render them praiseworthy in my eyes. I recognize the importance of their services, and to imagine that a plan has been drawn up to destroy the magistracy or to claim that it has enemies close to the throne is therefore an illusion that only tends to undermine our confidence by false alarms. The magistryÕs only and real enemies are those within it who maintain a language opposed to its principles, and who incite it to claim that all the parlements together are but one and the same body spread over several communities. These enemies claim that this body, necessarily indivisible, is the essence and basis of the monarchy and is the seat, the tribunal, and the instrument of the nation. They assert that it is the protector and the essential depository of the nation's liberties, interests, and rights, that it is responsible to the nation for this trust, and that it would be criminal to abandon it. They assert that this body is responsible for all that concerns the public welfare, not only to the King, but also to the nation, and that it is the judge between the King and his People. These people claim that as a respective guardian, it maintains the balance of government, repressing equally the excesses of liberty and the abuses of authority. They predicate that the parlements work with the sovereign power to establish laws and that they can sometimes, by their own authority, free themselves from a registered law and legally regard it as nonexistent. They assert that they must erect an insurmountable barrier to decisions that they attribute to arbitrary authority, which they call illegal acts, as well as to orders that they claim took them by surprise. And if a conflict of authority arises from this, they believe it to be their duty to abandon their functions and to resign their offices, even if their resignations are not accepted. To try to establish in principle such pernicious novelties is to abuse the magistracy, contradict its institution, betray its interests, and disregard the fundamental laws of the state. It is as if they have forgotten the fact that the sovereign power resides in my person only, sovereign power of which the true nature consists of the spirit of consultation, justice, and reason. It is as if they forgot that my courts derive their existence and their authority from me alone, and that the discharge of that authority, which they exercise in my name only, always remains with me and can never be employed against me. Independent and undivided legislative power belongs to me alone. It is only by my authority that the officers of my courts proceed, not in the creation of laws, but in their registration, publication, and execution. They are allowed to remonstrate only within the limits of their duties as good and useful councilors. Public order in its entirety emanates from me, and the rights and interests of the nation, for which some dare to create a separate body from the monarch, are necessarily united with my rights and interests and rest only in my hands.
"I am convinced that the officers of my courts will never lose sight of these sacred and immutable maxims, which are etched in the hearts of all faithful subjects. And I am sure and that they will disown these foreign ideas, this spirit of independence, and these errors, the consequences of which would strike terror into their faithful hearts.
"Remonstrances will always be received favorably when they only reflect the moderation appropriate from a magistrate and the truth, and when secrecy allows them to be decent and useful. And they will be favorably received when the system of remonstrances, so wisely established, is not made a travesty of libelous utterances, when submission to my will is not presented as a crime, and when the accomplishment of the duties I have called for are not seen as a cause for opprobrium. And finally, they will be favorably received when it is not assumed that the entire nation is groaning at seeing its rights, its liberty, and its security on the point of perishing under a terrible power, or when it is announced that the bonds of obedience are ready to be broken. But if, once I have examined these remonstrances and have maintained my will with full knowledge of the facts, my courts should persevere in their refusal to obey instead of registering [the law or edict] at the express command of the King (an expression chosen to reflect the duty of obedience), if they undertake to annul, on their own authority, laws solemnly registered, and if, finally, when my authority has been compelled to be employed to its full extent, they dared still in some fashion to battle against it, either by decrees of prohibition, by suspensive opposition, or by irregular methods such as ceasing their service or resigning, then confusion and anarchy would take the place of legitimate order, and the scandalous spectacle of an open contradiction to my sovereign power would reduce me to the unhappy necessity of using all the power that I have received from God in order to preserve my People from the terrible consequences of such endeavors.
"Let the officers of my courts, then, weigh carefully what my good will deigns once again to call to their attention. Obeying nothing more than their own feelings, let them dismiss all prospects of association, all new ideas, and all these expressions devised to give credit to the most false and dangerous conceptions. Let them, in their decrees and remonstrances, keep within the limits of reason and the respect due me. Let them keep their deliberations secret and let them consider how indecent and how unworthy of their character it is to spread invective against the members of my council to whom I have given my orders and whom have shown themselves so worthy of my confidence. I shall not allow the slightest infraction of the principles set forth in this response. I would expect to find these principles in my Parlement in Paris, even if they should be disregarded in the others. Let this parlement never forget what it has so often done to maintain these principles in all their purity, and that the court of Paris should be an example to the other courts of the kingdom."
Jules Flammermont, Remonstrances du Parlement de Paris au XVIIIe siècle, vol. 2 (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1888–98), 555–59.