A long break in the history of representative government.
the Eighth, in 1483, to that of Charles the Ninth, in 1560, the
history of representative government in France is almost a complete
blank. So long was the period during which the States General were
suspended, that, when at length it was deemed advisable to convene them
again, the chancellor, in his opening address, felt compelled to enter
into explanations respecting the nature and functions of a body which
perhaps not a man living remembered to have seen in session.1 Yet,
while the desuetude into which had fallen the laudable custom of holding
the States every year, or, at least, on occasion of any important matter
for deliberation, might properly be traced to the flood of ambition and
pride which had inundated the world, and to the inordinate covetousness
of kings,2 there were not wanting considerations to mitigate the disappointment
of the people. Chief among them, doubtless, in the view of shrewd observers,
was the fact that the assembling of the States was the invariable prelude to an increase of taxation, and that never had they met without benefiting the king's exchequer at the expense of the purses of his subjects.3
Meanwhile the nation bore with exemplary patience the accumulated
burdens under which it staggered. Natives and foreigners alike were lost
in admiration of its wonderful powers
1 Chancellor L'Hospital's remarkable words were: "Or,
messieurs, parceque nous reprenons l'ancienne coustume de tenir les
estats jà délaissés par le temps de quatre-vingts ans ou environ, où
n'y a mémoire d'homme qui y puisse atteindre, je diray en peu de
paroles que c'est que tenir les estats, pour quelle cause Fon assembloit
les estats, la façon et manière, et qui y présidoit, quel bien en vient
au roy, quel au peuple, et mesmes s'il est utile au roy de tenir les
estats, ou non." The address in full in La Place, Commentaires de
l'Estat de la République, etc. (Ed. Panthéon), 80.
2 Michel Suriano, ubi supra.
3 "Tellement que sous ces beaux et doux appasts, l'on
n'ouvre jamais telles assemblees que le peuple n'y accoure, ne les
embrasse, et ne s'en esiouysse infiniement, ne considerant pas qu'il n'y
a rien qu'il deust tant craindre, comme estant le general refrain
d'iceux, de tirer argent de luy.... Au contraire jamais on ne feit
assemblee generale des trois Estats en cette France, sans accroistre les
finances de nos Roys à la diminution de celles du peuple." Pasquier,
Recherches de la France, l. ii. c. 7, p. 82.
The endurance of the Tiers État. Absolutism of the crown.
of endurance. No one suspected that a terrible retribution for this same people's wrongs might one day overtake the successor of a long line of kings, each of whom had added his portion to the crushing load. The Emperor Maximilian was accustomed to divert himself at the expense of the French people. "The king of
France," said he, "is a king of asses; there is no weight that can be
laid upon his subjects which they will not bear without a murmur."1
The warrior and historian Rabutin congratulated the monarchs of France
upon God's having given them, in obedience, the best and most faithful
people in the whole world.2 The Venetian, Matteo Dandolo, declared to
the Doge and Senate that the king might with propriety regard as his own
all the money in France, for, such was the incomparable kindness of the
people, that whatever he might ask for in his need was very gladly
brought to him.3 It was not strange, perhaps, that the ruler of
subjects so exemplary in their eagerness to replenish his treasury as
soon as it gave evidence of being exhausted, came to take about the same
view of the matter. Accordingly, it is related of Francis the First
that, being asked by his guest, Charles the Fifth, when the latter was
crossing France on his way to suppress the insurrection of Ghent, what
revenue he derived from certain cities he had passed through, the king
promptly, replied: "Ce que je veux"--"What I please."4
1 "Il rè di Francia è rè d'asini, perchè il suo popolo
supoorta ogni sorte di peso, senza rechiamo mai." Michel Suriano,
Commentarii (Rel. des Amb. Vén., Tommaseo), i. 486.
2 Guerres de Belgique (Éd. Panthéon), 585.
3 "Egli può riputar poi tutti li danari della Francia esser
suoi; perche nelli suoi bisogni, sempre che li dimanda, gli sono portati
molto volontariamente per la incomparabil benevolenza di essi popoli."
Relaz. Ven. (Albèri), ii. 172.
4 Cayet, Hist. de la guerre sous le règne de Henry IV., i.
248. We shall see that Francis carried out the same ideas of absolute
authority in his dealings both with reputed heresy and with the Gallican
Church itself. He seems even to have believed himself commissioned to do
all the thinking in matters of religion for his more intellectual
sister; for, if Brantôme may be credited, when Constable Montmorency, on
one occasion, had the temerity to suggest to him that all his efforts to
extirpate error in France would be futile until he began with Margaret
of Angoulême, Francis silenced him with the remark: "No more on that
subject! She loves me too much; she will never believe anything but what
I desire." Femmes illustres: Marguerite, reine de Navarre.
Fruits of the abasement of the people.
Yet it must be noted, in passing, that the studied abasement of the
Tiers État had already begun to bear some fruit that should have
alarmed every patriotic heart. It was, as we have seen, impossible to
obtain good French infantry except from Gascony and some other border
provinces. The place that should have been held by natives was filled by
Germans and Swiss. What was the reason? Simply that the common people
had lost the consciousness of their manhood, in consequence of the
degraded position into which the king, and the privileged classes,
imitating his example, had forced them. "Because of their desire to rule
the people with a rod of iron," says Dandolo, "the gentry of the kingdom
have deprived them of arms. They dare not even carry a stick, and are
more submissive to their superiors than dogs!"1 No wonder that all
efforts of Francis to imitate the armies of free states, by instituting
legions of arquebusiers, proved fruitless.2 Add to this that trade
was held in supreme contempt,3 and the picture is certainly
Checks upon the king's authority.
Yet, while, through the absence of any effectual barrier to the exercise
of his good pleasure, the king's authority was ultimately unrestricted,
it must be confessed that there existed, in point of fact, some powerful
checks, rendering the abuse of the royal prerogative, for the most part,
neither easy nor expedient. Parliament, the municipal corporations, the
university, and the clergy, weak as they often proved in a direct
struggle with the crown, nevertheless exerted an influence that ought
not to be overlooked. The most headstrong prince hesitated to disregard
the remonstrances of any one of these bodies, and their united protest
sometimes led to the abandonment of schemes of great promise for the
royal treasury. It is true that parliament, university, and chartered
1 "Stanno a quelli soggetti più che cani." Relaz. Ven., ii.
2 Ibid., ubi supra.
3 "Mercatores aspernantur," says Chassanée in 1527, "ut vile
atque abjectum omnium genus." Catal. Gloriæ Mundi, fol. 200.
borough owed their existence and privileges to the royal will, and that
the power that created could also destroy. But time had invested with a
species of sanctity the venerable institutions established by monarchs
long since dead, and the utmost stretch of royal displeasure went not in
its manifestation further than the mere threat to strip parliament or
university of its privileges, or, at most, the arrest and temporary
imprisonment of the more obnoxious judges or scholars.
The Parliament of Paris
The Parliament of Paris was the legitimate successor of that assembly in
which, in the earlier stage of the national existence, the great vassals
came together to render homage to the lord paramount and aid him by
their deliberations. This feudal parliament was transformed into a
judicial parliament toward the end of the thirteenth century. With the
change of functions, the chief crown officers were admitted to seats in
the court. Next, the introduction of a written procedure, and the
establishment of a more complicated legislation, compelled the
illiterate barons and the prelates to call in the assistance of
graduates of the university, acquainted with the art of writing and
skilled in law. These were appointed by the king to the office of
counsellors.1 In 1302, parliament, hitherto migratory, following the
king in his journeys, was made stationary at Paris. Its sessions were
fixed at two in each year, held at Easter and All Saints respectively.
The judicial body was subdivided into several "chambers," according to
the nature of the cases upon which it was called to act.
Becomes the supreme court.
From this time the Parliament of Paris assumed appellate jurisdiction
over all France, and became the supreme court of justice. But the burden
of prolonged sessions, and the necessity now imposed upon the members of
residing at least four months out of every year in the capital, proved
an irksome restraint both to prelates and to noblemen. Their attendance,
therefore, began now to be less constant. As early as in 1320 the
bishops and other ecclesiastical officers were excused, on the ground
that their duty to their dioceses and sacred functions demanded their
presence elsewhere. From
1 Mignet, ubi supra, ii. 173.
the general exemption the Bishop of Paris and
the Abbot of St. Denis alone were excluded, on account of their
proximity to the seat of the court. About the beginning of the fifteenth
century, the members, taking advantage of the weak reign of Charles the
Sixth, made good their claim to a life-tenure in their offices.1
The rapid increase of cases claiming the attention of the Parliament of
Paris suggested the erection of similar tribunals in the chief cities of
the provinces added to the original estates of the crown. Before the
accession of Francis the First a provincial parliament had been
instituted at Toulouse, with jurisdiction over the extensive domain once
subject to the illustrious counts of that city; a second, at Grenoble,
for Dauphiny; a third, at Bordeaux, for the province of Guyenne
recovered from the English; a fourth, at Dijon, for the newly acquired
Duchy of Burgundy; a fifth, at Rouen, to take the place of the inferior
"exchequer" which had long had its seat there; and a sixth, at
Aix-en-Provence, for the southeast of France.2
Claim to the right of remonstrance.
To their judicial functions, the Parliament of Paris, and to a minor
degree the provincial parliaments, had insensibly added other functions
purely political. In order to secure publicity for their edicts, and
equally with the view of establishing the authenticity of documents
purporting to emanate from the crown, the kings of France had early
desired the insertion of all important decrees in the parliamentary
records. The registry was made on each occasion by express order of the
judges, but with no idea on their part that this form was essential to
the validity of a royal ordinance. Presently, however, the novel theory
was advanced that parliament had the right of refusing to record an
obnoxious law, and that, without the formal recognition of parliament,
1 See the sketch by Daniel, Histoire de France, reprinted in
Leber, Collection de pièces relatives à l'histoire de France, vi, 266,
etc.; also Mignet, ubi supra, ii. 177, etc.
2 Mignet, ubi supra, ii. 212; Floquet, Histoire du
parlement de Normandie, tom. i.; Daniel, ubi supra; Vicomte de
Bastard-D'Estang, Les parlements de France, i. 189.
could be allowed to affect the decisions of the supreme or of any inferior tribunal.
Indulgence of the crown. The Chancellor's oath.
In the exercise or this assumed prerogative, the judges undertook to
send a remonstrance to the king, setting forth the pernicious
consequences that might be expected to flow from the proposed measure if
put into execution. However unfounded in history, the claim of the
Parliament of Paris appears to have been viewed with indulgence by
monarchs most of whom were not indisposed to defer to the legal
knowledge of the counsellors, nor unwilling to enhance the consideration
of the venerable and ancient body to which the latter belonged. In all
cases, however, the final responsibility devolved upon the sovereign.
Whenever the arguments and advice of parliament failed to convince him,
the king proceeded in person to the audience-chamber of the refractory
court, and there, holding a lit-de-justice, insisted upon the
immediate registration, or else sent his express command by one of his
most trusty servants. The judges, in either case, were forced to
succumb--often, it must be admitted, with a very bad grace--and admit
the law to their records. We shall soon have occasion to note one of the
most striking instances of this unequal contest between king and
parliament, in which power rather than right or learning won the day. In
spite, however, of occasional checks, parliament manfully and
successfully maintained its right to throw obstacles in the way of hasty
or inconsiderate legislation. In this it was often efficiently assisted
by the Chancellor of France, the highest judicial officer of the crown,
to whom, on his assuming office, an oath was administered containing a
very explicit promise to exercise the right of remonstrance with the
king before affixing the great seal of state to any unjust or
unreasonable royal ordinance.1
1 The formula is worthy of attention: "Quand on vous
apportera à sceller quelque lettre, signée par le commandement du Roi,
si elle n'est de justice et raison, ne la scellerez point, encore que
ledit Seigneur le commandast par une ou deux fois; mais viendrez devers
iceluy Seigneur, et lui remonstrerez tous les points par lesquels ladite
lettre n'est pas raisonnable, et après que aura entendu lesdita points,
s'il vous commande la sceller, la scellerez, car lors le péché en sera
sur ledit Seigneur et non sur vous." In full in M. de Saint-Allais, De
l'ancienne France (Paris, 1834), ii. 91; see also Capefigue, François
Premier et la Renaissance, i. 106.
Abuses in the administration of justice.
Not that either the Parliament of Paris or the provincial parliaments
were free of grave defects deserving the severe animadversion of
impartial observers. It was probably no worse with the Parliament of
Bordeaux than with its sister courts;1 yet, when Charles the Ninth
visited that city in 1564, honest Chancellor L'Hospital seized the
opportunity to tell the judges some of their failings. The royal
ordinances were not observed. Parliamentary decisions ranked above
commands of the king. There were divisions and violence. In the civil
war some judges had made themselves captains. Many of them were
avaricious, timid, lazy and inattentive to their duties. Their behavior
and their dress were "dissolute." They had become negligent in judging,
and had thrown the burden of prosecuting offences upon the shoulders of
the king's attorney, originally appointed merely to look after the royal
domain. They had become the servants of the nobility for hire. There
was not a lord within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Bordeaux but
had his own chancellor in the court to look after his interests.2 It
was sufficiently characteristic that the same judicial body of which
such things were said to its face (and which neither denied their truth
nor grew indignant), should have been so solicitous for its dignity as
to send the monarch, upon his approach to the city, an earnest petition
that its members should not be constrained to kneel when his Majesty
entered their court-room! To which the latter dryly responded, "their
genuflexion would not make him any less a king than he already
1 Certainly not than with the Parliament of Aix. See its
shortcomings in the papers of Prof. Joly, of the Faculté des Lettres of
Caen, entitled "Les juges des Vaudois: Mercuriales du parlement de
Provence au XVI^e siècle, d'après des documents inédits." Bulletin de
l'hist. du Prot. fr., xxiv. (1875), 464-471, 518-523, 555-564.
2 "Qu'il n'y a pas un seigneur en ce ressort, qui n'aye son
chancelier en ceste Cour." Boscheron des Portes, Histoire du parlement
de Bordeaux (Bordeaux, 1877), i. 191-194, from Registers of Parliament.
3 "La génuflexion ne le ferait pas moins roi qu'il était."
Ibid., i. 185.
The University of Paris.
Among the forces that tended to limit the arbitrary exercise of the
royal authority, the influence of the University of Paris is entitled to
a prominent place. Nothing had added more lustre to the rising glory of
the capital than the possession of the magnificent institution of
learning, the foundation of which was lost in the mist of remote
antiquity. Older than the race of kings who had for centuries held the
French sceptre, the university owed its origin, if we are to believe the
testimony of its own annals, to the munificent hand of Charlemagne, in
the beginning of the ninth century. Careful historical criticism must
hesitate to accept as conclusive the slender proof offered in support of
the story.1 It is, perhaps, safer to regard one of the simple schools
instituted at an early period in connection with cathedrals and
monasteries as having contained the humble germ from which the proud
university was slowly developed. But, by the side of this original
foundation there had doubtless grown up the schools of private
instructors, and these had acquired a certain prominence before the
confluence of scholars to Paris from all quarters rendered necessary an
attempt to introduce order into the complicated system, by the formation
of that union of all the teachers and scholars to which the name of
universitas was ultimately given.
If the origin of the University of Paris, like that of the greater
number of human institutions, was insignificant when viewed in the light
of its subsequent growth, the meagreness of the early course of
instruction was almost incredible to those who, in an age of richer
mental acquisitions, listened to the prelections of its numerous and
learned doctors. The Trivium and the Quadrivium constituted the
whole cycle of human knowledge. Grammar, logic, and rhetoric were
embraced in the one; music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy in the
other. He was indeed a prodigy of erudition whose comprehensive
1 See Pasquier's conclusive argument in his chapter: "Que
l'opinion est erronée par laquelle on attribue l'institution de
l'Université de Paris à l'Empereur Charlemagne." Recherches de la
France, 800. So universally accepted, however, in Pasquier's time, was
the story of Charlemagne's agency in the matter, that "de croire le
contraire c'est estre hérétique en l'histoire," p. 798.
intellect had mastered the details of these, the seven liberal arts, or,
to use a familiar line of the period,
Qui tria, qui septem, qui omne scibile novit.
But the ignorant pedagogues of the eleventh century gave place, in the
early part of the twelfth, to instructors of real merit--to Peter
Abelard, among others, and to his pupil Peter Lombard, the fame of whose
lectures attracted to Paris great crowds of youth eager to become
proficient in philosophy and
The four nations.
Hitherto there had been but one faculty--the Faculty of Arts; but among
the students a distribution into four "nations" had been effected. The
Nation of France embraced the students coming from the royal
dominions, which then comprised a limited territory, with Paris as its
capital, together with the students of Italy, Spain, and the east. The
Nation of Picardy consisted of students from the province of that name
and from the neighboring County of Flanders. The Nation of Normandy
received youths belonging to the rich provinces of Normandy and
Brittany, and to the west. The Nation of England gathered those who
came from the British Isles, as well as from the extensive territories
in southwestern France long held by the kings of England. After the
reconquest of Guyenne, however, the German students became the
controlling element in the fourth nation, and the designation was
changed to the Nation of Germany. The Rector of the university and
the four Procurators of the nations were entrusted with the
administration of the general interests of the vast scholastic community.
The faculties. Chancellor and rector.
With the rise of new branches of science to contest the supremacy of the
old, the institution of other faculties was called for. The demand was
not conceded without a determined struggle of so serious a character as
to require the intervention of two popes for its settlement.
Nevertheless, before the end of the thirteenth century, the three new
faculties of theology, medicine, and law had assumed their places by the
side of the four original nations. The faculties were represented in the
rector's council by three Deans,
invested with power equal to that enjoyed by the procurators of the
nations. While the rector, always chosen from the faculty of arts,
was the real head of this republic of letters in all that concerned
its inner life and management, the honorable privilege of conferring
the degrees that gave the right to teach belonged to the chancellor
of the university.1 The former, elected every three months,
began and ended his office with solemn processions, the first to
invoke the blessing of heaven upon his labors, the second to render
thanks for their successful termination. The chancellor, holding
office for life, was an ecclesiastic of the church of Paris, originally
the bishop or someone appointed by him, who, if he enjoyed less
direct control over the scholars in their studies, was yet the chief
censor of their morals,2 and the representative of the university
in its dealings with foreign bodies, and especially with the Roman See.3