Justice at the time of the Kings of France (1492-1789)

Course on Justice in the modern era.

To find the definitions of justice, it is here.

Justice in modern times (1492–1789)

The king was the source of all powers, including justice.

This privilege comes from the sacred and divine character of the king. Justice is rendered by God, who delegates this function to the king, who in turn delegates it to judges.

As a proof, justice was rendered in the very palace of the king: the old royal palace in the Ile de la Cité.

The symbols of justice: Saint-Louis under the oak tree of Vincennes (where he rendered justice), the hand of justice, as represented on the royal seal.

I. Delegated justice

In order to administer justice throughout the kingdom, the king had to delegate his power.

A. The royal jurisdictions

→ 2 kinds of courts:

Courts of common law (four degrees: provostships, viscounts, castellanies; bailliages and seneschaussées; presidios; parliaments, sovereign councils)

Above, the King’s Council, the supreme court of justice.

exceptional jurisdictions: tax jurisdictions, jurisdictions over part of the territory (disappeared during the Revolution)

In contemporary times, the Conseil de prud’hommes appeared in 1806 (labor disputes), the Tribuneaux pour infants in 1945, and the commissions de la Sécurité social in 1946.

B. The non-royal jurisdictions

→ 2 kinds of non-royal jurisdictions

Seigniorial jurisdictions: the high justiciary lords had the privilege of being able to give the death penalty

Municipal jurisdictions: numerous in the 16th century, weak and then disappeared

C. Relations between royal and non-royal jurisdictions

In the Middle Ages, non-royal jurisdiction played an important role.

The strengthening of the State increases the place of royal justice.

The jurisdiction of non-royal courts was limited by the right of appeal: non-royal judgments (seigneurial or municipal), or ecclesiastical judgments, could be appealed to a royal court.

D. The original features of the judicial system

The means of appeal were much more numerous than today.

Several judges could judge the same case. (Competition): the case was judged by the one who was the first to take it up(prevention).

A higher court could intervene in a case from a lower court(evocation)

This no longer exists today.

II. The justice retained

The justice retained is that rendered by the king alone.

The king’s subjects could address petitions and placets to him at any time.

A. The king judges in person

The king who judges in person is an omnipresent image. Saint-Louis under his oak tree, the Cid and Corneille’s Horace. In practice, this situation is rare.

Sometimes, the king ordered the death penalty legally: Cardinal de Guise in 1588, Concini in 1617.

B. Bed of justice

The bed of justice is defined by the presence of the king during a session of the Parliament.

It was used by the king to force the passage of a law (Parliament became an advisor and obeyed the king), or to give a solemnity.

It was a simple royal session when the king only made a speech.

C. The letters of seals

The letters of seals allowed the king to bypass the more time-consuming ordinary justice system and directly apply a sentence.

They were used to incarcerate subjects. For example, Voltaire for his satires, or Diderot in 1749

It was also done at the request of a private individual. Ex-Mirabeau incarcerated in 1783 at the request of his father.

The king usually had them checked by the general of police or the intendants, countersigned and sent by a secretary of state, to avoid abuses.

D. The royal pardon

The king could grant pardons by letters of remission or pardon.

He could grant the right to be judged by special jurisdictions.

E. The judgment by commissioner

The king could judge by the intervention of a commissioner.

The commissioners were judges of exceptional and temporary jurisdiction chosen from his Council and his sovereign courts.

Ex: the chambers of justice, or royal chambers, to judge the financiers: Fouquet in 1661–1665

Ex: to judge crimes, the Chambre de l’Arsenal in 1679

The Grand Days were commissions to remedy the slowness of provincial justice

F. The King’s Council

→ As a last resort, the King’s Council exercised justice.

Louis XV in 1767: “My Council is neither a body nor a court separate from me; it is me who acts through it.”

The judgments of the Council are the judgments of the king.

Thus, the Privy Council in particular, ancestor of the current Court of Cassation.

→ The matter des requêtes received and examined petitions addressed to the king

Intendants, in the eighteenth century, often masters of petitions, could by order of the Council dispense justice for the sovereign.

Since the king is the source of all justice: he has legislative power, and can govern the kingdom.

General Knowledge: justice