From the Chancellor of France to an unknown clerk in the Parlement of Paris: an exploration in the judicial world of modern France

Cet article est la publication d’une conférence donnée au séminaire “European History. XVIth-XVIIIth century” du Birkbeck College de l’Université de Londres, le 26 octobre dernier, à l’invitation du Professeur Julian Swann.

“From the chancellor of France to an unknown clerk in the Parlement of Paris”: today, I shall talk about the topic for which I dedicated all my professional life. It means about the Parlement of Paris as an exploration in the judicial world of modern France. I know that some of you are very aware about the Parlements of France, so I shall quickly say one or two things about it by way of introduction.

In royal France, Parlement is not parliament. This institution is plural, not singular: there were parlements, in Paris and in several cities of provincial countries. You certainly identify the Parlement de Paris as the main court of law of the French kingdom. Among all other royal institutions, this is the longest serving one, from saint Louis, about 1250, to the Revolution in 1790. Consequently, it let us the largest archives in France, and possibly in the world.

Court of law indeed, but its role, in fact, is really complex, not only judicial, but also administrative and political role. Its primary function was to provide civil and criminal justice in appeal, but also it was a court of first instance for the peers and for all those who had got this privilege. Parlement had also an administrative role, keeping order in the markets, being watchful of prisons, books, public health and morality… Finally, it retains the political role of advising the king, especially when he suffered from difficulties, by way of the “remontrances“, bargaining the registration of ordinances, edicts and royal letters.

I approached Parlement and became more interested in it first through a man, a person itself. It means I belong to the present generation of French historians who approach this institution not first through its formal structures, but by preference through its officers, staff and workers1, archives2 and proceedings, mind and ideas3. We attempt to understand Parlement not only through its collective speech, but also through its private political culture. I am a pupil of late Roland Mousnier, preferably by the intermediary of my PhD supervisor (Jean de Viguerie) and, above all, my husband (Jean-Pierre Brancourt) who has kept on the papers of Mousnier’s seminar during the 1960’s. I think I am amongst the eldest of this new generation who was interested in a biographical approach of the Parlement4.

Given that it is such a wide topic and as most of you are really erudite about the Parlement, I will only focus on my own experience in its amazing archives, pointing three stages of my research work: Continuer la lecture de From the Chancellor of France to an unknown clerk in the Parlement of Paris: an exploration in the judicial world of modern France

Isabelle Brancourt

Agrégée d'Histoire (1986), docteur de l'Université de Lille (1992), HDR (2005). Professeur dans l'enseignement secondaire de 1982 à 1991; PRAG puis maître de conférences à l'Université d'Artois de 1992 à 2000 ; chargée de recherche au CNRS depuis 2000, aujourd'hui à IHD-Jean Gaudemet (Université Paris 2-Panthéon-Assas - CNRS), en partenariat avec l'IHRIM (ENS Lyon - CNRS) pour le séminaire "Parlement(s), lui-même soutenu par le LabEx COMOD depuis 2012.

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