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Henri IV - An unfinished reign

Institutions: Parlements

Section 1/2

The king also depended on recommendations provided by the kingdom's eight parlements. The first of these was established in Paris when, under Saint Louis, a specific part of the Curia Regis was singled out, the so-called en parlement section. It consisted of legal experts in charge of legal and judicial questions, and later became a separate entity organised in chambers. Starting in the 15th century, this structure was used as a model for France's other parlements, which gave the Paris Parlement a certain prestige, which the others acknowledged.

The parlements' scope of activities was very wide, and they intervened in judicial, legislative and administrative domains. First and foremost, they were courts of justice, located at the summit of the judicial pyramid under the Ancien Régime. By authority of the king, they sat in judgement for the first time or on appeal, depending on the case. As they possessed the lion's share of judicial authority, the parlements and their members enjoyed a great deal of prestige – a fact with which the king was obliged to reckon.

Related multimedia

Title: Map of France's parlements, provincial administrations...

Map of France's parlements, provincial administrations and archbishoprics in 1559
Caption:
Map of France's parlements, provincial administrations and archbishoprics in 1559. Source: Arlette Jouanna, Histoire et dictionnaire des guerres de Religion, Paris, Robert Laffont, 1998. The map lpresents : the Seat of a Parlement, the seat of an archbishopric, the Governments, and the Territories retained after the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis

Title: Map of France divided into the twelve provinces or gouvernements

Map of France divided into the twelve provinces or gouvernements
© Archives nationales
Caption:
Map of France divided into the twelve provinces or gouvernements, as communicated to the States-General of this kingdom in 1614

Title: The judicial pyramid in the second half of the 16th century

The judicial pyramid in the second half of the 16th century
Caption:
The judicial pyramid in the second half of the 16th century.

Section 2/2

A large part of the parlement's time was given over to the legislative function. According to the old saying among legal experts, the king's laws had to be "distilled" by the parlements, i.e. they had to be examined, registered and then applied in each jurisdiction. Throughout this long and complex process, members of parlement had the right to voice their opposition if they found that a new law was not in line with either the king's interests or with previous legislation. This right of remonstrance slowed the application of laws, and thus constituted a useful weapon for members of parlement. The king would often comply by presenting a more acceptable version of the law. However, on occasions when he refused to give in, and the parlement dug in its heels, the king could go to the parlement in person and hold a lit de justice to force registration of a law. The struggle between crown and parlement could go on for years; the parlement of Rouen finally registered the Edict of Nantes in 1609 – eleven years after the law had been signed by Henri IV!

Finally, France's parlements had prerogatives in administrative matters, since they could adapt royal legislation to local specificities by drafting legislative decrees (arrêts de règlements) that they applied in their various jurisdictions. There was thus no aspect of life in France's regions that was not examined in one way or another by the parlements – monitoring, surveillance and punishment were their watchwords. During the Wars of Religion, the remoteness and breakdown of central authority served to reinforce their role. In such a context, the future Henri IV, as governor of Guyenne, got into difficulties with the parlement of Bordeaux.

Related multimedia

Title: Henri IV taking France by the hand

Henri IV taking France by the hand
© BnF
Caption:
Henri IV taking France by the hand, engraving, late 16th c. Département des estampes et de la photographie de la BnF

Title: Map of parlements and provincial administrations in 1559

Map of parlements and provincial administrations in 1559
Caption:
Map of parlements and provincial administrations in 1559. Source: Arlette Jouanna, Histoire et dictionnaire des guerres de Religion, Paris, Robert Laffont, 1998. The map presents : Seat of a Parlement, Governments, Territories retained after the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis

Title: Map of France divided into the twelve provinces or gouvernements

Map of France divided into the twelve provinces or gouvernements
© Archives nationales
Caption:
Map of France divided into the twelve provinces or gouvernements, as communicated to the States-General of this kingdom in 1614

Title: The judicial pyramid in the second half of the 16th century

The judicial pyramid in the second half of the 16th century
Caption:
The judicial pyramid in the second half of the 16th century.

Title: Diagram of the legislative process in France in the second half of the 16th century

Diagram of the legislative process in France in the second half of the 16th century
Caption:
Diagram of the legislative process in France in the second half of the 16th century
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