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The Formation and Progress of the Tiers État, or Third Estate in France, translated from the French by the Rev. Francis B. Wells, Two volumes in One (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1859).
In this influential work Thierry combines two of his main interests, the study of the ruling elites of French history and the rise of the third estate to challenge this rule from the middle ages until the outbreak of the French Revolution.
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Though the Translator feels that the name of Augustin Thierry, already so well known in this country, especially by his “Histoire de la Conquête de l’Angleterre,” affords the best hope of drawing attention to the work which he has ventured to present in an English dress, yet he wishes to state briefly some few characteristics which particularly mark it, and which may excite an interest in the mind of the general reader, as well as of the student of French history.
They are as follows:—The very vivid sketches which the accurate and experienced author has given of the principal persons and events which are connected with those most interesting passages of French history, which form the subject of his work.
The manner in which, while purposely omitting facts which are already generally known, he has drawn attention to those which are but slightly noticed by other historians.
The insight which he gives into that growth of opinion and national progress which, like a strong under-current, was in reality silently determining the course of events, not only in France, but in civilized Europe, during the Middle Ages, and the period immediately subsequent to them.
And, lastly, the bold and earnest love of truth and laborious investigation of documentary evidence which have made history what it ought to be—a record of facts, rather than a mere expression of superficial opinions and prejudices—and which honourably distinguish the school of writers to which M. Thierry so eminently belongs, and to which a daily increasing value is justly attached.
The Translator begs to add, that he has thought it most conducive to accuracy to retain for the most part the names of offices and technical terms in the original language, where either there is no exact equivalent in English, or where the apparent equivalent might mislead from a different signification having been attached to it; but, in almost every instance of the kind, the reader will find them explained in the context or in the notes.
He has also left a few of the notes in old French untranslated, as the substance of them is generally embodied in the text, and their value seemed in great measure to depend on a certain quaintness of language which could not be preserved in the translation.
The work which forms the principal part of this volume is the summary of all my labours relative to France. It has been composed as an introduction to the collection of unpublished records of the history of the Tiers Etat, one of the publications of historical documents ordered under the last reign. It is a survey of our national history, taken in those years in which the author, carrying his observations back to the distance of seven centuries, and thence bringing it down to the state of things around him, remarked a regular succession of civil and political progress; and recognised, at each end of the road which he had travelled over, the same nation and the same monarchy, connected one with the other, modified under the same circumstances, and exhibiting their last change consecrated by a new compact of union. Considered from this point of view, the history of France appeared beautiful in unity and simplicity. I have vividly felt the grandeur of such a spectacle, and under its impression, I have conceived the design of bringing together continuously into one narrative the facts which mark through successive ages the gradual development of the Tiers Etat, its obscure sources, and the part which it bore in a slow but always progressive influence upon the social life of the country.
In order that the nature of this work may be perfectly understood, I must fix the true sense of the words Tiers Etat in the mind of the reader. The space which separates the present time from the old regime, and the prejudices which were spread by systems tending to divide the population of the nation, which is to-day one and the same, into classes mutually opposed to one another, have obscured in the minds of many persons the historical idea of that which constituted in former times the third order in the States-General of the kingdom. There is a disposition to suppose that this third order then answered to what is now called the bourgeoisie; that it was a superior class among those which were out of the pale of, and, in different degrees, beneath the nobility and the clergy. This opinion, which, besides its falseness, has the evil of making an antagonism appear to have its foundation in history, though it is in reality but an invention of yesterday, and one that is destructive of all public security, is in contradiction to all the ancient proofs, to the authentic acts of the monarchy, and to the spirit of the great movement of reform in 1789. In the sixteenth century some foreign ambassadors, describing the political constitution of France, said, “What are called the States of the kingdom consist of three orders of persons, who are, first the clergy, next the nobility, then all the rest of the population. The Tiers Etat, which has no particular name, may be called by a general one, the state of the people.” The order of Louis XVI. for the convocation of the last States-General designated, as having a right to be present at the electoral assemblies of the Tiers Etat, “all the inhabitants of the cities, boroughs, and rural districts, French by birth or naturalization, of the age of twenty-five years, having a fixed residence or entered on the list of taxes.” Lastly, at the same epoch, the author of a celebrated pamphlet, reckoning the number and maintaining the unity of the plebeian order, threw out, as an utterance of the opinion which was almost universal, these three questions and answers, “What is the Tiers Etat?—Everything. What has it been hitherto in the political order?—Nothing. What does it require?—To be something.”
In this respect the order of persons, which was the instrument of the revolution of 1789, and the history of which I endeavour to trace by ascending to its sources, is nothing else than the whole nation with the exception of the nobility and clergy. This definition marks at once the extent and the exact limits of my subject, it shows what I ought to touch upon and what to omit. The history of the Tiers Etat commences by its indispensable preliminaries long previous to the epoch when the name of Tiers Etat appeared in the history of the country; its startingpoint is the subversion produced in Gaul by the fall of the Roman government, and the German conquest. It is there that history must first look for the forefathers or the representatives of that mass of persons of various conditions and professions, which was designated, in the language of society in the feudal times, by the common name of la roture. From the sixth to the twelfth century, it follows the destiny of this mass, declining in one part, and progressing in another, under the general transformations of society; next, it finds a wider field, a place which is peculiar to it, in the grand period of the revival of the free municipalities and the reconstitution of the royal power. Thence it continues its course, now become simple and regular, through the period of the monarchy of the States, and that of the absolute monarchy, up to the States-General of 1789. It has its termination at the meeting of the three orders in one single and equal assembly, when the division which separated the majority of the nobility and the minority of the clergy from the Tiers Etat ceases, when the illustrious and unfortunate Bailly, president of that first congress of the national sovereignty, was able to say, “The family is complete;” an affecting expression, which seemed to augur well for our new destinies, but which was too soon disappointed.
Such is the outline which I proposed to myself to fill up in the composition of this work. One circumstance, which especially struck me, is, that during the space of six centuries, from the twelfth to the eighteenth, the history of the Tiers Etat and that of the royal power are indissolubly bound together in such a manner that, in the eyes of him who really understands them, one is, to use the expression, the counterpart of the other. From the accession of Louis le Gros to the death of Louis XIV., each decisive epoch in the progress of the different classes of the roture in liberty, prosperity, enlightenment, and social importance, corresponds, in the series of the reigns, to the name of some great king or of some great minister. The eighteenth century alone shows an exception to this law of our national development; it introduced distrust, and prepared a fatal divorce between the Tiers Etat and the Crown. At the point at which a last step, the guarantee and crowning point of all the others, would naturally have completed civil, and founded political liberty by the establishment of a new constitution, the necessary agreement was wanting in the conditions of a Government at once free and monarchical. The work of the Constituent Assembly of 1791, badly put together, crumbled to pieces almost immediately, and the monarchy was destroyed.
Twenty-two years elapsed, during which an admirable compensation succeeded to enormous calamities, and it seemed then that every tie was broken between new France and the royalty of former days. But the result of the Constitutional Governments of 1814 and of 1830 was to join anew the chain of time and ideas, to resume under fresh forms the attempt of 1789—the alliance of the national tradition and of the principles of liberty. It was at this point of view, presented to me by the very course of the events themselves, that I took my position, fixing my attention on that which seemed to be the path traced out towards the future, and believing that I had before my eyes the providential termination of the labour of the centuries which had elapsed since the twelfth.
Entirely devoted to my task, which I was slowly pursuing as far as my abilities enabled me, I dispassionately approached the much controverted period of the eighteenth century, when the catastrophe of February, 1848, burst suddenly upon us. I have felt the result of it in two ways, both as a citizen and also as an historian. By this new revolution, full of the same spirit and the same threatening appearances as the worst times of the first, the history of France appeared to be thrown into as much disorder as France herself. I suspended my work from a feeling of despondency easy to be understood; and the history, which I had carried down to the end of the reign of Louis XIV., stops at that point. I had before me the alternative of delaying the publication of my work till it had reached its termination, or of forthwith publishing that portion of it, by far the largest, to which I had given five years’ labour; the shortness of life, its chances more uncertain for me than for any other, and some flattering invitations, have decided me upon taking this last course.
There is, besides, another reason for stopping at this time; it answers to a point of division which is clearly marked in our social history. It is here that the great historical period terminates, during which we see the Tiers Etat and royalty marching in harmony, progressing with a common development, and mutually strengthening themselves. A second period opens, in which that harmony of six centuries disappears, in which the Tiers Etat and royalty are separated, begin to feel distrust of one another, and march in opposite directions: royalty protecting with its assistance what remains of aristocratic privileges; the bourgeoisie becoming, in contradiction to its traditions, hostile to the royal power. Of these two series of facts, so unequal as to their duration, and so different in character, I here present the first, the one which stretches itself across the space of many centuries, as a furrow traced by the instinct and the manners of France.
In order to anticipate objections which might be made against me, I inform the reader that I have not intended to trace the sketch of a general history of French society, but properly and exclusively that of a special history of the Tiers Etat. As the nobility and clergy may be, and indeed have already been, the objects of similar labours, I scarcely make mention of the part which these two first orders have played in society, I only speak of them when their action is mixed with that of the third, whether in antagonism or in co-operation with it. The influence of ecclesiastical institutions upon the progress of civil society, prior to the period of an active royalty, and to that of the States-General, is an important fact which I might have enlarged upon; I have, however, confined myself in this respect within the narrowest limits, in order that I might keep myself disengaged for the later periods, and preserve intact the character of this work, which is the history of an order of persons purely secular.
With regard to the nobles, I am no less aware that they had their part of moral action upon French society. Chivalry was theirs, with all that there is of military valour, glory, and honour around that name. They knew how to die—it was their boast; and in this consisted their legitimate pride. Moreover, they manifested a sentiment of affection for the kingdom of France, for their native land through all its length and breadth, in times when the patriotism of the bourgeoisie had not yet raised itself above the municipal spirit. Douce France is a favourite expression of the poetry of chivalry in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries; and it was not till the two following centuries, during the great struggle with the English, that the signs of a love of their common country were exhibited by all the classes of the nation. If I have not mentioned this and other circumstances of the same kind, it is not because I do not appreciate them, but because they were beyond my subject; I beg that I may not be charged with a wilful suppression of that which I was obliged to omit by the strictness of my plan.
This strictness, useful in every literary composition, was enforced upon me in this instance in a more authoritative manner by the very nature and novelty of my subject. The facts which I had to collect and to bring to light do not belong to the prominent part of the history of France, but rather to the most obscure, and, if I may be allowed the expression, the inmost parts of it. I attempted to write a history which, strictly speaking, was without definite shape and connexion. My task was to supply the want, by disengaging it by a process of abstraction from all that did not properly belong to it, and it was necessary to give the movement and the interest of a narrative to a succession of rapid views and general facts. Such is the end which I proposed to myself to reach; have I succeeded in it? I have at least made the attempt; I hope that my efforts will be favourably received.
The first of the two fragments which accompany the Essay upon the history of the Tiers Etat touches on one of the most important points of this history; it is a picture of the origin and vicissitudes of the ancient municipal constitutions of the cities of France, described according to their region and their province. This picture has not only its utility for the history of the law and government in the Middle Ages; it offers, besides, a more general interest. It is in some degree the inventory of our old experiences in the matter of political liberty, experiences partial, it is true, but renewed unintermittingly during many centuries over every part of the land.
The second fragment is a study upon the establishment of the communal constitution of Amiens, in which the original texts have been examined and commented upon in the greatest detail. This monography is only intended for those who find pleasure in the most minute particulars in historical researches. If I am asked what kind of interest it can have for other readers, I should say that they may observe in it the minutely-treated history of a constitutional charter of the twelfth century, of a written constitution after the manner of our own, which had not, like these, the pretension of being the work of deep reasoning, but which lasted five hundred years. Such facts, however small may have been their scene of action, are worthy of attention and reflection from persons of our own times. Our ancestors of the Middle Ages, as we are bound to acknowledge, had something which is wanting in us at the present day—that quality of the politician and citizen which consists in perceiving distinctly what is required, and in cherishing patient and persevering aspirations.
Paris, February 15, 1853.
Summary: Historical Part filled by the Tiers Etat—Origin of French Civilization—Gallo-Roman and Barbarian States of Society—Cities and Rural Districts, Decline of the one, Progress in the other—Reduction of ancient Slavery to Serfdom on the Soil—End of the Distinction of Races—Reaction of the Urban Classes against the Seigneurial Government—Forms of a free Municipality—Rise of the Bourgeoisie—Influence of the Cities upon the Rural Districts.
There no longer exists a Tiers Etat in France: both name and thing disappeared in the reconstruction of our social system in 1789; but this, the latest in date and least in power of the three ancient orders of the nation, has played a part of which the importance, long concealed from the most searching scrutiny, is clearly perceived at the present day. Its history, which hereafter can and ought to be written, is neither more nor less in reality than the history of the development and progress of our civil society, since the chaos of manners, laws, and conditions, which followed the fall of the Roman empire, up to the system of order, unity, and liberty of our own times.
Between these two extreme points may be traced through successive ages the long and laborious career by which the inferior and oppressed classes of society—in its various forms of Gallo-Roman, Gallo-Frankish, and French of the Middle Ages—raised themselves step by step till they reached the full enjoyment of civil and political rights; a vast movement, which has successively effaced from the soil on which we live all the hard and unjust inequalities of master and slave, conqueror and conquered, lord and serf—to exhibit at length in their stead an united people, a law the same to all, a free and sovereign nation.
Such is the grand spectacle which our history presents at the point to which Providence has conducted it, and at which we who live in the nineteenth century find noble subjects for reflection and study. Of all the problems of history, the various causes and aspects of that remarkable change form the one which affects us most closely. It has been for the last twenty-five years the object of considerable research; and the collection which I have commenced is intended to prepare the way for its solution; but its great extent requires a series of efforts too long for the life of one man. Being the first of those who may apply their hands to this work, I have seen but a small portion of the innumerable documents which it is my task to collect. It would be rash on my part to attempt to foretell the degree of importance which the whole of them may assume in the estimation of the learned hereafter; and I shall not do so. I shall confine myself to offer certain provisional sketches to mark, as my peculiar studies and the present state of knowledge enable me, the most distinct epochs and the most prominent points of view of that which will one day form the complete history of the formation, progress, and social influence of the Tiers Etat.
It is from the last form which was given to the civil and political institutions of the empire, and of which Constantine was the author, that all that is Roman in our ideas, our manners, and our legislation is derived: to this may be traced the first germs of our modern civilization. That era of decline and ruin for the society of the ancient world was the cradle of the great part of the social principles or elements, which, maintaining their existence under the dominion of the German conquerors, and combining themselves with their national traditions and customs, created the society of the Middle Ages, and from thence were transmitted to us. We there behold the sanction of Christianity joining itself to the sanction of the law to give a new vigour to the idea of the imperial power—the type of the regal power of subsequent times; slavery attacked in its principles, and secretly undermined or transformed by Christianity; lastly, the municipal form of government, oppressive though it became, impregnated with a sort of democracy by the popular election of the protector and the bishop. When the sway of the Barbarians overspread Gaul, when the political order of the Western empire crumbled to pieces, three things still maintained their position: the institutions of Christianity, the Roman law in the form of custom, and the municipal administration. Christianity imposed its influence on the new rulers; the law of custom preserved the manners and usages of civil life among the native inhabitants; and the municipality, as the guardian of those usages, threw a shield round them by lending, as a guarantee of their continuance, the strength of its own organization.
After the conclusion of the great struggles which took place in the fourth and fifth centuries, whether between the German conquerors and the last forces of the empire, or between the nations which had occupied different portions of Gaul, until the Franks remained sole masters of the country, two races, two populations, which had nothing in common but religion, appear forcibly brought together, and, as it were, face to face with each other, in one political community. The Gallo-Roman population presents under the same law very different and very unequal conditions; the barbarian population comprises, together with its own peculiar classifications of ranks and conditions, distinct laws and nationalities. In the first we find citizens absolutely free, coloni, or husbandmen belonging to the lands of a proprietor, and domestic slaves deprived of all civil rights; in the second, we see the Frankish race divided into two tribes, each having its own peculiar law; the Burgundians, the Goths, and the rest of the Teutonic races, who became subjected, either of their own accord or by force, to the Frankish empire, governed by other and entirely different laws; but among them all, as well as among the Franks, we find at least three social conditions—two degrees of liberty, and slavery. Among these incongruous states of existence, the criminal law of the dominant race established, by means of the scale of damages for crime or personal injury, a kind of hierarchy—the starting-point of that movement towards an assimilation and gradual transformation, which, after the lapse of four centuries, from the fifth to the tenth, gave rise to the society of the feudal times. The first rank in the civil order belonged to the man of Frankish origin, and to the Barbarian who lived under the law of the Franks; in the second rank was placed the Barbarian, who lived under the law of his own country; next came the native freeman and proprietor, the Roman possessor, and, in the same degree, the Lidus or German colonus; after them, the Roman tributary—i. e., the native colonus; and, last of all, the slave, without distinction of origin.
These various classes, separated on the one hand by distance of rank, on the other by difference of laws, manners, and language, were far from being equally distributed between the cities and the rural districts. All that was elevated in the Gallo-Roman population, of whatever character it might be, was found in the cities, where its noble, rich, and industrial families dwelt, surrounded by their domestic slaves; and, among the people of that race, the only constant residents in the country were the half-servile coloni and the agricultural slaves. On the contrary, the superior class of the German population established itself in the country, where each family, independent and proprietary, was maintained on its own domain by the labour of the Lidi whom it had brought thither, or of the old race of coloni who belonged to the soil. The only Germans who resided in the cities were a small number of officers in the service of the Crown, and of individuals without family and patrimony, who, in spite of their original habits, sought a livelihood by following some employment.
The social superiority of the dominant race rooted itself firmly in the localities inhabited by them, and passed, as has been already remarked, from the cities to the rural districts. By degrees, also, it came to pass that the latter drew off from the former the upper portion of their population, who, in order to raise themselves still higher, and to mix with the conquerors, imitated, as far as they were able, their mode of life. This high native class, with the exception of that part of it which followed the ecclesiastical profession, was in some measure lost to all purposes of civilization; it tended more and more towards the habits of barbarism, idleness, and turbulence, the abuse of power, the hatred of all discipline and restraint. Advancement in art and wealth was no longer possible in the cities of Gaul; all that could be done was to collect and preserve what remained of them. The labour of this preservation, the pledge of a future civilization, was from this moment the common task of the clergy, and the middle and inferior classes of the municipal inhabitants.
While Barbarism was thus occupying or usurping all the vantage points of the social state, and civil life in the intermediate classes was arrested in its progress, and sinking gradually to the lowest condition, even to that of personal servitude, an ameliorating movement, already commenced before the fall of the empire, still continued, and declared itself more and more loudly. The dogma of a common brotherhood in the eyes of God, and of one sole redemption for all mankind, preached by the Church to the faithful of every race, touched the heart and awakened the mind in favour of the slave, and, in consequence, enfranchisements became more frequent, or a treatment more humane was adopted on the part of the masters, whether Gauls or Germans by origin. The latter, moreover, had imported from their country, where the mode of life was simple and without luxury, usages favourable to a modified slavery. The rich barbarian was waited upon by free persons—by the children of his relatives, his clients, and his friends; the tendency of his national manners, different from that of the Roman, induced him to send the slave out of his house, and to establish him as a labourer or artisan on some portion of land to which he then became permanently attached, and the destination of which he followed, whether it were inherited or sold. The imitation of German manners by the Gallo-Roman nobles made them also transfer many of their domestic slaves from the city to the country, and from the service of the family to the labour of the field. Thus domiciled (casés), as the acts of the eighth and ninth centuries express themselves, their condition became analogous, though still always inferior, to that of the German Lidus on the one hand, on the other, to that of the Roman colonus.
Domestic slavery made the man a chattel, a mere piece of moveable property. The slave, settled on a spot of land, from that time entered into the category of real property. At the same time that this last class, which properly bore the name of serfs, was increased at the expense of the first, the classes of the coloni and Lidi would naturally multiply simultaneously, by the very casualties of ruin and adverse circumstances which, at a period of incessant commotions, injured the condition of the freemen. Moreover, these two classes, which were separated not only by legal distinctions, but also by a difference of origin, were tending towards a mutual approximation, and a gradual blending together of their essential characteristics. This, together with the approximation which had taken place between the Gauls and the Germans in the high ranks of society, was the first step towards the fusion of races, which was destined, after five centuries, to produce a new nation.
In the very heart of the Barbarian society, the class of small proprietors, which had originally formed its strength and glory, decreased, and finally became extinct by sinking into vassalage, or a state of still more ignoble dependence, which partook more or less of the character of actual servitude. By an opposite movement, the slaves domiciled on some portion of an estate, and incorporated with it as a fixture, raised themselves by means of this fixity of position, and of an indulgence which after a time grew into a right, to a condition nearly approaching the position of the Lidus and the colonus, who were themselves become almost identical under different names. At this point the freeman depressed towards servitude met the slave who had reached a sort of half liberty. Thus, through the whole extent of Gaul, was formed a vast body of agricultural labourers and rural artisans, whose lot, though never uniform, was brought more and more to a level of equality; and the creative wants of society produced a new sphere of industry in the country, while the cities remained stationary, or sank more and more into decay. This gradual and imperceptible revolution was connected in its onward march with those extensive clearances of the vast forest and waste lands which had passed from the imperial treasury into the possession of the Frankish kings, and of which a large part had been made over by those kings as property to the Church, and in beneficial tenure to their adherents.
The Church initiated the revival of this movement of life and progress; the depository of the noblest remains of ancient civilization she did not think it beneath her to collect, together with science and the intellectual arts, the traditional knowledge of mechanical and agricultural processes. An abbey was not merely a place of prayer and meditation, it was also an asylum opened against the encroachments of barbarism under every form. This retreat of learning and knowledge fostered beneath its shelter workshops of every kind, and its dependencies formed what we call at the present day a model farm; in it might be seen examples of industry and activity for the labourer, the workman, the proprietor. It was, to all appearance, the school where information was obtained by those of the dominant race, who were prompted by a knowledge of their own interest to make upon their own domains efforts in cultivation and colonization—two things in which the first at that time implied the necessity of the second.
On every large estate where improvement flourished, the cabins of those employed, Lidi, coloni or slaves, grouped as necessity or convenience suggested, were multiplied and peopled more numerously, till they assumed the form of a hamlet. When these hamlets were situated in a favourable position, by a water-course or a junction of roads, they continued to increase till they became villages, where all the trades necessary for the common purposes of life were carried on under the same protection. The building of a church soon raised the village to the rank of a parish; and, as a consequence, the new parish took its place among the rural circonscriptions. Its inhabitants, both serfs and demi-serfs, being attached to the same domain, found themselves bound to one another by neighbourhood and community of interests; thence sprung, altogether spontaneously, under the sanction of the intendant, joined to that of the priest, rude outlines of a municipal organization, in which the church became the depository of the acts which, in accordance with the Roman law, were inscribed on the registers of the city. It is in this way that beyond the towns, the cities, and the boroughs, where the remains of the old social condition lingered in an increasing state of degradation, elements of future improvement were formed by the value given to large districts of uncultivated land, by the multiplication of colonies of labourers and artisans, and by the gradual modification of the ancient state of slavery into bondage on the soil.
This modification, already considerably advanced in the ninth century, was completed in the course of the tenth. At that period, the last class of the Gallo-Frankish society disappeared—viz., that of persons held as chattels, bought, exchanged, transferred from one place to another, like any other kind of moveable goods. The slave now belonged to the soil rather than to the person; his service, hitherto arbitrary, was changed into customary dues and regulated employment; he had a settled abode, and, in consequence, a right of possession in the soil on which he was dependent. This is the earliest form in which we distinctly trace the first impress of the modern world upon the civil state. The word serf henceforward took its definite meaning; it became the generic name of a mixed condition of servitude and freedom, in which we find blended together the states of the colonus and Lidus—two names which occur less and less frequently in the tenth century, till they entirely disappear. This century, the point to which all the social efforts of the four preceding ones which had elapsed since the Frankish conquest had been tending, saw the intestine struggle between the Roman and German manners brought to a conclusion by an important revolution. The latter definitively prevailed, and from their triumph arose the feudal system; that is to say, a new form of the state, a new constitution of property and domestic life, a parcelling out of the sovereignty and jurisdiction, all the public powers transformed into demesnial privileges, the idea of nobility devoted to the profession of arms, and that of ignobility to industry and labour.
By a remarkable coincidence, the complete establishment of this system is the epoch when the distinction of races terminates in Frankish Gaul—when all the legal consequences of diversity of origin between Barbarians and Romans, conquerors and subjects, disappear. The law ceases to be personal, and becomes local; the German codes and the Roman code itself are replaced by custom; it is the territory and not the descent which distinguishes the inhabitant of the Gallic soil; finally, instead of national distinctions, one mixed population appears, to which the historian is able henceforward to give the name of French. This new form of society, the offspring of the preceding one, detached itself forcibly from it by its form and spirit; its character was a tendency to endless subdivision in its political relations, and to simplification in its social relations. On the one side, the seigniories, states formed in the bosom of the State, were multiplied; on the other, there was an attempt, unintermitting and in some sort systematic, to reduce all the ranks to two classes: the first, free, idle, altogether military, having the right of government, administration, and justice over their fiefs, whether large or small; the second, bound to obedience and labour, subject with more or less rigour, short of slavery, to the restraints of dependence on an individual. If human affairs always reached the point marked out for them by logical inference, every trace of civil life would have become extinct by the invasion of a system which had for its type demesnial servitude. But that system, originated in the rural districts under the influence of German customs, encountered in the cities, where the tradition of the Roman customs still obscurely lingered, a degree of insuperable repugnance, and a power which at a later period by its own reaction burst out into revolutions.
The long social crisis, which was terminated by the introduction of feudality, changed, in all the affairs of civil and political government, precarious enjoyment into permanent possession; revenues of an estate into property; delegated power into personal prerogative; life interest into hereditary right. It was the case with dignities and offices, as well as with possessions of every kind; and the rule which applied to the tenure of the noble held good at the same time with that of the serf. According to the original and very judicious remark of an able critic of the ancient documents of our history, “The serf maintained against his master the same struggle that was maintained by the vassal against his seigneur, and by the seigneurs against the king.” However great might be the difference of position and power there was among those various parties, one and the same attempt followed by similar success.
In the eighth century, the serfs of the soil could be dispersed arbitrarily over the domain, transferred from one portion of land to another, united in the same domicile (case), or separated from one another, at the convenience of the master, without regard to the ties of relationship, if it existed between them. Two centuries later we find them all domiciled by families; their cabin, and the ground contiguous to it, had become an inheritance. That inheritance, burdened with a quit-rent and the duty of service, could be neither bequeathed nor sold; and the family of the serf was restricted by law to marry only in families of the same condition who were attached to the same domain. The rights of mainmorte and of formariage were reserved to the lord as a guarantee to counterbalance the right of property permitted to the serf. Detestable as they appear to us, they had not only their legal ground, but also their usefulness in favour of future progress. It was under their influence that the isolation of the servile condition ceased in the rural districts, replaced by the spirit of domestic life and association; and that, under the shadow of the baronial castle, agricultural bodies were formed which were destined to be the base of great civil communities.
In reading with attention the charters and other documents of history, we are able to trace from the commencement of the ninth century to the end of the tenth the successive results of the prescriptive right in the soil in the hands of those who cultivated it; we observe the right of the serf springing up on his plot of ground, then extending itself and becoming more determined in each succeeding generation. To this change, which gradually ameliorates the condition of the labourers and rural artisans, is added at the same period the acceleration of the tendency which for three centuries had been changing the face of the country districts by the formation of new villages, the enlargement of old ones, and the building of parochial churches—the centres of new circonscriptions at once political and ecclesiastical. External, and entirely casual circumstances contributed to this progress: the devastations of the Normans, and the fear which they inspired, caused the inhabited parts of the large domains to be inclosed with walls of defence. On the one hand, castles were multiplied, on the other, the number of fortified towns was increased.
The labouring and dependent population crowded into these places of safety, whose inhabitants then passed from that which is properly called rural life to the commencement, as yet more or less unpolished, of the urban life. The purely demesnial system was changed by the mixture of certain elements having the character of public institutions. For the purposes of police, and judgment of petty offences, the villagers themselves served as assistants and assessors to the intendant; and this officer, who was taken from among them and was one of their own class, became a kind of municipal magistrate. In this way the first elements of social life in these small infant societies sprung from the right of property, joined to the spirit of association; the instinct of prosperity, always alive, soon led them to advance further. From the commencement of the eleventh century, the inhabitants of the towns and boroughs—the villains, as they were then called—were no longer satisfied with their condition as dependent proprietors, they aspired to something more; a new want—that of ridding themselves of burdensome obligations, of enfranchising their land, and, together with that, the persons on it—opened before them a new career of labours and struggles.
Among the opinions which formed at that period what may be considered the source from which the social ideas were drawn, there existed, with regard to the liberty of the noble, which was entirely a matter of privilege, derived from conquest and German usages, the idea of another kind of liberty, conformable to natural right, within the reach of all, equal to all, to which may be applied, after its origin, the name of Roman freedom. Though the name might be out of use, the thing itself—that is to say, the civil state of the persons inhabiting the ancient municipal cities—had not yet perished. However much threatened it had been by the continually-increasing pressure of the feudal institutions, it was still found in those cities, more or less untouched, and together with it, as a sign of its durability, the old name of citizen. From hence the cities of recent foundation took the example of the municipal community, its regulations and its practices; and thither the ambition of men escaped from servitude, and, seeing themselves arrived halfway towards freedom, turned for encouragement and hope.
What, then, was the power and nature of the municipal government in the Gallo-Frankish cities in the tenth century? The solution of this problem is one of the fundamental objects of our history; but it cannot be given at present with accuracy and completeness. One point is beyond doubt, namely, that at this period the urban population joined to its immemorial civil liberty an internal administration, which, since the Roman times and from different causes, had undergone great changes. These modifications, which were very various, and, so to speak, capricious in their forms, had everywhere produced in the main similar results. The hereditary and aristocratic government of the curie had been changed by a series of progressive alterations into an elective and, in different degrees, a popular government. The jurisdiction of the municipal officers much exceeded its ancient limits; it had considerably enlarged its authority in civil and criminal matters. There no longer existed of its own right an intermediate corporation between the college of the magistrates, and the entire body of the citizens; all the powers of administration were uniformly derived from public delegation, and their duration was reduced in general to the term of one year. Lastly, in consequence of the great influence which the dignitaries of the Church possessed from the Roman period over the internal affairs of the cities, the Defenseur, the chief magistrate, had fallen into dependence on the bishop; he became in his estimation a subordinate officer, or had disappeared before him—a change effected without trouble by the mere popularity of the episcopate; and the natural tendency of this change was to constitute a kind of municipal autocracy, to the detriment of civil and political liberty.
A certain confusion crept imperceptibly into the ideas entertained upon the source of urban authority and jurisdiction, and it was no longer distinctly seen from whom they emanated, whether from the people or the bishop. A silent struggle commenced from that time between the two principles of a free municipality and of an episcopal preponderance; then stepped in feudality, and lent all its influence to this last principle. It gave a new form to the temporal power of the bishops; it applied the institutions and all the privileges of the demesnial seigniory to the civic patronage, now degenerated into a quasi-sovereignty. The government of the towns, in spite of its origin, was gradually modelled on the system of the courts and the castles. The leading citizens became hereditary vassals of the cathedral church, and in that character they oppressed the municipality, or usurped all its powers. The companies of professions and trades, unduly burdened with dues and compulsory service, fell into a state of dependence almost servile. In this way the condition imposed upon the industrial classes on the domains of the rich, and in the new towns which had not been enfranchised by a positive concession, tended by the very course of circumstances to become universal, and to be imposed upon the inhabitants, hitherto free, of the ancient municipal cities.
There were some cities where an undivided and permanent supremacy of the bishop as seigneur was established; there were others in which the feudal government was twofold, and was divided between the ecclesiastical power and that of the officer of the king, count or viscount. In the cities, which were the theatre, more or less stormy, of this rivalry, the bishop, perceiving the necessity of a political alliance, separated himself less from the free municipality, or threw himself back upon it. He lent it his support against the encroachments of the lay powers—he became the guardian of the elective principle; and this co-operation, if it did not arrest the progress of the decay of the municipal power, became at a later period a means of civil reaction and constitutional reform. The tenth and following centuries mark the lowest degree of degradation and oppression in the urban population; it was, if not the most unfortunate class, certainly the one which could endure with least resignation its new social condition, for it had never yet been either slave or serf: it had hereditary liberties, and the pride which such recollections give. The destruction of these institutions, which was in no part complete, did not take place without resistance; and when the documents of our history are sifted to the bottom, there may be found in them, prior to the twelfth century, the traces of a civic struggle against the feudal powers. It was during this period of troubles and of a return to a sort of barbarism that the fusion into one class and one spirit was effected between the native and the German portion of the inhabitants of the Gallic cities, and that a common law was formed between them, founded on municipal customs, composed in different proportions, according to the territorial zones, of the elements of Roman tradition, and of the remains of the ancient barbarian codes.
This crisis in the condition of the urban society—that living remnant of the Roman world—was not confined to Gaul; it took place in Italy, under far better auspices for the cities of that country, which were larger, richer, and situated nearer together. It was there that, during the latter half of the eleventh century, favoured by the quarrel between the priesthood and the empire, the revolutionary movement broke out, which, by degrees or by a reaction, revived under new shapes and with a fresh degree of energy the spirit of municipal independence. On the foundation of their ancient Roman institutions, more or less altered, the cities of Tuscany and Lombardy constructed a model of political organization, in which the greatest possible development of civil liberty was joined to an absolute right of jurisdiction, to the military powers, to all the prerogatives of the feudal seigniories. They created magistrates, who were at once judges, governors, and generals; they held meetings, exercising for the time sovereign authority, in which peace and war were decided upon. Their elective rulers took the name of Consuls.
The movement which matured and spread these republican constitutions was not long in penetrating into Gaul across the Alps, and along the sea-coast. From the commencement of the twelfth century, the new form of municipal government, the consulate, is seen making its appearance successively in the cities which had the most intimate commercial relations with those of Italy, or the closest affinity with them in manners, material condition—in all the circumstances, in short, of civil and political life. From the principal cities where it was established, either by actual force or by mutual agreement between the citizens and the seigneur, the consular constitution extended by degrees to the cities of less importance. That kind of propagandism embraced in the South the third part of France as it now exists; while within a different zone in the north and the centre of the country, the same impulse of the popular mind, the same social causes, produced entirely different effects.
At the opposite extremity of the country, at the points which could not be reached by Italian influence, a second form of constitution, as recent and energetic, but less complete than the other, the commune jurée, arose spontaneously by the application to the municipal government of a species of association, the use of which was derived from German customs. This form of free municipality, adapted to the social state, to the degree of civilization, and to the mixed traditions of northern Gaul, spread itself from north to south, at the same time that the consular form of government spread from south to north. On both sides, in spite of the difference of their proceedings and results, there was the same spirit—the spirit of action, of civic devotion, and creative inspiration. The two grand forms of municipal constitution—the commune, properly so called, and the city governed by consuls—held equally as a principle the right of insurrection, more or less violent, more or less restrained; and, as an end, the equality of rights, and the rehabilitation of labour. By the one or the other the existence of the urban state was not only restored, but renewed: the cities obtained the guarantee of a twofold state of liberty; they became personnes juridiques according to the ancient civil law, and personnes juridiques according to the feudal law—that is to say, they had not merely the power of controlling the interests of the neighbourhood, that of possession and alienation, but they obtained the same right of sovereignty within the circuit of their walls as the seigneurs exercised on their domains.
The two streams of municipal revolution, which advanced towards one another, did not meet at first. There existed between them an intermediate zone, where the shock made itself felt without going so far as a complete reform, as a constitutional renovation. In the central parts of Gaul, some ancient municipal cities of importance freed themselves from the seigneurial yoke by successive efforts, which secured to them a government more or less free, more or less democratic, but which had nothing of the character either of the commune jurée of the north, or of the consulate of the southern cities. Some reproduced, in the number of their elective magistrates, combinations analogous to those which were presented by the system of the Gallo-Roman curies; others aimed at an uniform method in their constitution, the government of four persons chosen each year by the majority of the citizens, and exercising the administrative and judicial power either alone or with the assistance of a certain number of notables. In this arrangement were found the guarantees of civil and political liberty; but although these cities, less bold in point of innovation, might have succeeded in freeing the principle of popular election from its trammels, their municipal independence remained in many respects feeble and undecided; the energy and glory belonged to the new constitutions, to the consular government, and the commune jurée, the highest expression of the liberal instincts of the period.
This complete revolution, by which some ancient cities remained uninfluenced, penetrated under one or other of these two forms into many cities whose foundation was subsequent to the time of the Romans. Sometimes, indeed, when the city was situated close to an important borough which had sprung up under its walls, it came to pass that it was in the borough alone and not in the city that either the consulate or the government of the commune jurée was established. Then, as always, the spirit of renovation blew where it listed; its course seemed well ordered in some points, and in others capricious: here it met with unexpected encouragements, there it was arrested by unlooked-for obstacles. The chances were various, and the success unequal, in this great struggle of the bourgeois against the seigneurs; and not only was the amount of guarantees seized by force or obtained by good will not the same everywhere, but even in cities under the same political forms there were different degrees of liberty and independence. It may be said that the series of the municipal revolutions of the twelfth century offers something analogous to the movement which in our own times has spread the constitutional system through so many countries. Imitation played a considerable part in it; war and peace, menace and concession, interest and generosity, bore their part in the final event. Some at the first outbreak obtained their object, others almost within reach of it found themselves carried back; there were great victories and great failures, and frequently the most noble efforts, and a will ardent and devoted, displayed themselves without success, or terminated in nothing of importance.
Above the almost infinite variety of changes which were effected during the twelfth century in the government of the cities, whether great or small, ancient or modern, there floats, if I may use the expression, one particular idea, the idea of reducing under the public government of the city all that had fallen by abuse, or continued from custom, under the private government of the domain. This suggestive idea could not be confined within the limits of a municipal revolution; it contained the germ of a series of revolutions destined to overthrow feudal society from top to bottom, and to efface even its least vestiges. We here reach the source of the social state of modern times; it is in the enfranchised, or rather regenerated cities, that the first manifestations of its character appear under a great variety of forms, more or less free, more or less complete. Institutions were there developed and preserved in an isolated form, which were one day destined to be no longer local, but to be recognised by the political and civil law of the country. By the charters of the communes, the charters of customs, and the municipal statutes, the written law resumes its supremacy; the administration, whose exercise had been lost, springs into vigour again in the cities; and its experiences of every kind, which are daily repeated in a multitude of different places, serve as an example and lesson to the State. The bourgeoisie, a new nation, whose usages are civil equality and unfettered industry, raises itself up between the nobility and serfdom, and for ever destroys the social duality of the early feudal times. Its innovating instincts, its activity, the capital which it accumulates, are forces which react in a thousand ways against the power of the possessors of the soil; and, as in the beginnings of all civilization, the movement recommences with the urban life.
The action of the cities upon the rural districts is one of the great social facts of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries; municipal liberty, in all its stages, flowed down from one to the other, either by the influence of example and the contagion of ideas, or by the effect of a political patronage or a territorial incorporation. Not only did the populous towns aspire to the immunities and privileges of the fortified cities, but, in some places in the north, the new urban constitution, the commune jurée, was applied for good or evil, to single villages, or to the associated inhabitants of many villages. The principles of natural right which, joined to the recollections of the ancient civil liberty, had inspired the bourgeois classes with the conception of their great revolution, descended into the agricultural classes, and there gained double force from their anguish of heart, the hardships of their serfdom, and the detestation of their territorial dependence. Having up to this time entertained scarcely a hope beyond that of being discharged from the most onerous services, the peasants, man after man, family after family, now raised themselves to the ideas and the desires of another rank; they began to demand their enfranchisement by whole seigniories and districts, and to league themselves together to obtain it. That cry, appealing to the instinctive consciousness of original equality, We are men as well as they, resounded through the hamlets, and rang in the ears of the seigneurs, enlightening while it menaced them. Traits both of blind fury and touching moderation marked this new crisis in the condition of the country people: a multitude of serfs, deserting their holdings, abandoned themselves in gangs to a life of vagrancy and pillage; others, calm and determined, bargained for their liberty, offering to give in return for it, say the charters, whatever price might be set upon it. The fear of dangerous resistance, the spirit of justice and interest, induced the masters of the soil to treat by pecuniary transactions for their rights of every description and their immemorial power. But these concessions, however large they might be, could not produce a complete, a general change. The obstacles were immense. The whole system of the landed property had to be destroyed and replaced. There was not in this instance the speedy and sympathetic action of revolution like that which favoured the revival of the municipal cities; the work was long, it required for its accomplishment a period of no less than six centuries.
Summary: Revival of the Royal Authority—New Judicial Institutions—Civil Law of the Bourgeoisie—Revival of the Roman Law—The King’s Court or the Parliament—Political Doctrines of the Civilians—Their Revolutionary Action—States-General of the Kingdom—Accession of the Tiers Etat—Its Principles, its Ambition—States-General of 1355 and 1356—Etienne Marcel, Prévôt des Marchands of Paris—His Character, his Designs—The Jacquerie—Fall and Death of Etienne Marcel—Royalty under Charles V.—Point at which our social History takes a regular Course.
Municipal cities restored, cities under the government of the consulate, of the commune, or simply of the citizens, towns and villages enfranchised, a multitude of small states, more or less complete, asylums opened to shelter the life of industry under the protection of political, or perhaps of only civil liberty—such were the foundations that were laid in the twelfth century for an order of things which, developing itself up to our times, has grown into the form of modern society. These elements of social renovation did not possess within themselves the means of mutual alliance, or of subduing the adverse influences which surrounded them; the power which had created them was only able to preserve them more or less intact in their original isolation. It was necessary that a power, at once external and superior, should come to their assistance by openly attacking that territorial aristocracy, which had borrowed its last form from the conquest and usages of the Germans.
After the feudal dismemberment, Royalty looked round in vain for its proper position. German by origin, but taking its shape in Gaul, and imbued with imperial traditions, it had never forgotten its Roman principle—equality before itself and before the law. That principle vainly asserted by the Merovingians against the insuperable pride of the Frankish conquerors received its final rebuff at the decline of the second race. At that time two ideas, which are, as it were, the poles of all really civil society, the idea of the prince and that of the people, disappeared; and, under the name of State, there appeared nothing more than a hierarchy of local sovereigns, each master of a part or parcel of the national territory. The revival of an urban society re-opened the ways of civilization preserved by tradition, and prepared everything for the renovation of political society. The King of France found in the cities—reconstituted in municipal form, what the citizen renders to the State, but what the barons would not or could not render—a real submission, regular subsidies, a militia capable of discipline. It was by this assistance that, before the end of the twelfth century, the Crown, overstepping the limits within which the feudal system had restricted it, made of its supreme seigneurial powers, till then almost inert, an authority active and militant, for the defence of the weak and the maintenance of the public peace.
I do not mean to assert that the revival of the royal authority was caused solely and immediately by the revolution which gave rise to the communes. These two important events were produced independently of one another, from tradition rendered fruitful by propitious circumstances; they encountered, and simultaneously influenced each other. Their coincidence was marked by a kind of impulse towards all that constitutes public prosperity; the resumption of improvement in the state of the material objects of life speedily accompanied the accession of a new class of freemen. In the twelfth century, a clearance of forests and wastes, unheard of till then, was effected. The ancient cities grew into importance, new cities arose and were peopled by families escaped from serfdom; it was then, lastly, that the movement commenced towards a territorial re-adjustment, which was destined to restore royalty to its power, and to conduct it one day to unity.
In the following century appear the judicial and legislative reforms; they break in upon the feudal law, and inaugurate a new civil law which passed from the sphere of the municipalities into the high sphere of the State. Originating in the charters of the communes, and in the customs drawn up for the cities or the boroughs, this law of the bourgeoisie, opposed to that of the nobles, was distinguished from it by its very essence. It had for its basis natural equity, and regulated according to its principles the condition of individuals, the constitution of the family, and the transmission of hereditary property. It established the division of paternal or maternal property, real or personal, between all the children, the equality of brothers and sisters, and, in the case of married persons, the common right in property acquired during marriage. Thus we find, under a rude form, and marked on the one hand with the stamp of semi-barbarous customs, on the other with a more decided tinge of Christian influences, the same spirit of justice and reason which had once traced the grand features of Roman law.
The social revolution was also accompanied and maintained in its development by a scientific revolution, by the revival of the study of the Roman laws, and other monuments of that ancient and admirable jurisprudence. The impulse was here also given by Italy, where the public teaching of the law never ceased during the whole course of the Middle Ages, and maintained an obscure existence at Ravenna before it reflourished at Bologna. From the twelfth century, numerous students, in their travels passing the Alps, carried into France the new doctrine of the commentators on the civil law; and that law was soon professed concurrently with the canon law in many cities of the South, and also at Angers and Orleans. It became raison écrite in that portion of the country whose customs had preserved but a small part of the Roman law; it became droit écrit in those where the Roman law, intermixed and not uprooted by contact with the laws of the Barbarians, had passed into their usages and still existed in the form of the law of custom. The maxims and rules drawn from the imperial codes by minds ardent and anxious for truth and justice found their way from the schools into practice; and, under their influence, a whole class of civilians and politicians, the head and soul of the bourgeoisie, sprung up, and commenced in the upper courts the struggle of the common law and equity against custom, privileges of class, and actions illegal and unjust.
The King’s Court or the Parliament, the supreme tribunal and council of State, became, by the introduction of these new men, the focus of the most active spirit of reform. There, proclaimed and applied day after day, the theory of the imperial power, of the public authority, one and absolute, equal towards all, the sole source of justice and law, reappeared. The civilians following the letter, if not the tradition, upwards even to the Roman times, placed themselves in idea at that point, and thence contemplated the civil and political order of their own times. In looking at the influence which they exercised upon the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, we might say that they had gathered from their studies this conviction, that in the then existing state of society only two things were lawful, the crown and the bourgeoisie. We might even say that they anticipated the historical destiny of these two institutions, and that, in putting the seal of law upon them, they marked beforehand the two points to which everything was to be brought back. It is certainly the fact that the civilians of the Middle Ages—judges, counsellors, officers of the crown—have for six centuries prepared the way of future revolutions. Impelled by their professional instincts, by that spirit of bold logic which follows up from inference to inference the application of a principle, they commenced, without measuring its extent, that immense task to which, after them, the labour of succeeding centuries applied itself—to re-unite in one single hand the sovereignty which had been parcelled out, to lower all that was above them to the classes of the bourgeoisie, and to raise to their level all that was below.
That war of equity against existing law, of ideas against facts, which breaks out at intervals in human societies, has always two periods of a very dissimilar character: the first, when the reforming spirit prescribes to itself limits, and modifies itself of its own accord by the sense of equity; the second, when it is hurried on and dashes to pieces without control every object which opposes it. Two famous reigns which, following so close together, form one of the most remarkable contrasts that history can present, the reigns of Louis IX. and Philippe le Bel, correspond to these two successive periods in the politico-judicial reform with which the administrative era of the French monarchy commenced.
This revolution, begun with so much mildness and caution by the king, at once a saint and a great man, appeared in the hands of his grandson harsh, violent, arbitrary, and even iniquitous. From the manner in which the measures, whose ultimate object was an order of things better and fairer for all, were pursued, it had not the power, in spite of its spirit and its tendency, to excite the affections of the people: no burst of hope and joy accompanied it in its progress—there was no uproar, no scenes of popular enthusiasm—all was coldly worked out in a secret laboratory; it was the labour of the miner who pursues his work in silence till the hour when the assault is made. Never, perhaps, was there a social crisis of an aspect more gloomy than that: for the privileged classes there was spoliation and retribution; for the masses, all the burden of a rude attempt at administrative government, having more of cunning than of power, maintaining itself by expedients and extortions, costing much and giving nothing. Only above that disorder, pregnant with ruin and suffering, but the cradle of future order, a voice was heard from time to time, the voice of an absolute king, who in the name of the law of nature proclaimed the right of liberty to all, and in the name of the law of God rebuked the institution of serfdom.
The civilians of the fourteenth century, the founders and ministers of the royal aristocracy, met with the fate common to great revolutionists: the bolder of them perished under the reaction of those interests which they had injured, and the customs whose course they had impeded. More than once Royalty flinched in its new career, and was forced backwards by the resistance of the powers and privileges of feudality. But in spite of these inevitable relapses, and of the concessions made under feeble reigns, two things continued to increase without check, the number of free men under the denomination of bourgeoisie and the movement which led this class to place itself under the immediate protection and justice of the king. A revolution, less striking and less spontaneous than the communal revolution, subsequently adopted, as its substructure, the results of the latter; and, by slow but uninterrupted efforts, succeeded in making of a multitude of small and separate states one single society, connected with one sole centre of jurisdiction and government.
In the first place, it was laid down as a principle that no commune could be established without the consent of the king; next, that the king alone had power to create communes; next, that all the cities, communal or consulate, were ipso facto under his immediate seigniory. When this last point was gained, Royalty made a step in advance; it assumed the right of creating bourgeois through all the kingdom, on the domains of others as well as its own. By a strange fiction, the privilege of the bourgeois, a right essentially belonging to property, attached to the dwelling and conferred by the occupation of it, became a kind of personal privilege. The bourgeois could change his jurisdiction without changing his residence—declare himself a freeman and citizen without quitting the seigneurial soil; and, as the ancient acts express themselves, disavow his own lord and avow himself the bourgeois of the king. In this way the enrolment into the corporation of the inhabitants of a privileged city ceased to be the only mode of obtaining the full enjoyment of civil rights. The privilege was no longer merely local, but became personal; and, by the side of the bourgeoisie of the cities and the communes, it imperceptibly created a new class of free commoners (roturiers), to whom might be given by way of distinction the denomination of citizens of the kingdom.
All these circumstances resulted from a new social principle, from a right subversive of existing rights; and none of them was established without a protest and a struggle. It was not so with the famous institution which made the bourgeoisie a political order, represented by its deputies in the great assemblies of the kingdom. These assemblies, the tradition of which had passed from German customs into the system of the feudal monarchy, were composed of deputies elected respectively by the nobility and clergy, and forming either one common body or two separate chambers. From the time that a third order of men, with the full enjoyment of freedom and property, was formed by the revival of the municipal towns, and the enfranchisement of the boroughs, this order, although inferior to the two others, shared in its own sphere the political rights of the ancient orders; it was summoned to give counsel in important matters, and to deliberate upon the imposition of fresh taxes.
The cities, by their privileges, which they had acquired by open force, or which were conceded to them by good will, were become, like the castles, an integral part of the feudal hierarchy, and feudality recognised in all its members the right of free consent in the grant of taxes and subsidies. It was one of the old usages, and the best principle of that system. The urban population enjoyed this privilege without the necessity of claiming it, and without its being disputed by any party. The convocation of the representatives of his bonnes villes by the king took place in an isolated manner, on rare and special occasions only; and the circumstance, however novel it might be, did not appear at the time worthy of interest. The formulas of certain royal charters are the sole witness which remains of them before the reign of Philippe le Bel, and we must descend as low as that reign in order to see it assume a striking position, and take its place among the great facts of our national history.
The increase of expenses and the wants of royalty, which made it necessary to call fresh means of administration into existence, in the midst of which the fourteenth century commenced, must have naturally led to more frequent and regular summonses of the representatives of the cities and communes. Some important events which occurred in the first year of the century gave an unusual solemnity and the character of a national representation to convocations, which were up to that time partial, and which took place one after the other without attracting much attention. The court of Rome, in violation of the regulations and treaties which limited its power in France, claimed a right of temporal supremacy over the affairs of the kingdom. On this point an open struggle commenced between Pope Boniface VIII. and Philippe le Bel: the Pope summoned a general council; and the King a general assembly of deputies of the three States—the clergy, nobility, and bourgeoisie of the cities. Those of the north sent their échevins, those of the south their consuls, and the voice of the commons was listened to as of the same right as that of the barons and dignitaries of the Church. “From you,” said the representatives of the bourgeoisie, in their address to the King, “from you, Sire, our most honoured Prince, Philip, by the grace of God, King of France, the people of your kingdom beg and request, so far as belongs to them, that provision be made to enable you to preserve the sovereign independence of your kingdom, which is such that you could not recognise in your temporal character any sovereign on earth except God.” This vow of independence in behalf of the crown and country nobly marks the first appearance of a political spirit in the commonalty beyond the circle of their interests and their municipal rights; it became afterwards one of the fundamental maxims which, originating from the popular instinct and transmitted from generation to generation, formed what we may call the tradition of the Tiers Etat.
This name of Tiers Etat, when used in its ordinary sense, properly comprises only the population of the privileged cities, but in effect it extends much beyond this; it includes not only the cities, but the villages and hamlets—not only the free commonalty, but all those for whom civil liberty is a privilege still to come. However restricted, too, by its exclusively municipal character, the representation of the third order might be, it had always the merit of believing itself charged with the duty of pleading, not the cause of this or that section, of this or that class of the people, but that of the mass, as distinguished from the nobles, that of the people without distinction of freemen or serfs, of citizens or peasants. It must, however, be admitted that the bourgeoisie itself did not at first attach much value to the right of being consulted, like the two first orders, upon the general affairs of the kingdom. This right, which it scarcely ever exercised without some kind of inconvenience, was a subject of suspicion, because every convocation of the States naturally terminated with some new demands of the treasury. Its part was subordinate and undefined in the States-General, which succeeded those of 1302, under Philippe le Bel and his successors, up to the end of the fourteenth century, and which were generally convoked on the occurrence of wars, or of a new reign. But in the reign of John, the public distress and the unusual amount of national calamity caused an outburst of feeling and ambition in the communes of France which made them attempt projects unheard of up to that time, and lay hold of all at once and for a moment that preponderance of the Tiers Etat which could not be established beyond danger of relapse till after five centuries of efforts and progress.
The two centuries which had passed since the revival of the municipal liberties had given to the rich bourgeois of the cities the experience of political life, and had taught them to know and desire all that constitutes a well-regulated society, either within the circle of the city walls or over a wider extent. As regarded the cities and communes, whatever might be the form of their government, order, regularity, economy, care of the general weal formed not only a principle, a maxim, a tendency, but a fact of every day’s experience, guaranteed by institutions of every kind, in the management of which each functionary or responsible person was constantly overlooked and controlled. Without doubt the representatives of the bourgeoisie in the first States-General, when summoned to vote subsidies, and to see how they were dispensed, were forcibly struck with the contrast there exhibited between the royal administration with its rash measures, its crafty expedients, its old or fresh abuses, and the urban administration, following its immemorial laws, scrupulous, upright, just, whether of its own accord or in spite of itself. Among those men of clear and active intelligence, the most enlightened would naturally conceive the idea of introducing into the centre of the State the system which they had seen practised under their own eyes, which they had practised themselves in accordance with the local tradition and the example of their predecessors. This idea, timidly expressed at first in the presence of royalty, which did not pay attention to it, and of the privileged bodies which did not look beyond themselves for counsel, was openly declared when extraordinary necessities, brought on by war from without and by ruin from within, compelled the king and his ministers to look for assistance at any sacrifice, and showed clearly their own inability to remedy the public misfortunes.
From this position of circumstances arose the spirit of reform which burst forth so suddenly and energetically in the States-General of 1355. The resolutions of that assembly, which immediately received the force of law by a royal ordinance, contain, and in some points even exceed, the modern guarantees of which the system of constitutional monarchy consists. We there see the authority divided between the king and the three estates representing the nation, and represented themselves by a commission of nine members; the power of adjourning to a stated time vested in the assembly itself; taxes assessed on all classes of persons, and reaching to the king himself; the right of collecting the taxes, and the control of the financial administration given to the states acting by their deputies at Paris and in the provinces; the establishment of a national militia by an injunction issued to each to arm himself according to his condition; lastly, the prohibition to remove any case whatever from the ordinary court of justice into another jurisdiction, the abolition of seizure or compulsory requisition for the royal service, and the suppression of monopolies carried on under the name of middle-men (tierces personnes) by the officers of the king or of the seigneurs. Here we perceive, as it were, the breath of municipal democracy, something more methodical and more enlarged in point of liberty than the aristocratic opposition of the nobility and clergy. The initiative of the Tiers Etat prevailed, by the force of good sense and administrative experience, in those deliberations which, as far as outward appearance is concerned, were common to the three orders. The same thing took place with much more serious consequences in the States-General of 1356—a fatal year, when, in consequence of a battle imprudently hazarded, the king was made prisoner, the greater part of the nobles killed or taken prisoners in the confusion of flight, the forces of the kingdom annihilated, the government dissolved in the midst of foreign war, intestine discords, and general irritation of feeling.
The disaster of Poitiers excited in the minds of the people a sentiment of national grief, mixed with indignation and scorn at the nobility who had fled before an army so inferior in number. Those nobles who passed through the cities and towns on their return from the battle were pursued with imprecations and outrages. The Parisian bourgeoisie, animated with enthusiasm and courage, took upon itself at all risks the charge of its own defence; whilst the eldest son of the king, a youth of only nineteen, who had been one of the first to fly, assumed the government as lieutenant of his father. It was at the summons of this prince that the states assembled again at Paris before the time which they had appointed. The same deputies returned to the number of 800, of whom 400 were of the bourgeoisie; and the work of reform, rudely sketched in the preceding session, was resumed under the same influence, with an enthusiasm which partook of the character of revolutionary impulse. The assembly commenced by concentrating its action in a committee of twenty-four members, deliberating, as far as appears, without distinction of orders; it then intimated its resolutions under the form of petitions, which were as follow: The authority of the states declared supreme in all affairs of administration and finance, the impeachment of all the counsellors of the king, the dismissal in a body of the officers of justice, and the creation of a council of reformers taken from the three orders; lastly, the prohibition to conclude any truce without the assent of the three states, and the right on their part to re-assemble at their own will without a royal summons.
The lieutenant of the king, Charles Duke of Normandy, exerted in vain the resources of a precocious ability to escape these imperious demands: he was compelled to yield everything. The States governed in his name; but dissension, springing from the mutual jealousy of the different orders, was soon introduced into their body. The preponderating influence of the bourgeois appeared intolerable to the nobles, who, in consequence, deserted the assembly and retired home. The deputies of the clergy remained longer at their posts, but they also withdrew at last; and, under the name of the States-General, none remained but the representatives of the cities, alone charged with all the responsibilities of the reform and the affairs of the kingdom. Bowing to a necessity of central action, they submitted of their own accord to the deputation of Paris; and soon, by the tendency of circumstances, and in consequence of the hostile attitude of the Regent, the question of supremacy of the states became a Parisian question, subject to the chances of a popular émeute and the guardianship of the municipal power.
At this point appears a man whose character has grown into historical importance in our days from our greater facilities of understanding it, Etienne Marcel, prévôt des marchands—that is to say, mayor of the municipality of Paris. This échevin of the fourteenth century, by a remarkable anticipation, designed and attempted things which seem to belong only to recent revolutions. Social unity, and administrative uniformity; political rights, co-extensive and equal with civil rights; the principle of public authority transferred from the crown to the nation; the States-General changed, under the influence of the third order, into a national representation; the will of the people admitted as sovereign in the presence of the depositary of the royal power; the influence of Paris over the provinces, as the head of opinion and centre of the general movement; the democratic dictatorship, and the influence of terror exercised in the name of the common weal; new colours assumed and carried as a sign of patriotic union and symbol of reform; the transference of royalty itself from one branch of the family to the other, with a view to the cause of reform and the interest of the people —such were the circumstances and the scenes which have given to our own as well as the preceding century their political character. It is strange to find the whole of it comprised in the three years over which the name of the Prévôt Marcel predominates. His short and stormy career was, as it were, a premature attempt at the grand designs of Providence, and the mirror of the bloody changes of fortune through which those designs were destined to advance to their accomplishment under the impulse of human passions. Marcel lived and died for an idea—that of hastening on, by the force of the masses, the work of gradual equalisation commenced by the kings themselves; but it was his misfortune and his crime to be unrelenting in carrying out his convictions. To the impetuosity of a tribune who did not shrink even from murder he added the talent of organization; he left in the grand city, which he had ruled with a stern and absolute sway, powerful institutions, noble works, and a name which two centuries afterwards his descendants bore with pride as a title of nobility.
While the bourgeoisie, formed under the influences of municipal liberty, raised itself by a sudden but transient enthusiasm to the spirit of national liberty, and in some measure anticipated the future, a strange and hideous spectacle was exhibited by the demiservile population of the villages and hamlets. We mean the Jacquerie; its dreadful excesses, and its no less dreadful repression. In those days of crisis and agitation, the general vibration of society affected the peasantry, and encountered among them the passions of hatred and vengeance which had been accumulated and bayed back during centuries of oppression and misery. The cry of the French populace, “The nobles dishonour and betray the kingdom,” became a signal for the extermination of those of gentle birth in the cottages of Beauvoisis. Peasants armed with clubs and knives rose and marched in bands, increasing as they advanced, attacking the castles with sword and flame, murdering all they found in them—men, women, and children; and, like the barbarians of the great invasion, unable to give an account of the objects which they sought, or the motive which instigated them. This savage force, master of all the flat country between the Oise and Seine, was organized under a leader, who offered his alliance to the cities which were agitated by the spirit of reform. Beauvais, Senlis, Amiens, Paris, and Meaux, accepted it, either as assistance, or as a diversion in their favour. In spite of the acts of barbarity committed by the rebel peasants, almost everywhere the urban population, and principally the poor, sympathised with them. Rich citizens, men of political character, were seen mixing with them, directing them, and restraining their thirst for blood, till the day when they disappeared, slain by thousands in their conflicts with the armed nobles, decimated by executions, or dispersed by terror.
The destruction of the Jacques was followed almost immediately by the failure of the revolution of the bourgeoisie in Paris itself. Those two movements, different as they were, of the two great classes of the commonalty, terminated simultaneously—one to revive and carry all before it when its time should come; the other to leave nothing behind it but an odious name, and sad recollections. The attempt of Etienne Marcel and his party to found a democratic monarchy on the confederation of the cities in the north and centre of France failed, because Paris, feebly supported, was left alone to maintain a twofold struggle against all the forces of the crown joined to those of the nobles, as well as against the popular dejection. The leader of that daring attempt was slain at the moment when he was pushing it to extremities, and setting up a king of the bourgeoisie in the face of the legitimate monarch. With him perished the persons who had represented the city in the council of the states, as well as those who had ruled as chiefs or ringleaders of the municipal council. The Tiers Etat, displaced from the dominant position which it had prematurely won, resumed its ordinary part of patient industry, less pretentious ambition, and slow but uninterrupted progress.
Nevertheless, all was not lost in that first and unfortunate trial. The Prince, who struggled two years against the Parisian bourgeoisie, borrowed something of its political tendencies, and learnt a lesson in the school of those whom he had conquered. He annulled what the States-General had decreed, and constrained him to do for the reform of abuses; but the violence of that reaction lasted but a few days, and Charles V., as King, undertook of his own accord a part of the task which, as Regent, he had been forced to execute. His government was arbitrary but regular, economical, imbued with the spirit of order, and, above all, with the spirit of nationality. Trained early to patience and statecraft in a position of peril and difficulty, he had none of the eager and chivalrous impetuosity of his predecessors, but a calculating and practical mind. In him royalty presents a new character, which separates it from the Middle Ages and connects it with modern times. He was the first of those kings who appeared as the redressers of wrong after a period of danger, devoted to business, placing consideration before action, able and persevering—princes eminently politic, whose type re-appeared more strikingly under different aspects in Louis XI. and Henry IV.
We have reached a point where our social history, disengaged from its origin and complete in its elements, unfolds itself in a simple and regular form, like a river which, rising from many sources, collects its waters as it advances into one single mass, contained within the same banks. At this point the powers, whose action, simultaneous or divergent, has constituted up to our times the drama of political revolutions, display themselves in their definitive character. Royalty is seen advancing uninterruptedly along the way, pointed out by the traditions of imperial Rome, favouring the spirit of civilisation, but opposed to the spirit of liberty, innovating with reluctance, and with the jealous anxiety of superintending everything itself; the nobility preserving and cherishing their inheritance of German usages softened down by Christianity, opposing to the dogma of an absolute monarchy that of a seigneurial sovereignty, fostered by a feeling of pride and honour, prescribing to itself the duty of courage, and believing that political rights belonged to itself alone—egotistical in its independence, and haughty in its self-sacrifices—at once turbulent and without occupation, despising labour, little inquisitive about science, but contributing to the general progress by its appreciation, continually increasing in keenness, of the refinements of luxury, of the elegance and the delights of the arts; lastly, the bourgeoisie—i. e., the middle class of the nation, and upper class of the Tiers Etat—continually increased in numbers by the accession of the inferior classes, and continually approaching the nobility by the exercise of public duties, and the value of their real property; attached to royalty as the source of reforms and social changes, ready to seize all the means of raising itself, all the offices, advantages of every kind, whether collectively or individually; devoted to the cultivation of the intellect in its vigorous and important applications; resigned habitually to await with patience a better state of things, but capable at intervals of a desire for immediate action, and of a revolutionary outbreak.
Such is the state of society; with regard to its institutions, royalty, in its unlimited prerogative, regains and embraces them all, except one only, the States-General, whose power, ill-defined, a shadow of the national sovereignty, makes its appearance at seasons of crisis, to condemn present evil and to pave the way to future good. From 1355 to 1789, the States, although rarely assembled, although without regular influence on the government, played a considerable part as an organ of public opinion. The cahiers of the three orders were the source from which the great ordinances and the great measures of administration flowed; and in this general influence of the States the third bore its special part. The commonalty had its principles, which it never lost an opportunity of proclaiming with an indefatigable perseverance—principles which had their origin in the good sense of the people, in conformity with the spirit of the Gospel and the spirit of the Roman law. The reformation of the laws and customs by the infusion of civil liberty and equality, the overthrow of all the barriers raised by privilege, the extension of the common law to all classes—such was the perpetual plea, and, if we may use the expression, the voice of the Tiers Etat. We can follow this voice speaking more loudly from age to age in proportion as time advances and progress is accomplished. It is this which during five centuries has stirred the great currents of opinion. The initiative which the Tiers Etat took in conceiving and projecting reforms is the fact, which is most intimately connected with the social movement, of which we have lived to see, if not the final close, at least a glorious and decisive phase—a movement continued under remarkable vicissitudes, whose progress resembles that of the rising tide, which seems to advance and recede without interruption, but which still gains ground and reaches its destined point.
Summary Northern and Southern France—Twofold Spirit and Tendency of the Tiers Etat—Part Taken by the Parisian Bourgeoisie—Results of the Reign of Charles V.—Question of Regular Taxation—Revolt of the Maillotins—Abolition of the free Municipality of Paris—Its Re-establishment—Demagoguism of the Cabochiens—Alliance of the Echevinage and the University—Demand for a great Administrative Reform—Ordinance of May 25, 1413—State of the Peasantry, the Rural Communes—Popular Patriotism—Jeanne d’Arc—Reign of Charles VII—His Bourgeois Counsellors—Reign of Louis XI—His Character.
The States-General on which I have been remarking up to this point did not form the whole representation of the kingdom; there was one for north and central France, the country of the langue d’Oil and the droit coutumier, and one for south France, the country of the langue d’Oc and the droit écrit. Although they were simultaneously convened by the same authority, and were in both cases general, these assemblies did not play the same political part, and history cannot assign them a place of equal importance. The north and south of France were not in the same social position during the Middle Ages; the south was more advanced in civilisation, more flourishing, and under a less arbitrary system of government. There the impress of Rome was more distinctly retained both in the language and manners of the people; there the municipal spirit, maintained by the number and wealth of the cities, preserved both its power and character more efficiently. The administrative reforms, the work of royalty, took place in the north, and only reached the south by a reaction. It was the same with the currents of public opinion which sprang in northern France (la France coutumière) from the conflict between the rival or hostile classes and the great bodies of the State. There was always on one side or the other a sort of discordance in their feelings and their actions; and the trace of this is still to be observed even in the midst of our modern unity. Thence arises the necessity of contracting the scene of this history, which ought to be both uniform and simple in order to be clear, of omitting some facts important in themselves, but which have no ulterior consequence, and of passing over the country where a greater degree of liberty reigns, together with a law of greater equity, and a less marked inequality of conditions and individuals, to dwell on that in which the social confusion is excessive, but in which the foundations of future order are laid, and the facts which mark the succession of our civil and political progress occur.
The Tiers Etat drew its strength and spirit from two different sources, the one complex and municipal—namely, the commercial classes; the other simple and central—namely, the class of the judicial and financial officers of the crown, whose number and power rapidly increased, and who, with rare exceptions, all sprang from the commonalty. To this twofold origin corresponded two classes of political ideas and sentiments. The spirit of the bourgeoisie, properly so called, or urban corporations, was liberalin principle, but narrow and stationary in practice, attached to its local immunities, to its hereditary rights, to the independent and privileged existence of the municipal cities and communes. The spirit of the judicial and administrative bodies admitted only one right, that of the Government; only one liberty, that of the Prince; only one interest, that of order under one absolute guardianship; and their reasoning did not regard the privileges of the commonalty with more favour than those of the nobility. Thence arose in the Tiers Etat of France two divergent tendencies, always at war, but always corresponding to the same final object, which, alternately modifying each other, and combining under the influence of new ideas of a loftier and more generous kind, have given to our revolutions since the thirteenth century their character of a slow but always certain course towards civic equality, national unity, and unity of government. Another fact in our history as ancient and not less characteristic is the particular part taken by the bourgeoisie of Paris. Paris was the chief centre of commerce and important scientific institutions; it was there that intellectual activity displayed itself on a larger scale than in any other city of the kingdom. Public spirit there assumed a form at once municipal and general. We have seen the people of Paris taking the lead in aggressive opinion during the democratic attempts of 1357; we shall find it doing the same at every period of social crisis, under Charles VI., at the time of the League, and in our modern revolutions, giving the impulse at once to progress and disorder so fatally mixed together.
I resume the thread of my narrative at the reign of Charles V. That prince recovered one by one the dismembered portions of the kingdom; he rendered France more powerful abroad, and more civilised at home; he expended much in the accomplishment of great undertakings, and still found the means of raising larger supplies of money than his predecessors, without having recourse to the States-General or exciting resistance: all remained quiet so long as his hand was there to conciliate and regulate everything. He established under the name of ordinary aids permanent taxes, thus violating at one blow both the feudal and the municipal liberties. He did this with decision, but not, there is reason to believe, without scruples; and on his death-bed he regarded it with regret. It was in reality a grave and deplorable fact: Royalty found itself for the first time in opposition to the bourgeoisie; the new monarchical order was divided against itself by the imposition of regular taxation—a vital question which it was necessary to solve, and which, on the accession of Charles VI., a minor, could not be done in one way or another.
The sensation produced by the report of the repentant expressions attributed to the late King did not permit the further collection of the general subsidies by authority, nor indeed a hope of their concession by the assembly of the three orders. The guardians of the young King attempted, as a middle course, convocations of the notables and conferences with the échevinage of Paris; but no result was obtained save an increase of popular excitement and threats of an émeute, on occasion of which the échevinage took some important measures of arming for the maintenance of public order and the defence of the liberties of the city. This attitude of the Parisian bourgeoisie seemed so formidable a circumstance to the princes in power that they made an ordinance abolishing in perpetuity the taxes which had been established, under any denomination whatever, since the time of Philippe le Bel. It then became necessary for them to carry on the government with the revenues of the royal domains alone; and shortly after being at a loss for resources, they timidly decided upon imposing a tax upon merchandise of every kind. This was the signal for an armed rebellion. The lower classes and the youth of Paris, forcing the arsenal of the city, provided themselves with sledge-hammers, which they found there in great quantity, and rushed upon the farmers of the tax, the collectors and royal officers, massacring the one, and forcing the other to flight. The example of Paris was imitated with more or less violence in the principal cities of the central and northern provinces.
This spirit of resistance on the part of the French bourgeoisie was encouraged by some external occurrences, by the example of Ghent, which city, at the head of a party formed in the communes of Flanders, was in armed opposition against the sovereign of the country in the name of the municipal liberties. There existed between the bourgeoisie of Paris and the Flemish insurgents not only sympathy, but correspondence by letters, with a promise of mutual efforts in behalf of a common cause, in which were comprised the defence of local privileges against the central power, and the hostility of the commonalty against the nobility. This position of the question re-united in one common interest royalty and the barons, little disposed as they were to come to an understanding upon the raising of taxes without a previous demand and concession. A great blow was struck in Flanders by the intervention of a French army and of Charles VI. in person. That victorious campaign, which had the appearance and the effect of a triumph on the part of the nobility over the commonalty, monalty, became in turn the cause of a succession of violent measures against the cities guilty of rebellion, in which the vengeance of power was mixed with an aristocratic reaction.
The royal army entered Paris as a conquered city, breaking down the barriers, and passing over the gates torn from their hinges. The same day three hundred persons, the élite of the bourgeoisie, were arrested and cast into prison; and on the morrow the immemorial liberties of the city, its échevinage, its jurisdiction, and its militia, the independent existence of its corporations of arts and trades, were abolished by an ordinance of the King. There were numerous executions, and, among others, that of a rich merchant who, as a young man, had played a prominent part in the émeutes of 1358; an act of clemency followed for the rest of the prisoners, commuting the criminal into a civil punishment, which subjected the upper class of the Parisian bourgeoisie to fines which almost amounted to the confiscation of their property. Rouen, Amiens, Troyes, Orléans, Reims, Châlons, and Sens were punished in the same manner by the suppression of their municipal rights, by executions, proscriptions, and ruinous exactions. The money thus raised amounted to immense sums; but the princes and the courtiers helped themselves so freely to the spoil that not a third part found its way into the royal treasury.
Twenty-nine years elapsed, during which the imbecility of the King, the quarrels of the princes, the civil war, and, soon after, the foreign invasion, were added to the confusion of a Government without order, and to ruin of every kind. The reaction of 1383 had wounded the bourgeoisie far more deeply than that of 1359. The last mentioned had merely struck a blow at their political ambition; the other had impoverished, dispersed, deprived it of its glory and hereditary influence. The city of Paris, among others, found itself depressed in two ways—by the loss of its municipal immunities, and by the ruin of the families who had governed and directed it with their counsels in the times of its liberty. This degradation of the upper class, composed of the high mercantile body and the lawyers of the supreme courts, had given a step to the intermediate class, consisting of the wealthier among those who exercised manual professions—a class less enlightened and less refined in manners, to which the force of circumstances now gave the influential power over the affairs and feelings of the city. Thence sprung that character of unrestrained demagoguism which the Parisian population exhibited when, having recovered its liberties and its privileges in the year 1412, it was summoned afresh by the course of events to act a political part.
The Duke of Burgundy, one of the princes who were striving by force of arms to obtain the guardianship and power of the imbecile King, had allied himself, in order to increase his forces, with the bourgeoisie and declared himself the protector of the popular interests. This policy was successful; he became master of the State, and the re-establishment of the old free constitution of Paris was his work. Restored after a suspension of more than a quarter of a century, the municipal elections returned an échevinage and a city council almost entirely formed of tradesmen, in which, from their popularity joined to their wealth, the master butchers of the great market, and of that of St. Geneviève, gained the ascendancy. These men, whose profession had been handed down from father to son from time immemorial, and whose shambles were a sort of fiefs, had collected around them an hereditary set of dependents called flayers, écorcheurs—a degraded and violent body, entirely devoted to its patrons, and formidable to everyone who did not happen to belong to their party in the new Government. This Government possessed the affection of the common people, and became an object of alarm to the commercial class of the bourgeoisie and to all that still remained of families distinguished by an ancient respectability. It united the violence of the demagogues to the passions of the party which was called the Burgundian; and the authority, supporting itself by émeutes, soon passed from the city council to the multitude, from the master butchers to the écorcheurs. One among them, Simon Caboche, was the man of action of that second period of revolution to which his name remains attached, and in which the spirit of reform shown in 1357 re-appeared a moment to be immediately compromised by the brutal and degraded actions of the faction on which it relied.
We are here struck by a circumstance which is not without example in our recent revolutions—a political alliance between the literary class, the men of speculative minds, and that portion of the Tiers Etat which was at once ignorant and influenced by brutal passions. In the municipality of Paris, in 1413, Jean de Troyes, a celebrated physician, a man of eloquence and learning, sat side by side with the butchers Saint-Yon and Legoix in perfect agreement of opinions. Soon after the learned body par excellence, the university, assumed authority by means of an assembly of notables, needlessly convoked, to raise its voice, to make remonstrances, and to demand in its own name and in that of the corporation of the city the redress of abuses, and reform of the kingdom. With the notion, as far as appears, of associating all the powers of the Tiers Etat in behalf of that great attempt, it invited the Parliament to unite with itself and the citizens of Paris, in order to obtain justice and reform. The Parliament refused—the hour of ambition had not yet come for that body; and, besides, it did not choose to commit itself with theorists who were without experience of affairs, and with democrats of the crossways. “It is not becoming,” it replied, “for a court, established for the administration of justice in the king’s name, to make itself a complaining party to demand it. . . . The university and the corporation of the city will take good care to do nothing which it ought not.” The échevinage, however, and the university did not recede; the latter demanded that a day should be appointed when the princes and the King himself might hear its remonstrances, and, in the midst of a numerous concourse of the burgesses of Paris and the provinces, it spoke by the mouth of its professors in the name of the people—denounced their wrongs, and proposed the remedies, as though it had been constituted a political power, and the grand council of the nation.
The court was divided, and the King incapable of understanding or deciding anything; the Prince, who then governed in his name, thought that he should manage the people to his own purposes, and was in reality managed by them. Their demand was granted; and the two bodies which comported themselves as if they were the representatives of the public opinion, the university and the city, were authorised to present a plan of administrative and judicial reform. Commissioners, whose names are unknown, set themselves to the work, and obtained permission to have all the ancient ordinances preserved in the archives delivered to them for examination. They made them the foundation of their work of purification and reorganisation; but while they were engaged in this labour, a warm opposition was announced on the part of those who surrounded the Queen and the heir to the throne. A plot was hatched against the security of the city, and the popular indignation was excited to the highest degree. There was a tumultuous rising in arms; and the bastille of Saint-Antoine, that citadel of royalty in Paris, commenced by Charles V., and razed to the ground under Louis XVI., was besieged by the people as on the 14th of July, 1789.
The émeute was suspended by a capitulation; but some fresh symptoms of hostile intentions on the part of the court soon led to renewed insurrections of the Cabochien party. Formidable mobs, whose leaders and orators were Jean de Troyes the physician, and Eustache de Pavilly, doctor in theology, at one time invaded the King’s palace, at another the Hôtel of the Dauphin, and followed up their political harangues by acts of personal violence, and arrests of nobles and even of ladies who were odious to the people. At length, on the 25th of May, 1413, the resolutions of the new reformers, reduced, like those of the States in 1356, to the form of a royal ordinance, were read before the King on his throne in Parliament, and declared obligatory and inviolable.
This ordinance, which contains no less than two hundred and fifty-eight articles, is a complete code of administration, establishing a hierarchy of elective functionaries, laying down rules for conduct of affairs and responsibility, limiting the offices both in number and power, and promising to subjects of all classes guarantees against injustice, oppression, and the abuse both of power and law. There are contained in it a vast enumeration of prescriptions of every kind, in which two ideas seem to prevail—the centralisation of the judicial and that of the financial government; all terminates, on the one part, in the Chamber of Accounts, and, on the other, in the Parliament. Election is the principle of the officers of judicature—no appointment is allowed to be purchased; the lieutenants of the prévôts, the baillis, and the sénéchaux are to be elected by the lawyers and advocates of the district. In the nomination of a prévôt, men of experience and other notables are to name three candidates, one of whom is to be elected by the chancellor, assisted by commissioners of the Parliament. In the case of the prévôté of Paris and the other superior offices, the Parliament is appointed to name persons to fill them by ballot without the formality of a canvass; and to choose in the same manner its own members, but is not allowed to take many from the same family. The prévôts, baillis, and sénéchaux must not be natives of the province in which they are to exercise their office; they are not allowed to acquire property in it, nor to contract marriages in it themselves or for their daughters. The jurisdiction of forests and waters, frequently attended with tyranny to the rural districts, is curtailed in its extent, and subjected to an appeal to Parliament. It is enacted that the rural usages be everywhere respected; that the peasants may arm themselves to pursue robbers; that they have the right of hunting wolves, of destroying the new warrens made by the seigneurs, and of refusing to pay them any duty established without authority.
The peculiar character of this important ordinance, which distinguishes it from that of the 3rd of March, 1357, is that it makes no innovation except the election to the judicial offices; it leaves intact the royal power, and confines itself to trace out certain administrative regulations. The experience of the preceding century had borne its fruits; the temper of the Parisian bourgeoisie, in spite of its new fit of revolutionary passion, was in reality more settled down and moderated. Under that anarchical domination of the municipality, itself domineered over by a faction of brutal and violent persons, sober thoughts of the common weal, till then suppressed, now found their way through the midst of the disorder, and were, perhaps, produced by it. According to a remark applicable to other periods of revolution, “The violent have demanded and dictated, the moderate have written.”
The very persons who presided over these excesses, or who abetted them by their assent, were not destitute of civic virtues; their hearts were capable of sentiments of patriotism which, from their expression, we should be led to believe modern. The municipal corporation of Paris, writing to other cities, and giving them an account of its proceedings, said, “The present object is to take care that the state of public affairs in this kingdom be not overturned and destroyed while it is on the road . . . for which purpose, in a time of necessity like the present, everyone ought to interest himself, and to set pity for his country above every other feeling, whether for parents, brothers, or any others, for this comprises all.” These were noble words, worthy of announcing the grand charter of reform, the common work of the civic corporation and the university. But while men could be found capable of conceiving this administrative law of ancient France, there were none to execute and maintain it. Persons of mature wisdom and versed in public matters had at that time neither will nor political energy. They held themselves aloof, and the work remained in the hands of the visionary and turbulent—of the butchers and their allies. By intolerable excesses these persons hastened on a reaction which led to their fall, their banishment, and the abandonment of the reforms which had been obtained with so much labour: three months after its promulgation the ordinance of the 25th of May was annulled.
In this way some of the Tiers Etat, encouraged by a revolutionary crisis to invest themselves with a constituent power, entertained at the commencement of the fifteenth century the idea of remoulding at one cast the administration of the kingdom, and to give it fixed principles, a reasonable foundation, and uniform action. If the plan which they drew up was never tried, it has yet remained as a monument of political wisdom, in which appears in a striking manner the kind of lasting bond which tied together all the classes of the commonalty in one and the same cause. The commissioners delegated by the city and university of Paris did that which the deputies of the entire body of the bourgeoisie had done in the States-General; they devoted their attention to the population of the rural districts, they took measures in its behalf which show at once their sympathy for it, and the improvement which had taken place in its condition since the end of the twelfth century.
Since that period, indeed, the collective enfranchisement of the peasantry by whole villages and seigniories had continually increased in frequency and extent. A kind of rivalry on this point was manifested between the proprietors of serfs, of which the motive was twofold: on the one hand, the sense of natural right joined to Christian feeling, on the other, a more enlightened knowledge of personal interest advised the same course; and the style of the documents sometimes presented the strange union of these two motives of action. Among the villages enfranchised by multitudes during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, many took new names expressive of their state of civil liberty, and all or almost all of them obtained a form of municipal government in greater or less completeness. That government, in its application to the rural districts, propagated among them the name of commune, which served to distinguish it in the cities of the centre and the north of France; and from this circumstance arose that tendency to a change in the meaning of the word which made it lose its first sense, which was so restricted and forcible. However large had been the multiplication of the rural communes during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, it did not introduce among the agricultural classes that unity of civil government which the bourgeoisie enjoyed from one end of the kingdom to the other; the condition of the peasants, the result of transactions of every kind on the rights of property or person, remained unequal according to localities, and was infinitely diversified.
Yet, however, this mass of enfranchised serfs, still attached to the domain by some bond, or at least entirely subjected to the jurisdiction of the seigneur—this population, though it did not immediately gain relief from the power asserted by the people, could already be reckoned among the active forces of the nation; it was as a body of reserve, imbued with the spirit of patriotism, and capable of a spontaneous outburst of vigour, and devotion. This was seen when the defeat of Agincourt, more fatal than that of Poitiers, had brought a series of reverses on France, when the nobility, the bourgeoisie, and royalty itself were reduced step by step to the degradation of a treaty, which bequeathed the crown and delivered up the country to a foreign prince. Paris, in a moment of weakness and panic, had opened its gates and fêted the triumph of the English; the kingdom was subdued as far as the Loire, where Orléans, the last bulwark of the yet unconquered provinces, maintained a desperate struggle with the invading army, which seemed to be the last breath of the national energy. We know what almost miraculous assistance then sprang up for that city and for the kingdom, the appearance of Jeanne d’Arc; what she accomplished; and how, through her and her example, an emotion of commiseration and indignation, the love of their common country, the determination of a general union, and of suffering everything for its salvation, sprang from the lowest ranks up to the superior classes of the nation.
A reign succeeds the long and difficult toil of the national deliverance, in which the principal counsellors were bourgeois; and the grandson of Charles V. resumed and developed those traditions of order, regularity, and unity which the wise government of his grandfather had created. Charles VII. himself, weak and indolent by nature, yet occupies an important place in our history, not so much for what he did of himself, as for what was done in his name; his merit was to admit the influence and to follow the direction of minds inspired with the highest degree of courage and judgment. Talents and intellects of the first order were placed at his disposal, and toiled for him, in times of war with all the powers of genius warmed by patriotism, in peace with all the enlightenment of public opinion. It is a fact, already remarked and well worthy of being so, that that opinion had for its representatives, as the King for his Ministers, men sprung from the middle classes of the then existing state of society, the inferior nobility and the higher bourgeoisie. The plebeian names of Jacques Cœur and Jean Bureau stand pre-eminent above all the rest; the one was well qualified to perform the duties of a statesman by his experience in commerce, the other resigned the profession of the law to become, without previous preparation, a great master of artillery, and the first to make an effective and methodical use of a still recent instrument of war.
The spirit of reform and improvement which, in 1413, had burst forth for a moment, but had established nothing in consequence of the extreme views of the party which was its organ, re-appeared, and formed upon an entirely new plan the whole government of the kingdom, the finances, the army, the administration of justice and the general police. The ordinances passed upon these different points had now their full effect; and were characterised, not like the preceding ones by a vagueness which betrayed confusion of ideas, but by something precise, clear, and authoritative, the sign of a practical ability, and of a will self-confident, because possessing the power. The question of permanent taxation, and taxes imposed without the concession of the states, then made a decisive step; after some alternatives necessity settled it; and on these terms the kingdom for the first time became possessed of a standing army. The militia of the cities, hitherto organised, independently of and without the agency of royalty, was now fused into a royal and at the same time national army. The privileged class of the Tiers Etat experienced a diminution of its political rights; but the form of modern monarchy, of that government which was destined for the future to be at once single and free, was discovered. Its fundamental institutions already had existence; the task henceforward was to maintain, extend, and root it in the habits of the people.
The reign of Charles VII. was a period of national impulse; all that it produced of great and new emanated, not from the personal action of the King, but from a kind of popular inspiration, from which arose the movement, the conceptions, and the design in all affairs at that period. Such moments are always grand in the history of a people, but their nature is to last but a short time; the common effort does not support itself, fatigue and disunion supervene, and the reaction soon commences. The same powers which had established the new system of government were not able to preserve them intact; they were collective, and, as such, too much subject to change; the work of numbers required, in order that it might be saved from ruin, to be committed to the hands of an individual. That individual, that personality, jealous, active, self-willed, was found in Louis XI. If any personages of history seem marked by the seal of Providence to perform a mission, the son of Charles VII. was one of them; he seems to have acted as king under a conviction of a duty superior, in his case, to all the duties of humanity—of an object to which he was obliged to advance without interruption, without having had time to choose his way. He who had raised the standard of opposition in concert with the aristocratic interests against his father, made himself the guardian and abettor of all that was odious to the aristocracy. He applied all the energies of his existence, all that he had of intellect and passion, of virtue and vice, to this purpose. His reign was a daily struggle for the cause of unity of power, and the cause of social equality—a struggle carried on after the manner of savages by cunning and cruelty, without courtesy and without mercy. Thence arises the mixture of interest and repugnance which is excited in our minds by a character so strangely original. The despot Louis XI. does not belong to the class of egotistical tyrants, but to that of merciless innovators; before our revolutions it was impossible to understand him. The condemnation which he deserves, and with which he will remain charged, is the ignominy which the human conscience throws on the memory of those who have thought that all means are justifiable by which they can bend circumstances to the yoke of their own ideas.
This King, who affected to be one of the people by his tone, dress, and manners, who conversed familiarly with all sorts of persons, and wished to know, see, and do everything by himself, has some points of character which are only to be observed in the same degree in democratic dictatorships. The spirit of the commonalty appeared in him even at the height of his power; he had a kind of presentiment of our modern civilisation; he divined all its tendencies, and aspired towards it without troubling himself about the possibility—without asking himself if the time were come. In the judgment, therefore, which is formed of him, we must consider at the same time what he accomplished, and what he wished to accomplish—both his works and his designs. He meditated the establishment throughout his kingdom of unity of customs, weights, and measures; on this point, as well as upon others, he proposed to imitate the admirable civil systems of the Italian republics.
Industry, confined to the corporations which had given it new birth after the revival of the cities, was altogether municipal; he endeavoured to make it national. He summoned merchants to his council of state, to advise with them upon the means of extending and encouraging commerce; he opened new markets, and promoted the undertaking of fresh manufactures; he paid attention to roads, canals, maritime commerce, the working of mines; he attracted by privileges contractors of works and foreign artisans, and simultaneously kept up a standing army four times as numerous as in days past; he built fleets, extended and fortified the frontiers, and carried the power of the kingdom to a point hitherto unheard of. But these germs of prosperity could only bear fruit in the future; the present was dark and gloomy; the taxes increased beyond measure; the prince who sowed for the people, and identified himself with them, was unpopular. He caused much suffering and experienced much himself in his life of labour, policy, fears, expedients, and continual anxiety. The bourgeoisie, whose municipal privileges were the only ancient thing which he spared, was faithful to him, but without affection. His large views, his thoughts for the commonweal, the changes which he meditated, affected only a small number of those who heard them from his own mouth, and were capable of judging of them. The mind of the age perceived nothing of these things, but, by way of retaliation, it has caught to the life in Louis XI. the portrait of the outer man—that sarcastic and sinister figure which tradition preserves, and still imposes upon history.
Summary: States-General of 1484—Demand of Guarantees evaded; Progress under the Arbitrary Government—Commencement of the Wars in Italy—Revival of Letters and Arts—Political Part of the Parliament of Paris—Reign of Louis XII.; Public Prosperity—Ordinance of 1499—Compilation and Reformation of Customs—Reigns of Francis I. and Henry II.; Continuation of Progress in every Department—Magnificence of Buildings—Taste for Art among the Nobility—Offices held by the Tiers Etat—The Class of Lawyers—Ambition of the Bourgeois Families; Great Number of Students—The Class of Capitalists called Financiers.
In the life of nations, however salutary at intervals the despotism of a superior mind may be, it is seldom that its influence, if prolonged, does not lead those who are subjected to it to experience an extreme fatigue which makes them glad to find relief in the government of ordinary minds, or even in the risks of political liberty. The death of Louis XI. seemed like a general deliverance, and was followed by the convocation of the States-General. It was on the 5th of January, 1484, that the assembly met, to which was committed by general consent the power of absolute judgment upon the work of the last reign, of condemning or justifying its acts, of doing and undoing what it had undertaken. Never at any session of the three estates had the conditions of a real national representation been so completely fulfilled; all the provinces of the kingdom, the north (langue d’Oil) and the south (langue d’Oc), were united in the same convocation; the election of the three orders was made at the chief place in each bailliage, and the peasants themselves had taken their share in it; lastly, in the assembly of the states the deliberation was conducted, not by each order apart, but by majority, in six chambers corresponding to as many territorial regions. Never, moreover, since the assembly of 1356, had the question of the power of the states been so clearly stated and so boldly discussed. There were flashes of political independence and eloquence; but all evaporated in words which had no effect, or nearly none, against admitted facts. There was a strong disposition in some way to efface the reign of Louis XI., and bring back affairs to the point at which they had been left at the death of Charles VII. The impulse in favour of a centralised administration, one and absolute, was too strong; and from these discussions, full of life and interest in the journal in which they are preserved to us, there resulted in reality only some modification, some promises and hopes which were soon falsified.
Among the speeches delivered in that assembly, there is one which cannot be read at the present day without astonishment, for it contains propositions such as the following:—“Royalty is an office, not an inheritance.—It was the sovereign people who originally created kings.—The government is the business of the people; the sovereignty does not belong to the princes, who only exist by the will of the people.—Those who hold the power by force, or in any other manner, without the consent of the people, are usurpers of another’s property.—In case of the minority or the incapacity of the prince, the public property returns to the people, who resume it as their own.—The people consist of the whole body of the inhabitants of the kingdom; the States-General are the depositories of the common will.—An act does not receive the power of law except by the sanction of the states, nothing is binding or settled without their consent.” These maxims, from which our modern revolutions were to spring, were then proclaimed, not by a representative of the plebeian classes, but by a nobleman, the Sire de la Roche, deputy of the nobility of Burgundy; they were nothing in his view but the traditions of his order, rendered generous by an elevated intellect, and by a certain knowledge of Greek and Roman history. But the traditions of the Tiers Etat did not speak to them in a language which could lead them to a similar creed of political faith; it was still too near its sources, too much bound to its old beaten track. It paid no attention to principles, which three centuries later became its weapon in the great revolutionary struggle, and only interested itself in the redress of material wrongs, and the question of permanent and arbitrary taxes. It was on this point alone that the deputies of the commonalty maintained the right of the States-General, whose liberty and sovereignty in every respect were laid down by others.
The political movement of 1357 was no longer possible in 1484; it had taken as its principle the spirit of municipal liberty in its highest degree of action. The dream of Etienne Marcel and his party was a confederation of sovereign cities having Paris at their head, and governing the country by means of a diet under the king as suzerain. But this old spirit of the French bourgeoisie had gradually disappeared to make way for another less desirous of local rights and personal independence than of public order and national vitality. In the states of 1484 the chamber in which the deputies of Paris voted was the first to make concessions, which obliged the assembly to raise the amount of the money which it had agreed to grant. In every respect the representatives of the bourgeoisie, as far as we are able to distinguish their share in the resolutions voted by a majority of the whole body, and not by the three orders separately, devoted themselves to matters which were purely practical and of present interest. We do not observe them, like the échevinage and university of Paris in 1413, present a new system of government; the reign of Louis XI. had left nothing important or feasible of that kind. Nothing remained but to glean after him, or to ease the springs of government which he had strained at all points, to demand the execution of his designs which were still incomplete, and the remedy of evils which he had occasioned by the impetuosity and the extravagances of his absolute will. The principal articles of the chapter of the Tiers Etat in the general cahier of the three orders were—the diminution of the taxes and the reduction of the royal troops, the suppression of the poll tax as arbitrary, the resumption of alienated portions of the royal domain, the vigorous execution of the acts guaranteeing the liberties of the Gallican Church, and the compilation of the customs, which would be a first step towards the unity of law.
The assembly of 1484 took care not to vote any subsidy except under the name of a free grant and a concession. It demanded the convocation of the States-General within a period of two years, and did not separate till after it had obtained the promise. But the fourteen years of the reign of Charles VIII. passed away without even a second convocation of the states, and the taxes were collected afresh by an ordinance, and dispensed without control. To judge of this by the zeal of the three orders to render their consent necessary, and by the picture which their cahiers traced out of the misery of the people oppressed by the burden of the taxes, were a great delusion; all seemed to say that the absolute monarchy was leading the country to its ruin, and yet it was not so. The country remained under the arbitrary government; it had to bear fresh abuses, often enormous, of this government; it suffered without doubt; but, far from sinking, its vital powers were increased by a progress silent and imperceptible. In the sufferings of nations there are some fruitful as well as barren; the distinction between them escapes the observation of the generations which undergo them; it is the mystery of Providence, which does not reveal itself till the day appointed for the accomplishments of its designs. It was a singular circumstance that, at the very time when the public voice had just proclaimed with bitterness the approaching exhaustion of the kingdom, by a caprice of foolish heroism on the part of Charles VIII., the invasion of Italy, the most distant expedition that France had ever yet made, was determined upon. The expenses of the armaments alone were more than were required for the whole reign of Louis XI. A long peace seemed to be the only means of salvation; and yet the era of important wars opened upon the nation without a crisis at home and with honour abroad.
In the twelfth century the revival of the municipal institutions had been the result of a revolution effected in Italy; the revival of the Roman law in the thirteenth century was brought to us from the Italian schools; at the end of the fifteenth century another event, initiated in Italy, the revival of letters, took place among us—by means, however, of deplorable events, of fifty years’ war on the other side of the Alps. Once opened by our arms and by intestine feuds to foreign occupation, the country which preserved and fostered the traditions of Roman genius for the world became the field of battle and the prey of the European monarchies. It lost the stormy independence which had formed its life, and henceforward declined without rallying in the midst of the progress of modern civilisation.
France had the misfortune to strike the first blows which caused that mighty ruin; but, once brought into contact, although under circumstances of violence, with the free states and principalities of Italy, she imbibed in those relations, hostile or friendly, a new spirit—a worship of the master-works of antiquity, and a passion to renew all their ideas and all their arts by her own study of them. At the same time that a wider and more secure way was opened to the national genius by that intellectual revolution, a fellowship of mind, also, was in some sort established among men of superior intelligence, whom the separation of ranks and classes had hitherto kept at a distance from one another; a certain equality instilled by a literary education lessened more and more the traditional difference of feeling and manners. In this way the introduction of a public opinion was prepared by degrees, and cherished throughout the nation by all the new acquisitions of knowledge and intellect. This opinion, which seized upon everything, and changed everything after a century, dates, for those who wish to mark its origin, from the time, when a common stock of purely secular ideas, of studies springing from a source different from that of the schools of the Middle Ages, began to form itself above the native tradition, prejudices of caste, government and faith.
In spite of the doctrines which had resounded from the tribune in 1484—the sovereignty of the people, the will of the people, the right of possession in the people over the public property—no change was made in the character of the States-General; they continued to be, as they were before, a last resource in time of danger, not a regular and permanent institution. We might say that it was the destiny, the instinct of the French nation not seriously to desire political freedom so long as equality was impossible. It was from the breaking down of class government, and the reuniting everything to itself by the Tiers Etat, that the first attempt at a true representative constitution was destined to emanate anong us. The States-General under Charles VIII. had demanded that their right of interference should be declared permanent, and their session periodical. Between this demand and the inauguration of the government by assemblies, more than three centuries elapsed; in this interval an important fact, peculiar to our history, occurs, the political part of the Parliament of Paris. It was from the midst of the corporation of bourgeois legists, who, being invested with the judicial authority, had established absolute power for the king and the common law for the nation, that there arose in the sixteenth century a constant, enlightened, and courageous control over the acts of the Government.
Some simple formalities without apparent consequence, the custom of promulgating the royal edicts in the court of Parliament, and of having them inscribed on the register of which the court had the custody, opened to that body of the judicature the road which led it to mix itself in the affairs of the State. Following the legal forms, from which the Parliament never departed under any circumstances, the enrolment of each new law took place by means of a decree; but as no decree was made without previous deliberation, there gradually resulted from this circumstance the right of examination, criticism, amendment, protest, and even veto by the refusal to register. At the period which our history has reached, this claim to a share of the legislative government was not openly proclaimed, but it was brooding, if I may use such an expression, under appearances of an absolute submission to the royal will, and of a firm resolve not to venture beyond the circle of its judicial duties. The reign of Louis XII. saw the commencement of a twofold change, which turned the high court of justice into a sort of mediatorial power between the throne and the nation, and the ancient opponents of all resistance to the authority of the prince into the advocates of public opinion, and the magistrates into citizens using their personal independence for the sake of all, and sometimes displaying virtues and characters worthy of the best days of antiquity.
Louis XII. was a prince of a happy nature, appearing in one of those happy moments when it is easy to govern. The fifteen years which had elapsed since the termination of the reign of Louis XI. had sufficed to form the choice of the good and the ill in the consequences of that reign; the national suffering had effected its own cure, and on every side burst forth the signs of progress and prosperity. The cultivation of the rural districts was improved and extended, new quarters were built in the cities, and houses of greater convenience and magnificence rose on all sides. The competency of the middle classes discovered itself more than ever in dress, furniture, and expensive amusements. The number of merchants were multiplied in a manner that excited the astonishment of those times, and foreign traffic increased in extent and success; the price of all articles was raised, landed property produced more, and the collection of the taxes was made without compulsion, and at little expense. It is, perhaps, at this period that we must place, in the series of our national advancements in wealth and prosperity, an acceleration intermediate between that which had called forth the municipal revolution three centuries before, and that prevailing impulse which was given three centuries afterwards by the constitutional revolution of the kingdom. To this point, moreover, corresponds the first step towards the fusion of the various classes in one general order, which embraces and protects them all, upon a territory henceforward united and compact, and under an administration already regular and tending to become uniform.
It seems that Louis XII. must have had a strong desire to abolish all the wrongs denounced by the states in 1484; this is proved by the most important legislative act of his reign, the ordinance of March, 1499. We there perceive, in connexion with the regulation of all matters of justice, the intention of satisfying the complaints which still remained unnoticed, and of performing the promises which had been imperfectly fulfilled. The principle of election for the offices of the judicature, a principle precious in the opinion of the bourgeoisie, which had been loudly maintained by the reformers of 1413, is there seen accompanied by guarantees against that abuse—the venality of appointments. The government of Louis XII. was, above all, economical and regardful of the interests of the poor; it proposed generously, but perhaps imprudently, to diminish the taxes, at the same time that it undertook the continuance of the war. This King, with his chivalrous spirit, was the idol of the bourgeoisie; he entertained great regard for it, without affecting any resemblance whatever to it in his own person. The only political assembly held in his reign was a council of bourgeois, in which the nobility and clergy figured merely as an ornament of the throne; the deputies of the cities and of the judicial body, the only parties expressly convoked, were the only ones who voted; and it is in this congress of the Tiers Etat that the title of “Father of his people,” which history has preserved for him, was awarded to Louis XII. by the mouth of a representative of Paris.
There is glory in such a name; but another glory of this reign was to establish the predominance of the legislation over custom, and to mark, within the sphere of the civil law, the end of the Middle Ages, and the commencement of the modern era. The project of digesting all the customs prevalent in France, and of publishing them, revised and sanctioned by the royal authority, had been conceived and announced by Charles VII.; by Louis XI. they were made the basis of his plans for the unity of the national law, but nothing was done towards its execution by that King. Charles VIII. decreed afresh what his grandfather had wished to do; but it was Louis XII. on whom the honour devolved of having not only commenced, but also far advanced the execution of this important undertaking. From 1505 to 1515, the year of the King’s death, twenty customs observed in districts or cities of importance were received, examined, and published, with definitive sanction. This labour of digesting, and at the same time reforming the ancient common law, has for its prevailing characteristic the preponderance of the Tiers Etat, of its spirit and its habits, in the new legislation. A learned jurist has made this remark upon it, and quotes as a proof the changes which took place with respect to the marriages between nobles, in the disposal of the property of the respective parties. In addition to this kind of mutation, which almost all the customs underwent, a change was forwarded by the pressure that the Roman law exercised more and more upon them, which, at each advancement of our national law, made the latter lose something of that which it retained of German tradition.
This King, whose deference to the law and devotion to his duties reminds us of one of the chief features in the character of St. Louis, was succeeded by a prince who knew no law but his inclinations, his will, and the advancement of his power. Fortunately, among the chances to which Francis I. abandoned his conduct, he frequently happened to make a lucky hit for his own glory and the benefit of his kingdom. His inclinations, though ill-regulated, were generous, and characterized by something great; his will, arbitrary and sometimes violent, was generally enlightened; and his egotistical views were in accordance with the national ambition. A brilliant innovator, he was not backward in furthering the progress of useful objects. Louis XI. had rendered himself odious to the nobility, and Louis XII. had displeased them by continuing the same policy under other forms; thence the danger of a reaction capable of turning the royal power off the road which it had prepared for itself in concert with the bourgeoisie. This might have been expected at the accession of a king, who was pre-eminently the gentleman, and who assumed this character both in his virtues and vices; but it was not so, thanks to the very reason which rendered such an event probable. The attachment of the nobles to the young King, and the seductive influence which he exercised over them, lulled their political passions to sleep. Without resistance and without a murmur, they saw the seigniories more and more encroached upon by the royal offices, and the movement which was drawing everything towards civil equality and unity of government. The activity which they had too often wasted in turbulence was now employed in heroic actions, in the battles which France offered in order to obtain a place worthy of herself among the states of Europe. They formed themselves, in a more earnest and assiduous manner than ever, in the great school of regular armies, in which, together with patriotism, are learnt the spirit of order, discipline, and respect for other merits besides those of birth and rank. The march of French civilisation, since the last years of the fifteenth century, continued under Francis I., in spite of the obstacles which opposed it—first, the disorder into which the administration fell; and, secondly, the political struggle, in which France had frequently arrayed against her all the powers of Europe. In the midst of scandalous extravagances, great errors, and unheard-of misfortunes, not only were none of the sources of public prosperity closed, but new ones were opened. Industry, commerce, agriculture, the regulation of waters and forests, the working of mines, distant voyages, undertakings of every kind, and the security of all civil transactions, were the object of legislative provisions, of which some still remain in active force. There was a continual progress in the arts which form the comfort of social life, and which were practised by the Tiers Etat alone; while in the higher sphere of imagination and knowledge there was a spontaneous outburst of all the powers of the national intelligence. There, at its highest point, is seen that intellectual revolution which is called in one word the Renaissance, and which renewed everything—sciences, arts, philosophy, literature—by the alliance of French talent with the genius of antiquity. To that mighty movement of ideas which opened for us the modern period, history attaches the name of Francis I., and with justice. The ardent curiosity of the King, his sympathising patronage, and his liberal foundations, hastened the nation to the slope down which it ran of its own accord. The impetus once given was sufficient; and under Henry II. the new lustre with which art, science, and literature burst forth, gained fresh strength without any need of the royal co-operation. These two reigns form a single period in the history of our civilisation, a period for ever remarkable, which comprises fifty-nine years of the sixteenth century, and marks with a glorious distinction the character of that century, so great in the first half of its course, so full of misery and convulsions in the second.
When the fatal period of the religious wars befell her, France, settled down after long years of action abroad, was about to make a start in a contrary direction, and to concentrate her powers on the work of her internal prosperity. Everything, at least, seemed to announce it, and the direction of this movement was already marked in a striking manner. In spite of the exhaustion of resources, caused by foreign expeditions, and a frequent alternation of conquests and defeats, the country displayed a degree of luxury in the arts of the Renaissance unknown till then. The Italians themselves were amazed by the number and magnificence of new constructions of palaces and mansions. These buildings covered with sculptures, the very fragments of which excite our admiration, gardens ornamented with statues, porticos, fountains playing into marble basins, replaced, in many of the country seats, not only around, but at a distance from Paris, the towers and the warrens of the seigneurial manors.
The nobility, following the example of the kings, lavished their money on the luxuries of civilisation; and if the merit of the workmanship belonged to artists from among the people, there was a credit due likewise to the great nobles for that appreciation of the beautiful which prompted them to expend so much upon it. At a later period this same taste, applying itself in polished conversation to the criticisms of works of genius and literary productions, contributed, in a degree which it is just to acknowledge, to the progress of letters under Louis XIV. It is by this kind of influence, more than in any other manner, that the ancient aristocracy has had its share of action upon the moral and social development of France in modern times. Always ready when circumstances required them to fight for the defence or honour of the kingdom, but little friendly, except in this instance, to labour and serious occupations, the French nobility had been a military, and not, as they might have been, a political class. From the time that a government worthy of the name began to revive under the influence of the principles of the civil law, and that, in order to discharge the judicial and administrative duties, long studies, a sedentary life, and a daily application were necessary, the nobility, far from coveting those offices, and the power that was attached to them, only regarded them with disdain. They seemed to stand aloof from them, rather than to be driven from them by the distrust of royalty; and, confining their desires to military appointments and places at court, they permitted all the rest to fall into the hands of the Tiers Etat. This was a great mistake as far as they were themselves concerned, and, perhaps, a great evil for the destiny of the country.
At the period which we have now reached, the Tiers Etat, by a sort of prescriptive right, less exclusive in respect of the clergy than of the nobility, found itself in possession of almost all the offices of the civil government, even to the most exalted—even to those which have since been designated by the name of ministerial. It was the plebeian order which supplied, on the recommendation of university honours and other proofs of qualification, more or less numerous, the chancellor, keeper of the seals, the secretaries of state, the masters of requests, the attorneys and solicitors-general of the king, the whole judicial body, composed of the grand council, the court of appeals and of reserved cases, of the Parliament of Paris with its seven chambers, of the court of exchequer, of the court of aids, of the eight provincial parliaments, and of a multitude of inferior courts, at the head of which figured the presidial. Similarly, in the administration of the finances, the functionaries of every rank—treasurers, superintendents, intendants, comptrollers-general, and special receivers—were taken from the educated bourgeois, who were called hommes de robe longue. As regards the jurisdiction exercised by the seneschals, the bailiffs, and the provosts of the king, if that class of offices continued to be held by men of noble birth, they were always obliged to have graduates of the university as deputies or assessors. The only employments closed to the bourgeoisie were the governments of provinces, of cities, and fortresses, military and naval rank, offices in the royal palace, and embassies, intrusted, according to the occasion, to men of high birth, or to ecclesiastics of the higher class. The supreme deliberative power, the council of state, in which barons and ecclesiastics formed one half, up to the end of the fourteenth century, numbered at the end of the sixteenth a majority of lawyers among its members. It was in vain that a great minister, a noble by birth, at that time entertained the idea of changing that majority, of giving to the great lords the right of sitting in the council, and of making it a school of administration for the nobility.
The superior offices of judicature and finance secured to those who held them, besides their salaries, which were more or less considerable, privileges which gave them a kind of nobility not hereditary, and which did not raise them from the Tiers Etat. They were exempt from various taxes and duties, and were able to buy the estates of nobles without paying the dues which were exacted in that case from a plebeian purchaser. In the case of those who filled the first posts, large emoluments accumulated by economy, thanks to the simplicity of civic habits, produced fortunes soon invested in landed properties. The inheritance of the nobleman ruined by his extravagances thus passed into the hands of some royal officer enriched by his employment. There were two roads which led to office: one by direct nomination, obtained by merit alone, or backed by favour; and another which was open to the candidates by the venality of offices—an abuse which had passed into custom by the connivance of the kings, but which, in consequence of the conditions of an university degree and a previous examination, did not dispense with all merit. The rich bourgeoisie took advantage of this road, while the other was opened, as the prize of hard study, to all the classes, even to the humblest, of the Tiers Etat. A minister from Venice, a shrewd observer, remarks, as a characteristic trait in the families of this last class, the care which the parents took that some one of their sons should receive a literary education, with a view to the numerous employments and the high positions which it procured. He attributes to this ambition the great number of universities which France possessed at that time, and in the university of Paris the great number of students, which amounted to more than fifteen thousand. Another Venetian ambassador observes that these students are for the most part very poor, and are supported by foundations made in the colleges—a certain proof, as regards the sixteenth century, of that aspiration of the inferior classes towards literature and knowledge, which discovers itself by so many signs in the two following centuries.
While the young men of the Tiers Etat, who devoted themselves to study, had before them the hope of reaching the highest public employments, the prospect was improving, also, for those who kept to the profession of their fathers—to the trades of the money-changer, the goldsmith, the mercer, the draper, the silk-spinner, or others inferior to these, but not less lucrative. Thanks to the progress of the commercial relations, and to the development, or, to use a better expression, the birth of credit, there was formed in the mercantile bourgeoisie, in which it was to take the first rank, a new class—that, namely, which accumulates capitals at once for its own profit and for the service of others, which, by the spirit of economy joined to the spirit of speculation, continually fills up the void caused in the public wealth; on the one hand by the expenses necessary for productive labour, and, on the other, by unproductive undertakings. The system of farming the public funds, imported from Italy into France, and the operations of credit, by means of which the dynasty of Valois supported itself with more or less success, laid the foundations of the gradually-increasing importance of the capitalists, who were then called financiers. Intrusted with the duty of collecting the taxes, whether as farmers or managers, bankers of the treasury, and depositories of the receipts obtained by the responsible agents, advancing funds for all the undertakings of war or peace, they obtained an indirect but considerable part in the affairs of State. According to the degree of their wealth and capacity, they were received, sought after, distinguished, even at court. They formed family alliances with the high magistracy, and brought to the Tiers Etat, not indeed the virtues of that class, but power, that power which wealth confers. We can follow, from the middle of the sixteenth century up to the last days of the eighteenth, the progress of their influence vainly opposed, their course strown both with favour and hatred—enormous gains and cruel exactions. Always execrated and always necessary, they were exposed to continual accusations, and sometimes to reprisals more monstrous than their avarice and frauds could have been. The judgment formed of them in general was never perfectly just, because it was mixed with that envy which opulence rapidly acquired excites—because in reckoning the profit of their dealings, of necessity usurious, account was not taken of the risks which they had to run; and in observing the immense and sudden fortunes of some among them, the fall, not less sudden, and the utter ruin of many of them, was forgotten.
Summary: The Reformation in France—Accession of Charles IX.—The Chancellor l’Hôpital—States-General of 1560, Ordinance of Orleans—Assembly of Pontoise—Commencement of the Civil War—Legislative Labours of l’Hôpital, Ordinance of Moulins—Consequences of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew—New Party composed of Protestants and Catholics—Accession of Henry III.; Fifth Edict of Pacification—The League, its Design, its Power—States-General of 1576; Ordinance of Blois—Henry of Bourbon, King of Navarre; Advice addressed by him to the States—Projects and Popularity of the Duke of Guise.
The schism of the Reformation, the greatest convulsion of opinion which ever shook society in France before the revolution of 1789, was not in our case, as in that of the countries of the north, spontaneous, irresistible, connected with national feelings, with ancient dreams of religious independence, or with circumstances whose principle must be retraced far back in the history of the past. The greatest part of Germany and Switzerland, the Scandinavian kingdoms and England, both nations and governments, had broken off, without a hope of reunion, from the Church of Rome before the middle of the sixteenth century; while in France the need of a reformation in Christian faith, morality, and discipline, although keenly felt by those independent intellects and pious hearts which were influenced by the spirit of the age, was continually encountered by the distrust or hostility of the crown, and did not succeed in gaining over to its cause the mass of the people or any one of the great classes of the nation. Whatever might have been the courage inspired by their convictions, and the merit due to their leaders, the French Protestants “formed,” says an eminent historian, “only a secret and persecuted party till the day when the weakness of the royal authority, exercised by a prince who was a minor, gave to that party the support of the nobility, and allowed it to declare itself, to organise itself, and to act.”
To the reign of Francis II., which, correctly speaking, was only a minority, succeeded the reign of another minor, Charles IX. Seventeen months were sufficient for the religious passions, driven to extremity on the one hand by a cruel suppression, encouraged on the other by a connivance unworthy of the Government, to make common cause with the ambitious designs of political parties, and for the country to find itself divided into two factions having princes at their head, and formed, the one of the majority of the nobles, the other of the majority of the people united with the clergy. Between the parties, who, both on the Protestant and Catholic side, were enthusiastic even to fanaticism, and persisted in calling for the civil war, there was one of moderate opinions, who, wishing neither for persecution against the Protestants nor for an appeal to arms in their behalf, endeavoured by their tolerance and their demand of a settlement, to preserve in the kingdom the unity of the Church—the support, as they said, of that of the State. That party representing the good sense of the nation was rooted most deeply among the bourgeoisie; it was opposed to schism, but not to liberty of conscience, and it perceived the necessity of important reforms in the habits and government of the French clergy. Such were the feelings and ideas that were observed to prevail in the deliberations of the States-General of 1560, and that mark this assembly with a character peculiar to itself, as it entertained and proposed views upon the rights of the State in the matter of ecclesiastical arrangement, which modern revolutions alone have been able to put into execution.
There was at that time in the council of the young King, as head of the magistracy, a man who was honoured by his own age with admiration and reverence, and whose memory is held glorious by ours, Michel de l’Hôpital, of whom it may be said that he had the genius of a legislator, the mind of a philosopher, and the heart of a citizen. The son of a bourgeois, and become Chancellor of France—that is to say, first minister—he maintained in the government the traditional principles of the Tiers Etat, an attachment to the maintenance of the unity of the French nation, and to the liberties of the Gallican Church. He was able to induce the queen-mother, Catherine de Medicis, to adopt his policy, the spirit of which required that France should continue, as she was, in the midst of the changes of Europe, and that her individuality should not be absorbed either by the religious revolution of the north, or by the reaction of the south. He loved the old maxim, One faith, one law, one king; but in his view that faith should be tolerant, that law protective, and that king impartial to all. It was the language which he strongly proclaimed at the opening of the states assembled at Orleans; his speech was an appeal to all that was calm, wise, and patriotic in the sentiments of the assembly; he adjured in touching terms the faithful of both parties to recognise their duty as fellow-citizens, and to stop in time on the brink of that fatal precipice, down which a twofold fanaticism was about to precipitate everything.
The Tiers Etat, which the vote by majority had confounded with the two other orders in the States-General of 1484, played a separate and striking part in those of 1560. In political worth, in conceptions as well as in extent, its cahier of remonstrances goes beyond those of the nobility and the clergy; in it there appears a profound sentiment of social justice and of the public interest, zeal for order, an instinctive perception of the need of reforms, and practical knowledge in all the subjects of law and administration. It is a kind of new code, containing no less than 354 articles, and drawn up with such precision that it could immediately be passed into law. Among the demands which it contains, the following are of the most striking importance: The election to ecclesiastical dignities by the concurrence of the clergy and a certain number of notables; the appropriation of a certain portion of the ecclesiastical revenues to the establishment of new professorships in the university, and to the erection of a municipal college in each city; the prohibition of priests to accept wills; the reduction of holidays to Sundays and a small number of festivals; the election of the officers of the magistracy by the concurrence of the judicial order, the municipal magistrates, and the crown; the revision of the ancient laws and ordinances, and the consolidation of those which should be maintained; the prosecution of justice against notorious crimes without the necessity of a private prosecutor; the suppression of customs at home, and the adoption of uniform weights and measures throughout the kingdom; the establishment of elective tribunals of commerce and police; laws to forbid the felling of timber of full growth; the seigneur to be restricted in the execution of justice to the advantage of the royal administration; the penalty of forfeiture of seigneurial rights in the case of every noble convicted of exactions towards the inhabitants of his domains; lastly, the meeting of the States-General once at least every five years, and the immediate choice of a day and a place for their next convocation.
Although at variance on many points, the three orders were agreed on the question of the public expenses. They declared that they were without powers to vote any new tax, and demanded to be dismissed to their provinces, in order to make known the financial accounts prepared by the King’s ministers. Their demand was admitted, and the states were closed the last day of January, 1561. It was ordered that the provincial states should meet on the 20th of the following March; that, after a consultation in their own body and in the electoral assemblies, three deputies—an ecclesiastic, a noble, and a bourgeois—should be named for each of the thirteen territorial divisions, which were then called governments, and that the thirty-nine representatives should meet at Melun before the 1st of May. The answer, however, to the remonstrances of the states was not delayed till the concession of the subsidies, and the ordinance which contained it was prepared at Orleans the very day on which the assembly broke up. This legislative act, the first of those on which the glory of the Chancellor l’Hôpital rests, is merely, correctly speaking, an extract of the provisions made in the cahier of the Tiers Etat, in which the method of selection is good, but the application of it frequently weak. If this famous ordinance be compared with the collective labour which produced it, it will be found less bold and positive in its proposed reforms; it shows many omissions, and sometimes offers nothing but promises. The only discrepancy worthy of notice between its enacting clause and the text of the cahier is the application which it makes of the system of the canvass, as in the case of officers of the judicature, to ecclesiastical elections, in dividing the right of election into two parts—one belonging to the clergy and the people, the other to the crown; it takes a middle course between the concordat of Francis I. and the return to the ancient usage demanded by the Tiers Etat.
The deputies of the thirteen Governments of France did not assemble till the month of August, and not at Melun, but at Pontoise, where the commissioners of the two lay orders sat by themselves, while the representatives of the clergy were attending at the ecclesiastical synod held at Poissy under the name of a conference (colloque). Twenty-six persons, thirteen nobles and thirteen bourgeois, thus composed the body which was about to exercise in their full extent the powers of the States-General. There was no disagreement this time between the representatives of the two orders; nobles and commoners both appeared equally imbued with the spirit of innovation, and with a mutual desire to attempt, no longer mere reforms, but the commencement of a revolution. Their cahiers expressed their pretensions to a share of the sovereignty, which recalled to mind those of the States-General of 1356, and proposed measures which were destined not to be moved again till the meeting of the National Assembly in 1789. The absolute right of the Government over the property of the clergy was there laid down as a principle, and served as a foundation for different projects for the extinction of the national debt. Between two plans which were conceived by the thirteen representatives of the commons, the one on which they resolved, and of which they pressed the adoption, consisted in the sale of all the eccleasiastical property for the advantage of the King, while they indemnified the clergy by pensions fixed according to the rank of its members. It was calculated that that sale would produce a hundred and twenty millions of francs, of which forty-eight would be deducted as capital for the new endowment, forty-two applied to the extinction of the national debt, and thirty placed at interest in the cities and ports, in order to encourage commerce in those places, at the same time that they would return a fixed revenue to the treasury. This plan, which was nothing less than the annihilation of the clergy as a political order, fell to the ground without discussion, in consequence of the offer which was made, and the engagement undertaken by the ecclesiastical deputies themselves, to pay off within ten years the third part of the debt by a voluntary assessment imposed on all the members of their order.
The assembly of Pontoise proposed to reform the whole system of administration by reducing the offices of finance, police, and law to mere triennial commissions; it abridged and fixed the term demanded for the periodical convocation of the States-General to two years; lastly, with more decision on the subject of religious toleration than had been shown by the assembly of Orleans, it claimed the full and free exercise of their form of worship for the Protestants. This last demand was met by promises, and soon by acts. There was now seen what had never before been witnessed in France—the State separated from the Church, and a religion considered as heretical opening its places of prayer, under the protection of the law, by the side of the ancient churches. But nothing was then ripe for such a state of things; the equality of rights could not produce peace between the professors of two creeds who had not yet learnt mutual respect for each other. The work of the philosophic statesman had to encounter spirits divided by uncontrolable passions; and when religious persecution was extinguished by his hand the civil war commenced. To the movement, which agitated and aroused the conscience of the masses in various ways, was allied the ambitious rivalry of princes and nobles, who renewed, under a king who was a minor, the attempts which they had made a century and a half before, under a king who was incapable. It was a struggle like that between the Burgundians and Armagnacs, but fostered on both sides by the moral interests, by all that is inmost and deepest in the heart—the need of liberty of conscience on the one side, on the other fidelity to the ancient dogmas and attachment to early recollections. Besides, this mixture of pure zeal and egotistical passions served but to render the strife of parties more formidable than in former times, without relieving it of any of its odious horrors—murder and pillage, devastations of our native land, and the appeal to foreign arms.
In the midst of this vast political collision, of which time alone could be the arbiter, and in which all the party leaders were destined to perish one after another by war or assassination, l’Hôpital never relaxed his labours for peace, though it was unattainable; and, without remitting any of his cares for the present, he entertained calm consideration on the future. With his powerful talent for organisation, he resumed all that was excellent in design and counsel in the cahier of the Tiers Etat of 1560, and made it the substance of a series of royal ordinances, the continuation and completion of that of Orleans. The whole formed in a manner a new stock of civil law, from which subsequent legislation, up to the entire renovation of it in 1789, merely developed its results; and of which many provisions still exist in our present codes. The most celebrated of these ordinances, the greatest both by its extent and its merit, is the one which bears the name of Moulins, and which was delivered in that city in the month of February, 1566. It recapitulates all the judicial reforms which had been decreed up to that time, while it protects them with more effectual guarantees; its principal object was to simplify the administration of justice, and to advance a step towards the unity of jurisdiction, and also of civil proceedings. It diminished the number of ordinary judges, and restrained the jurisdiction of those who held their office by privilege; in this respect, it did not show greater consideration for the municipal corporations than for the ecclesiastical body; it deprived mayors, échevins, capitouls, consuls, and other magistrates of the same order, of the cognisance of civil causes, leaving them only the control over the criminal jurisdiction, and of the police. This isolated attack upon a part of the municipal privileges did not perfectly succeed; it was not sufficient for a revolution in the political government of the cities, and it was too much for a reform. The old municipalities, which were prior to every communal charter, protested with success to the Parliament in the name of an immemorial right of usage; and the ordinance of Moulins remained without power in regard to them.
While this man, great both by his talent and his patriotism, was endeavouring, in the midst of honourable labours, to console the sadness of his reflections upon the miseries and crimes of his age, the religious struggle which he strove in vain to prevent continued, interrupted by truces which lasted but a short time, while one after another the means of pacification were wasted. The intolerance of the age was always ready to react against reason and justice; and in this clash of irreconcilable opinions, among which Government tried to hold the balance, the opinion of the masses, that which had the majority in its favour, pressed forward more and more, and dragged everything along with it. Royalty, for a moment impartial, settled down again into its traditions of an ancient and exclusive faith; it again became systematically hostile to liberty of conscience, but covertly, not in an open manner, and forwarded by secret practices the undoing of the concessions which it had made. Instead of the rules of equity and humanity which the Chancellor l’Hôpital recommended, the policy which prevailed in the counsels of the crown was that of the Prince in Machiavelli, imported from the Italian courts. L’Hôpital ceased to have an influence over those counsels, in which his austere loyalty was a restraint and a reproach; he quitted public life, struck with a deep melancholy, which he never shook off in retirement. He beheld, with a continually-growing sorrow, the course of affairs taking the fatal direction which he had wished to change, and the wound of civil discord envenomed by a policy of craft and expediency, of treason and of violence. He died of grief, after having witnessed the frightful completion of that policy, the great crime of the age, and of royalty—the massacre of St. Bartholomew.
The bourgeoisie of Paris—the fact must be confessed—was an accomplice of the royal power in that day of execrable memory. Deceived by the fable of a plot, and led away by fanatical hatred, the municipal body received and accepted the orders which were to insure the cold-blooded massacre, in which thousands of Frenchmen perished, in all the security of peace, by the hands of Frenchmen. We behold here one of the most painful moments of our history; and the king upon whose name the memory of that deed rests heavily—Charles IX.—remains marked for one single act with the stamp of an eternal infamy. And yet that prince, who was misled by the aberration of the age, and by atrocious suggestions to play the part of a traitor and assassin, was gifted with a noble intellect. He had, in the highest degree, a taste for the arts, and all the works of genius. His encouragements and his example contributed to maintain and advance the intellectual revival, the commencement of which had thrown so much splendour on the reign of Francis I.
In the midst of civil commotions, and perhaps under their influence, literature became more important; it became a weapon in the strife of parties; it applied itself to great questions of history, of the manners and government of societies. Extensive theories were formed to raise and give new life to the practice of government. Political economy, that civic science which first arose in the cities of Italy, was introduced by an Italian minister, a creature of the queen-mother, and gave a more rational direction to the regulations made for the management of trades, and the traffic of merchandise. It is from this point that we date the introduction among ourselves of the famous principle of the balance of trade, and the system of protection of the national industry, by the twofold prohibition of the export of materials for manufacture, and the import of manufactured goods.
There are important lessons to be learnt from political crimes; that of the 24th of August, 1572, speedily falsified the hopes of those who had committed it. The reformation did not perish with the death of its noblest leaders; and the Government, which had hoped to drown in blood the anxieties which were caused by it, still found the same embarrassments in its way, complicated by fresh dangers. Besides those who survived the massacre, and who had been now made irreconcilable enemies, it had evoked against itself the sympathy felt for the victims, the indignation of mankind, and its own remorse. Those of moderate opinions, who had in vain advised toleration and peace, now rose up and formed in the very heart of Catholic France a party without the spirit of sect, making the third armed party in the country, which received the name of the political, and united itself to the Protestants to maintain in their cause that of human rights and justice. The Government, in return for having violated those rights with an odious barbarity, saw itself retaliated upon by the denial of its own proper rights, and a war against a king who had broken faith proclaimed as lawful. At that time the republican doctrines, produced in some minds by the study of antiquity and the spirit of free inquiry, appeared in books where knowledge of history and subtility of reasoning were mixed with exclamations of hatred and revenge. Those books, the fruits of Protestant despair and of a general feeling of indignation and disaffection, some of which are still celebrated, were in our country the source of extreme opinions, which, continuing since in more or less activity and power, according to times and circumstances, formed and still form one of the categories of the prevailing national opinion.
Less than four years after the bloody stroke of policy of Charles IX., his successor and one of the instigators of his crime, Henry III., was forced to submit to the conditions of peace which were laid down for him by the victorious confederation of the Calvinists and associated Catholics. The fifth edict of pacification, that of May 14th, 1576, surpassed all the others in the extent of the concessions made to the Protestants. It was enacted by that edict that the exercise of the new form of worship should be free and public throughout the kingdom, except in Paris and at the court; that marriages contracted previously by priests or religious persons should be legal; that tribunals half composed of Protestants and Catholics should be instituted for the decision of cases affecting Calvinists and united Catholics; that all the sentences passed since the reign of Henry II. in respect of religion should be annulled; that those under sentence or proscription should have the benefit of an amnesty; and that an exemption from taxation should be granted as an indemnity to the widows and infants of the victims of the massacre of St. Bartholomew.
These were noble measures, capable of commencing an era of civil toleration, if they had been taken in good faith, with the intention and power of maintaining them; but the prince who decreed them was neither willing nor able to make his work permanent. With a mind feeble and eccentric, fanatical and hypocritical, he regarded that peace only as a resource of necessity, as a constraint from which he would disembarrass himself when he could find the means. Besides, even if he had been more honest and more firm of purpose, he would have been driven back by unexpected dangers. The peace which he had concluded with one party raised up war with the other; it made him the object of distrust and hatred to the intolerant party of the Catholics. The whole body of that party which had the majority, the influence of old customs, and the popular power on its side, was roused up by a movement of indignation; and from that movement sprang the League, that terrible association, formed to crush everything which would not join its ranks. Its mainspring was the oath of mutual assistance and devotion even to death, a system of terror, and implicit obedience to a supreme chief who was to be elected; the mere announcement of that future election was a threat to the King. The League, once constituted in one part of the kingdom, and proclaimed by its manifestoes, spread rapidly, aided by the reactionary passions that murmured against the Court; while the Court itself, in its duplicity, was favouring it. It made the first trial of its power in the elections for the States-General convoked at Blois on the 13th of November, 1576, when the Protestants and the political party were kept away by all the expedients of fraud and violence.
In this manner a convocation of the states, promised by the edict of pacification as its national guarantee, was turned against it, and the greater part of the deputies assembled at Blois brought for their writ of return the pass-word of the League—One Roman Catholic religion. The representatives of the nobility, who had appeared so zealous in the cause of liberty of conscience in the states of 1560, now appeared almost unanimous, and not less violent than those of the clergy, in this spirit of reaction. Those of the Tiers Etat were also inclined, but with feelings of greater moderation, towards a return to the unity of religious worship; the high bourgeoisie had not yielded without hesitation to the current of extreme passions, which was hurrying along the aristocracy and inferior classes associated under the hands of the clergy. The King, on his part, in his communications with the deputies and in the preliminary conferences, announced that he held as void the concessions which he had made, and desired the states to annul them. Distrusting the League, he yet declared himself its head to anticipate the choice of another person; while the small number of the Calvinistic members and their friends retired, protesting beforehand against the resolutions of the assembly.
It was in such a conjuncture of circumstances that the question of toleration was submitted for the second time to the judgment of the States-General. The two first orders voted without debate for the repeal of the edict and the resumption of the civil war. In the third order there was a division: one party, and at their head the deputation of Paris, did not shrink from the war; the other wished that the restoration of Catholic unity should be effected by milder means. One member, who as a constitutional writer was the precursor of Montesquieu, Jean Bodin, deputy of Vermandois, distinguished himself in that dispute by displaying, in the same cause that l’Hôpital had defended, great abilities and a noble courage. As leader of the opposition among the bourgeois to the League and the Court, he attempted to resist the Parisian deputies of the Tiers Etat, the commissioners of the two other orders, and the commissioners of the King. When he found himself unable to carry his amendment, that the demand of reunion in one form of worship should be followed in the cahier of his order by the words “without war,” he rendered the war impossible by calling forth through the force of his ability a peremptory refusal of every subsidy.
This assembly, whose labour ended in merely inclosing the question of religion in a circle without issue, had a high notion of the right of the States-General; it professed a kind of constitutional theory on the exercise and division of the sovereignty. According to it, the laws were of two sorts, the laws of the King and the laws of the kingdom, the former made by the Prince alone, the latter by the Prince with the advice of the states—the former capable of modification and revocable at will, the latter inviolable and not admitting of alteration except with the consent of the three orders of the nation. To the ancient demand of a periodical meeting of the States-General, the assembly of 1576 added the demand that all the provinces of the kingdom should have the right of holding meetings of their own bodies; lastly, it declared itself strongly against the nomination to ecclesiastical dignities without a previous election by the clergy and a portion of the people, and against the venality of judicial appointments.
The cahier of the Tiers Etat, though as full of various matters as that of 1560, does not display the same firmness of opinions nor the same precision of style. The reforming spirit does not manifest itself with the same enthusiasm and redundancy. The civil and criminal legislation, the proceedings of law, the public instruction, the finances and commerce, are there treated of; but throughout there is little that is new and original. We find in it scarcely anything but counsels already given, old complaints or the demand of laws promulgated and not put into execution. Three articles are remarkable as a sign of resistance on behalf of municipal privileges to the encroachments of government; they claim, in the name of the corporations of cities, the liberty of meetings, the liberty of elections, and full and entire jurisdiction. On the other hand, the jealous spirit of the ancient magistracy, whether civic or parliamentary, is here observable from the demand made for the suppression of the tribunals of commerce —a strange request, to which the Government had the wisdom not to listen.
In the midst of the embarrassments of an armed peace, full of disorders, and always liable to be broken, two years elapsed without an answer from the King to the cahiers of the States-General. His answer was not given till the month of May, 1579, by the publication of an edict which was called the ordinance of Blois. This ordinance, the supplement and confirmation of the great laws which had preceded it, and which it resembles in merit, is a proof of the numberless difficulties which were then preventing progress, though demanded by public reason, and agreed to by the Government, from being realised and becoming a fact. Many of the provisions of the ordinances of Moulins and Orleans are there repeated and prescribed afresh; it is, as it were, at once a last answer to the complaints of the earlier States-General and the sanction of the cahiers of 1576. This time, moreover, the most important points of the cahier of the Tiers Etat are found in the enacting clause of the new law, which frequently is nothing more than a repetition of its text.
The ordinance of Blois, liberal as that of Orleans in all that concerns the civil law, and preserving the same silence upon the demands of political rights, has for its peculiar characteristic the design of suppressing or diminishing in favour of the royal prerogative the inconveniences which, on certain points, the preceding ordinances imposed upon it. In the case of nominations to ecclesiastical dignities, it rejected the open election without admitting the presentation of candidates, and maintained the absolute right of the king, according to the concordat of 1516. In the case of judicial nominations, for the presentation of three persons by the body of the judicature—a system valued by the Tiers Etat, and passed into a law, although frequently evaded—it substituted a new one, which gave the choice to the crown from the lists of eligible persons to be prepared in each department, and renewed every three years.
In the year 1576, and at the sitting of the states at Blois, appear the first political acts of a prince at that time leader of a party, and one day destined to rally the parties which were dividing France—Henry of Bourbon, King of Navarre, who was next heir to the throne on the extinction of the dynasty of Valois. Born a Calvinist, forced, without much resistance, however, to become a Catholic in the reign of Charles IX., then having escaped from the court under Henry III, and turned Calvinist again, he had been tossed about by the storms of civil war and religious dissensions both in regard to life and conscience. The chances of fortune and his own changes had early taught him a lesson of judgment and tolerance. A nature sympathetic, generous, open to soft impressions as well as to all the noble feelings, raised him, even during the struggle, above the spirit of sect and party; and, perhaps also, his extreme laxity of morals, the weak point of his character, and a certain lukewarmness in religion, concurred with the high qualities of the man and the patriot, to make him, when the time arrived, the instrument of the national pacification and reconciliation. The spirit of him who was to be Henry IV. was completely and for the first time made manifest in an answer to the vote of the States-General for the reunion of the nation in one form of worship —an answer given under form of note, in which are found the following passages, which display an admirable refinement of good sense:—
“The King of Navarre commends the states for the zeal which they entertain for the welfare and repose of this kingdom. He fears, however, that the demand which they have made to the King, not to tolerate in this kingdom the exercise of any religion except the Roman, may not be the way of attaining that repose which is so much desired, nor of appeasing the troubles, which will be so much worse than the preceding ones, that there will be no means of pacifying them when both parties at length may really wish it. . . . Therefore, the said King of Navarre begs the said assembly again and again in the name of God, and by the duty which binds them to consult the benefit of their king and country, to be ready to think again and again of this, as being the most eventful subject, and one of the greatest importance, that has ever yet called for deliberation in France. He prays them to consider not merely what they desire, but what this poor kingdom can bear, and that it may act like the sick man desirous of health, who does not take what he finds agreeable and to his taste, but frequently what is very unpleasant and bitter, as most suitable to his malady. That if it gives offence to the Catholics, who enjoy their religion without any trouble from others, to see those of the said religion, whom they now wish to deprive of it entirely, after having so many times accorded it to them, and so long permitted, he desires the states carefully to consider that it has been vainly attempted to drive it out of this kingdom and the kingdoms of England, Hungary, Bohemia, Denmark, Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland, and Germany, where it has obtained footing, . . . and, therefore, the said King of Navarre again begs the said assembly for the third time to think well upon it, and take the subject into fresh consideration.”
This appeal of reason and patriotism was not attended to: the states separated without revising their vote; but from want of means for offensive war, this vote remained as a simple resolution, and a new truce, not less broken by disturbances, although longer than the preceding ones, was effected by fresh negotiations. It lasted, however, to 1584, when an unforeseen occurrence, the death of the King’s only brother, gave to the head of the house of Bourbon, the leader of the Protestants, the rights of first prince of the blood and the next heir to the crown. This was the signal of a violent crisis to the parties of the State and to royalty. The prospect of a Hugonot succeeding to the throne, doubtful as it was from the youth of the King, made a shudder of horror thrill through the Catholic population. It was no longer the question, it was said, with a terror sincere or pretended, to ascertain what degree of toleration should be shown to the new religion, but whether they would see it seated on the throne, and as the religion of the State, arming itself with all the royal power against the ancient faith of the country. The League, whose advances hitherto had been limited, now suddenly made immense progress; it penetrated, on this occasion, the upper classes of the bourgeoisie, which seemed entirely to adopt its principles.
The ambitious projects of Henry of Lorraine, Duke of Guise, a family which had bound its fortune and given a martyr to the cause of the Catholic party, are at this period observed in their full extent. He was the soul of the League—elected as its leader and served by it—the person whom it wished to make first the rival, then the master of the King. With ability joined to boldness, he was able to make himself feared without ever betraying himself, and raised himself to a high pitch of popularity; while the weakness and debaucheries of Henry III. rendered that wretched Prince more and more unpopular. The republican doctrines which the indignation produced by the attempt of Charles IX. had excited and propagated among the Calvinistic party then passed into the opposite ranks, in consequence of the contempt into which the present condition of royalty had fallen, and of the apprehensions which the future reign inspired. The sovereignty of the people, and the right of national election, were invoked as safeguards of the orthodox faith against some pretended connivances with heresy, and the accession of a heretical king.
It was this crisis of opinion, when zeal for the ancient dogma was impregnated with democratic passions, which opened the road and pointed out the object to the ambition of the Guises. They aimed at the crown by supporting themselves on the false claims which connected them with the second race, and by propping up their cause more effectively by their patronage of the rights which the social progress had placed for three centuries in rivalry with the crown. They held out promises of the restoration of their privileges to all—to the clergy, the nobility, the provinces, and the cities. The cities, once in the full enjoyment of municipal liberty, which they perceived, not without regret, falling under the levelling influence of the Government, seized eagerly at the hope of recovering their lost privileges, and of re-establishing their mutilated constitutions. They warmly enrolled themselves in the League, of which their militia formed the principal force, and Paris placed herself at the head of the movement. An association of municipal bodies was seen forming itself, as in the days of Etienne Marcel, under the influence and direction of the Parisian democracy; but it was now in a spirit of sect and division, and not for the great interest of the nation—it was for the extermination of a portion of their countrymen, and not for the common safety. In case of victory, the result of this civic and popular insurrection would have become a sort of mutual assurance between the clergy, the nobility, and the communes, against the exercise of the royal power, and the progress towards unity—a system of particular interests, and of a parcelling out of the government, under the high protection of Spain—a power hostile to the greatness and independence of the kingdom.
Summary: Proscription of the Calvinists, Bold Remonstrances of the Parliament—States-General of 1588; Murder of the Guises—Insurrection of Paris, Municipal Confederation against the Crown—Alliance of the Royal and Calvinistic Parties—Assassination of Henry III.; Henry of Bourbon acknowledged as King—States-General of the League—Henry IV. in Paris; his Character—His domestic and foreign Policy—Condition of the common Classes at the close of the Sixteenth Century.
The League had passed from the condition of a secret society for the defence of Catholicism to the condition of a revolutionary party preparing the way, by its denial of the rights of the heir presumptive to the crown, to future attacks upon the King himself. Its first hostile demonstration took place in 1585. An army was collected, and many provinces rose up in the name of the Cardinal of Bourbon, uncle to the King of Navarre, calling himself first prince of the blood, on the ground of his being a Catholic prince, and having the Duke of Guise, the real leader of the rebellion, to support him. Henry III. was called upon respectfully, but under the threatened alternative of war with orthodox France, to put into execution the resolution of the States-General—the reunion of all his subjects in the Roman Catholic form of worship. He yielded, and the treaty concluded with the rebels was accompanied by an edict, which revoked all the edicts of pacification which had hitherto been granted to the Calvinists. The exercise of any form of worship except that of the Catholic religion was prohibited under penalty of death. The ministers of it were to leave the kingdom at the expiration of a month, and the rest of the Protestants at the expiration of six months, under the same penalty. This proscription was still more aggravated, and a new edict imposed by the party of the League reduced the time allowed to Protestants for their abjuration or banishment from six months to fifteen days. All the property of the recusants, and of everyone who might assist them directly or indirectly, was to be seized and applied to the expenses of the war which the King was about to recommence, with all his forces united to those of the League.
In this manner the longest and most bloody civil war of the century commenced, of which Henry IV. bore the weight during a period of ten years with a constant heroism. It was inaugurated in a manner by a bull of excommunication, which declared that he had forfeited all right to the crown of France, and which annulled in regard to him, for the present and future, all oaths of allegiance and duty. The question of the temporal supremacy of the Pope over the kingdom was mixed up in that armed debate with the question of toleration of a new form of worship; a similar attack was directed against the innate principle of liberty of conscience, and the national principle of the independence of the crown; and the majority in France, through their hatred of the one, seemed ready to sacrifice the other.
But in that general disorder there were still those who had eyes to see into what an abyss they were falling, and consciences to proclaim it. It was the highest class of the Tiers Etat, the chief magistracy, which uttered, as a cry of alarm, its proclamation, marked by good sense and patriotism. On the 18th July, 1585, when Henry III. went in person to the Parliament to have his first edict of proscription read and published, the court did not enroll the act in its registers till after strong remonstrances. Three months later, when the second edict arrived, and, together with its promulgation, there was required, by a signal instance of cowardice on the part of the King, the enrolment of the bull which declared the legitimate heir to the throne deprived of his rights, the court made fresh remonstrances, more urgent and energetic. “Sire,” said the supreme court, in language worthy of the Chancellor l’Hôpital, “the crime that you have wished to punish is connected with the conscience, which is beyond the reach of sword and flame. . . . If the whole party of the Hugonots were reduced to one man, there would not be one of us who would dare to pronounce him guilty of death, until his trial had been conducted in due form, unless he had been fairly arraigned and convicted of some capital and flagitious crime. Who is he, then, that shall dare, without any form of justice whatever, depopulate so many cities, destroy so many provinces, and convert the whole kingdom into a sepulchre? Who shall dare pronounce the word which shall expose to death so many thousands of men, women, and children, without any apparent cause or reason, if no crime but heresy can be imputed to them—heresy, a thing as yet not cognizable in our court, or at least undefined—heresy which they have been able to maintain against the most celebrated theologians of your kingdom—in which they have been born and bred for thirty years past, by the permission of your Majesty and of the late King, your brother?”
With regard to the bull of the Pope, that sentence of civil death pronounced by the Holy See, in the name of a divine right of jurisdiction over all princes, the Parliament described it with indignation as an attempt upon the sovereignty of the King and the independence of the kingdom. It recalled to the mind of that feeble Prince, Henry III., the example of his predecessors, and the traditional usage of those who were intrusted with the preservation of the laws of the country. “We do not discover,” it said, “in our registers, or in any evidence of antiquity, that the princes of France can have ever been subject to the jurisdiction of the Pope, nor that their subjects can have taken cognisance of the religion of their princes.” Not venturing to reproach the King with his cowardice, it blamed itself for its connivance with the error of those who flattered themselves that they could induce the Protestants to renounce their form of worship, and destrov that party without a great effusion of blood. It declared that it had been sufficiently dishonoured in having been made instrumental in recalling so many edicts, which had been sanctioned by oath in the usual form; that its obedience, in order not to be stultified, should stop there; and it concluded its remonstrance with these strong and noble words, “Grant us this favour, Sire, and take back into your hands the appointments with which it has pleased your Majesty and the kings your predecessors to honour us, that you may be freed from the inconvenient difficulties which we are constrained to raise upon such edicts, and our own consciences discharged from the maledictions which God reserves for evil counsellors and magistrates. . . . It is more expedient that your Majesty should have no court of Parliament than one so useless as we are now become; and it is more honourable also for us to retire into private life, and there bewail the public calamities with the rest of our fellow-citizens, than to degrade the dignity of our offices by making them subservient to the dangerous intentions of the enemies of your crown.”
This warning had no effect on the King or the nation; no one was any longer able to draw back; some were blinded by fanaticism, others seduced by the promises of ambitious parties, others entangled in the net of an association whose influence prevailed over that of the Government. Twenty-five years of civil war had not sufficed to subdue the violence of excited passions, and to give to all the last lesson, the lesson of necessity. Never had the cause of liberty of conscience appeared so completely lost; it maintained itself only by the heroism with which despair inspired the bands of the Protestants. Their chief, Henry of Navarre, constrained to war at once for his own right and his religion, performed prodigies of valour and talent in that twofold work, which seemed only calculated to lead him into positions of inconsistency. Moderate as well as bold, he had, even after the most complete victory, the word peace continually on his lips and in his heart; he demanded nothing more than the re-establishment of the old edicts of toleration. The leader of the League, on his side, aided by the popular favour, rapidly pursued the daring plan which he had conceived, to avail himself of the counsels of the King, and to gain possession of his person; to keep him a prisoner by the intervention of the States-General, to be a kind of mayor of the palace, till the time came when he might usurp the throne under cover of the national will. Henry III., kept in check by that turn of fortune which was continually increasing against him, had only to hesitate and comply; the sense of the loss of his dignity at times tortured, but never roused him. Incapable of making a noble effort, he gave way time after time, reserving to himself the last resource of cowards, treachery and assassination. Such are the elements of which one of the greatest dramas of our history is composed, which renders the year 1588 famous, which opens at Paris with the émeute of the barricades, and has its dénouement, at the second session of the states at Blois, in the murder of the Duke and the Cardinal of Guise.
The convocation of the States-General in 1588 was an act committed by the King against himself. That meeting, taking place at the end of a triumphant insurrection, and representing, not the whole of France, but exclusively the Catholic party, had for its mission and its object the establishment of the predominance of the states over the royal power. There are two parts in its history: that which precedes and that which follows the assassination of the Guises, and the arrest of many of the deputies of the three orders. In the first of these two periods, the states, with the Tiers Etat at their head, are seen maintaining against the King a struggle of principles upon the question of the sovereignty; they declare that they intend to proceed by resolution and not by petition; they attribute the title of fundamental laws only to the edicts made with their concurrence. In spite of the caution of their language, and their apparent submission to the ancient monarchical order, they threatened the crown by constituting an entirely new one in its place, by putting it under the permanent protection of the national representation, and by intrusting that protection for the present to the leader of the League. The second period in which the assembly struggles between fear and indignation presents, in the place of that aggressive hostility, only a passive resistance, under which is brooding in the heart of each an impatient desire to be dismissed, in order that they may retire to a place favourable for open rebellion.
It was the Tiers Etat which here played the chief part; it was the prevailing influence of the day; it took the initiative in daring proposals made in regard to the crown, and in the violent ones against the Hugonots. Its cahier comprises the following demands:—That the ordinances made at the suggestion of the states be declared unalterable, and need not be verified in the court of Parliament; that, in regard to every other edict, the superior courts have full liberty of remonstrance, and be never compelled to enrol them; that the Parliaments have no power to verify any edict, unless it shall have been first communicated to the procureurs-syndics of the states, and that all the provinces of the kingdom be able to elect procureurs-syndics for that purpose; that money be no more raised for any cause or under any form whatever without the consent of the States-General; that the heretics be punished, according to the ordinances of Francis I. and of Henry II., and that stringent measures be taken against the abettors of heresy; that the King of Navarre be declared incapable of succeeding to the crown, and that all his possessions be confiscated.
Among the demands which do not partake of the passions of the moment the following may be observed, repeated, for the most part, from the cahiers of 1576 and 1560:—The re-establishment of the ecclesiastical elections, in spite of the concordat of Francis I.; the scrupulous maintenance of election for the offices of the judicature; the enactment of the law against seigneurs guilty of exactions upon the inhabitants of their domains; the restoration of the right of the administration of civil justice to the municipal bodies; the uniformity of weights and measures. In general, the oppositions of the Tiers Etat are not so strongly distinguished as before from those of the two other orders; a parity of feelings and opinions are here observed on many points. Besides, the cahier of 1588 does not offer, as regards the law and administration, the same abundance of subjects as the cahiers of 1560 and 1576, whether it were that two meetings of the states, occurring so near together, had left little which was new to be observed and considered, or that the members of the Tiers Etat, belonging to the League, had been for that very cause more occupied with the necessity of immediate action than influenced by that spirit of reflection, from which proceeds the work of analysis in matters of legislation.
After the murder of the Duke of Guise, Henry III., liberated, as he supposed, exclaimed, “Now I am King!” He supposed that he had dealt the League its death-blow; he was soon undeceived. While he was wasting his time in making addresses and apologies to the states, the insurrection, excited by his crime, burst out at Paris, and spread from city to city. Whole provinces were soon drawn into this movement; and from Picardy to Brittany, from Brittany to Provence, a municipal confederation was organised against the Crown. The project of a revolutionary government conceived by the committees of the League was being put into execution under the influence of passions kindled to frenzy, and enthusiastic even to self-devotion. They turned their eyes to the Swiss cantons, and talked of forming themselves into a republic after their example. The Parisian democracy became master of the Parliament by a stroke of policy, suppressed the name of the King in the judicial acts, and appointed of its own authority a Lieutenant-General of the kingdom. Meanwhile, Henry III., instead of acting with energy and despatch, relapsed into his usual softness of life, issued from his palace at Blois useless proclamations and orders which never reached their destination. Surrounded by the insurrection, as by a circle of iron which was contracting more and more closely upon him, he found his power at last reduced to the two banks of the Loire, between Tours and Beaugency. At this moment he took a resolution which showed the extremity of his distress; under the name of a truce, he made a treaty of alliance with the prince whom he had disinherited and proscribed, and intrusted the defence of his crown to that religious party whose intended extermination had been his boast.
Four months after the murder of the leader of the League, Henry of Valois and Henry of Bourbon had an interview, at Plessis-lez-Tours, at which, having been reconciled, they sealed the union of the royal and Calvinistic parties. Their two armies were formed into one, which presently marched towards Paris, where the League was supreme, and from whence it exercised its influence over the provinces. Arrived under the walls of the city, which was struck with dismay at their approach, the King of France encamped at St. Cloud, the King of Navarre at Meudon. The preparations for the siege were concluded by the end of July, and the assault was appointed for the 2nd of August; but Henry III. never saw that day. He was stabbed by a young Dominican monk, excited to regicide by his fanaticism as a member of the League, by violent exhortations in the pulpit, by artful contrivances, and the consternation which he perceived prevailing in Paris. In this way the League repaid to Henry III. crime for crime, and the assassination of the Guises and the murders of St. Bartholomew were avenged by the same blow. That prince, however, died a death which redeemed in some degree the weaknesses of his reign; he did not hesitate at that last moment in his duties as a king and a patriot; his last wish was to lay the foundations of a national reconciliation. He sent for the King of Navarre, and said to him, “My brother, the crown belongs to you when God shall be pleased to remove me.” Then addressing himself to the princes and nobles who surrounded his bed, he commanded them to swear obedience and fidelity to his lawful successor, and all took the oath upon their knees.
It was on the 4th of August, 1589, that Henry of Bourbon, after having signed the promise to maintain the Catholic religion without alteration, was acknowledged king by all the leaders of the royal army; but it was not till the 22nd of March, 1594, that, as conqueror of the League and himself become Catholic, he made his entry into Paris. Four years of contests, a constancy approved in every emergency and an admirable caution, signal victories and a definite agreement, were necessary, in order that the principle of hereditary right joined to the interests of the national independence, should prevail against the party which maintained the principle of orthodoxy, together with the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people. We all know what were the vicissitudes of that great struggle, which was boldly maintained on both sides in the eyes of public opinion, and of which that opinion was at once the judge and the reward. There is one fact which predominates over the varied circumstances which mark its career—the gradual return of the bourgeoisie to the spirit of toleration of 1560 from greater reflection, and from that maturity of judgment which results from experience and misfortune. In proportion as the prince, forced to be the conqueror of his own kingdom, gained one of those glorious victories of humanity as well as of heroism, fanatic zeal lost ground, and, losing its hold upon the middle classes of the kingdom, retired into the inferior classes. It was among them that the dark enthusiasm and energy of the earlier days of the struggle were prolonged; it was they who imposed upon Paris, by a system of compulsion and terror, the practice of that amazing patience with which this great city endured the fatigues and calamities of a siege of four years’ continuance; lastly, it was they who, blindly delivered over to the protectorate of the King of Spain, presented the monstrous spectacle of a democratic party which was not a national one.
The League had claimed the power of transferring the royal power, and of making it, at least, for once, elective; it failed in its design, and only succeeded so far as to prevent the hereditary king from reigning, until he became a Catholic. Its last act of authority was to convoke the States-General without the royal mandate. Summoned and adjourned many times since the year 1590, that revolutionary assembly, which called itself national, while it was in reality weighed down by the patronage and ambition of Spain, at last assembled in Paris on the 28th of January, 1593. The deputies who attended there in small numbers found themselves before long in presence of that foreign influence, which, under cover of its interest for the Catholic faith, demanded with arrogance the sacrifice of the fundamental laws and independence of the country. They had to listen successively to three propositions made by the King of Spain: the first, the acknowledgment of the Infanta Isabella his daughter, grand-daughter of Henry II., as queen by right of birth; the second, that a prince of the imperial blood, affianced to the infanta, should be elected king; the third, that the infanta should marry a French prince, and that both should be declared conjointly possessors of the crown.
In spite of their obligations to Spain and of the need which the Catholic association had of its assistance, the deputies of the League still had the feeling of Frenchmen, and blushed at such demands. They rejected the two first propositions, and evaded the third, by saying that the hour was not arrived for them to proceed to the election of a king. They did nothing, and this was their only merit. But the Parliament, or, to speak more correctly, the members of that court, who, from zeal for orthodoxy or fear of the League, had remained in Paris, dared to do more. Performing an act of sovereignty in the face of the states and in opposition to them, they delivered a sentence which declared void every act made or to be made for the establishment of a foreign prince or princess, and protested that they would all die sooner than break or change that decree. A month afterwards, Henry of Bourbon, by abjuring Calvinism in the cathedral of St. Denis, removed the obstacle which the national usages opposed to his being king in fact as well as by right; and the states of the League, ceasing of their own accord, soon left all the legal preliminaries available for his occupation of the throne.
To the policy of a l’Hôpital, Henry IV. joined the force of arms; his victory after thirty-four years of national vacillation, of premature attempts and violent reverses, was the triumph of the principles of the immortal chancellor of Charles IX. The king who delivered conscience from religious oppression, and the country from foreign influence, was one of those great restorers, who appear after great disorders, to raise up the ruins and to give life to the seeds of good which are scattered in their dust. As soon as he had secured peace at home and abroad, twelve years were sufficient for him to obliterate the traces of the civil wars, to renew the face of the country by a constantly-increasing prosperity, and to lay the national policy on new foundations. He had an universal genius, a mind pliable and clear-sighted, prompt resolves, and a firmness not to be shaken in the determinations he had formed. To the wisdom of practical minds, to that instinct which goes directly to the useful and the possible, which seizes or rejects without prejudice and without passion, to a power of command the most absolute, he joined an attractiveness of manners and an elegance of conversation which were irresistible. His high virtues, mingled with some unaccountable weaknesses, have made him an unique pattern of a king at once amiable and dignified, deep in mind and light in tastes, full of greatness of soul and foresight, of popular sympathies and pride of race, and at all times and before all other considerations an admirable patriot.
There are three particulars to be observed in the work of the conqueror of the League: firstly, the definitive establishment of the liberty of conscience and of the civil position of the dissenters; secondly, the restoration and advancement of all that constitutes the wealth of a nation; lastly, the conception of a French policy, founded upon the maintenance of nationalities and the balance of the European powers. None of the earlier edicts of toleration had had the character of a permanent law; they were provisionary acts, treaties of peace concluded in the expectation of a reunion of the two forms of worship by a general or national council. But the two forms had never been able to coalesce, or be destroyed by one another; it was necessary that their separation, and, together with it, their respective rights, should be proclaimed and sanctioned by an irrevocable decree. Such was the object of the celebrated edict signed at Nantes on the 13th of April, 1598, to which that city has given its name. Recapitulating the essential and really practicable provisions of previous edicts, it guaranteed, on the one part, entire liberty of conscience to the individual; on the other, to the religions themselves privileges defined for each of them in proportion to its numbers and its situation in the country.
By this last arrangement between natural justice and social necessity, the Protestants obtained the distinct right of dwelling in any part of the kingdom without being constrained to do anything contrary to their conscience; the admissibility to all the public employments, with the dispensation of all ceremony and form of oath on their entrance to office which might be contrary to their religion; the right of being tried only at tribunals composed half of Protestants and half of Catholics; the right of publishing books connected with religion, of founding colleges, schools, and hospitals, and, together with this, of being admitted as students into the universities, and the other schools of the kingdom, or, as poor and invalids, into the ancient hospitals. The private exercise of the new form was declared free for each family, but the public exercise of it was only permitted in the places where it had been authorised by the edict of 1577, together with one additional city, or a smaller place in each bailliage. This charter of rights, which had the effect of rendering the State completely distinct and independent of the Church, became, under the son and grandson of Henry IV., the civil law of the two rival forms. It ruled them in peace—if not sincere, at least apparent—till it was broken by an infatuation of royal power, which, bringing back, after ninety-one years of toleration, the fanaticism and the proscriptions of the sixteenth century, disgraced one of the greatest reigns in our history with an indelible stain.
With the exception of the edict of Nantes, and a remarkable law against duelling, the whole legislation of Henry IV. proceeds upon subjects of public economy; and, in this respect, his interest in the general welfare, his knowledge of the circumstances conducive to the national prosperity, his creative genius, and the activity of his mind, are displayed in a remarkable manner. We know well the name which history associates with his in a common glory—the glory of having revived and developed, with an energy unexampled at that time, the productive powers of France. Maximilien de Bethune, Marquis of Rosny, Duke of Sully, appointed superintendent of finances in 1596, was the agent who, in that undertaking, in which the obstacles were innumerable, devoted to the execution of the King’s views a bold resolution, and a perseverance which was equal to every emergency. As first minister in reality, if not in name, he introduced reform and energy into all branches of the government. He not only raised the finances from the low state to which they had been reduced by the enormous deficiency of the last reign, increased by five years of anarchy, and the pecuniary compromises by means of which the submission of the chiefs of the League had been obtained—he not only replenished the empty treasury, but, going back to the sources of public wealth, he increased and multiplied them. Agriculture, encouraged with a zeal which gained over the nobility itself to its cause, rose to a height till then unknown; all the departments in the regulation of the soil, the waters and forests, the clearance of waste lands, the drainage of marshes, were the object of measures which called forth great private undertakings, by the force of imitation. The protection of Government was extended to all kinds of manufactures, and the cultivation of silk was spread through the whole kingdom. At the same time considerable sums were expended on roads, bridges, embankments, and the formation of navigable canals; and the design of making a communication between the two seas which wash the coasts of France was matured in the conversations of the great king and the great minister.
While we admire the spirit of order, advancement, and progress which characterises the internal government of Henry IV., we should, perhaps, feel a still greater degree of admiration for his plans of foreign policy. He undertook to preserve France from the continual danger with which she was threatened by the preponderance of the house of Austria, and at the same time gave to France herself a preponderating position by reconstituting Europe on a new principle, that of the independence and equality of states. The system of the balance of power, realised half a century later by the treaty of Westphalia, was a creation of his mind; he first conceived it under ideal forms, which became his passion, but which his practical wisdom made him regard as secondary and dependent on that which might be possible or advantageous in its execution. Death surprised him at the very instant when he was about to start on the commencement of that colossal war whose success was intended to level the ground on which he expected to build. The crime of a fanatic buried in the tomb of the king, who thus became the martyr of liberty of conscience, all those vast designs which, though still secret, and only guessed at from the greatness of their preparations, were holding the public mind in suspense from one end of Europe to the other, and filling the imagination with a mysterious expectation. When we reach this melancholy page of our history, when we read over again the sudden and violent termination of such a noble life and great career, it is impossible not to pause with emotion, not to feel, at the distance of more than two centuries, something of the anguish of his contemporaries, who saw France suddenly fall by the death of one man from order into anarchy, from political energy into a state of depression, from freedom of action into the slavery which a foreign influence brings upon government.
The reign of Henry IV. is one of those decisive epochs in which many events are brought to a close, and many take their commencement. Placed on the common boundary of two important centuries, it collected all the fruits of the social efforts and experiences of the one, and threw into their mould all the institutions which the other was destined to perfectionise. Royalty, disengaged from the inconsistencies in which its position had been involved during the Middle Ages, then showed itself distinctly under its modern form, that of an administrative sovereignty; absolute in right and reality up to 1789, and, afterwards, subordinated to, or associated with the national sovereignty. The ministerial departments were then regulated in a reasonable manner, and their jurisdictions extended to all that the wants of a society, really civilized, required. Then, lastly, the progress of the nation towards unity was accelerated by a more general concentration of power, and the progress towards civil equality by the depression of the high aristocratic classes of the court, and by the simultaneous elevation of the different classes of the Tiers Etat.
Three causes concurred in diminishing, in favour of the high bourgeoisie, the interval which separated them from the nobility: the possession of public offices, and especially of judicial appointments, held by the same families, and become a kind of patrimony by the right of resignation in favour of another of the same family; their devotion to important manufactures and undertakings, which created enormous fortunes; and that influence of mind which the revival of literature had established to the advantage of active minds. The whole body of the urban population, moreover, had been deeply agitated by the ideas and the troubles of the century; men of every rank and profession had been brought nearer to one another in the fraternity of one common faith, and of one common party. The League, above all, had closely united the artisan and the magistrate, the tradesman and the lord, and thrown them together in its deliberations; when the union was dissolved and its cabals broken up, there still remained something of its influence in the minds of those who returned again to the life of the workshop or manufactory—a sentiment of personal power and self-respect which they transmitted to their children.
With regard to the rural population, it appeared in the sixteenth century to be generally enfranchised from the barbarous and humiliating condition of serfdom; its liabilities to the proprietors of the soil were more and more fixed and modified, and from the end of the fifteenth century its admission to a share of political rights had signally marked the progress which had been effected in its civil condition. From that time, at each convocation of the States-General, there were in effect primary meetings, composed of the inhabitants of all the parishes, and concurring by their delegates in the formation of the cahiers, and in the election of deputies of the Tiers Etat. The delegates of each parish prepared the cahier of its grievances, and conveyed it to the chief place of the bailliage of the district; there, associated with the delegates of the chief place, they elected persons intrusted with the charge of consolidating in one single cahier the grievances of the parishes, and of conveying them to the city, the seat of the superior bailliage, where fresh delegates, elected in the same manner, and associated with the representatives of the city, drew up the provincial cahier of the plebeian order by a new compilation, and appointed its representatives to the States-General. This innovation, which dates from the assembly of 1484, henceforth formed all the classes of the Tiers Etat into one single political body, and put an end to the necessity of the protection which the deputies of the great cities had, up to this time, exercised in favour of the people of the open country. The latter found themselves in possession of the right of speaking in their own behalf; and it is from them that the remonstrances which concern them in the cahiers of 1484, 1560, 1576, and 1588, directly proceeded.
To return to the bourgeoisie, the soul of the TiersEtat, its condition after the fourteenth century presents to the observer the singularity of two opposite movements; one of progress, the other of decline. While magisterial and administrative employments, commerce, industry, science, literature, arts, the liberal and lucrative professions, were raising it in consideration, and creating for it important positions under a thousand forms, municipal freedom, which had originally formed its power and glory, was rapidly declining. The legislation of the fifteenth century had deprived the magistrates of the cities of their military authority; that of the sixteenth deprived them of their civil jurisdiction, restricted their criminal jurisdiction, and subjected their financial administration to a control which became more and more stringent. The privilege of a free and quasi-sovereign community, which had protected the revival and first developments of civil order, was treated in the same manner as the feudal privileges, and, like them, was levelled under the royal power, every encroachment of which, at that time, was a step towards national civilization and unity. But while the losses of the nobility were irreparable, those of the bourgeoisie were so only in appearance; if the beaten road was closed to them, new and broader ways were immediately opened. The continued elevation of the Tiers Etat is the predominant fact and the law of our history. This law of Providence has been accomplished more than once without the knowledge of those who were the agents of it, without the knowledge and even with the regrets of those who would naturally reap its fruits. The one party intended to work for themselves alone; the other, clinging to the remembrance of guarantees destroyed or evaded by the Government, believed that they were falling back, while they were continually advancing. In this way the Tiers Etat advanced, from the time of its accession to a share of power, up to the concluding years of the eighteenth century; then came a day when it might be said that it was nothing in the political state; and on the morrow of that day, its representatives in the States-General, declaring themselves invested with the national sovereignty, abolished the system of the orders, and founded in France social unity, civil equality, and constitutional liberty.
Summary: Inheritance of Offices—It is a means of Power for the Tiers Etat—States-General of 1614—Mutual Jealousies and Differences between the Orders—The Nobility and Clergy united against the Tiers Etat—Speeches of Savaron and De Mesmes, Prolocutors of the Tiers Etat—Speech of the Baron de Senecey, Prolocutor of the Nobility—Motion of the Tiers Etat upon the Independence of the Crown—Demands which it expresses in its Cahier—Cahier of the Nobility—Bitter Rivalry between the two Orders—Closing of the States.
Among the fiscal measures which were suggested to the Government of Henry IV. by an imperious necessity is one which, both at the time and subsequently, produced serious consequences—I mean the annual payment imposed on all the offices of the judicature and exchequer, and commonly called the paulette. By means of this tax, the magistrates of the supreme courts, and the royal officers of every rank, enjoyed the possession of their places as hereditary property. The first result of this innovation was to raise the saleable value of the offices to an amount unknown till then; the second was to invest the civil functionaries with a new degree of consideration, that which is attached to advantages of an hereditary nature. Within less than ten years the passions and interests of classes were awakened and brought into collision by the effects of this simple financial expedient. The nobles—many of whom were poor, and many trammelled with entails—were deprived of all chance of their offices by their high price; and this took place at the very moment when, becoming more enlightened, they understood the error which their ancestors had committed, in excluding themselves from these offices through their aversion to study, and in abandoning them to the Tiers Etat. Thence new causes of jealousy and rivalry arose between these two orders: the one was irritated at seeing the other aggrandized in an unexpected manner by the appointments which it now felt regret at having formerly despised; the other, from the hereditary right which raised professional families to the level of military, began to imbibe the spirit of independence and pride, and the high opinion of self, which were before the attribute of those of noble birth.
However remarkable the progress of the middle classes had been during the course of the sixteenth century, it had been effected without a contest of interest and amour propre between the nobility and the commonalty; the great religious struggle subdued and weakened all the rivalries of society. No malignant proceeding between the two orders appeared in the States-General of 1576 and 1588. But after the passions, excited by the twofold faith and worship, had been tranquillised, other passions, remaining dormant for a while in the depth of the heart, were re-awakened; and thus, by the force of circumstances, the first quarter of the seventeenth century, together with recent grievances, was marked out for the gathering up and manifestation of all the antipathy which had for a long time been treasured up between the second and the third orders. This collision took place in 1614, in the body of the states, which were convened, on the majority of Louis XIII., to seek a remedy for all the ruinous waste and anarchy which had been caused by the regency during the four years which had elapsed since the last reign.
It was on the 14th October that the assembly met in three separate chambers in the convent of the Augustins in Paris; it numbered four hundred and sixty-four deputies, of whom one hundred and forty belonged to the clergy, one hundred and thirty-two to the nobility, and one hundred and ninety-two to the Tiers Etat. Among these last the members of the judicial body and the other officers of the Crown were superior both in number and influence. From the opening of the session signs of jealousy and opposition could be observed between the two lay orders; the Tiers Etat felt offended for the first time by some differences of ceremony shown towards them. The prolocutor of the nobility exclaimed in his address: “This nobility, so much depressed at present by some of the inferior order under the pretext of certain accusations, shall resume its former splendour; they shall see by and by the difference which there is between them and us.” The same affectation of pride on the one side, the same susceptibility on the other, marked almost all the communications of the chamber of the nobles with that of the commons.
When the adoption of a rule for the order of their proceedings was considered, the clergy and the nobles agreed on the subject; but the Tiers Etat, from distrust of everything that proceeded from them, stood aloof, and so caused their plan, although a good one, to fall to the ground. A short time afterwards the nobility attempted an attack upon the upper class of the bourgeoisie; it determined to petition the King for the suspension, and, by consequence, the suppression of the annual payment for offices, of which the lease was about to terminate, and it obtained the assent of the clergy to that request. The proposal of the two orders was addressed to the Tiers Etat, which was thus reduced to the alternative of either joining them, and thus delivering up the chief of its members to the jealousy of their rivals, or, by refusing its adhesion, of incurring the odium of defending through self-interest a privilege which offended public opinion, and added a new abuse to that of the venality of office.
The Tiers Etat gave a proof of self-denial. It agreed, contrary to its own interest, to the requisition for the suspension of the tax by means of which offices were made hereditary; and, in order that that requisition should have its full logical result, it followed it up by one for the abolition of the venality itself. But it exacted from the two other orders sacrifice for sacrifice, and required them to join with it in soliciting the discontinuance of pensions, the number of which had doubled in less than four years, and the reduction of taxes, which were overwhelming the people. Its answer presented the three following propositions in connexion; to petition the King, first, to remit a quarter of the taxes for the current year; secondly, to suspend the collection of the annual payment, and to order that offices be no longer venal; thirdly, to withhold the payment of all the pensions assigned upon the treasury or the royal domains. The nobility, who held the court pensions as a supplement to their patrimonies, were thus retaliated upon; but far from imitating the generosity of their opponents, they required that the propositions should be taken separately, that the annual payment should be considered by itself, and the questions of the pensions and the taxes should be referred to the debates on the cahiers.
The clergy made the same demand, involved in guarded and captious expressions, which had no more success with the Tiers Etat than the selfish candour of the nobles. When they had considered the subject again, the chamber of the Tiers Etat decided that it would not separate its propositions, and this refusal was communicated by one of its most influential members, Jean Savaron, Lieutenant-General of the Sénéchaussée of Auvergne.
This member, a man of extensive knowledge and energetic character, spoke twice before the clergy, and concluded his second address in the following manner:—“When you aim at the extinction of the annual payment, do you not choose to perceive that your real intention is merely to attack the officers who hold the offices of the kingdom, passing over what you ought to demand with the greatest earnestness—namely, the abolition of the pensions, which involve many more important consequences than the annual payment? You are anxious to deprive the royal treasury of sixteen hundred thousand francs, which is annually paid into it from the paulette, and you are ready to burden the State with five millions, which the King has to pay every year, in order to purchase with a bribe the services of his own subjects! What advantage, what benefit, can the abolition of the paulette produce for the kingdom if you maintain the venality of offices, which alone causes the irregularity in the administration of justice? . . . It is, gentlemen, this accursed root which must be grubbed up—it is this monster which must be coped with, this venality of offices, which deprives and repels persons of merit and knowledge from holding them, while it favours the advancement of those who introduce themselves, very frequently without any qualification, on the stage and tribunal of justice by the profusion of an immoderate price; which deprives those whom God has placed in honourable but moderate circumstances even of the hope itself of ever attaining them. It is for this reason, gentlemen, that we respectfully beg you not to refuse us the co-operation of your order for purposes of such a sacred nature. It is for the people that we are labouring, it is for the interest of the King that we appear, it is against our own individual interests that we are struggling.”
Before the nobles, Savaron expressed himself in a loud and proud tone, and his arguments were marked with irony and menace. He said that it was not the annual payment which closed the approach to office to those of noble birth, but their want of aptitude for them, and the venality of the appointments; that, moreover, the suspension of the paulette, the reduction of taxes, and the suppression of pensions could not be separated; that the abuse of pensions was become such that the King no longer found servants except by making pensioners of them—a state of things which was tending to ruin the treasury, to oppress and crush the people; and he added, in conclusion, “Resume, gentlemen, the virtues of your predecessors, and the ways to honours and appointments will be open to you. History informs us that the Romans imposed such burdens upon the French, that they at last shook off their obedience, and by so doing laid the first foundations of the monarchy. The people are now so burthened with taxes, that it is to be feared that a similar event may take place. God grant that I may be a false prophet!”
The nobles only replied with murmurs and invectives to the prolocutor of the Tiers Etat; the clergy had praised his message, while they refused him all cooperation: left alone to maintain its propositions, the Tiers Etat determined to present them to the King. It made them the first article of a memorial which contained demands for reform upon other points, and sent it to the Louvre with a deputation of a dozen members, and Savaron was once more intrusted with the office of prolocutor. The man who had given lessons of justice and prudence to the privileged orders, now appeared in the presence of royalty as the warm and bold advocate of the poor. “What should you say, Sire, if you had seen in your countries of Guyenne and Auvergne, men feeding, like beasts, upon grass? Would not this new misery, unheard of in your state, excite in your royal breast a desire worthy of your Majesty to render assistance in such a great calamity? And yet the truth of this is so certain that I engage to confiscate my property and my appointments to your Majesty, if I am convicted of a falsehood.”
From this point Savaron went on to demand, together with the reduction of the taxes, the abolition of all the abuses denounced in the memorial of the Tiers Etat, and to treat afresh, with a sarcastic freedom, the points from which the disagreement between the Tiers Etat and the two other orders had sprung: “Your servants, Sire, while seconding the proposal of the clergy and the nobles, were disposed to solicit your Majesty to suspend the annual payment, which has rendered the price of the offices of your kingdom so excessive, as to make them almost inaccessible to all but those who happen to possess the greatest property and wealth, and very often the least merit, qualification, and capability; a consideration, it must be admitted, very plausible, but which seems to be devised in order to strike a blow at your servants in particular, and not with the design of securing the benefit of your kingdom. For to what purpose is it to ask for the abolition of the paulette, if your Majesty does not suppress the venality of appointments in every respect? . . . It is not the annual payment which has caused the nobles to deprive and cut themselves off from the honours of the judicature, but the opinion which they have entertained for a long period, that learning and study weaken courage, and render nobleness mean and cowardly. . . . . They ask you, Sire, to abolish the paulette, to cut off from your treasury sixteen hundred thousand francs, which your servants pay you annually, and they do not tell you that you may suppress the excess of pensions, which are so unbounded that there are some great and powerful kingdoms whose whole revenues do not amount to the sum you pay your subjects as the price of their fidelity. . . . What a pity that it should be necessary for your Majesty to supply each year five million six hundred and sixty thousand francs, which is the amount of the pensions that are paid from your treasury! If that sum were expended for the relief of your people, would they not have reason to bless your royal virtues? and yet this is a subject on which they are silent; they put off the abatement of the abuse till the cahiers are considered, and they desire at present that your Majesty suspend the quit-rents of the paulette. The Tiers Etat grants the one, and asks very earnestly for the other.”
This address was a fresh subject of irritation to the nobles, who felt so provoked at it that they resolved to present a complaint to the King. They begged the clergy to join them in this proceeding; but that body, assuming the character of a mediator, sent one of its members to the assembly of the Tiers Etat to lay before it the grievances of the nobles, and to invite it to give some satisfaction for the sake of peace. When the deputy had spoken, Savaron rose and said proudly, that neither in deed, intention, nor word had he given offence to the nobles; that, as for the rest, before he served the King as an officer of justice, he had borne arms; so that he was able to give an answer to any one in the one character or the other. In order to avoid a rupture, which would have rendered all business in the States impossible, the Tiers Etat accepted the mediation which was offered them, and consented to send a conciliatory message to the nobles; and in order that all cause of dissatisfaction and distrust should be removed, they chose a new speaker, the lieutenant civil, De Mesmes. De Mesmes was commissioned to declare that neither the Tiers Etat in general nor any of its members in particular had any design of giving offence to the order of the nobles. He made use of language at once honest and peaceable; but the ground was so hot, that, instead of appeasing the quarrel, his speech embittered it. He said that the three orders were three brothers, children of their common mother, France; that the clergy represented the eldest, the nobles the second, and the Tiers Etat the youngest; that the Tiers Etat had always recognised the nobles as raised in some degree above it, but that the nobles ought also to recognise the Tiers Etat as their brother, and not to despise it, as if it were of no account; that it was often found in domestic life that the eldest sons ruined the family, and that the youngest restored it. It was not only these last words, but the comparison of the three orders to three brothers, and the notion of such a relationship between the Tiers Etat and the nobles, that excited a storm of dissatisfaction among the latter. Their assembly, in confusion, directed their reproaches against the ecclesiastical representatives who were present at the sitting, complaining that the messenger of the Tiers Etat, introduced at their instance, instead of making reparation, had offered fresh injuries more serious than the first. After some lengthy discussion upon what ought to be done, it was resolved that they should proceed forthwith with a complaint to the King.
The audience which was demanded was not obtained till two days after; the nobles attended in a body. Their prolocutor, the baron de Senecey, concluded a verbose exordium with this description of the Tiers Etat:—“An order composed of people from the cities and the country; the last almost all bound to do homage, and under the jurisdiction of the two first orders; those of the cities, burgesses, tradesmen, artisans, and some placemen; and,” he continued, “these are the persons, who, forgetting their position, without the sanction of those whom they represent, wish to compare themselves to us. I am ashamed, Sire, to repeat to you the terms which have given us fresh offence. They compare your State to a family composed of three brothers; they say that the ecclesiastical order is the eldest, ours the second, and theirs the youngest; and that it often happens that houses ruined by the eldest are raised up again by the youngest. Into what a pitiable condition are we fallen, if this be true! . . . And not content with calling us brothers, they attribute the restoration of the State to themselves, in which, as France knows sufficiently, they have no share whatever; so everybody perceives that they could not be in any way compared with us, and a presumption on such poor grounds would be intolerable. Pronounce judgment, Sire, upon it; and, by a just decision, make them return to their duty.” As they retired, the assembly of the nobles who accompanied their speaker expressed their unanimous assent by gestures and such words as these: “We do not choose that the sons of shoemakers and cobblers shall call us brothers; there is as much difference between us and them as between the master and the valet.”
The Tiers Etat received the news of this audience and of these remarks with great composure; they decided that their orator should not only be approved, but thanked; that no recrimination against the nobles should be made before the King; and that they should proceed to the business of the cahiers without pausing to notice such squabblings. The clergy then interposed afresh to procure a reconciliation, asking that some advances should be made by the Tiers Etat; that body replied that there had been no intention on their part to give offence on that occasion more than on the former; that the representatives of the clergy could themselves make this known to the nobles, to whom they had no other satisfaction to offer, and desired that they might be left undisturbed to work at their cahiers, and occupy themselves with business of greater importance. But the difference between the two orders kept all in suspense; the Government, without making itself judge, redoubled its efforts for an agreement; an order was sent on the part of the King to the Tiers Etat, that they should take some measure to satisfy the nobles; but many days passed away without this order being obeyed.
During this time the memorial which contained the petitions of the Tiers Etat passed the examination of the council. The nobles and the clergy supported all the articles of it, except the one which was the subject of their difference; and in respect of this one, it was promised by the First Minister that the number of the pensions should be annually diminished by one quarter, and that the most useless ones should be suppressed. This concurrence and this victory opened the way to a reconciliation. The Tiers Etat had their thanks conveyed to the two first orders for their favourable co-operation; its messenger to the nobles disavowed all intention of giving offence, and they received a suitable answer. In this way the difference was terminated, from which no result of political importance could arise, but which is remarkable because the Tiers Etat performed in it the honourable part of disinterestedness and dignity; and a pride on the part of the people, cherished in the midst of study, and avocations which required intellectual labours, there showed itself openly, in the face of the pride of nobility.
A quarrel much more important, and without any admixture of private interests, occurred almost immediately after, and divided the three orders in the same manner as before, placing the Tiers Etat on the one side and the clergy and nobles on the other. The subject of it was the principle of the independence of the crown in regard to the church—a principle which had been proclaimed three hundred and twelve years before by the representatives of the bourgeoisie. In compiling its general cahier from the provincial cahiers, the Tiers Etat took from the cahier of the Ile de France, and placed at the head of all the chapters, an article containing what follows: “The King shall be petitioned to have it decreed in the assembly of the States as a fundamental law of the kingdom, which shall be inviolable and evident to all, that as he has been recognised as sovereign in his kingdom, holding his crown from God alone, there is no power on earth, of any kind whatever, spiritual or temporal, which has any right over his kingdom, either to deprive the sacred persons of our kings of it, or to dispense or absolve their subjects from the fidelity and obedience which they owe to him, for any cause or pretext whatever. All the subjects, of whatever quality and condition they may be, shall keep this law as sacred and true, as conformable to the law of God, without any distinction, equivocation, or limitation whatever, which shall be sworn and signed by all the deputies of the States, and, for the future, by all beneficed clergymen and officers of the kingdom. . . . All preceptors, professors, doctors, and preachers shall be bound to teach and to publish it.
These firm expressions, of which the meaning was at the bottom national, under the appearance of being altogether monarchical, consecrated the right of the state in that of the royal power, and declared the enfranchisement of civil society. At the mention of such a resolution the clergy took alarm; they made application to the Tiers Etat to have the article communicated to them, which they obtained with difficulty, and only at the same time that it was communicated also to the nobles. The last body, in abandoning the common cause of the laity and the state, repaid one act of favour to the ecclesiastical chamber by another; but the united proceedings of the two first orders had no influence on the third; they neither chose to retract nor to modify their article, and rejected, as it deserved, the proposition that they should acquiesce in a petition for the publication of a decree of the Council of Constance against the doctrine of tyrannicide. The great question, laid down afterwards in the war of the League between the two principles of a legitimate right to the crown in virtue of birth, or of one made dependent on orthodoxy of belief, was here, in fact, agitated. The debate on this question, which the reign of Henry IV. had not decided, and to which his tragical fate gave a melancholy and thrilling interest, was by a sort of coup d’état taken out of the province of the orders, and referred to the council, or rather to the person of the King.
Upon the invitation which was made to them on the subject, the Tiers Etat presented the first article of their cahier to the King; and some days afterwards the president of the chamber and the twelve presidents of the committees were summoned to the Louvre. Although Louis XIII. was of age, the Queen-mother was the speaker, and told the deputation “that the article concerning the sovereignty of the King and the security of his person having been referred to him, it was no longer necessary to insert it in the cahier; that the King considered it as though it were presented and received; and that it would be decided to the satisfaction of the Tiers Etat.” This violence done to the liberty of the assembly excited great confusion in it; it understood the intention, and how the erasure, which was prescribed to it, would terminate. During three days it deliberated whether it should conform to the orders of the Queen. There were two opinions; one, that the article should be retained in the cahier, and that a protest should be made against the persons who were misleading the King and controlling his will; the other, that they should submit by merely making a remonstrance. The first had the numerical majority in its favour; but it was not carried; as the vote was made by provinces, and not by bailliages. A hundred and twenty members, at the head of whom were Savaron and De Mesmes, declared themselves opposed to the resolution of the assembly, as made by the smaller number. They loudly demanded that their opposition should be admitted, and that effect should be given to it. The noise and confusion lasted during a whole sitting, and for the sake of peace a middle course was agreed to; they came to a compromise that the actual text of the article should not be inserted in the general cahier, but that its place should be formally preserved in it. In fact, upon the authentic copies of the cahier, on the first page and after the title—Of the fundamental Laws of the State—there was a vacant space, and this note: “The first article, extracted from the report of the proceedings of the chamber of the Tiers Etat, has been presented to the King previously to the present cahier by the command of his Majesty, who has promised to reply to it.”
This reply was not given; and the question of the independence of the crown and country was adjourned by the weakness of a queen who was governed by foreigners. It was not till the end of sixty-seven years that the rights of the State, proclaimed this time in an assembly of bishops, were guaranteed by a solemn act, obligatory on all the clergy of France. But this famous declaration of 1682, in its fundamental points, is only a reproduction, almost word for word, of the article of the cahier of 1615; and it is to the Tiers Etat that the honour of the initiative is here due. All that there was of courage and enlightenment in the public opinion of the time paid homage to it, and avenged it in its defeat. While the privileged orders were receiving letters of congratulation from the Court of Rome, thousands of voices at Paris were repeating this quatrain, composed for the occasion, which at the present day might be called prophetic:
To its petition for guarantees in favour of the sovereignty and the security of the prince, the Tiers Etat added, in its cahier, under the same title—Des Lois fondamentales de l’Etat—the petition for a convocation of the States-General every ten years; and it was the only one of the three orders which expressed this desire. The cahier of 1615 recals by its merit, while it exceeds in extent, that of 1560. It has that character of an inspired exuberance of resources which displays itself at the great epochs of our legislative history. Institutions of a political, civil, ecclesiastical, judicial, military, economic nature—it embraces them all; and, under the form of a petition, lays down the law upon each with a judgment and decision which are admirable. We see there the prudent ability which fixes upon what is practical, and liberal tendencies in favour of future progress; materials for an approaching legislation, and desires which could not be realised except by an entirely new order of things. I should like to give a complete idea of that work of patriotism and wisdom; but I am obliged to limit myself to the analysis of certain points; and I shall choose those petitions which, belonging exclusively to the Tiers Etat, are not found in the cahier of either of the other orders.
They require that the archbishops and bishops be appointed according to the form prescribed by the ordinance of Orleans; that is to say, from a list of three candidates elected by the bishops of the province, the chapter of the cathedral, and twenty-four notables, twelve from the nobility, and twelve from the bourgeoisie; that the crimes of ecclesiastics be tried by the ordinary tribunals; that all the incumbents be bound, under penalty of having their temporalities seized, to bring every year to the record-office of the courts of justice the registers of baptisms, marriages, and deaths, signed and numbered. That religious communities be not allowed to acquire real property, except for the purpose of increasing the circuit of their conventual houses. That the Jesuits be bound by the same laws, civil and political, as the other religious bodies established in France; that they acknowledge themselves subjects of the King, and be not allowed to have provincials who are not French by birth, and elected by French Jesuits.
That nobles and ecclesiastics, being lodgers or householders in the cities, be obliged to contribute to the communal taxes. That no noble, or other person, be allowed to exact any service from the inhabitants of his domains, if he has not a right verified by the king’s judges. That all nobles and others be forbidden to compel any one to grind at their mills, to bake in their ovens, or to press at their wine-presses, or to make use of any other right of feudal service, whatever usage or possession they may allege, if they have not a title recognised as valid. That all the lay and ecclesiastical seigneurs be bound within a fixed period to enfranchise their property held in mortmain, by means of an indemnity determined by the king’s judges, provided that all the subjects of the king, in whatever place they dwell, be declared capable with full right to acquire, hold, and leave their property at their own option.
That there be no longer more than two degrees of jurisdiction below the parliaments; that the courts of aids be reunited to the parliaments; that the professions subjected since the year 1576 to the system of exclusiveness by means of companies and guilds, be pursued without restriction; that all the edicts in virtue of which payments are levied upon the artisans in proportion to their industry be revoked, and that all letters of privilege granted as favors of the court, be declared null; that the tradesmen and artisans, whether belonging to a trade forming a company, or to any other, pay no more dues for being admitted masters, for setting up a business, or for any other part of their calling; that all the monopolies of trade or industry granted to individuals be abolished; that the customs exacted for passing from province to province be suppressed, and that all the offices for their collection be removed to the frontiers.
In all this there is an aspiration towards the civil equality, judicial unity, commercial unity, and industrial liberty of our days. At the same time the Tiers Etat of 1615 repeats the protests of 1588 and of 1576 against the encroachments on the ancient municipal rights by the state. It demands that the magistrates of the cities should be appointed by free election, without the interference and uninfluenced by the presence of the royal officers; that the custody of the keys of the gates should belong to them, and that wherever that prerogative had been lost it should be restored; lastly, that all the municipalities should be able, within certain limits, to tax themselves without the authorisation of government.
If inquiry be made into the cahiers of the three orders, in what manner their objects agree and in what they differ, it will be found that the difference is less between the Tiers Etat and the clergy, than between the Tiers Etat and the nobles. The clergy, influenced on one side by the liberal spirit of their doctrines, and on the other by their interests as a privileged order, do not follow a direct course in their politics; sometimes their votes are for the common right, the cause of the people, the removal of burdens from the poor and oppressed classes; sometimes, from their connexion with the cause of the nobles, they demand the maintenance of special privileges and exemptions chargeable with abuse. In the questions of the general welfare, administrative unity, and economic progress, they show that they are not strangers to the tradition of reforms, that they are not opposed to the great movement which, since the thirteenth century, advanced France by the power of the kings united with that of the people beyond the civil institutions of the Middle Ages. In a word, their evangelical sympathies, joined to their sympathies of race, incline them towards the Tiers Etat in all that does not affect their own temporal interests, or the spiritual interest and pretensions of the Church. It is on this last point, on the questions of the Papal power, of the Gallican liberties, of religious toleration, of the Council of Trent and the Jesuits, and almost exclusively upon them, that a serious disagreement is found in the cahiers of the Tiers Etat and the ecclesiastical order.
But between the two lay orders the divergency is complete; it is an antagonism which never relaxes itself except at rare intervals, and which, seen from the position in which we are placed to-day, presents in its ideas, its manners, and its interests, the struggle between the past and the future. The cahier of the Tiers Etat of 1615 is a vast programme of reforms, of which some were effected by the great ministers of the seventeenth century, and others were reserved for the year 1789. The cahier of the nobles, in its essential part, is merely a petition in favour of all that has perished, or was destined to perish, in the progress of time and reason. There are some points in it already mentioned, for the most part in the preceding States-General, but accompanied on this occasion with an eagerness of jealous hatred against the royal officers, and, in general, against the superior class of the Tiers Etat. The nobles do not confine themselves to defend the privileges and power which still remained in their hands; they wished to break down the administrative usages belonging to the French crown, to replace the soldier on the seat of the judge, and to displace the TiersEtat from the superior courts and all the posts of honour. Not only do they claim the appointments in the army and the court, but they demand that the parliaments should be filled with nobles, and that there should be places reserved for them in all the ranks of the civil hierarchy, from the high appointments of the Government, down to the municipal offices. Besides, in order to open to themselves the springs of wealth, at which the bourgeoisie were drinking, they demanded permission to pursue commerce without a sacrifice of rank. This was a sort of advancement in ideas; but the Tiers Etat, from a spirit of monopoly, protest against that request; they desire that commerce should be still forbidden to the nobles, and formally be so to all the privileged classes. In this way privilege was opposed to privilege, and instead of liberty on the one side and the other, they wished for compensation on both.
This eager rivalry, which gives so much interest to the history of the States-General of 1614, was a cause of their want of power. The coalition of the two first orders against the third, and the ill feelings which ensued from it, prevented or weakened every common purpose, and neutralised the influence of the Assembly over the proceedings and spirit of the Government. Besides, whatever desire for the public good might have been entertained by the Court of the young King, the incompatibility of the wishes of the two orders would have constrained it to remain inactive, for the choice of a definite line of policy was a matter of too much difficulty and danger for it. It would have been necessary, in order to elicit light out of that chaos of ideas, to have had either a king worthy of the name, or a great minister. The Court of Louis XIII., far from sincerely looking for a more advantageous course, was only desirous of profiting by the misunderstanding of the States for the maintenance of the abuses and the continuation of the disorder. For fear lest some circumstance might occur to make the Assembly feel the necessity of mutual agreement, the Court pressed forward with all its power the presentation of the cahiers, promising that they should be answered before permission to separate were given to the deputies. The latter demanded that their right of continuing the meeting of the States until they had received the answer of the King to their cahiers should be recognised. This was to lay down the question of the power of the States-General, which still remained undecided, after three centuries. The Court gave an evasive answer; and on the 23rd of February, 1615, four months after the opening of the States, the cahiers of the three orders were presented to the King in solemn form in the great chamber of the palace of Bourbon.
The following day, the deputies of the Tiers Etat attended at the Convent of the Augustins, the ordinary place of their sittings: they found the chamber dismantled of its seats and tapestry, and their president announced that the King and the Chancellor had prohibited them from holding any further meeting. More astonished than they should have been, they uttered complaints and invectives against the Minister and the Court; they accused themselves of indolence and weakness in the execution of their writ; they reproached themselves with having been, as it were, asleep four months, instead of opposing the Government and acting resolutely against those who were robbing and ruining the kingdom. A witness and actor in that scene has described it with expressions full of sadness and patriotic indignation. “One,” he says, “goes about beating his breast, confessing his cowardice, and anxious to redeem at any price an opportunity so fruitless, so pernicious to the State, so injurious to a young prince, whose censure he fears, when mature age shall have given him a full knowledge of the disorders, which the States have not retrenched, but increased, fomented, and approved. Another prepares for his return home, abhors his residence in Paris, desires his home, his wife, and his friends, that in the consolation of such tender pledges he may drown the recollection of the grief which his expiring liberty causes him. How—let us ask, what shame, what confusion for the whole of France, to see those who represent her so little considered and so degraded, that so far from being recognised as deputies, it seems hardly allowed that they are Frenchmen! . . . Are we different from those who entered yesterday the chamber of the Bourbon?” This question, which was the very question of the national sovereignty, was asked again in another assembly one hundred and seventy-two years later, and then a voice replied, “We are the same to-day as we were yesterday; let us proceed to business.”
But nothing was ripe in 1615 for the results which were effected by the Tiers Etat in 1789; the deputies, who were forbidden all deliberation, remained under the weight of their discouragement. Every day, according to the account of one of them, they paced up and down the cloisters of the Augustins, to meet and learn what was intended towards them. They inquired of one another the news of the Court. Their desire was to be dismissed; and all were watching for the opportunity, anxious as they were to quit a city where they perceived themselves to be, says the same account, out of place and unemployed, without business either public or private. The sense of their duty awakened them from that depression. They thought that, as the council of the king was engaged in preparing the answers to the cahiers, if it happened that any decision should be there taken, to the injury of the people, the blame would not fail to be cast upon their impatience to depart; and the nobles and clergy, moreover, would profit by their absence to obtain, by means of their solicitations, all sorts of advantages. For this twofold reason, the deputies of the Tiers Etat resolved not to ask separately for a leave of absence, but to wait till the council had decided upon the essential points, before they retired. They therefore remained, and assembled frequently in different places, maintaining their character as deputies with a certain vigour against the prime minister. At last, on the 24th of March, the presidents of the three orders were summoned to the Louvre. They were informed that the number of the articles contained in the cahiers prevented the king from replying to them so soon as he could have wished; but that, in order to give to the States an instance of his good feeling towards them, he received in advance their principal petitions, and let them know that he had decided to abolish the venality of offices, to reduce the pensions, and to establish a chamber of justice against the mal-practices of the financiers; that he would provide for all the rest as soon as possible; and that the deputies were at liberty to depart.
These three points of the cahier were chosen with tact, as affecting at the same time the passions of the three orders. The nobles hailed, in the abolition of the inheritance and venality of offices, a great advantage in their own favour: the Tiers Etat hailed a great advantage for the people in the retrenchment of the pensions; and the Assembly had been unanimous in their execration of the financiers, and in demanding a special jurisdiction against their illegal profits. It might even be said that the suppression of the paulette and of the venality was a common demand of the States, although each order had made that demand from different motives: the nobles, for their own advantage; the clergy, from their sympathy with the nobles; and the Tiers Etat, with a view to the public good, in opposition to their own individual interest. With regard also to the article of the pensions, which had given rise to the division between the Tiers and the two other orders, the three cahiers were brought into agreement, more open, it is true, on the side of the clergy than on that of the nobles. In this way, by a strange concurrence of circumstances, there were feelings which were opposed expressed in votes which were unanimous; and the promises of the king satisfied at one stroke generous desires and selfish designs. These promises, the only good tidings which the members of the States had to carry home to their provinces, were never kept; and the answer to the cahiers was not delivered till fifteen years after in a royal ordinance.
Such was the end of the States-General convoked in 1614, and dissolved in 1615. They form an epoch in our national history, as closing the series of the great assemblies held under the ancient monarchy; they form an epoch in the history of the Tiers Etat, of which they mark, at the commencement of the seventeenth century, the increasing importance, the passions, the enlightenment, the moral power and political impotency. Their meeting terminated only in a barren antagonism; and with them ceased to act and to live that old representative system, which was mixed up with the monarchy, without rules or defined conditions, and in which the bourgeoisie had taken a position, not by right, not by conquest, but at the call of the royal power. Admitted into the states of the kingdom without a struggle, without that eagerness of desire and effort which had led it to the enfranchisement of the communes, it had reached its position, in general, with more of distrust than of satisfaction, sometimes bold, frequently under constraint, always bringing with it a mass of new ideas, which passed more or less readily, more or less completely from its cahier of grievances into the ordinances of the kings. The effective agency of the Tiers Etat in the national assemblies was confined to that initiative influence, the fruit of which was slow and uncertain; all immediate action was rendered impossible for it by the double action of the privileged orders opposed to it or divergent from it. It is this which is seen more clearly than ever in the States of 1615, and it seems that the plebeian order, impressed with an experience of this kind, henceforward attached little value to its political rights.
A hundred and seventy-two years passed away without the States-General having been once convened by the crown, and without public opinion having availed itself of such powers as it possessed to bring about that convention. Hoping everything from that power which had elicited from the people, and put into action through plebeian hands the elements of modern civil order, that opinion for a century and a half submitted itself without reserve to the crown. It embraced the form of simple monarchy, symbol of social unity, until that unity, of which the people deeply felt the need, appeared to their minds under more propitious forms.
Summary: New importance of the Parliament.—Its Popularity—Its interference in Affairs of State.—Remonstrances of 22nd of May, 1615—Insurrection of the Higher Nobility—Ministry of Cardinal Richelieu, his Domestic Policy—Assembly of Notables in 1626—Demolition of the Castles—Ordinance of January, 1629—Foreign Policy of Richelieu—Unpopularity of the Great Minister—Reaction of the Tiers Etat against the Ministerial Dictatorship—Coalition of the Higher Magistracy, the Fronde—Political Act deliberated on by the Four Supreme Courts—Affair of the Barricades—Dictatorial Power of the Parliament—It makes its Peace with the Court—The Fronde of the Princes, its character—Triumph of the Principle of Unlimited Monarchy—Developments of the French Mind—Progress of Enlightenment and Refinement—Influence of the Literary Bourgeoisie.
A new phase in the history of the Tiers Etat commences at this point; the space, which is left vacant in it by the disappearance of the States-General, is filled up by the attempts that are made at a direct interference in the affairs of the kingdom by the parliament. of Paris. This judicial body, summoned in certain cases by the crown to act a political part, took advantage of this usage, from the sixteenth century, to maintain that it represented the States, that it had in their absence the same power as they; and when all hopes of a reform had been frustrated by the result of their last assembly, the public expectation was turned toward it, never again to be withdrawn, till the day when the ancient system was destined to cease. Recruited for more than three centuries from the élite of the middle classes, placed in the first rank of the high offices of the kingdom, setting the example of integrity and of all the civic virtues, honoured for its patriotism, its lustre, its wealth, and its very pride, the parliament possessed all that was necessary to attract the sympathies and the confidence of the Tiers Etat. Without examining whether its pretensions to be the referee of the legislature and controller of the royal power, were founded on real claims, the people loved it for its spirit of resistance to the ambition of the favourites and the ministers, for its constant hostility to the nobility, for its zeal in maintaining the national traditions, in screening the state from all foreign influence, and in preserving untouched the liberties of the Gallican church. The titles of August Body, August Senate, Guardian of the Kings, Father of the State, were bestowed upon it; and its rights and power were regarded as equally sacred and equally indisputable as the rights and the power of the crown itself.
Whatever degree of aristocratic character had been introduced into the courts of judicature by the right of inheritance to the appointments, this, far from diminishing their credit with the middle and inferior classes of the nation, was only regarded as an additional proof of their power to protect the rights and interests of all. That effective and permanent power, transmitted from father to son, and preserved intact by pride of class as well as pride of family, seemed a more secure protection for the cause of the weak and oppressed, than the uncertain and transitory prerogatives of the States-General. In reality, the political spirit of the judicial bodies was less liberal and less disinterested than that, with which the elected representatives of the Tiers Etat were animated in the exercise of their powers. If the parliament held with the last in some respects, it differed from them in others; its most courageous resistance was sometimes selfish, it had some of the vices of the nobility, to which it approximated. But in spite of its irregularities and weaknesses, those who were suffering from abuses, did not cease to have faith in it, and to reckon upon it. It seems as if a voice made itself heard in the depth of the popular mind, saying, These persons belong to us, they cannot wish otherwise than for the good of the people.
The facts, on every occasion, proved to be much below the expectations, and it could not be otherwise. If the supreme courts had the merit of speaking out, their word was without authority. Instituted by the kings for the administration of justice, they had not even the shadow of that national summons, which, whether given or assumed, confers, in some measure or other, the right of acting in opposition to the will of the monarch. As soon as the moment arrived of making action take the place of remonstrances, of opposing means of compulsion to the determined resistance of the government, the parliament found itself without authority and power; it was obliged to pause, or retreat upon auxiliaries more powerful than itself, upon the princes of the blood, upon the factious in the court, upon the discontented aristocracy. When in the name of the public interest it had refused the enrolment of an edict or the suppression of a decree, and maintained an independent and proud attitude in spite of the exile or the imprisonment of its members, its part was performed, unless it had made alliance with the ambition of foreigners in the cause of the people and for the benefit of the kingdom. In this way the most solemn manifestations of patriotism and independence terminated merely in proceedings without a result, or in a civil war, undertaken for the interest and the passions of the powerful. The civic courage, reduced by the sense of its own powerlessness from beginnings which were noble, but from consequences which were paltry or detestable, to lend her services to the intrigues and factions of the nobles—such is, in fine, the history of the political efforts of the parliament. The first of them all, which was, if not the most striking, at least one of the boldest, presented that character, which is found again on a grander scale and with many complications in the events of the Fronde.
On the 28th of March, four days after the dissolution of the States-General, the parliament, with all its chambers assembled, issued a decree, inviting the princes, dukes, peers, and officers of the crown, having a place and a voice in the deliberations of the court to attend there, in order to advise upon the matters which would be proposed for the service of the king, the welfare of the State, and the relief of the people. This convocation, proposed to be held without the command of the king, was an act unknown till then; it excited great expectation in the public mind, the hope of seeing that, which they had vainly promised themselves from the meeting of the States, executed by the supreme courts. The council of the king was alarmed as by an innovation of a threatening character, and annulling its decree by a counterdecree, it forbad the parliament to proceed further, and the princes and peers to attend at its invitation. The parliament obeyed; but immediately began to draw up remonstrances; a fresh decree of the council ordered it to desist; this time however it did not submit, but continued the work which it had commenced. When the remonstrances were ready, the parliament demanded an audience, that they might be read before the king, and its firmness, supported by public opinion, intimidated the ministers; for nearly a month they were negotiating in order to prevent the reading, but the parliament was immoveable, and its perseverance carried the day. On the 22nd of May it had an audience at the Louvre, and read its remonstrances to the king in council, of which the following are some of the passages:—
“Sire,—This assembly of the chief personages of your kingdom has not been proposed otherwise than subject to the good pleasure of your majesty, to represent to you faithfully by the advice of those who ought to have most information on the subject, the disorder which is day by day increasing and multiplying, it being the duty of the officers of your crown on such occasions to make you acquainted with the evil, in order to obtain the remedy for it by means of your wisdom and royal authority,—a proceeding, Sire, which is not without precedent or without reason. . . . Those who desire to weaken and depress the authority of this body are striving to deprive it of the liberty which your predecessors have continually allowed it, to show you faithfully what they might judge useful for the good of your state. We venture to tell your majesty that it is an ill counsel by which they persuade you to commence the year of your majority by so many commands of absolute power, and to accustom yourself to actions, which good kings, like you, Sire, resort to but on very rare occasions.
After having presented, according to its custom, the facts of its history, having asserted that it occupied the place of the council of the great barons of France, and that in this character it had at every period interfered in public affairs, the parliament proposed a cahier of reforms, similar to those of the States-General. It asked the king to follow the steps of his father in his domestic and foreign policy, to maintain the same alliances, and to practise the same system of government; to take care that his sovereignty should be secured against ultramontane doctrines, and that a foreign influence should not be insinuated in any way into the management of the affairs of state. It passed in review all the disorders of the administration: the ruin of the finances, the lavish expenditure, the excessive grants and the pensions bestowed by favour, the obstacles placed in the way of justice by the court and the high nobility, the connivance of the royal officers with the farmers of the revenues, and the insatiable greediness of the ministers. It pointed out in prospect the insurrection of the people, reduced to despair, and concluded with these calm but haughty words, “Sire, we very humbly beg your Majesty to permit us to execute the decree of March last, as is so necessary. . . . And in case these remonstrances cannot have their effect, nor the decree be executed through the evil counsels and artifices of those who are interested in them, your Majesty will, if it please you, find it right that the officers of your Parliament should make this solemn protest: that, for the discharge of their consciences towards God and man, for the interest of your service, and the preservation of the State, they shall feel obliged hereafter to name with full freedom the authors of all these disorders, and to make the public acquainted with their conduct.”
The following day, the 23rd of May, a decree of the council ordered these remonstrances to be erased from the registers of the parliament, and forbad that body to meddle in affairs of state without the order of the king. The parliament demanded a fresh audience; it was refused, and orders were repeated enjoining it to execute the decree of the council. It resisted, employing with tact all the means of delay which its modes of proceeding supplied it with. But, while it was resolutely maintaining the legal contest, those whom it had convoked to its deliberations quitted Paris, and made all their preparations to take up arms. The Prince of Condé, the Duke of Vendôme, the Dukes of Bouillon, Magenne, Longueville, and other great lords, raised the provinces of which they held the government, published a manifesto against the court, and levied soldiers in the name of the young king, who was constrained, as they said, by his ministers. Taking advantage of the uneasiness which was caused by the compliances of the Government towards the Court of Rome, and by its connexion with Spain, they gained over to their party the leaders of the Calvinists; and the cause of the reformed faith, once associated with that of the aristocratic rebellion, continued compromised by that alliance. In this way was commenced, on the part of the Protestants, that series of mistakes and misfortunes which, terminated by the revolt and the siege of Rochelle, caused them to lose successively all the political and military guarantees with which they had been invested by the edict of Nantes.
The civil war, for which the remonstrances of the parliament served as the pretext, terminated without any other military achievement than the movements of troops, and extensive pillage committed by the soldiers of the princes engaged in the rebellion. In the treaty of peace concluded at Loudun, and published under the form of an edict, it was ordained that the decree for the suppression of the remonstrances should remain without effect, that the rights of the supreme courts should be fixed by an agreement between the council of the King and the Parliament, that the King should give his answer within three months to the cahiers of the States-General, and in the same space of time to the famous article of the Tiers Etat upon the independence of the crown. But all these stipulations of public interest ended in words; there was nothing executed but the secret clauses, which granted to the chiefs of the revolt places of security, honours, and six million francs to divide among them. The malcontents, satisfied by these means, were reconciled to their enemies at court, and matters fell again into the same train of disorder and anarchy as before. The Government, divided and neutralised by the cabals, which quarrelled for it among themselves; a sort of plot, to reduce France to what she was previous to the reign of Henry IV.; attempts which made some remark with a foolish exultation, others with a profound sorrow, that the time of the kings was passed, and that of the nobles had arrived; the ever ready threat of a dissolution of the administration, and of a dismemberment of the kingdom by the intrigues of the ambitious united to those of the foreigner; these form the spectacle which was offered in the midst of its changes by the government of Louis XII., till the day when a Statesman, marked out in the destinies of France to resume and achieve the political work of Henry the Great, after having glided into power under the shadow of a patronage, seized upon the direction of affairs by main force, by the right of genius.
Cardinal Richelieu was not so much a minister, in the precise sense of the word, as a person invested with the whole power of the crown. His preponderating influence in the council suspended the exercise of the hereditary power, without which the monarchy must cease to exist; and it seems as if that may have taken place in order that the social progress, violently arrested since the last reign, might resume its course at the instigation of a kind of dictator, whose spirit was free from the influences which the interest of family and dynasty exercises over the characters of kings. By a strange concurrence of circumstances, it happened that the weak prince, whose destiny it was to lend his name to the reign of the great minister, had in his character, his instincts, his good or bad qualities, all that could supply the requirements of such a post. Louis XIII., who had a mind without energy but not without intelligence, could not live without a master; after having possessed and lost many, he took and kept the one, who he found was capable of conducting France to the point, which he himself had a faint glimpse of, and to which he vaguely aspired in his melancholy reveries. It might be said that, beset by the idea of the grand objects which his father had accomplished and designed, he felt himself oppressed by the weight of immense responsibilities, which he could not discharge except at the sacrifice of his liberty as a man and a King. Groaning sometimes under this yoke he was tempted to free himself from it, and then immediately resumed it, overcome by the conscientious sense which he had of the public good, and by his admiration of the intellect, whose magnificent plans promised order and prosperity at home, power and glory abroad.
In his attempts at innovation, Richelieu, as simple minister, much surpassed the great king who had preceded him, in boldness. He undertook to accelerate the movement towards civil unity and equality so much, and to carry it so far, that hereafter it should be impossible to recede. After the death of Philippe le Bel, the regal power had drawn back in its revolutionary undertaking, and bent beneath a reaction of the feudal aristocracy. After Charles V. there was a backward movement of the same kind; the work of Louis XI. had been nearly lost in the depth of the troubles of the sixteenth century; and that of Henry IV. was compromised by fifteen years of disorder and weakness. To save it from perishing, three things were necessary: that the high nobility should be constrained to obedience to the king and to the law; that Protestantism should cease to be an armed party in the State; that France should be able to choose her allies freely in behalf of her own interest and in that of European independence. On this triple object the king-minister employed his powerful intellect, his indefatigable activity, ardent passions, and an heroic strength of mind. His daily life was a desperate struggle against the nobles, the royal family, the supreme courts, against all that existed of high institutions, and corporations established in the country. For the purpose of reducing all to the same level of submission and order, he raised the royal power above the ties of family and the tie of precedent; he isolated it in its sphere as a pure idea, the living idea of the public safety and the national interest.
From this exalted principle he deduced an impassible logic and relentless severities in his exercise of the supreme power. He was as destitute of mercy as he was of fear, and trampled underfoot the respect due to judicial forms and usages. He had sentences of death pronounced by commissioners of his own selection: at the very foot of the throne he struck the enemies of the public interest, and at the same time of his own fortune, and confounded his personal hatreds with the vengeance of the State. No one can say whether or not there was deceit in that assurance of conscience which he manifested in his last moments: God alone could look into the depth of his mind. We who have gathered the fruit of his labours and of his patriotic devotion at a distance of time—we can only bow before that man of revolution, by whom the ways which led to our present state of society were prepared. But something sad is still attached to his glory: he sacrificed everything to the success of his undertaking; he stifled within himself and crushed down in some noble spirits the eternal principles of morality and humanity. When we look at the great things which he achieved, we admire him with gratitude; we would, but we cannot, love his character.
The most daring innovators perceive that they need the support of public opinion. Richelieu, before he put his political plans into execution, wished to submit them to the test of a solemn debate, in order that they might be returned to him confirmed by a sort of national sanction. He could not entertain an idea of the States-General: as a member of them in 1614, he had seen their mode of proceeding, and, besides, his notions of absolute authority were repugnant to those great meetings; he looked for the moral support which he desired to an assembly of notables. In the month of November, 1626, he convoked fifty-five persons of his own choice—twelve members of the clergy, fourteen of the nobility, and twenty-seven of the supreme courts, together with a treasurer of France and the prévôt des marchands of Paris. Gaston, the King’s brother, was president, and the Marshals De la Force and De Bassompierre vice-presidents of the Assembly; but the nobles who had seats in it, councillors of State for the most part, belonged to the Administration rather than to the Court. There was not included a single duke, peer, or governor of a province.
Richelieu himself developed before this meeting of chosen persons, of whom the members of the Tiers Etat formed more than half, the whole plan of his domestic policy. The initiative of the measures proceeded from the Government, not from the Assembly; one spirit alone pervaded all, the questions as well as the replies; and in the work, of which the cahier of the votes was the result, it would be impossible to decide what share belonged to the minister and what to the notables. Principles of administration in conformity with the spirit of society and with the future destiny of France were laid down by common consent: the assessment to the taxes was required to be such as would not aggrieve the productive and suffering classes; as the mainspring of the prosperity of the nation lies in its industry and commerce, it ought to be provided that that department be made more considerable and held in respect; it was laid down as necessary that the power of the State should have as its base a standing army, in which the promotions should be accessible to all, and which should spread the military spirit in the other classes of the nation as well as the nobles. With respect to the measures promised or required, the chief had for their object the lowering of the expenditure of the State to the level of its receipts, and the reduction of the unproductive expenses to the encouragement of the productive; the increase of the maritime forces, with a view to foreign commerce; the establishment of great commercial companies, and the resumption of the great projects of forming canals in the interior: the security of the industrious guaranteed against the want of discipline among the soldiery, by the strictness of the police and the regularity of payment; lastly, the destruction in all the provinces of the fortresses and castles not available for the defence of the kingdom.
The assembly of the notables separated on the 24th of February, 1627, and a commission was immediately named to draw up the reforms which had been recently promised, and those which were intended to meet the requirements of the cahiers of the States of 1614, into one body of laws. At the same time the most material and not the least popular of these reforms, the demolition of the fortresses, the quarters of the factious nobles and the soldiery of the civil wars, was commenced. At each decisive epoch of the progress towards the national unity, this kind of destruction had taken place by the authority of the kings. Charles V., Louis XI., and Henry IV. attacked the strongholds in order to check the feudal spirit; in this, as in everything, Richelieu made a vast step towards completing the work of his predecessors. The measures necessary for what we may call the political levelling of the French soil, were intrusted by him to the zeal of the provinces and municipalities, and from one end of the kingdom to the other, masses of the people rose to pull down the battlemented walls, the resorts of tyranny and brigandage, which from generation to generation they had learnt even as children to curse. According to the vivid expression of a distinguished historian, “the cities assailed the citadels, the rural districts the castles, each of them the object of its hatred.” But that order which frequently marks the depth of popular sentiments presided over this great execution which the country performed upon itself; no wanton destruction was committed; the fosses were filled up, the forts rased, with the bastions and everything that supplied a means of military defence—that which could only remain as a monument of the past was left standing.
During this time the commission of legislative reform pursued its work under the presidency of Marillac, the keeper of the seals. The result of it was the ordinance of January, 1629, which was equal in merit, and superior in comprehensiveness to the great ordinances of the sixteenth century. This new code consisted of not less than four hundred and sixty-one articles. It reached all the departments of legislation: civil law, criminal law, general police, ecclesiastical affairs, public instruction, justice, finance, commerce, army, navy. Inspired at once by the national desire, and by the genius of Richelieu, it bore the stamp of that genius, although the great minister did not condescend to assume any share in it, and the opposition of the parliament, raised against that work of deep wisdom, attached to it, by applying a humorous sobriquet, another name than his.
The object of the ordinance, or rather the code of 1629, was to meet at once the claims of the last States-General, and those of the two assemblies of notables. Among the provisions adopted in accordance with the cahiers of 1615, the greater part were formed upon that of the Tiers Etat. I shall not make an analysis of them, I shall only observe that in many cases the provision does not come up to, or diverges slightly from, the claim. We perceive that the legislator is studying to conciliate the divergent interests of the orders, and that he is anxious to limit the reform within certain bounds. If the suppression of those feudal privileges, which were enjoyed without a title, and of service which was unduly exacted, was granted to the Tiers Etat, its wish for the enfranchisement of property held in mortmain was not met. The time of free landed estates was not yet come; that of free cities was passed. The ordinance meets the claim for the emancipation of the municipal government only by evasive terms, and it takes upon itself to decree the uniformity of that government: it requires that all the civil corporations be reduced, as soon as possible, to the model of that of Paris. To these tendencies towards national unity it joined others not less propitious to the national development. It introduces into the army the democratic principle, by the power given to all of rising to every post; it relaxes in favour of the nobility the ties which bound them exclusively, under penalty of forfeiting their rank, to the profession of arms; it attracts the high bourgeoisie from the ambition of holding the offices of government, towards the interests of commerce; it invites the whole nation to press forward along the ways of active industry. We here give the text of three of these articles:—
“The soldier shall have the power of rising to the appointment and command of companies by his services, from rank to rank, up to that of captain, and still higher, if he proves himself worthy of it.”
“In order to invite our subjects of every rank and condition to apply themselves to commerce and traffic by sea, and to let them know that it is our intention to raise and honour those who will thus occupy themselves, we ordain that all nobles who, either in their own persons or by agents, shall take a share in vessels, their goods and merchandise shall not forfeit their rank. . . . And that those who are not nobles shall enjoy the privileges of nobility after they have kept up a vessel of two or three hundred tons for five years, so long as they shall continue to keep up the said vessel, provided they had it built in our kingdom, and not otherwise; and in case they die in the trade, after having continued it for fifteen years, we will that their widows enjoy the same privilege during their widowhood; as also their children, provided one of them continues the business of the said trade, and the maintenance of a vessel for the period of ten years. We will, moreover, that the wholesale traders who hold warehouses without selling by retail, or other merchants who shall have been échevins, consuls, or wardens of their companies, be able to take the rank of nobles, and have precedence and place in all public and private assemblies immediately after our lieutenant-generals, counsellors of the presidial courts, and our procureurs généraux of the said courts, and other royal judges who shall be on the spot.”
“We exhort our subjects, who have means and assiduity for the purpose, to join and unite together to form good and safe companies and associations for commerce, navigation, and trade, in the manner that they shall see best. We promise to protect and defend them, to give them encouragement by special privileges and favours, and to maintain them in every way that they shall desire for the advantageous conduct and success of their trade.”
All the social ameliorations that could possibly be made applicable to his time were effected by Richelieu, whose intellect embraced everything, whose practical genius omitted nothing, while, with a marvellous ability, he passed from generals to particulars, and from theory to practice. Conducting a multitude of affairs, both great and small, at the same time, and with the same zeal, everywhere present in person or in influence, he possessed, in an unique degree, universality and freedom of mind. Though a prince of the Roman Church, he was desirous that the clergy should be national; though a conqueror of the Calvinists, he struck the blow only at their rebellion, and respected their rights of conscience. Of noble birth, and imbued with the pride of his order, he acted as if he had received a commission to prepare the way for the reign of the Tiers Etat. The ultimate aim of his domestic policy was that which aggrandised and tended to unclass the bourgeoisie—namely, the progress of commerce and literature, the encouragement both of manual and intellectual labour. Richelieu did not recognise below the Crown any position equal to his own, save that of the writer or the thinker; he wished that a Chapelain or a Gombauld should converse with him on terms of equality. But while by grand commercial schemes and a noble literary institution he was multiplying places in the State, besides appointments in the courts, in favour of the middle classes, he depressed the ancient liberties of the cities to the level made by an unlimited power. Individual States, municipal constitutions, all that countries associated under the crown had stipulated for as rights, all that the bourgeoisie had created in its heroic days—he trod them all down lower than ever. This was not effected without sufferings to the people—sufferings unfortunately inevitable, but not the less acutely felt on this account—which accompanied from crisis to crisis the birth of our modern civilisation.
With regard to the foreign policy of the great minister, this part of his work, which is not less admirable than the other, has in addition the singular merit of never having lost any of its virtue by the lapse of time or the revolutions of Europe—of being as vigorous and as national after two centuries as on its first day. It is the same policy which since the fall of the empire and the restoration of constitutional France has not ceased to form, if I may use the expression, a part of the conscience of the country. The maintenance of independent nationalities, the enfranchisement of those which are oppressed, respect for the natural ties which form the community of race and language, peace and friendship with the weak, war with the oppressors of general freedom and civilisation, all those duties which our democratic liberalism imposes on itself, were implicitly comprised in the plan of foreign policy which was dictated to a king, by a statesman whose ideal of domestic policy was that of absolute power.
Upon the question of the rights of France to an enlargement of territory, by which she may obtain her definite frontiers, a question frequently proposed for three centuries, and still pending at the present time, Henry IV. said, I heartily wish that those who speak the Spanish language may remain to Spain; those who speak the German to Germany; but all those who speak the French ought to belong to me.” A contemporary of Richelieu, perhaps one of his confidants, represents him as saying, “The aim of my ministry has been this: to re-establish the natural boundaries of Gaul, to identify Gaul with France, and to make modern Gaul co-extensive with ancient.” From these two principles, combined together gether and modifying each other, will proceed, when the proper season shall arrive, the final settlement of the extent of the French soil as possessed by us, by a legitimate and perpetual title in the name of the two-fold right of nature and of history.
The conception of a new political system of Europe, founded upon the balance of rival powers, and in which France should exercise, not for her own advantage, but for the maintenance of the common independence, the ascendancy which had been carried off by Spain—this conception of Henry the Great, which vanished like a dream at his death, was carried into effect by Richelieu by means of negotiations and victories. When the minister of Louis XIII. died, worn out with patriotic labours, the work was almost completed; perseverance and tact, joined to striking successes in war, brought about in less than five years the fundamental act of European reorganization, the glorious treaty of Westphalia. This part of the work of the great statesman, his foreign policy, is that which was best understood in his own times, and appeared to eminent minds pure without alloy: with regard to the rest there was doubt or repugnance. Public opinion reacted against the revolutionary action of his power, as it did after the reign of Louis XI. The very classes which were destined to profit most from the levelling of the aristocratic privileges and the order imposed on all alike, were less struck with the future which was prepared for them, less sensible of the excellence of the object, than indignant at the violence of the means employed, and shocked by the excess of arbitrary power.
This reaction of the Tiers Etat against the ministerial dictatorship, that is to say, against the boldest innovations that had been introduced in the exercise of the royal power, was that which caused and fed the civil wars of the Fronde. I here approach one of the most curious and at the same time best-known events of the seventeenth century, an episode vividly touched upon in Memoirs which are read by everyone, and in our times studied deeply by some distinguished writers; I shall not even make a summary of it; the plan of this essay is to pass quickly over the points where history speaks, and to pause over those where she is silent. In the four years which are occupied by the movement of the Fronde, there are two distinct epochs: the one presents, externally at least, the characteristics which are peculiar to the constitutional revolutions of modern times; the other does little else than reproduce the aspect of the troubles of the reign of Louis XIII., and some traces, almost effaced, of the troubles of the League. The first alone completely enters into the history of the Tiers Etat, and must occupy an important place in it; and it is to this that I shall confine my remarks.
It is known under what circumstances the four supreme courts, that is to say, the Parliament, the Court of Exchequer, the Court of Aids, and the Great Council, leagued together, in the month of June, 1648, to resist the royal power, exercised during the minority of Louis XIV. by his mother and Cardinal Mazarin. It is known that that coalition of the judicial bodies, which was formed, in the name of their private interest, for the maintenance of the annual payment free from all deduction, soon applied itself to the defence of the public interests and the reform of the state. The signal of opposition given by the chief magistracy rallied round it all that had suffered, or were still suffering from the dictatorial government, which was imposed on France by Richelieu, and continued to be maintained after him, without his power of mind and talent. Not only were wounded interests aroused, but opinions, consciences, passions, a multitude of various elements, the remains of the past or the germs of the future, contributed to this fermentation of feelings. The just grievances of the people, overwhelmed with taxes, and the rancour of the nobility whose privileges had been diminished; the traditions of liberty, both of the States-General and the provinces or cities, and the idea of a superior liberty, drawn from classical studies and the progress of modern intelligence; a want more or less vaguely recognised of legal guarantees and a regular constitution; lastly, the working of minds which were stimulated by the example then offered by England,—such were the united springs of action which gave to the events of the first Fronde their character of power and novelty; such was the source which gave rise to a change in the character of the conflict, which was so frequently excited between the court and those who possessed the right to the appointments in the judicature.
With regard to the celebrated act, which resulted from the deliberations of the sixty deputies of the supreme courts, and which was like a charter of rights imposed upon the royal power under the form of a decree of the parliament; its importance, in whatever way it may be judged, cannot be overlooked. As to its form, it was an usurpation of the legislative power, attempted by means of the traditional privilege of remonstrance; as to its real grounds, this kind of fundamental law was in accordance with our modern charters, in giving express guarantees against arbitrary taxation and arbitrary detention of person. Its text conveys,—“no imposts and taxes shall be made, except by virtue of edicts and declarations fully and duly confirmed in the supreme courts, with liberty of votes. . . . None of the king’s subjects, of whatever rank and condition he may be, shall be allowed to be detained prisoner beyond twenty-four hours without being examined according to the ordinances, and handed over to his proper judge.” Besides the veto in questions of finance, the supreme court assumed the same right on the creation of new offices; and thus armed against every law which might have modified their composition, they became in fact the first power of the state.
If—a thing impossible—the crown, then vanquished, had resigned itself to such conditions, the government of France would have become a monarchy, modified by the legal action of the judicial corporations elevated into political powers. It cannot be a subject of doubt at the present day, that the establishment of such a power, more regular than an unlimited monarchy, would have been less beneficial to the future interests of the country than that monarchy. In this rough sketch of revolution, that which it displays in common with our feelings, is the spirit which inspired it for a moment, the democratic instinct which certain pamphlets of the day disclose, and which pervades the speeches which were delivered by the members of the parliament. In the speech of one of the most moderate we find such maxims as these: Kings are the equals of other men, according to the common principle of nature; it is their authority alone which distinguishes them. The authority which sovereigns possess depends upon the submission of their subjects. Kings are responsible for their position and their power to the various classes of men who obey them, and of whom the nobles form the smallest portion. The duties of magistrates, the industry of artisans, the endurance of soldiers, the labour of all who work, contribute to the establishment and the preservation of the crown. Without the people governments could not exist, and the monarchy would be only an idea.
According to the constant course of revolutions there was in the Fronde a moment of crisis, when the government, remitting its resistance, made some imperfect concessions, and when a formidable voice, that of the public, replied, It is too late. It was then that the violence of action succeeded to the legal struggle, and after a stroke of policy on the part of the court, that day of insurrection occurred in Paris, which, renewing one of the most famous of the League, was likewise called the day of the barricades. A similar name calls forth at a later date on the page where it figures in history, more than the interest of curiosity, for it brings home to ourselves reminiscences of anguish and mourning. In reading the circumstances of the 27th of August, 1648, as described in the memoirs of the time, we pause with melancholy thoughts when we meet with details of the following kind, “Everybody, without exception, took up arms; children of five or six years old were seen with daggers in their hands; mothers were seen who themselves supplied their children with them; there were more than twelve hundred barricades crected in Paris in less than two hours, lined with flags and with all the arms which the League had left fit for use. In the street Neuve Nôtre Dame, among other things I saw a lance which certainly belonged to the times of the old wars with the English, dragged along rather than carried, by a little boy eight or ten years old.”
But if the arms of the Leaguers, then seen again in the hands of the people of Paris, were old, it was at the voice of new passions and in behalf of new principles; the popular spirit of 1618 belonged less to the past than to the future. A power entirely plebeian and purely political had just raised itself in the face of the royal power, not in order to conquer it on this occasion—the time was not yet ready for that—but almost immediately to settle down into itself, to gain uninterrupted strength by the toil of thought, and to reappear with an irresistible force in the days of 1789.
The royal declaration of October the 24th, 1648, marked for the Fronde a second moment of crisis, corresponding with that point which revolutions reach, when the government accepts the agreements which necessity imposes upon it, but without real submission to circumstances and without good faith. A halting time full of distrust and uneasiness led to the extreme period of the revolutionary movement, to the usurpation of all the authority in Paris, by the parliament having for its auxiliaries the municipal magistrates. The measures which were then taken in the name of the public safety; the raising taxes and regular troops, the organization of the defence and the police of the city; the appeal of the federative union, addressed to all the parliaments and cities of the kingdom, prove that the coalition of the magistracy was wanting neither in boldness nor energy; its onward progress continued as long, as nothing but the excited sympathies of the bourgeoisie and the people was required to aid it; the rock on which it made shipwreck was the alliance which the force of circumstances obliged it to make with the interests and passions of the great nobles. The effect of that assistance, more than dangerous, was to draw it away from the ways of integrity and patriotism; when this was perceived it recoiled. It was to the honour of the Parliament that it replied with indignation and disgust to those who proposed to give the support of the enemies of France to the popular cause. Constrained to choose between an unyielding opposition and the duty of a wholly loyal citizen, it did not hesitate; it made its peace with the court, rather than make a compact with Spain.
A singularly remarkable fact in the history of the Fronde is the contemptuous reception which the common classes gave to the convocation of the States-General summoned for the 15th of March, 1649. That appeal of the royal power to the national authority of the three orders, whom it took as umpire in its quarrel with the Parliament, was listened to by the nobility, but not by the Tiers Etat; neither the bourgeoisie nor the rural population attended at the elections—their political faith was no longer there; undeceived as to the purity of those assemblies, where the privileged classes counted two voices to one, they preferred making a new experiment, under the conduct of the magistrates of their own order. The municipal corporations recognised the supreme authority of the Parliament; that of Paris, with its prévôt des marchands, its échevins, its counsellors, its syndics of industrial corporations, its quarteniers, its colonels and captains of militia, formed the executive power for the administration of the laws which were made by the supreme body. It is an employment not devoid of interest to follow, in the official registers, the acts of that power which seized upon the Bastille, and which partook in some degree of the character of the famous commune of Paris.
It was, doubtless, a day of pride for the bourgeoisie of Paris, when a prince of the blood appeared before the municipal magistrates, and said that, having embraced their party and that of the parliament, he came to dwell among them, in order to occupy himself with their common interests; when grands seigneurs took the oath as generals of the forces of the Fronde, and when women remarkable for rank and beauty installed themselves in the Hôtel de Ville as hostages for the fidelity of their husbands; but on that day the plebeian attempt against absolute power lost its character for dignity and originality—it began to be an imitation of that which was witnessed under the Regency of Marie de Medicis. All that the insurrection had of sincerity in its spirit and of gravity in its deportment disappeared, when factious courtiers, their morals, and their interests were admitted to have a place in it.
The peace concluded at St. Germain, on the 30th of March, 1649, between the court and the parliament, closed that which may be called the logical period of the Fronde, that is to say, the point at which the movement of opinion and the revolutionary action departed from a principle—the need of fixed laws in order to advance towards an object of social interest—the establishment of guarantees against arbitrary power. The final act of that peace sanctioned afresh the great concession which had been already made, the interference of the parliament of Paris in public affairs, especially in questions of taxation. In this way the absolute system ceased, in order to make way for a system of judicial control; but that change, which enervated the whole administrative government, far from giving rise to a better state of things, and pacifying France, produced nothing but anarchy. It was the fate of the parliament in the two preceding centuries to excite in the nation desires of lawful liberty, and at the same time to be incapable of satisfying them by anything efficacious or real. In the first year of the Fronde, its part had a certain greatness, but the result showed that it had fallen from its dominant position, no longer directing, governing itself with difficulty, by turns violent and timid, the accomplice, in spite of itself, of the ambition of the nobles, which was allied to the passions of the multitude. Three years of civil war for mere questions of personal interest, a confusion of aristocratic plots and popular tumults, of madness and frivolity, the scandals of a shameless gallantry joined to those of the rebellion by selfishness, and an appeal made to the foreigner, glorious names suddenly sullied with the crime of treason to France, lastly, a massacre contrived against the higher bourgeoisie by demagogues in the pay of princes —such are the scenes which fill up and complete the history of the Fronde, from April, 1649, to September, 1652. Stupid or repulsive, they are sad to read, and still more to relate.
After a shock which, for the time it lasted, had extended little below the surface, French society settled down upon its new bases—the unity and absolute independence of the government. The principle of unlimited monarchy was proclaimed more undisguisedly than ever in the midst of a general silence; and the work of Richelieu, maintained by a minister of less ability, was yet able to be passed intact from the hands of the last into the hands of a king. On the day on which Louis XIV. declared in council that he intended to assume the government in person, fifty-one years had elapsed since the death of Henry IV., and in this interval, by means of the order which had been powerfully established or ably maintained by the ministerial dictatorship, the social and moral state of France had made immense advances. At its escape from the civil wars of the sixteenth century, the nation, henceforward withdrawn from the double current of religious passions, which had dragged it in opposite directions into the great European contest, fixed its thoughts upon itself, and applied itself to look for its original position in the political and intellectual order of things. Thence sprung for the seventeenth century, two simultaneous tendencies, which consisted, the one in rendering the influence of France free and personal abroad; the other in developing the French spirit in its peculiar individuality, and its native character.
In the preceding century, the revival of letters had been a movement of ideas common to the whole of civilised Europe; it plunged us, as well as neighbouring countries, into the study and imitation of antiquity; but it did not create for us a national literature—that work was to come later. It commenced as soon as the country had marked out its part as an European power; our language was fixed at the same time that the grounds of our policy were laid, and the reform of Malherbe was contemporaneous with the projects of Henry IV. While these projects were being accomplished by Richelieu and Mazarin, French intelligence discovered its proper courses, and marched along them with a giant’s step; it reached the highest of philosophic systems, the sublime in poetry, and the perfection of prose; it presented to the admiration of mankind three names of imperishable greatness, Descartes, Corneille, and Pascal.
To the revolution of ideas, which in France impressed philosophy, literature, and art with the national character, was joined a revolution of manners. In the ardour of this new movement of intellectual life, we observe high polished society organising itself on an entirely new footing. Talent was henceforth reckoned in it as equal to all other distinctions; men of letters without birth entered it, no longer as domestics or protégés of princes and nobles, but from a personal claim. The conversation of both men and women, extended by fashion itself to subjects of the most elevated and important kind, founded that power of the salons which was to be exercised among us in concert with that of books. In a word, the literary bourgeoisie gained in the world of leisure the influence which it already enjoyed in the world of business; it was mixed up with anything, and had in a manner its advanced posts everywhere.
From this class proceeded at once in the seventeenth century the political agitation caused by the Fronde, and the religious agitation caused by Jansenism—an attempt at internal reform of Catholic dogma and discipline, a doctrine more strict in respect to belief, and more liberal in respect to authority—which was one of the moral springs of the revolt of the judicial corporations against the absolute power. This doctrine, without political weight, but rendered illustrious by the great characters and great minds which maintained it, holds a considerable though doubtful position in the history of the Tiers Etat. Connected with the successive efforts of the parliamentary opposition, it supplied food to the spirit of discussion up to the middle of the seventeenth century, up to the time when that spirit was transported, with an unheard of audacity and power, into the sphere of philosophy, where, far above all tradition, it soared, to seek, in order to bring down into the law, the eternal principles of reason, justice, and humanity.
Summary:—Development of our Social History from the Twelfth to the Seventeenth Century—Louis XIV. undertakes the Government in person. His character. Two parts in his Reign—Ministry of Colbert, his Plebeian Birth, his Genius—Universality of his plans of Administration—Grand Ordinances. Need of a long Peace—Passion of the King for War—His Conquests—Increasing favour of Louvois—Disgrace of Colbert—He dies, consumed by ennui, and unpopular—Revocation of the Edict of Nantes—Faults of the Reign of Louis XIV.—They all sprang from the same Source—Impression made by the Public Misfortunes—Change which it induced in the minds of Men—Nature and Extent of this Reaction.
The reign of Louis XIV. marks the last boundary in our history of the long social work as accomplished in common by royalty and the commons of the nation, a work of fusion and universal subordination, of national unity, of unity of power, and uniformity of administration. If from this culminating point we carry our view back as far as the reigns of Saint Louis and Philippe-Auguste, we appear to see unfolded before us one consistent plan, formed from the first, and towards the execution of which each century, since the twelfth, has made its contribution. The succession of time makes a line of kings and ministers pass before us, employed on this grand work, and applying all that they had of mind and talent to the service of the same cause. We see the people, for whom they are labouring, and from whom they have derived the elements of their reforming power, sometimes outstripping them by their own efforts, always readily following them, and stimulating them without intermission by their voice in the States-General, by the opposition of the judicial corporations, by all the organs that existed of common right and public opinion. It is thus that by means of progressive mutations, absolute royalty was raised up, the symbol of French unity, the representative of the state, which was easily confounded with it. To this system, which was hostile to liberty as well as to privilege, and of which the second half of the seventeenth century shows us the splendid expansion, the nation had not been forcibly subjected, it had itself resolutely and perseveringly desired it; whatever reproaches may be made against it in the name of the rights of nature, or of historical rights, it certainly was not founded either upon force or fraud, but consciously accepted by all.
Such was the government, which after two ministries, that may be called reigns in reality, was taken in hand by the son of Louis XIII., at scarcely twenty-three years of age. The young prince, till then a stranger to affairs, addressed these words to the chancellor and his colleagues in the first council which he held: “I have determined to be for the future my own first minister. . . . You will assist me with your counsels, when I shall demand them. . . . I pray and command you, my chancellor, to put your seal to nothing except by my orders. . . . And you, my secretaries of State, and you, sir, the superintendent of the finances, I order to sign nothing without my command.” This declaration included a promise of effective personal labour every day; Louis XIV. proved himself faithful to it during his whole life, and this is one of the characteristic traits and one of the glories of his reign. Never did the head of a nation entertain a higher and more serious idea of what he himself emphatically called the business of a king. In this way the exercise of power, which, since the death of Henry IV., had been carried on only by delegation, was reunited to its principle, and royalty, reduced during half a century to the state of a mere idea, became again, if I may use the expression, a person. This revolution, which naturally simplified the sovereign authority, was joyfully hailed by the popular sympathy and hope; the termination was here beheld of those evils, which the people always impute to intermediate agents placed between the throne and the nation: no one at that time foresaw the vast and singular consequences.
Louis XIV., together with a rare dignity of character, possessed a sound understanding, the instinct of government and order, the talent for affairs even in their detail, a great power of application, and a remarkable strength of will; but he wanted the high range of view and the independence of mind which had placed Richelieu and Mazarin in the first rank of statesmen. His determination to act in every thing according to the rule of his duty, and to have no object but the public good, was profound and sincere. His Memoirs, which still exist, express this with an effusion of feeling sometimes affecting; but he had not the strength always to follow the moral law which he imposed on himself. In wishing to make but one object of his own happiness and the welfare of the State, he was too much inclined to confound the state with himself, to absorb it into his own person. He too frequently mistook the voice of his passions for that of his duties, and the general interest, that which he boasted to love the most, was sacrificed by him to his family interest, to an ambition which knew no limits, and to an unregulated love of applause and glory. His long life exhibits him more and more rapidly carried down this dangerous descent. We behold him, at first, modest, and at the same time firm of purpose, loving men of superior minds, and seeking the best advice; next, preferring the flatterer to the man of information, welcoming advice, not because it was the soundest, but most conformable to his tastes; lastly, listening only to himself, and choosing for his ministers men without talent or without experience, whom he took upon himself to form. Thus this reign, though justly considered glorious, offers very different phases; it may be divided into two parts, almost equal in point of time, the one of grandeur, the other of decline; and in the first may likewise be distinguished two periods, that of the successful years, in which all is made prosperous by a powerful will directed by a sound reason; and that in which the decline commences, from passion assuming the empire at the expense of reason.
It was the genius of a man of the Tiers Etat, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the son of a trader, that gave the creative inspiration to the government of Louis XIV. Colbert was minister twenty-two years, and during that period, the best of the reign, the public prosperity was proportioned to the degree of influence which his mind exercised over the will of the king. That mind, in its inmost nature, was allied to that of Richelieu, for whose memory Colbert professed a genuine admiration. From his entrance into office, he brought forward again the plans of the great minister, and proposed as his object the execution of all that that extraordinary man had been able only to sketch, to point out or to catch a glimpse of. In the sphere of foreign relations, the work of Richelieu was already accomplished, but the ground could only be cleared and the ways marked out by him for the internal reorganisation of the kingdom. By diplomacy and war, he and his able successor had secured to France a preponderating position among the States of Europe; but it still remained to give it a degree of wealth and prosperity equal to its greatness abroad, to create and develope all the elements of its financial, industrial, and commercial capabilities. This is what was undertaken by a man who possessed neither the title nor the rights of first minister, the servant of a monarch, tenacious of his personal authority, and jealous on this point even to a mania. Richelieu had effected great things in his full liberty of action; Colbert effected some, no less important, in a state of the strictest dependance, under the necessity of giving satisfaction in every matter that he had to decide upon, and under the condition, too, of never enjoying openly any merit of his own actions, of taking upon himself in the government the anxieties, the errors, the popular injustice, and of making over to another the success, the glory, and the public gratitude.
In that association which bound Louis XIV. and Colbert together in the same work, nothing was more strange than the contrast of their persons and characters. The king, young and brilliant, ostentatious, lavish, carried away by pleasure, possessing in the highest degree the carriage and tastes of a gentleman; the minister, joining to the sterling qualities of the middle class, to the spirit of order, forecast, and economy, the tone and manners of a bourgeois; grown old before his time in subordinate duties and continual labours, Colbert had not lost the impression which they had left upon him: his address was awkward, his person ungraceful, his features severe, even to harshness. This rude covering, however, inclosed within it a spirit zealous for the public weal, eager for action and for power, but still more devoted than ambitious. Cold as ice towards applicants for favour, and sympathising little with complaints concerning private interest; he was animated with tenderness and enthusiasm at the idea of the happiness of the people and the glory of France. Thus all that constitutes the welfare, all that forms the splendour of a country was embraced by him in his patriotic reflections. Happy would France have been with all the prosperity to which she could then aspire, if the king, who had placed his faith in Colbert on the dying recommendation of Mazarin, had always followed the admirable guide whom Providence had given him. At least, in the twenty-two years of that ministry, marked both by favour and disgrace, he permitted him to put his hand to almost every department of government, and all that Colbert touched was transformed by his genius. We are seized with astonishment and respect at the sight of that colossal administration which seems to have concentrated in a few years the labour and the progress of a whole century.
If there be a science in the management of the public interests, Colbert is the founder of it among us. His acts and his efforts, the measures which he took, and the counsels which he gave, prove on his part the design of concentrating all the administrative institutions, till then disconnected, in one system, and of attaching them to one superior mind as to their common principle. This mind, whose greatness Louis XIV. had the merit to perceive and respect, was able also to prescribe to itself: to prompt the national genius to soar into all the ways of civilization, to develope at once all the activities, the intellectual energy, and the productive powers of France. Colbert laid down for himself, in terms which might be considered altogether modern, the rule of government which he wished to follow in order to reach his object: it was to distinguish the conditions of men in two classes—those which tend to withdraw themselves from labour—the source of the prosperity of the State, and those which by a life of industry tend to the public weal;to throw obstacles in the way of the first, and to forward the others by rendering them, as much as possible advantageous and honourable. He reduced the number and value of appointments, in order that the bourgeoisie, rendered less eager in pursuit of them, might turn their ambition and their capitals to commerce; and he allured the nobility to accept them by combating the prejudice which, with the exception of military service and some high employments of State, made it a point of honour with them to lead a life without occupation. The competition of labour—such was the new spirit which he proposed to infuse into French society; and in accordance with which he conceived the immense design of entirely remodelling the legislation, and of forming it into one body, similar to the code of Justinian.
To this design we must refer, as fragments of one and the same work, the grand ordinances of the reign of Louis XIV., which were so admirable, considering the period, and of which so many provisions still remain at the present day, the civil ordinance, the criminal ordinance, the ordinance of commerce, that of forests and waters, and that of the marine. Colbert, at first only simple intendant, afterwards comptroller-general of the finances, had by the ascendancy of his talents constrained the king to raise his position in the council to that of director of all the economic interests of the State. From the very sphere within which the character of his office seemed necessarily to confine him, he at once directed his view to the highest regions of political thought, and, embracing all subjects in one compendious whole, he considered them, not in themselves, but in their relation to that ideal of productive order and increasing prosperity which he had formed in his own mind. It seemed to him that a great nation, a society truly complete, ought to be at once agricultural, manufacturing, and naval; and that France, with her people born for action of every kind, with her vast territory and her two seas, was destined to success in these three branches of human industry. This success, general or partial, was, in his eyes, the supreme object and the only legitimate foundation of financial combinations. He imposed on himself the task of assessing the taxes, not upon the privations of the people, but upon an increase of the general wealth, and he succeeded, in spite of enormous obstacles, in augmenting the revenue of the State, while at the same time he reduced the amount to the individual tax-payer.
Colbert made a provision for intellectual interests enter largely into his plans, which were formed especially with a view to material prosperity. He perceived that, viewed as a matter of national economy, relations existed between all kinds of labour, between all the capabilities of a people; he understood the power of science in the production of wealth, the influence of taste upon industry, of the intellectual upon the manual arts. Among the celebrated institutions of his creation are the Academy of Science, the Academy of Inscriptions and belles-lettres, the academies of painting, sculpture, and architecture, the French school in Rome, the school of Oriental languages, the Observatory, the provision for teaching the law in Paris. He instituted, as part of the public service, and of the ordinary expenditure, pensions for literary persons, scholars, and artists; and his benefits to them were not confined to the limits of the kingdom. With respect to the particular measures of this great minister for the industrial regeneration of France, their details would exceed the limits within which I am obliged to confine myself. The changes which he effected in all the branches of the financial administration, his labours to increase or to create a national capital under all its forms, his encouragements of every kind bestowed on all classes of persons who were co-operating in the work of production, from the head of an enterprise down to the simple labourer; that vast and harmonious body of laws, regulations, statutes, precepts, foundations, projects, are ably set forth in recent publications. It will be sufficient for me to refer the reader to them, and to say that it is owing to the impulse given by Colbert to that principle of new life diffused among us, now about two centuries ago, that we must be reckoned among the maritime and commercial powers of the world.
Colbert had this in common with others gifted with an organizing genius, that he formed new objects by means which were not new, and used as an instrument everything which he found ready to his hand. Far from striving against ancient usages and practices, he had the art of extracting strength from them, giving life to that which appeared inactive and worn out by the inspiration of his will, and by original modes of application. It is thus that in the case of the finances and of commerce, he transformed an accumulation of empirical proceedings into a system profound and reasonable. Thence were derived his power and marvellous success in his own times, the doctrines of which he did not shock; thence also the weakness of some parts of his work in the eyes of experience, subsequently acquired, and of science formed after him. Was he wrong in not taking account of the desire of the States-General in 1614 for ameliorating the system of the monopoly of corporations, and of receding from that first aspiration of France towards the liberty of labour? The answer to this question, and to others of the same kind which are raised by the administration of Colbert, cannot be made without taking other things into consideration. Everything is connected together in the acts of the great minister of Louis XIV.; and in this systematic whole two facts are conspicuous: the first is, that he made everything emanate from the principle of authority, that he beheld in industrial France nothing but a vast school to be formed under the discipline of the State; the second is, that the immediate results of his policy gave him ample reason for it, and that he succeeded in advancing the nation onward by half a century.
Long years of war were necessary for the accomplishment of Richelieu’s work;—in order that the work of Colbert, the complement of the other, should be freely developed, and yield all its fruits, long years of peace were required. After the treaty of Westphalia and that of the Pyrenees, a lasting peace seemed to be insured to Europe and to France; but Louis XIV. did not allow what these two great compacts promised. At the moment when the young king appeared entirely devoted to the cares of internal prosperity, he broke the peace of the world, under a strange pretext, to incur the hazards of an external aggrandisement. He undertook in behalf of the pretended claims of his wife, the infanta Marie-Therese, and against the advice of his best counsellors, the war of invasion which was terminated by the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, a war that was unjust, though the event of it was fortunate for the king and for France. The king gained in it a repute for political and military ability; France, by acquiring many cities in Belgium, made a considerable step towards the attainment of her natural extension. But there was something fatal in this first stroke of fortune. The passion of military glory once awakened in the breast of Louis XIV. never slept again; it cooled his zeal for pacific labours; it made him pass from the influence of Colbert under that of a counsellor the most unfortunate; and not only did it make him pay less attention to domestic improvement than to foreign conquests, but, even in external affairs, it turned him away from the true French policy, from that policy at once national and liberal, the plan of which had been conceived by Henri IV., and the edifice raised by Richelieu.
Whatever embarrassment may be experienced in forming an accurate judgment, in a patriotic point of view, of the policy of a reign, from which France issued with her frontiers determined on the north, and, in great measure, on the east, it is necessary to distinguish two things in the wars of Louis XIV.: the result and the intention; the conquests which were retained with a reasonable claim, and the insane enterprises, which aiming very far beyond the limit which justice could warrant, were yet brought back to it at a later period by the force of circumstances which proved fortunate. The war with Holland, by the spirit of vengeance which it inspired, and the manner in which it was conducted, had this character; if it was the cause of the territorial advantages, which were attained at the peace of Nimeguen, it was because the Court of Madrid, by allying itself to the enemies of the king, furnished him with the opportunity of making a fresh attack upon Franche-Comté and the low countries belonging to Spain. A similar extension of territory did not result from the war with Germany; all the conquests made during that war of nine years were given up by the treaty of Ryswyk, that, among others, which gave to France her natural frontier of the Alps. Lastly, in the crisis brought on by the extinction of the Royal Family of Spain, Louis XIV., having the choice, preferred the chances of a crown for his grandson to the extension of his dominions with the consent of Europe. His personal glory and his family formed the twofold interest which he followed more and more at the cost of the national interests, by breaking down the whole system of ancient alliances, by making France abandon the part of guardian of the public right and the protectress of small states, to render her in the view of surrounding nations an object of fear and hatred, like the Spain of Philip the Second.
This fatal war with Holland, which began to make shipwreck of the policy of Richelieu, struck with the same blow the financial system of Colbert, and falsified all his measures. It was impossible for him to make provision during six years for the expenses of an armed struggle against Europe, without departing from the admirable arrangements which he had formed, without having recourse to the expedients of his predecessors, and compromising the new elements of domestic prosperity. From 1672 to 1678 all economic ameliorations were arrested or thrown back; and when peace came, and it was necessary to repair losses and to recommence improvements, the mind and favour of the king were no longer with Colbert. A man gifted with a special talent for the administration of war, but of a narrow mind and egotistical feelings, an excessive flatterer, a dangerous counsellor, and a wretched politician, the Marquis de Louvois, had secured the favour of Louis XIV., by ministering to and exciting his passion for glory and conquest. That unbounded confidence which had made almost a first minister of the comptroller-general of the finances was now withdrawn from him, and transferred to the Secretary of State for War, and together with the favour of the king, the preponderating influence in the council.
Reduced from that time to the ungrateful task of opposing the voice of reason to a party hurried onward by pride, violence, and foreign encroachments, of protecting the exhausted treasury from continually increasing demands for fêtes, pleasure-houses, and military government in the midst of peace, Colbert sank by degrees under the fatigue of that fruitless and hopeless struggle. He was observed to be melancholy, and was heard to sigh at the very hour of his former delight, the hour of sitting down to his work. He felt that he was regarded as a burden, in all the good that he wished to effect, in all the evil that he strove to prevent, in the frankness of his language, in all that the king had once loved in him. Many times after some unmistakeable symptoms of disgrace, the high mettle of his spirit and his sense of patriotic duty still raised and supported him under his mortifications; but at last a day came when the bitterness of this situation overflowed, and the heart of the great man was broken.
Such is the sad history of the last years of Colbert. Years filled up, on the one hand with fits of feverish activity, and on the other with those alternations of estrangement and reconciliation, of galling slights and cold reparations, which mark the termination of a distinguished favour. The melancholy, which beyond a doubt shortened his life, was fostered by two feelings,—the disappointment of a statesman checked in the midst of his work, and a suffering of a still deeper nature. Colbert had loved Louis XIV. with an enthusiastic affection; he believed in him as the personified idea of the public good; he had formerly seen him associated heart and soul in his labours and his dreams, and considered him, superior though he was in rank, his equal in patriotic devotion; and now he was obliged to confess to himself that all this was an illusion, that the object of his worship, ungrateful to himself, was less patriotic also. It was in this disenchantment that he died. On his death-bed the state of his mind betrayed itself by a gloomy uneasiness, and by some bitter remarks. He said, in speaking of the king, “If I had done for God what I have done for that man, I should be twice saved, and I now know not what is to become of me.” A letter having been brought to him from Louis XIV., who was then also unwell, with some friendly expressions, he continued silent, as if he were asleep. When asked by his attendants to send a word in answer, he said, “I do not want to hear any more said about the king, but that he may at least now leave me at peace; it is to the King of kings that I am thinking how to make my answer.” And when the vicar of St. Eustache, his parish, came to tell him that he had asked the prayers of the faithful for his recovery; “Not so,” replied Colbert, abruptly, “let them pray God to have mercy upon me.”
There was an unhappy fatality in the destiny of this noble character which death itself did not arrest. It was strange that the minister who anticipated in his plans a revolution which was to come, the reign of industry and commerce, he who wished for the abolition of privileges in respect of taxation, a just proportion in the public burdens, the diffusion of capital by the diminution of interest, a great degree of wealth and honour for the encouragement of labour, and a liberal assistance to poverty, —this very person was unpopular even to hatred. His funeral procession having to pass near the markets, did not set out till nightfall, and under escort, for fear of some insult from the people. The people, and especially that of Paris, hated Colbert in consequence of the heavy taxes established since the war with Holland; they charged him with the necessity against which he had in vain contended; and they forgot immense services, to render him responsible for measures which he deplored himself, and which he had been forced to take against his will. The king was ungrateful, the people ungrateful; posterity alone has been just.
The death of Colbert and the revocation of the edict of Nantes, an irreparable loss and a fatal stroke of policy, mark the point of distinction in the reign of Louis XIV. between the years of greatness and the years of decline; of these two events, separated by a short interval, it cannot be said that the second had not some connexion with the first. We must add to the merits of the great minister that of his having been the defender of the Protestants, of his having consistently withstood the blows aimed by the spirit of religious unity against the charter of liberty made by Henry IV. It was moreover the policy of Richelieu, which he followed while maintaining the harmless rights guaranteed on two occasions to the Protestants. Less from principle than patriotic instinct he protected in this party a body of men such as he required for his plans, men active, upright, educated, experienced in industry and commerce, and attached to those professions by the very ill-will which gradually excluded them from public duties. So long as the influence of Colbert continued in the councils of Louis XIV., the mind of the King was kept on the watch against the suggestions of the catholic clergy, and his own particular inclinations; but on this point, as on many others, the giddiness of absolute power commenced when his favour was withdrawn from the man of genius. It was thus that the exercise of constraint succeeded to the allurements used to draw back the dissenters, and that after the penalties enacted against the relapse of new converts followed the entire abolition of the liberty of worship and conscience. The immortal edict of Henry IV., confirmed and ratified by Louis XIII. in 1629, was revoked by Louis XIV. on the 17th October, 1685; a date to be remembered among the sad recollections of our history. We know what a fearful blow this act of violence and its consequences dealt to the civilisation and the prosperity of France; how, by the emigration of workmen, inventors, traders, seamen, capitalists, the advantage which the institutions of Colbert had given us over our rivals in industry was almost entirely lost.
In 1685, almost a century had passed since France, preceding in this respect the other nations of Christendom, had entered on that new state of society in which the Church is separated from the State, the social duties from the concerns of the conscience, and the believer from the citizen. Under the system of the edict of Nantes, the legal principle in the matter of religion was not only simple toleration, but the equality of civil rights between Catholics and Protestants; the recognition also, and, with some exceptions, the full liberty of the two forms. We were, in this respect, superior to both catholic and protestant Europe, a superiority acquired at the price of forty years’ misfortunes, and perhaps by the assistance of a more prompt perception of justice and right. It was from the height of this principle, laid down in the law, and which existed in spite of violations more or less direct, more or less serious, that the edict of Nantes again reduced the country to a system of violence and anomalies, which, to become consistent, terminated in the civil death of the Protestants. Such is the point of view from which the historian must judge of the act of authority which was, if not a crime, the greatest of errors in Louis XIV. In this point of view neither the ideas nor the practices of the other states of Europe in point of civil toleration can serve as an excuse for the conduct of France; France for a century had raised the right of her people above the ideas of the time.
With respect to the reaction of Catholicism in the country, that cannot with any more reason be used as an apology, for this was nothing new, and two great ministers had been able to withstand this influence during thirty years; although both members of the Church, they kept themselves within the limits marked out by public honour and state policy. Louis XIV. was perfectly free to think and act like them; in his reign the Protestants no longer excited alarm, and the pressure of catholic intolerance had not become more embarrassing. He had only to leave matters in the state in which he had found them, not to be made the dupe of pretended conversions which were concocted to please him; not to become, unless he wished it, an atrocious persecutor; lastly, not to bequeath at his death to the France of the eighteenth century, a whole code of proscriptions more odious than those of the sixteenth.
The great fact, unforeseen at the time, which prevails over the whole reign of Louis XIV., is, that, in this reign—the last term of the movement of France towards monarchic unity—the absolute power, exercised personally by the king, is seen to fall, for the good of the real national interests, below what the same power had previously been when delegated to a first minister. Richelieu, and after him Mazarin, governing as if they had been dictators of a republic, had extinguished, if I may use the expression, their personality in the idea and service of the state. Possessing only the exercise of authority, they both conducted themselves as responsible agents towards the sovereign and before the judgment of the country; while Louis XIV., combining the exercise with the right, considered himself exempted from all rule but that of his own will, and acknowledged no responsibility for his actions except to his own conscience. It was this conviction of his universal power, a conviction genuine and sincere, excluding both scruples and remorse, which made him upset one after the other the twofold system founded by Henry IV., of religious liberty at home, and abroad of a national preponderance resting upon a generous protection of the independence of states and European civilisation.
At the personal accession of Louis XIV., more than fifty years had passed since France had pursued the work of her policy in Europe, impartial towards the various communions of christians, the different forms of governments, and the internal revolutions of the States. Although France was catholic and monarchical, her alliances were, in the first place, with the Protestant states of Germany and with republican Holland; she had even made friendly terms with regicide England. No other interest but that of the well-understood development of the national resources had weight in her councils, and directed the internal action of her government. But all was changed by Louis XIV., and special interests, the spawn of royal personality, of the principle of the hereditary monarchy, or of that of the State religion, were admitted, soon to fly upward in the scale.
Thence resulted the overthrow of the system of the balance of power in Europe, which might be justly called the French system, and the abandonment of it for dreams of an universal monarchy, revived after the example of Charles V. and Philip II. Thence a succession of enterprises, formed in opposition to the policy of the country, such as the war with Holland, the factions made with a view to the Imperial crown, the support given to James II. and the counter-revolution in England, the acceptance of the throne of Spain for a son of France, preserving his rights to the Crown. These causes of misfortune, under which the kingdom was obliged to succumb, all issued from the circumstance applauded by the nation and conformable to the spirit of its tendencies, which, after royalty had attained its highest degree of power under two ministers, delivered it unlimited into the hands of a prince endowed with qualities at once brilliant and solid, an object of enthusiastic affection and legitimate admiration.
When the reign, which was to crown under such auspices the ascendant march of the French monarchy, had falsified the unbounded hopes which its commencements had excited; when in the midst of fruitless victories and continually increasing reverses, the people beheld progress in all the branches of public economy changed into distress,—the ruin of the finances, industry, and agriculture,—the exhaustion of all the resources of the country,—the impoverishment of all classes of the nation, the dreadful misery of the population, they were seized with a bitter disappointment of spirit, which took the place of the enthusiasm of their confidence and love. What was there under the great and wretched mistake the impression of which still appears so vividly in the contemporaneous documents? It was not simply the feeling of human hope disappointed by an individual, it was the decisive test of a form of government prepared far back by the labours of ages, for the benefit of which every guarantee of political liberty had been destroyed or abandoned, and the progress of which the masses of the nation had favoured as if it were their own.
I do not here mean to assert, that the people of France had a consciousness of the nature and depths of the crisis of which their actual depression was but a prelude, that they had a perception of events which subsequent generations have only learnt from the consequences of circumstances and the teaching of history. Whatever meaning it might then have had for those who were suffering from it, the strange contrast between the first and last years of Louis XIV. corresponded to one of those solemn moments in the life of nations, in which a great social movement, the results of which are exhausted, is arrested, and in which another movement commences, which, with more or less secrecy and speed, is about to seize upon the public mind, to transform it, and to hurry everything towards an unknown future.
Summary: End of the first Period of our social Revolutions, commencement of the Second—New Career of Efforts and Progress opened to the Eighteenth Century—Abandonment of Historical Liberties, Inquiry after a Right purely rational—Part of the Tiers Etat in this great Movement of Mind—Opposition in the Heart of the Court of Louis XIV.—Fénelon and the Duke of Burgundy—Their project of a Constitution at once aristocratic and liberal—Good Sense and Firmness of Purpose in the old King, Results of his Government—Progress towards Civil Equality, patronage of Literature—The Life of the Nation drawn to the Centre, Decline of Local Institutions—Municipal Employments in right of hereditary Tenure and Purchase, consequences of this financial Expedient—Ruin of Municipal Liberties—Attack upon the political Privileges of the Parliament—Prohibition of all Remonstrance before the Enrolment of the Laws—The Parliament re-assumes its Power—Its part in the Eighteenth Century.
After having sacrificed, with rash and ill-founded expectations, all her ancient institutions to the aggrandisement of one alone, after having permitted the independence of classes and territories, the rights of provinces and cities, the power of the States-General, and the political control of the parliament to be destroyed, France, having reached the highest point of this long revolution, found herself brought face to face with monarchical unity, an unity, however, which was, so to speak, altogether personal, and from which the very idea of a nation forming a body was in theory excluded. In this way the labour of centuries elapsed since the twelfth, by attaining its object pursued with so much consistency, ended after all in a regime, as unacceptable to reason and patriotism, as it was definitive in a something which, far from terminating the march of progress in politics, was but a halting post, a second starting point, the commencement of new efforts.
This new labour of opinion and of public will was of necessity not to build up again the ruins, not to touch the absolute unity of the State, the spontaneous production of our social instincts, but to impress upon it in some sort the true national character instead of the royal seal, to provide that its enlarged idea should embrace, in order to guarantee their safety, all the legitimate rights of the citizen. Such was the glorious work of the century, the fifteenth year of which closed the reign of Louis XIV., a work in which the object was less simple and the parts more mixed up together than in the first, and in which men seemed to be groping in the dark, till the day when all the ways were smoothed by the fusion of the two first orders in the body of the third, and by the accession of an assembly, one and sovereign, of the representatives of the nation.
At this point of the history of France that of the Tiers Etat must stop; we here observe the disappearance of its name and the termination of its separate existence, of which the last advancements and most memorable acts will form the subject of a further work. As I shall then show, but little of movement is observed at first at that most important period from whence issued a fatal medley of immense benefits and great evils; the old political habits remain, while a new spirit seizes upon the minds of men; next the labour achieved in idea passes into action; attempts at reform more or less comprehensive are nobly but fruitlessly made by the government, and from their ascertained powerlessness, springs the popular effort, which elicits from the States-General assembled for the last time the revolution of 1789.
This inauguration of a society founded upon principles of rational right, did not come to pass until the mass of the nation had thoroughly perceived that there was nothing for them to expect from a restoration of historical rights. Simple reason and history were like two different sources from which the regenerative principle drank from its birth; but, whether of necessity or imprudence, it drank more and more from the first, and less and less from the second. On the one side the stream was scanty and sluggish; on the other continually increasing, hurried on by the double impulsion of reason and hope, it ended by mastering and carrying everything along with it.
Ancient rights were nothing else but ancient privileges, the restoration of them in a body under the name of liberty could not be an object of serious desire except to the two first orders; the Tiers Etat, with the exception of some old municipal liberties, which were no longer regarded with interest, had nothing to regret in the past, everything to expect from the future. It thus became in the last part of its political action the great focus, the indefatigable instrument of the new spirit, of the ideas of social justice, of equal liberty among all, and of civic fraternity. It is not here implied that this spirit, superior in its independence to the customs and interests of order and class, yet availing itself of those customs for its own purposes, and of those interests in order to render its adoption less repulsive and less restricted, should necessarily continue a stranger to the classes whose exclusive rights, already lost in part, were condemned to perish for the general good. If the unprivileged order was naturally disposed by its very instincts and interests to such inspirations, it could not be alone in feeling them. Wherever elevated minds and generous hearts met, there was found food to cherish what may be named the idea of modern liberality; that voice of opinion, which renovated everything in 1789, had its brilliant and sincere instruments among the nobility and clergy. Strange, too, as it may appear, it was at the very court of Louis XIV., in the circle of his grandson, in the meetings of grands seigneurs, that the first attempt at a political reaction originated, springing from a lively sympathy with the sufferings of the people, against the intolerable dogma and the necessary evils of unlimited monarchy.
It is known that a writer of talent, an admirable bishop and ardent philanthropist, Fénelon, was the soul of those projects of which he had sown the seed in lessons which he gave during five years to the heir to the throne. The plan of government, conceived by him, and embraced enthusiastically by the future successor of Louis XIV., presented a curious mixture of aristocratic spirit and affection for the popular interests. This plan, to which a vague celebrity is attached, had the praiseworthy merit of being suggested by the consciousness of existing abuses and evils, with the enormous defect of applying to those abuses remedies worse than the evil itself. It destroyed the centralisation of the government, and even the government itself, properly so called, suppressed the intendants of provinces, and replaced the ministers by councils. Depriving royalty of its modern character, it made of it, no longer the living image, the active personification of the State, but an inactive privilege, serving merely to crown a hierarchy of privileges, and depending upon this hierarchy while rendering it protection. This was to retrograde towards feudal monarchy, in order to avoid the evils of absolute monarchy, and to undo the work of ages instead of perfectionising it.
By the side of the States-General, which had become a regular institution, of the provincial States which were established to the number of twenty, at least, by a new division of the provinces, of cantonal diets appointed for the assessment and redistribution of the taxes, were found in this so-called free constitution the still more definite separation of the orders, and new distinctions of classes: for the clergy an entire independence with respect to the civil power; for the high nobility political prerogatives; for the noble born in general, the admission by preference to all the offices, the re-establishment of the juges d’épée in the bailliages, and their introduction into the parliaments; lastly, for the Tiers Etat there was a diminution or suppression of offices which for a long time had devolved on them. By the strangest contrast, moreover, to provisions which seem like a contradiction to the traditional progress of society in France, there were joined others, the generosity of which was in advance of the times and the expectations that could reasonably be entertained; taxation was extended in every shape to all the classes of the nation; in this respect there were no longer privileges for the two first orders, nor vexation for the people from the mode in which the collection of taxes was farmed.
In spite of the liberal doctrines which the Duke of Burgundy and his friends professed, and of which they sincerely believed that this work was the expression, this wretched medley of contradictory elements, which was a twofold innovation, firstly, in its character of a social philanthropy, and, secondly, as it restored a distinction of rights and classes according to birth,—a distinction which raised the nobility up again from their political fall, and lowered the positions which the Tiers Etat had gained by length of time,—this constitution, opposed both to reason and history, had not a chance of being popular for a single day, if it could have passed from the world of dreams into that of realities. The French monarchy, when it was to be no longer absolute, should have continued administrative; French liberty should have been founded, not upon a distinction, still more marked than before, but upon the fusion of the orders, not upon the depression, but upon the continued elevation of the commonalty.
The death of the Dauphin when scarcely thirty years old, cut off at once these designs and the hopes which were entertained of his reign. Louis XIV. had but a vague knowledge of the plans elaborated by his grandson in the secrecy of friendship. He admired the serious spirit and high qualities of the young prince, but all besides was an object of distrust and antipathy to him, and that as much from his straightforwardness of mind as from his despotic instincts. If he had within him an extravagant faith, it was his deep conviction of the wisdom of his ancestors, of the civilising efficacy of that power, when united and concentrated, which he had received from them, which he no doubt abused, but which he developed in the same way as they had done. In the midst of all the pomp of his court, he was in his way a leveller; in his estimation merit had claims superior to those of birth; he opened ways as wide as possible to the rise of new men; instead of dividing he united. He laboured to render the political unity of the country complete, and, without knowing it, prepared at a distance the accession of the one great and sovereign community of the nation.
In this manner, in spite of its too evident defects, the policy of Louis XIV. was more intelligent and of greater value for the future, than the specious imaginations of the reformers of his times; he formed his opinion of what ought to be his task according to the work of his predecessors, and he performed it faithfully, according to his means and powers. Whether we allow or refuse him the name of Great, which was decreed to him by admiration mixed with flattery, it is impossible not to be sensible of the impression which is produced in history by that kingly person, calm and proud, serious and mild, attentive and reflecting, one to which the idea of Majesty so well corresponds. It is even impossible not to regret at times the severe blame which justice compels us to join to the praise which is due to him; and this feeling arises not when we contemplate his reign, brilliant with all that forms the splendour and the power of States, but when we behold the kingdom deprived of its strength and prosperity, and the monarch once loaded with glory, with nothing left to hope for but from his struggle with misfortune. It is when, vanquished on all his frontiers by the coalition of Europe, he prolonged that last combat with an unshaken firmness, forgetting himself in order to spare the country the miseries of a foreign invasion, sacrificing his pride, and ready to give his life for the national independence. It is also when, in the severest of his reverses, he saw, without allowing himself to despond, his son, and his grandchildren, die around him; or lastly, when at the close of his existence, he expressed in touching words, an admirable constancy of mind, a courage without ostentation, which he carried even to a confession of his errors.
Besides the splendour which was shed upon his reign by the renown of so many men of talent, whom it is unnecessary to name here; besides his dearly purchased glory, and transient prosperity, in all the phases of his long reign, in spite of enormous errors, he had one incontestable merit, that of being the first to present a complete form of administration, embracing at once, without exertion, in a continuous manner, all the material and intellectual interests of the country. In this respect the government of Louis XIV. made an immense step in advance of those which had preceded it; he fixed the basis of that which I should call the administrative constitution of the government; it was, with the exception of political liberty, one of the greatest governments which France had possessed up to our days. It is from him that we properly date the regular action of the State, the sociableness, manners, language, and national taste of our own times. At this point of our history we find our present condition in great measure established; beyond it, we have difficulty in recognising ourselves. It is like a mould, the powerful impress of which has remained on the principal elements of our civilisation, literature, art, industry, civil order, and military forces.
From this moment we see the power, free in its motions, proceed from the centre to the extremities, and thence ascend again by sure and easy ways. In the department of each ministry we see in full action those numerous offices in which traditions are preserved, and in which documents are accumulated. Lastly, we see the prudence of the government presented in a degree of maturity; it knows of what value is the care of the future, and on every point it devotes itself to it; it institutes learned societies, and insures itself effective bodies of officers; it founds schools of art and schools of arms, forms new harbours, arsenals, and scientific collections.
Some remarkable advancements towards the great national fusion of ranks accompanied the new developments of the administrative power, under Louis XIV. Considered in a social point of view, the spirit of his government was to tend by every sort of means to the approximation of classes. He annihilated the independence of the nobles without interrupting peace; compelled the great lords without apparent constraint to the court life, and to regular service in the army; and everywhere, even at court, made the dignity attached to office take the precedence of birth. Marshals, whether they were nobles or not, took the precedence of dukes; ministers of bourgeois birth were second to none but princes of the blood, and their wives were admitted to the King’s table. In the army there no longer existed any necessary preference of the high nobility over the inferior in regard to rank, nor of the nobility over the commons; seniority of service constituted the right to promotion, and, except in cases of signal merit or particular favour, they followed the order of the list.
The old aristocracy, generally cut off from public affairs, had no longer either power or political influence as a distinct class; the sum of their privileges was reduced to exemptions from taxes, which the exchequer frequently rendered illusory, to the exclusive right of admission into an order of knighthood, and to some seigneurial rights, which had become less profitable to them than burdensome to the inhabitants of the country. One of their members, a man of talent, but infatuated with family pride, calls the reign of Louis XIV. a reign of the vile bourgeoisie, words the bitterness of which proves that after Richelieu and the fall of the Fronde, something took place in France towards the furtherance of civil equality, which had the appearance of revolution in the eyes of contemporaries.
At the same time that the nobility, humbled without violence, retrograded upon the ranks of the middle class, the latter rose by a start more suddenly than ever in capacity, social consideration, and importance in the State. It was to them that the new encouragements given to industry and study were profitable; their active and inventive powers were developed in every direction; fortunes were rapidly accumulated by their more extended undertakings, and the highest careers were now opened to their ambition of advancement. They obtained successes, credit, and power, the examples of which struck forcibly the great moralist of the age. La Bruyère has described with his inimitable touch, that emulation of useful labour, in contrast with the supineness of spirit and the idleness of the high nobility. Under Louis XIV. almost all the ministers sprung from the bourgeoisie; many of the illustrious names among the military, and among the literary all the great names with three exceptions were plebeian.
But if this last glory, the highest and most lasting of the reign, the one which makes it reckoned as an epoch in the history of the human mind, results in so large a proportion from the Tiers Etat, a share of it is also due to the personal influence of the King. Not only did Louis XIV., with the advice of Colbert, make a provision for literary persons by instituting regular pensions in their favour; but of his own accord he did more, he honoured them with his favours. He assigned them a place at court, and placed their free association, the French Academy, in the rank of the great corporations of the States. He ennobled literature in a manner by his familiarity full of consideration with the principal among them; and by his natural dignity, his correctness of judgment, and his purity of taste, he exercised, without laying claim to it, a real influence over it. Something of that chastened boldness, of that perfect proportion of force and grace, of reason and imagination, which is the character of the chefs d’œuvres of the second half of the seventeenth century, is derived from him.
The same reign which put the seal on political unity, and carried out administrative unity almost to its entire development, laid the foundations also of that which may be called the moral unity of France. From the approximation of classes and different professions, from the more frequent intermixture of the nobility and bourgeoisie in the high spheres of government, fortune, and society; a mixed society was formed under Louis XIV., no longer confined to the intimacy of certain salons, but co-extensive with the general intercourse of life,—the genuine society of France modelled upon one and the same type of refinement and good taste. Thither the hereditary habits, the traditional manners, the characteristic traits, derived by each from his origin and his condition, came to be fused and tempered together in one form of good breeding. Nobles and commoners, military men and professional, literary and commercial, were no longer distinguished on their first introduction by a contrast of manners. A tinge of urbanity shed over all conditions, assistance of every kind held out to meet the want of instruction, an easy life and refined pleasures made Paris a residence attractive to foreigners; while, among ourselves, the conformity of tastes and mind extending wider and wider, opened the ways to a social power, which soon gained the ascendancy over all the others,—the power of public opinion.
By a movement similar to that which had taken place in the political order, and next in the administrative order, the moral life of the nation was also more and more attracted to the centre. The ideas, the modes of life and thought peculiar to each province, were weakened and modified under the dominion of a general rivalry; of a leaning to imitate the tone and the manners of the capital. This impulse even extended its action beyond its sphere, it produced political effects; it hastened the ruin of the ancient provincial institutions, already far advanced, throughout the kingdom. Although under and after the reign of Louis XIV. there still existed particular states in France preserving by exception their Deliberative Assemblies, this remnant of the liberties of the Middle Ages was but a shadow before the power of the intendants, which was becoming more and more active and absolute. Nowhere, except in Brittany, and there for reasons belonging to the particular history of that province, did the resistance of the ancient corporations to the encroachments of the central authority induce anything beyond a waning opposition and struggles without any important result.
Since the reign of Henry IV. up to an advanced period of the reign of Louis XIV., the municipal system had not undergone any important alteration. Although watched and controlled in a manner more and more strict, this system preserved its old foundations and its principle of liberty by the election of magistrates, when a stroke of government of a fiscal rather than of a political nature abolished it as a right, and, as a fact, only left to it a precarious and conditional existence. In the severest pressure of a war, the expenditure of which was only covered by means of financial expedients, among which figured the creation of venal offices, government hit upon the idea of seizing upon the urban magistracies, and upon all the offices in the gift of the cities, of erecting them into hereditary offices, and of selling them, at the highest price, either to individuals or to the cities themselves. A permanent mayor, and assessors, who were hereditary candidates for the offices of échevins, consuls, capitouls, jurats, syndics, were imposed upon all the municipalities of the kingdom, which ceased to be elective (unless they should have purchased the new offices with their revenues), in order to abolish them, or, as they said, to re-unite them to the corporation of the city.
In putting up these offices, now become royal, and set off with the title of counsellors of the king, to the highest bidder, they had calculated on the one hand upon the passion of the rich bourgeois families for hereditary appointments; on the other, upon the attachment of the cities to their immemorial franchises; and this daring confiscation of the municipal system was founded, above all, on the political impotence to which, in spite of the popular character of its forms, this system was reduced. In reality no rising took place in its defence; there was only a general complaint, more or less sharp, more or less bitter, but everywhere followed by submission. The cities, both great and small, made it a duty and a point of honour with themselves to buy back their privileges; at the price of heavy sacrifices they became the purchasers of the greater part of the newly-created offices, and what is worthy of remark, this reunion, which let the ancient state of things still exist, or re-established it, far from being displeasing to the government, received, on the contrary, its co-operation.
When the reign of Louis XIV. terminated, the urban administration presented the strangest incongruities. According as the cities were in a condition to buy back their franchises, there were some municipalities elective, others permanent, others composed partly of offices dependent on the community of citizens, and partly of those possessed in right of private property. This irregularity, and the acts of authority which had produced it, formed a prominent feature among the grievances, the redress of which was demanded in the most pressing manner of the legislation under the new reign. The answer desired was not long delayed; and in the month of June, 1716, the Prince, who ruled in the name of Louis XV., then a minor, decreed that all the cities of the kingdom should enter again into the full enjoyment of their rights. This edict, by which all the offices—whether re-united or not, whether paid for or not by the cities—were suppressed, proclaimed the restoration of the ancient municipal government, and seemed seriously to guarantee it respect and support. But the illusion was short in this respect: a great fiscal experiment had been made; it was ascertained that the cities put to ransom for rights which were dear to them, paid without resistance; six years after, in a formidable crisis of the treasury, all the municipal offices, created and put up to auction by Louis XIV., were treated in the same way by the regent.
This second confiscation of the communal liberties, more open than the first, described without evasion as a financial expedient, marked their destiny for the future. They were thenceforth reckoned among the means of raising money in extreme emergencies. It was the play of the Government to sell, withdraw, and to sell again its appointments of mayors, lieutenants of mayors, assessors, échevins, consuls, capitouls, jurats, permanent syndics, and to squeeze the cities by the renewed threat of an intrusion of hereditary officers. From 1722 to 1789 the municipal government did not remain for sixteen years free from the payment of a ransom. In this space of time, with the exception of two intervals—one from 1724 to 1733, the other from 1764 to 1771—no election of magistrates in the communes could be made except by virtue of letters-patent, which they had to purchase. Thus the original right did not exist any longer in reality, even there, where in appearance it continued to be exercised; and this state of things continued up to the epoch of the revolution.
I have anticipated the order of time, but it is in order to mention, once for all, those sad and monotonous vicissitudes which a less summary history will exhibit at length. At the point which I have reached, if the ancient municipal government were still an object of pride and attachment from its recollections with many cities, it had completely ceased to be a source of strength to the progressive classes of the nation. I shall not speak of them any further; but it is not without a sympathetic regret that I bid adieu to those free communities, which were the cradle of the Tiers Etat, the first and vigorous expression of its political instincts. For the historian who may wish to follow them in their extreme decline through the eighteenth century there will still be circumstances worthy of remark, and characteristics of moral excellence to extol. Such must be reckoned, for instance, that constancy exhibited in the cities which made them exhaust their wealth for the purchase of a last remnant of liberty, though it made no advantageous return of prosperity or public order, and a sentiment of the sacredness of civic rights, expressed in high and proud language in the complaints which were addressed in their name to the government which exacted their ransom.
If the municipal institutions were not able to raise themselves up from the indirect blow aimed at them by Louis XIV., it was not so with the great judicial institution on which the spirit of the Tiers Etat was so forcibly impressed. Struck at directly by the king in its political prerogatives, the parliament bent beneath him, but only for a time; and when he was dead, it sprang up again, more powerful than ever. This power of the supreme corporation proceeded from two opposite sources—the one popular, the other aristocratic: the latter was the esprit de corps increased by the pride of family from the inheritance of offices; the former was the affection of the commonalty, arising from sympathy of origin, and cherished by long services rendered to the cause of common right, of civil equality, and national independence.
As we have already seen, the history of the parliament since the thirteenth century is a succession of slow but always sure advancements; it grows in the eyes of the nation at the same time as Royalty, which it seemed at once to aid and to watch, whose way it enlightens, and which it aspires to direct. In the sixteenth century its legislative control, its right of remonstrance before the registration of edicts, was either accepted by the king or demanded by opinion; and as not only the edicts of the kings, but also the bulls of the pope invested with the royal authorization, and the treaties concluded with foreign powers, were necessarily registered, the parliament interposed in all the great affairs of the state, both foreign and domestic. It regarded itself with pride as a power invested with the guardianship of the public, a mediator between the people and the king, a moderator between the Crown and the Church, a preserver of the laws and regulator of all the jurisdictions of the kingdom. Its pretensions, kept down in the seventeenth century under the ministry of Richelieu, re-appeared with more pride and greatness than even during the Fronde: it then went so far as to believe itself superior to the States-General, and to put forward by the mouth of its heads this strange and bold paradox.
The impression which Louis XIV. received from the troubles of his infancy rendered the least opposition of the parliament odious to him at an early period. In 1655, when he was but seventeen years old, and had not yet assumed the government, having learned at Vincennes that the court, with all its chambers assembled, was deliberating on an edict, he came in his riding dress into the room of the palace, and followed up this cavalier entrance with some imperious orders, which is one of the traits of his life most frequently quoted, and which at once revealed the haughtiness of his character. When he had taken the government in hand, he dealt some blows less rough, but with a more lasting effect, at the prerogatives of parliament. First, he suppressed the name of sovereign courts and officially replaced it by that of Superior Courts, he next abolished in all the courts of the kingdom the power of making remonstrances before registering the laws. This was to spoil the parliament of its political part, and to confine it for the future within the circle of its judicial functions. Such was the object of the declaration of February 24, 1673, against which there was raised from the midst of that body, which was wounded in its most cherished rights, a protest which d’Aguesseau admired, and which he calls the last cry of expiring liberty. From that time to the end of the reign, that is to say, during forty-two years, there was not the shadow of a remonstrance from the court; all the fresh edicts were inserted in its registers, and so rendered capable of execution without discussion and without delay.
But this silence did not extinguish the political life of the parliament, which seized again, in a striking manner, upon its liberty and power the day after the death of the great King. It annulled the will of Louis XIV. as seventy-two years before it had annulled that of Louis XIII. It assumed again, and from that time preserved the venerated name of Sovereign court, which seemed to give it a claim to a share of the Sovereignty. Its intervention in the affairs of State was more frequent and decided than ever. It became aggressive and usurping upon the weakened royalty, and the public opinion followed it in this bold career, attached to it by the very excess of its pretensions and its pride. The sole remaining one of all the ancient institutions which the seventeenth century had not despoiled of power and popularity, it was the legal chain, which, through the States-General, whose last convocation it promoted, led to the new order of things, in which it made its own disappearance.
END OF THE FIRST VOLUME.
clarke and beeton, printers, [Editor: illegible word] street fleet street