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  • Le Parlement de Paris ou la voix de la raison (1559–1589)
  • Mack P. Holt
Sylvie Daubresse . Le Parlement de Paris ou la voix de la raison (1559–1589). Travaux d'Humanisme et Renaissance 398. Geneva: Librairie Droz S. A., 2005. xviii + 558 pp. index. bibl. CHF 152. ISBN: 2–600–00988–4.

The author of this large book began her historical studies at the |$$|AaEcole des Chartes, before moving on to the University of Paris IV-Sorbonne, where she completed her thèse de doctorat in History under the supervision of Denis Crouzet. Thus, her archival training at the école and her study of printed sources with Denis Crouzet has resulted in a thoroughly researched and clearly argued book based on all the relevant archival and printed sources. It is in every way an impressive book.

The author's focus is on the relations between the Parlement of Paris and the king during the reigns of the last three Valois Kings of France. Historians have been far too inclined, she argues, to see the relations between the monarchy and the parlements in terms of confrontation and opposition. This has been especially true of those historians of the sixteenth-century Parlement of Paris — and Jean-Louis Bourgeon and Sarah Hanley are the most well-known of her targets — who insist on seeing the sovereign courts as attempting to take advantage of the weakness of the crown during the Wars of Religion by opposing the royal will. This plays into a linear view of a growing parlementary opposition that showed itself most explicitly during the Fronde of the seventeenth century and the second [End Page 522] half of the eighteenth century. At the same time, the king is often portrayed as attempting to humiliate and subjugate the Parlement through the use of the lits de justice. Daubresse makes a strong and convincing case that the reality was much more nuanced and complex than this. Her central argument is that the Parlement and the king, despite their frequent quarrels, generally arrived at solutions by compromising. Moreover, the general nature of their relationship, she argues, was that of accommodation and collaboration, not confrontation and opposition. To read the opposition of the Parlement to the crown on the eve of the French Revolution back into the sixteenth century is largely anachronistic. Indeed, the author draws on the ideas of Denis Richet, Robert Descimon, and Arlette Jouanna to demonstrate that while the judges in the Parlement could on occasion be the king's loudest critics, they were more often among his strongest supporters.

Daubresse demonstrates her thesis with a sustained and superbly documented analysis of how Parlement dealt with the two major issues over which the king and the court were most often at odds during the Wars of Religion: religious uniformity and royal finances. In both cases she demonstrates that the court's quarrels with the king over religion and finances were viewed by the judges themselves as necessary efforts to maintain royal power, not as attempts to weaken it. Moreover, they viewed themselves as the "voices of reason," which the author alludes to in the book's title, needed to provide stability in times of unusual disorder. And despite the king's repeated exhortations to the court to restrict its business to its judicial function — that is, to stay out of politics — the king kept sending the various edicts of pacification to the court for registration, which by definition brought Parlement deeper into political affairs. Indeed, much like the English Parliament was brought into the policy-making process by Henry VIII during the Reformation, so was the Parlement of Paris brought more into policy-making negotiations in France by Charles IX and Henry III as a result of debating the various peace edicts that ended each of the religious wars.

If there is anything to criticize, it is that an already long book is in one sense too short. How different would Daubresse's narrative be if she continued her story up to 1594 instead of stopping in 1589? Michel De Waele's recent book on Henry IV and the Parlement of Paris offers one possible way to reconcile her argument...


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