The Beginnings of National France Part V

The Beginnings of National France 5

The period 1430-1480 sees the definitive structure of the monarchical institutions. The king, who from the century XIV uses to be called Cristianissimo (Très chrétien), he has the legists declare his authority absolute and of divine origin; its rights are specified in the light of Roman law, so as to eliminate any feudal pretense and opposition. The need is felt to merge all the countries into legislative unity: Charles VII ordered the collection of all the customs of the kingdom; his successor thought of imposing a single code on the whole kingdom, but the implementation was still premature. France still remained divided into two traditional zones: the Roman law zone to the south, and the customary law zone to the north.

According to, the government is gathered in the hands of the king: less with Charles VII, more with Louis XI. But the royal council always retains all its authority: it continues to be made up of people called to you by the king; follows the monarch in his wanderings of peace or war. There are conflicts between people and groups, but attempts to take over the government are useless. The bourgeois element is assiduous: it supplies businessmen or jurists. The parliament, which emerged from the specialization of a group of royal advisers in examining judicial matters and was last organized in 1345 by an ordinance of Philip VI, has become permanent; the king appoints the people of his trust there, since it is the supreme judicial body of the kingdom. The king has recourse to parliament to strike at feudatories and ecclesiastics who attack the royal prerogatives; and if it has a poorly defined competence over the entire administration, it boasts the right to register the king’s decrees, perhaps making complaints about acts that do not seem to him to be in keeping with the juridical tradition of the monarchy. It was precisely under Louis XI that the right of parliament to make complaints to the king was asserted. Judicially, the parliament ruled in the first instance for the causes affecting the king and feudalism, in the second instance for the cases already judged by the various judges of the bailiffs. In the century XV various parliaments were constituted in the provinces: in Toulouse, in Grenoble, in Bordeaux, in Dijon, but all were subordinated to that of Paris. Other councils were reorganized in the century. XV: the Court of Auditors for financial control; the Court of Coins for Coinage; the Court of aides for the extraordinary taxes that had acquired so much importance. The States General were summoned by Charles VII almost every year, because they gave the monarchy the feeling of being in contact with the popular soul. But towards the middle of the century the meetings of the States diminish and then cease: the absolute monarchy of Louis XI at most used restricted assemblies of notables designated by the king himself.

The provincial administration found it hard to organize itself with precision. Under Louis XI there were 86 baliaggi (and senescallie) while at the ascension of the Valois in 1328 there were only 36: the subdivisions into castellanie, provostures and viscounts persisted. Often during the Hundred Years War and in the following period, governors or lieutenant general were created in charge of governing certain regions extraordinarily and with absolute authority. In the century XV the staff of the provincial organization increased a lot: all aspired to become officials of the king, the offices became venal and were inherited. On the other hand, the monarchy had in this class a marvelous instrument for crumbling what was retained in the provinces of feudalism.

Royal absolutism felt the need to create its own army and to disarm the populations. The war had armed everyone without distinction: now Charles VII abolished and prohibited free companies of mercenaries; he reserved the right to authorize captains to enlist. With the ordinance of 1445, corps of troops regularly hired were organized; in 1448 the Franco-archers equipped and paid for by the communities of the kingdom were established. The old feudal militias represented only the army reserve. It was, however small and rudimentary, the first nucleus of a regular army: the nobility was dissatisfied with it, realizing that the monarchy was thus emancipated from the old subjection towards the fiefdom. At the same time Charles VII created a regular system of taxes. aides which had been suppressed in 1418; in 1439 the proceeds from the ransom, the royal tax par excellence, or land tax, were definitively fixed.

Louis XI perfected and aggravated the system; the other proceeds were now of secondary importance. The church of France was also closely linked to the interests of the monarchy through the pragmatic sanction of Bourges of 1438: the rights of the Holy See were restricted in the financial as well as in the canonical field, reaffirmed the superiority of the crown over the national church. On the question, Charles VII and Louis XI had many discussions with the Holy See, preparation for the agreement that would later take place in 1516 in the form of a concordat. In its action against feudalism and the church, the monarchy made considerable use of the support of the municipal bourgeoisie. These were interested in weakening feudalism politically, so that impoverished it would resign itself to abandoning the lands no longer sufficient for its life: the feudal goods passed into the hands of the rich bourgeois, royal officials, with whom the monarchy created a new gentler nobility, more faithful than the old feudal nobility. The aspirations of the old communal bourgeoisies of the century were now indifferent to this bourgeoisie developing on the ruins of feudalism. XIII or even the following. The municipal deductibles, consequently, in the period of the Hundred Years War, moved towards the almost general disappearance. Under the reigns of Charles VII and Louis XI, the organization of the royal administration rigidly framed municipal activities: it was forbidden to impose taxes without the consent of the king, to hold assemblies without the control of a royal official; the right to create and suppress municipal offices was asserted.

The Beginnings of National France 5