Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, 1751

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Author: Philip Dormer Stanhope

Letter CLIV

LONDON, December 30, O. S. 1751

MY DEAR FRIEND: The parliaments are the courts of justice of France, and are what our courts of justice in Westminster-Hall are here. They used anciently to follow the court, and administer justice in presence of the King. Philip le Bel first fixed it at Paris, by an edict of 1302. It consisted then of but one chambre, which was called ’la Chambre des Prelats’, most of the members being ecclesiastics; but the multiplicity of business made it by degrees necessary to create several other chambres. It consists now of seven chambres:

’La Grande Chambre’, which is the highest court of justice, and to which appeals lie from the others.

’Les cinq Chambres des Enquetes’, which are like our Common Pleas, and Court of Exchequer.

’La Tournelle’, which is the court for criminal justice, and answers to our Old Bailey and King’s Bench.

There are in all twelve parliaments in France: 1. Paris 2. Toulouse 3. Grenoble 4. Bourdeaux 5. Dijon 6. Rouen 7. Aix en Provence 8. Rennes en Bretagne 9. Pau en Navarre 10. Metz 11. Dole en Franche Comte 12. Douay

There are three ’Conseils Souverains’, which may almost be called parliaments; they are those of:

Perpignan Arras Alsace

For further particulars of the French parliaments, read ’Bernard de la Rochefavin des Parlemens de France’, and other authors, who have treated that subject constitutionally. But what will be still better, converse upon it with people of sense and knowledge, who will inform you of the particular objects of the several chambres, and the businesses of the respective members, as, ’les Presidens, les Presidens a Mortier’ (these last so called from their black velvet caps laced with gold), ’les Maitres tres des Requetes, les Greffiers, le Procureur General, les Avocats Generaux, les Conseillers’, etc. The great point in dispute is concerning the powers of the parliament of Paris in matters of state, and relatively to the Crown. They pretend to the powers of the States- General of France when they used to be assembled (which, I think, they have not been since the reign of Lewis the Thirteenth, in the year 1615). The Crown denies those pretensions, and considers them only as courts of justice. Mezeray seems to be on the side of the parliament in this question, which is very well worth your inquiry. But, be that as it will, the parliament of Paris is certainly a very respectable body, and much regarded by the whole kingdom. The edicts of the Crown, especially those for levying money on the subjects, ought to be registered in parliament; I do not say to have their effect, for the Crown would take good care of that; but to have a decent appearance, and to procure a willing acquiescence in the nation. And the Crown itself, absolute as it is, does not love that strong opposition, and those admirable remonstrances, which it sometimes meets with from the parliaments. Many of those detached pieces are very well worth your collecting; and I remember, a year or two ago, a remonstrance of the parliament of Douay, upon the subject, as I think, of the ’Vingtieme’, which was in my mind one of the finest and most moving compositions I ever read. They owned themselves, indeed, to be slaves, and showed their chains: but humbly begged of his Majesty to make them a little lighter, and less galling.

THE STATES OF FRANCE were general assemblies of the three states or orders of the kingdom; the Clergy, the Nobility, and the ’Tiers Etat’, that is, the people. They used to be called together by the King, upon the most important affairs of state, like our Lords and Commons in parliament, and our Clergy in convocation. Our parliament is our states, and the French parliaments are only their courts of justice. The Nobility consisted of all those of noble extraction, whether belonging to the SWORD or to the ROBE, excepting such as were chosen (which sometimes happened) by the Tiers Etat as their deputies to the States-General. The Tiers Etat was exactly our House of Commons, that is, the people, represented by deputies of their own choosing. Those who had the most considerable places, ’dans la robe’, assisted at those assemblies, as commissioners on the part of the Crown. The States met, for the first time that I can find (I mean by the name of ’les etats’), in the reign of Pharamond, 424, when they confirmed the Salic law. From that time they have been very frequently assembled, sometimes upon important occasions, as making war and peace, reforming abuses, etc.; at other times, upon seemingly trifling ones, as coronations, marriages, etc. Francis the First assembled them, in 1526, to declare null and void his famous treaty of Madrid, signed and sworn to by him during his captivity there. They grew troublesome to the kings and to their ministers, and were but seldom called after the power of the Crown grew strong; and they have never been heard of since the year 1615. Richelieu came and shackled the nation, and Mazarin and Lewis the Fourteenth riveted the shackles.

There still subsist in some provinces in France, which are called ’pais d etats’, an humble local imitation, or rather mimicry, of the great ’etats’, as in Languedoc, Bretagne, etc. They meet, they speak, they grumble, and finally submit to whatever the King orders.

Independently of the intrinsic utility of this kind of knowledge to every man of business, it is a shame for any man to be ignorant of it, especially relatively to any country he has been long in. Adieu.

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Chicago: Philip Dormer Stanhope, "Letter CLIV," Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, 1751, trans. Paul, Eden, 1865-1944, and Paul, Cedar in Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, 1751 Original Sources, accessed September 30, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L7J3T2H6TW5FTWE.

MLA: Stanhope, Philip Dormer. "Letter CLIV." Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, 1751, translted by Paul, Eden, 1865-1944, and Paul, Cedar, in Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, 1751, Original Sources. 30 Sep. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L7J3T2H6TW5FTWE.

Harvard: Stanhope, PD, 'Letter CLIV' in Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, 1751, trans. . cited in , Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, 1751. Original Sources, retrieved 30 September 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L7J3T2H6TW5FTWE.