The Historical Journal


The King in Parlement: The Problem of the Lit De Justice in Sixteenth-Century France*

Mack P. Holta1

a1 Vanderbilt University

‘You ask me what a Lit de justice is? I will tell you!’ Thus exclaimed Louis-Adrien Le Paige, an eighteenth-century parlementaire who was excoriating the current spectacle of the king's appearance in person in the Grand-Chambre of the Parlement of Paris. Denied their ancient and customary rights of consultation and deliberation in important affairs of state, which in their view meant an active or participatory role in the legislative process, magistrates like Le Paige felt coerced in 1756 into the passive role of registering policies presented to them as faits accomplis. And thus also opens Professor Sarah Hanley's penetrating and revisionist study of this complex ceremony where monarch and magistrates met together in the legislative arena: the lit de justice. In a tour de force of painstaking scholarship Professor Hanley has convincingly proved that this ceremony, in which the king personally appeared in Parlement and sat on a specially decorated ‘seat of justice’, had evolved out of legend and myth. The lit de justice did not, as generations of parlementaires like Le Paige had claimed, emerge in the middle ages shortly after the creation of the court itself in the late thirteenth century. As Professor Hanley shows, the first such ceremony did not occur until much later, in the reign of Francis I in 1527. More importantly, she demonstrates that at its inception the lit de justice was not associated in any way with the adversarial scene depicted by Le Paige in 1756, with the king forcing his will on a recalcitrant court by making a personal appearance in the Grand-Chambre in order to force the registration of unpopular legislation.


* An earlier version of this paper was first presented at the November 1986 meeting of the Western Society for French history in Baltimore, Maryland. The author wishes to thank several individuals who have offered helpful suggestions and advice both on that occasion and since, especially Gerry Denault, Russell Major, Jonathan Powis, Nancy Roelker and, above all, Sarah Hanley.