France in 1789: Language and Law

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Map Code: Ax02201

Pre-Revolutionary France was a lawyers’ paradise: written Roman law prevailed in the south, customary feudal law in the north, with frequent local overlap in codes and practice. Intendents were the regional representatives of royal authority, controlling the policing, finances and justiciary of the provinces they administered. The Prévots Maréchaux handled police matters, and tried certain court cases with legal advice. Chambres de Comptes were the primary tax assessors; however, their authority was increasingly superseded by the cours de monnaies (handling currency issues) and cours des aides (entrusted with the increasingly common ‘extraordinary levies’). The superior courts of appeal varied hugely in reach and status: the Paris court administered much of northern France, the Pau court’s jurisdiction was simply Pau. The three regional Parlements (plus their equivalents, the conseils souverains in newly incorporated territories) became bastions of resistance to royal policy, especially regarding taxes and religion. A further manifestation of the divisions in France was the fact that the southern half of the country continued to speak Occitan languages, while in other distant regions, Breton, Catalan and Basque were also spoken. Only half the population spoke French in 1790.

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