(French, from parler, "to speak")

In pre-Revolutionary France, the parlements were sovereign courts of justice,1 located at Paris and in 12 other cities and towns. At a parlement, justice was meted out in the king's name, under the ancien régime.

The parlements were suppressed by Louis XV in 1771, and restored by Louis XVI in 1774. In 1789, the parlement in Paris called for the Estates-General to be convened for the first time since 1614 - beginning a series of events leading to the Revolution.

In 1789, the roster of parlements was as follows:

In a bid to concentrate judiciary power in its own hands, the National Assembly decided, on November 3, 1789, that the parlements, which were then on leave for the summer, should remain out of session. Another decree threatened harsh punishment for anyone who tried to counteract this reorganisation of the judiciary.

The parlements of Metz, Rennes, and Rouen tried to defy the edict of the National Assembly, but were finally forced to submit to it.


1 Unlike the English word parliament (derived from the French), which can also mean a legislative body, the parlements were solely judicial in scope.
(Thanks to Piter for reminding me that this needed to be clarified)

The Parlements were a constant source of trouble under the French monarchy, because they saw themselves as a check on the absolute power of the king, and as a bulwark against the encroachments of the papacy. They often tried to portray themselves as representatives of the National Will, but being rich, conservative lawyers, who had purchased or inherited their offices, they really represented nobody but themselves. Often their causes won popular support because anyone who opposed the king seemed to speak for justice and liberty, but in fact they were just as conservative as the monarchy and their primary complaint was that they didn't have enough say in the government.

The Parlements were responsible for causing the Fronde, blocking taxation reform, and keeping the Unigenitus issue alive for most of the 18th century. They were also partly responsible for the expulsion of the Jesuits.

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