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Parlements and political crisis in France under Louis XV: The Besancon Affair, 1757-1761

Cambridge University Press
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  • History
  • Classics And Archaeology
  • History
  • Law
  • Political Science


The causes and consequences of the quarrels between Louis XV and the parlements in the third quarter of the eighteenth century continue to provoke a lively debate amongst historians. In France, the traditional thesis of a reforming monarchy confronted by the selfish obstructionism of the judiciary has many adherents. However, few Anglo-American scholars favour such an interpretation and some have gone as far as to reject the existence of a crisis altogether. Research is also concentrated upon the consequences of these disputes, and their importance to the development not only of parlementaire constitutionalism, but even of a new political culture. In order to contest these conflicting interpretations, this article takes a fresh look at the Besancon affair of 1757-1761. In one of the most heated political battles of the reign, thirty judges were exiled from the parlements of Besancon, provoking a lively response from the other parlements, headed by that of Paris. By examining the origins of the dispute in Franche-Comte, and the subsequent reaction of both the government and the Parisian magistrates, this article offers a new picture of the causes of crisis and of how judicial politics actually worked.

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