Researching 18th Century Judicial Cases from the Parlement of Paris

The latest issue of French History offers an illuminating  article by the legal historian David Feutry on the difficulties of researching judicial cases from the Parlement of Paris, an important judicial appellate body during the Ancien Régime.  The Parlement’s defense of aristocratic privileges and corruption has influenced French thinking about the the proper role of the judicial branch since the French Revolution.

Feutry explains that the organization of the Parlement’s documents and finding aids and the often labyrinthine procedural histories of the cases make researching the files a daunting task.

“It is a complex business to find a case or judgment in the registers of the Parlement. Not only is the date of a decision required, but the way in which the matter was decided; something brought for a hearing might have been through every stage, from hearing right through to a final decision by one of the chambers of Inquests. In that case different stages of its progress would be recorded separately in all the series of the Parlement’s records.” … “a case is unlikely to be found in a single user friendly archival unit.”

In addition to the complexity of Parlement registers, the author reminds us that fires and deliberative destruction destroyed many valuable records.The article also provides an excellent diagram showing the many different paths a case could take through the chambers of the Parlement of Paris.

The Historian’s Mountain of Paper: the Parlement of Paris and the Analysis of Civil Suits in the Eighteenth Century
David Feutry
translated by Bill Doyle
26 French History 277 (2012)

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