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Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


Volume 1


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Musical Rhetoric

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A Double Review: Claire Chatelain and Martine Bennini on royal officials

Claire Chatelain, Chronique d'une Ascension sociale; Exercice de la parenté chez les grands officiers (XVIe-XVIIe siècles) (Paris: Editions de l'EHESS, 2008), pp. 429.

Martine Bennini, Les Conseillers à la Cour des Aides (1604-1697) (Paris: Champion, 2010), 493 pp.

These awesomely learned works are proof that social history and historical prosopography are alive and well in the twenty-first century! Over the hours, days, weeks, and ears of research in the Minutier Central des Notaires looms the kindly, learned, hardworking, and brilliant Robert Descimon. Chatelain cites 13 works by Descimon in her bibliography; Bennini cites 19. This reviewer knows what it is to be truly inspired by Descimon's approaches to historical research and his accomplishments. Chatelain and Bennini freely chose to make their mark in what is probably the most intractable, frustrating, and time-consuming type of history currently being practices: social history grounded on the notarial archives.

Claire Chatelain

Claire Chatelain takes a single family, the Miron, and for over 7 generations she digs out a mass of parchment and paper ― every marriage, death, and purchase of land or office ― for this well-known medical family that bought administrative and judicial offices.

While in close, probably in daily proximity to members of the royal family in the sixteenth century, the income and marrying-up alliances (notably with the Hurault and the Morvillier dynasties) and the purchase of increasingly prestigious offices sustained a court and civic presence that culminated in the election-selection of François III Miron (1560-1609) as the prévôt des marchands of Paris. From it early foundations in the city of Tours and it land holdings in the Loire Valley, over several generations the family became increasingly Parisian but still retained some of the lands and seigneuries inherited from earlier generations.

Taking her cue from social anthropology, notably from the works of Françoise Heretier, Chatelain confirms the importance of the marriages of daughters. These permitted ties to other socially powerful families that were more or less prestigious, whose propres sometimes consisted of seigneuries that, over several generations, would influence successive marriage strategies. Like Descimon's work on the precise legal and social functioning of venal office, Chatelain provides concise summaries of Parisian customary law concerning inheritance, and canon law on consanguinity. She then carefully reconstructs how these considerations only partly framed the marriage and inheritance strategies of coming together in alliance, to build pyramids of real property, venal offices, and, yes, debt.

In addition to their becoming increasingly distant from the immediate royal favor that medicine had formerly conferred, by the mid-seventeenth century the steep rise in the price of venal offices, near demographic catastrophe, and intense litigiousness with in-laws, would end the Miron's climb toward increased prestige and wealth. The occasional option for a military career, like a marriage alliance with the high-ranking Gouffier, did not enhance the powers of the Miron to arrange ever more prestigious marriages. While royal proximity was still strong, one Miron became a bishop, and another an abbé; but daughters were not dowered into the Church. The Miron had the funds for dowries; thus marriage alliances became the rule for daughters.

Among the very strong general contributions of this study are the roles played by widows and their propres in the long-term survival of the family, especially their help to younger sons. In a regime without an over-arching law of primogeniture, the wealth, social connections, and venal offices brought to the family by the eldest son's bride (offices that could potentially be inherited) were particularly important.

The customary laws that protected the rights of heirs, especially those of oldest sons, limited possibilities for the outright sale of seigneuries. Donations between two living members of a family continued to be probably the most effective way of transmitting capital or real property. Françoise Lehoux's Le Cadre de vie des médecins parisiens au XVIe et XVIIe siècles (Paris: Picard, 1976), p. 312, found considerable evidence to indicate that physicians sold real property in order to invest in rentes. I mention this simply to indicate an older approach to social history. Of course, Lehoux is correct. There were cases when families sold real property and bought rentes; but with Chatelain's anthropological approach, a family's general overarching financial, marital, and office-purchasing at a given time clarifies the meaning of a shift from real property to rentes. Indeed, in the history of a family, it would be unwise to conclude anything at all on the basis of only one type of shift in resources.

Accounts of revenues from rural estates are rarely found in Parisian notarial archives; thus it is not surprising that Chatelain offers little on the subject. The effort to discern the overall rationality of investment and income ― income from land versus income from offices, for example ― is not found here. Perhaps some Miron estate leases and account books will turn up one day, and someone can laboriously make the calculations, convert the sums into wheat and eggs, and so forth, as J. Dewald did in Pont Saint-Pierre (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987); but Chatelain has wisely refrained from trying to extrapolate on the basis of evidence from other regions, in attempt to fill the gap.

Exchanges of property, increased purchases, and marriage alliances all seemed to work well for the Miron in the sixteenth century; but the opposite trend began in the reign of Louis XIII. Henry IV had his own physician, so the Miron lost proximity just when office prices began to rise and office-holding was about the only upward trajectory in Parisian society.

Throughout her research, Chatelain kept an eye out for the addresses of the Miron, living and dead, and she found no particular pattern in the choices they made, aside from preferences for continuing to reside in the same parish. Connections with the Hurault and the Morvillier might have led newlyweds (or their parents!) to seek to live near the people to whom they were beholden as clients. One Miron wished to be buried in the same tomb as a Hurault, a fact that, in client relations, is like the tip of an iceberg. Such a wish surprises, somewhat; but what is not known is whether the Hurault acquiesced to this desire. The intimacy between Dr. Eusèbe Renaudot and his patients, as revealed in their letters, comes to mind.

Recalling that Maurice Dumolin, in his Topographie Parisienne (Paris: The Author, 1931), III, p. 303, had presented a lot of research on the land sales of the Coulture Sainte-Catherine, I took a minute to see what the plot purchased by Marc Miron looked like, and who his neighbors might have been. He purchased 165 toises in an odd shaped, next to the rue des Egouts and the plot sold to Mme de Carnavalet. His niece married Claude Gouffier, comte de Caravas, who after making a series of transactions came to live on the rue Neuve de la Coulture Sainte-Catherine. The neighbors, circa 1615, included artisans, merchants, royal officials in the finances. Madame de Carnavalet's already famous hôtel would be seized for nonpayment of debts in 1605. The immediate neighbors during the short stay of the Gouffier-Miron ménage (he was dead by 1619) included the d'Argouges, a trésorier général des gabelles and a secrétaire du roi and some trésoriers to various royal women ― the very sort of proximity that had been so useful to the Miron before the end of the Valois dynasty.

Chatelain refers to Annick Pardailhé-Galabrun's La Naissance de l'intime (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1988), as a definitive work on the history of seventeenth-century household furnishings; and indeed, it is a remarkable work that frames the entire subject more than Lehoux does. But what the Miron bought or had made for them, as consumer goods, certainly complements and enriches the whole filed. some heraldic floral tapestries were passed down from one generation to the next, and some silver (a chalice) bore Miron monograms; but it is unclear how their consumption changed from generation to generation.

The information on the books found in the inventories at least partly confirms Lehoux's contention about the religious sensibilities prevailing in medical families. Bibles, patristic fathers, church histories might be found among a few medical books, but there were few books of spirituality: Father Garasse's works, but not St Francis of Sales, for example.

Portraits of popes and royals hung on the walls of the grande salle, while family portraits and those of patrons or patronesses, and a few patients, added the dignity of lineage to the master bedchamber. With excellent results, Chatelain has pulled together the materials that incarnate memory and lineage; but it is to be hoped that someday, using the evidence from Lehoux and Pardaillé-Galabrun, she will return to work out where the Miron might have been typical consumers, and where they were exceptional.

By contrast, the seven pages on the burial sites chosen by the Miron are written with a surprising finality and intensity. Although they owned rural seigneuries, with their parish churches and chapels, the Miron continued to choose the capital as a burial place, and specifically, the area in or near the parish church of Saint-Paul. Women who married into the family generally wished to be buried near their spouses, the exception being childless women, who chose proximity to their birth parents. The Marie Miron who had wed Claude Gouffier sought to be buried with her husband's family, near the resting place of the Gouffier who was duc de Roannez. One in-law, married to a Vallée, asked to have her entrails buried within the church, but she apparently did not mention where she destined her heart and her body. Another woman, who had lost her firstborn child at birth, and very nearly her own life, thanked God for saving her then, and three other times that she does not describe but that presumably were childbirths.

The shift from requesting a quite ostentatious display at funerals, requests that might include expressions of rank and requests for absolutely minimal funeral pomp, occurred in the Miron family circa 1620. Did their relatives obey the instructions left by the deceased? Probably not to the letter. And did the testators know they would not? The Miron seem not to have had special devotional attachments to the Virgin or to a saint, for none is mentioned. The mightiness of the divine seems not to have led them to turn to an intercessor. Indeed, the mother who lost her firstborn has a very thoughtful and perhaps quite personal mode of addressing the divine: "... Mon Dieu mon père mon sauveur mon createur mon redempteur, et devant la presence de la sainte-trinité ..."

The last chapter of the book is entitled "Logiques des conflits et conflits des logiques," as true as it is paradoxical about the fact that the Miron had few, if any, deep conflicts within the family in the sixteenth century. By contrast, the seventeenth century brought terrible quarrels and litigation, not so much between parents, brothers, and sisters, as among in-laws, especially widowed in-laws with unpaid dowries. Chatelain has an eye for the precise reference or quotation from literature or literary history (Hélène Merlin) that generalizes a conflict that at first glance might seem to have been particular to the Miron.

The narratives of these conflicts defy summary, but some of the principal features can be mentioned here. A quarrel with the Lefebvre-Caumartin probably started over an unpaid dowry, but over the decades transfers of seigneuries, loans against inheritances, and even an enlèvement deepened the conflict and extended it over the generations. With the Vallée, their having had a Huguenot brother forty years earlier is brought up by the curé who, in 1614, refused burial in holy ground. Wouldn't this refusal have been illegal, according to the terms of the Edict of Nantes, if the deceased had confessed to having eventually become a Catholic? It would certainly not be something new to find that the Edict of Nantes had been flouted. There is another case where a wife attempts to poison her husband in order to marry someone else. The legal expenses and the compensation that the husband was ordered to pay, impoverished one branch of the Miron family. The husband finally died, and his wife was never punished for attempting murder. Those interested in the Brisson, Lefebvre-Caumartin, and L'Hermite families will find precious, factual lodes in this chapter.

In another case, a funeral was staged to bring an adversary to heel; the fashion of the enlèvement in elite mid-century circles brought the Miron, the Gondi, and the Brisart into conflict. Despite the welcome caution of a social-scientific approach throughout the book, here the conclusions about increased litigiousness in the seventeenth century, as compared with the sixteenth, and the lightning-rod role of women in family litigation generally, must be accepted as tentative. The study of one family, and all its relations by marriage, is simply not enough to sustain such bold and important findings, convincing as they may be in this specific context.

While intriguing, Chatelain's concluding remarks on the relations between the state and its elite servants prompt not only reflection but also some skepticism. Social mobility in the sixteenth century may well have been stronger, overall, than it was in the seventeenth century. This could be considered to follow from the more favorable economic conditions that, in many places, came to an end in the 1620s. But the state apparatus would grow enormously under the Bourbons through venality of office, and through just plain old financial and other administrations. The larger armies and navies, increased luxury consumption, and large urban building projects would enable thousands of families to declare a somewhat higher status to the notary.

Gradual changes toward male primogeniture, combined with ever more specific legal definitions of nobility across the two centuries, provide a perspective on the Miron that suggests an inability to adapt to or accept the harsh way to social success, once they have lost their proximity to sovereign power. Joel Cornette's very fine biography of Omer Talon comes to mind, as an example of another family that, down into the 1640s, is socially and intellectually carrying on life as it had been in the sixteenth century. During the Fronde, the Miron would intensify, through politics, their old ties to the Lefebvre-Caumartin and the Gondi, as they joined in the efforts to stop the evolution of the state and all its "corrupt" workings, acting in a way that was not unlike the League.
Chatelain has written a brilliantly learned book that will help slow down the trend away from socially- scientific informed history. I fear that the sirens of the so-called theorists and linguistic thinkers will simply ignore Chatelain's accomplishment and continue to sink into their description and story-telling.

Martine Bennini

There were a few decades in the later twentieth century when social historians began their research and analyses on virtually every other type of source except laws and legal treatises, almost as if Roland Mousnier's reliance on the works of Loyseau ― and those of his own mentor, François Olivier-Martin ― would yield some history that would legitimate the Right Wing. Robert Descimon never listened to those pyrrhonist sirens; but he always insisted, and still insists, that if one does not study the actual law cases, law and judicial commentary will yield superficial conclusions not unlike those found in the venerable thèses de droit.

Though written in less informal social-scientific prose, as history Martine Bennini's work on the conseillers of the Cour des Aides is every bit as social-scientific as Chatelain's. She begins by analyzing officiers before turning to the formulation in law, and the extension of venality of office in the context of the law of private property, as chiseled in the stone of Parisian custom and royal legislation.

The Cour des Aides was established with a special jurisdiction over final matters carved largely out of the jurisdictions of the Chambre des Comptes and the Grand Conseil; it did not grow "naturally" out of the curia regis. Bennini carefully reconstructs the expansion of the Aides into three chambers, the first always the most prestigious.

As a loan to the Crown, the "juice" of an office would be fixed partly by royal decree and partly by negotiation based on 'market" demand. Candidates willing to put up the cash could work out a schedule that was convenient to them, with installment payments that often spanned a fairly long time, and with payment of requisite fees. Examinations taken by the candidates and educational requirements and experience were more stringent than I assumed. Transfers of offices from generation to generation could be done within a framework of specific delays and fee payments. Over time, the capital of the office could be used as collateral for loans, in the context of an overall family strategy for financial and social advancement. As we saw with the Miron, in order to buy offices, families would build domestic "pyramids" that often totaled hundreds of thousands of livres. Bennini finds strong correlations between marriage arrangements, their large dowries for the bride often going hand in hand with the groom's purchase of an office. The dramatic rise in the prices of offices in the Cour des Aides during the reign of Louis XIII, already observed for other courts in the case of the Miron, would level off in the 1650s and would really decline in the 1660s as a result of royal legislation affecting office prices.

The gages paid by the Crown were, of course, not salaries but income as interest paid on the initial loan. Irregularly paid, and of low return as interest, the gages did not make purchasing an office a really attractive investment. The épices, always so mysterious, remain mysterious; but the anecdotal evidence gathered by Bennini suggested that, once they were divided up among the conseillers, the individual sums were small. The vacations, or calculated hourly fees for preparing cases, were more remunerative.

The key to understanding the jurisdiction remains the title of the court itself ― the Aides, a congeries of taxes such as the taxes on salt, wine, and so forth ― and the litigation about their levy. Generally formed, overzealous enforcement of the terms of a contract could lead to prosecution over the interpretation of the lease in the Cour des Aides. Though couched in royalese, the extensive quotations (pp. 119-121) from a royal declaration about the jurisdiction give an excellent overview of the court's activities, and provide some indications about its ways of proceeding ―often by commission. The document seems to be undated, but post-1636.

Always keeping in mind the studies of Roland Mousnier and his students, François Bluche, and Robert Descimon, Bennini works out, with great precision, the social rank of the conseillers, beginning with the observation that they were virtually all noble when they came on the court; but this rank had been borne for only a few years in some instances. Over half the conseillers owned or held seigneuries, but the more important distinguishing factors constituting hierarchy were whether their origins were haute-robe or whether a quite recent shift from offices in finances to the Cour des Aides was involved. The over-arching conclusions is that the Aides was made up of intermediary social ranks, a blend in which those who had held high-ranking offices in the finances, or who still had a relative high up in the finances (for example, an intendant des finances), immediately placed themselves after the haute robe. Could this imply that a younger officer born into the haute robe might enjoy less prestige and therefore march ahead of someone with parents in the hautes finances? (The less prestigious process before the more prestigious; but how did seniority influence these decisions?) Obviously, years of service contributed much to one's dignity. In the later seventeenth century, not a few conseillers who were already noble added the title "chevalier" to their names and offices, when they presented themselves before a notary.

In the last lines of his Testament moral, (see H. Mailfait), Omer Talon exhorts his heirs, and particularly his son Denis, to avoid absolutely any and all "alliances" with financier families. I note this simply to remind readers that the social-scientific approach so admirably displayed by Bennini may create the impression of social and interpersonal convivial relations. The creation of many, many new offices, up and down the courts, put pressures not only on ranks within the haute robe, but also on the robe and the lesser clerkly-barrister ranks. The possibility of floods of new offices contributed to the panic that were the clashes between the ministry and the law courts, before and during the Fronde. The fact that officers with haute-finances origins were higher in dignity than the lesser robe, must have distorted or impeded the formation of a corporate identity in the Aides, such as the one that existed in Talon's Parlement. The issue of competence, particularly in fiscal legislation and procedures, no doubt played a different role in the Aides than in the Parlement.

Behind Loyseau's conception of office and corporation, there existed not only the Ciceronian presuppositions about virtue, duty, and service, there also were taboos that descended from Aristotelian notations of the lower status of those who worked with their hands, including people who handled money. Royal service possibly "whitened" the official who had been a financier; but it did not make him the equal of the judge whose father, mother, grandparents, uncles, and male in-laws, had not been, or currently were not judges in finances. As Bennini works through the precise social ranks and hierarchies of the Parisian elite of royal officials, she uses the term "perception" to characterize the social distances between officials in the various courts, between families, between judges. And rightly so. She also generously brings to bear what remains valid in Mousnier's overly-complex strates, and in Albert Hamscher's findings about the parlementaires, for purposes of comparison.

Of the 1,300 witnesses that Bennini found, on 106 wedding contracts, 29% were councilors in a sovereign court, and 13% were haute robe. With all the avocats and members from lower courts, the Robe represented almost half the signers, and only 4% hailed from the finances ― the same number as the clergy. Richelieu signed Jacques Miron's contract to wed Anne Charpentier in 1634; in 1667 the duc de Guise signed for Jean Le Camus, as did his sister Marie de Lorraine. Bennini could not do everything in one book; but by noting these exceptions and concentrating on the Robe (by statistics), she gives the impression of a bifurcated society of grands and high Robe (p. 332), although very probably many of the signers were of middling rank. The Le Camus-Guise link was just the sort of old tie that might involve loans and other financial transactions from previous generations alive in memories and in account books. Jean Le Camus's father is Tallement de Réaux's Nicolas Le Camus "le Riche," a superb example of a social perception that still carries meaning! As a maître des requêtes, Le Camus would have considered it an "honor" to roll over some of the loans his father had made to someone (perhaps anyone) in the illustrious house of Lorraine. Here I am, of course, being hypothetical.

In order to discern changes in social status, Bennini works up definitions and statistics for four specific moments: 1604, 1639, 1665, and 1697 (see p. 191), with family demography the indispensable frame. (The number of fils uniques who became conseillers may appear to be constant over the century, but the increased number of people in the Cour des Aides after 1640 suggests more change than the table suggests.) Variations in rank, when compared with the brother with the highest status, increased only slightly in the Aides from 1603 to 1639; it declined a bit by 1665; and by 1697 it had fallen abruptly by 19%. Again, these are the effects of the royal Colbertian reform legislation.
Before tackling the more general questions of social mobility, Bennini presents a careful study of where the conseillers resided. Over the century, the rue Saint-Denis and the Cité were left behind, in favor of the quarters on the periphery such as the Temple, the Ile-Saint-Louis, and the Faubourg Saint-Germain. The search for a "cadre de vie agréable" was no doubt very much at work; but just how this was equated with the social prestige of one's neighbors, the parish church, and the ease of leaving the city to visit a seigneurie are questions for urban historians to answer.

In her study of the parlementaires of Aix-en-Provence, Monique Cubells found clauses in marriage contracts about the available options for where the newly-weds might reside. Bennini finds the same types of clauses in the marriage contracts of conseillers. The lodging and board for a couple of this high rank could be 800 livres, the equivalent amount of money the couple would receive if it wished to live outside the family dwelling.

The richness and complexity of the social-mobility study can only be noted here. Overall, 45% of the conseillers held a rank superior to that of their fathers, and 44% held a lesser rank! With 11% at the same rank as their fathers, and with this equilibrium between upward and downward mobility, the Cour des Aides amazes by its stability and its role as a highly successful point de chute for those lacking the social rank and capital to buy an office in the Parlement of Metz, for example. Below the surface, the multi-generational moves from merchant status to lesser financial offices, and eventually to conseiller in the Cour des Aides, is all carefully measured on the basis of all the notarial records that could be found.

Turning to parental ties within the Aides, in 1605 there were 9 conseillers who had no rank at all, and 17 who did. Remember, after 1635 there were 40 offices in the Aides, with, of course, the usual absences subsequent to the death of a conseiller. By 1639, 83% of the conseillers were inter-related; thus those without such ties were substantially fewer in number, despite the creation of a whole new chamber. In 1665, the number without ties decreased further, a trend that apparently would only be reversed in 1697, that is, after the crash in office prices in the 1660s. As long as office prices kept rising, the same families appear to have continued to purchase offices when they became available, probably to prevent families of lower status from purchasing them. Did the equilibrium of rise and decline in the ranks of the conseillers thus come at an enormous cost to those families who already "owned" the Cour des Aides? This question may be naive and mal posée, owing to some variable that Bennini discusses but that I did not bring up here.

As we have already often noticed, Bennini's research takes her well beyond her "sample," the Aides conseillers, to more general topics of social and cultural Parisian history. In the last chapter, she explores her findings about witnesses to wedding contracts. The work of S. Beauvarlet and V. Gourdon, "Les liens sociaux à Paris au XVIIe siècle: une analyse des contrats de mariage de 1660, 1665, 1670," in Histoire, Economie, Société, 17/4 (1998), pp. 583-609, provides a comparative frame for illuminating, path-breaking results.

Beauvarlet and Gourdon find a slightly greater percentage of signatures by female relatives than by males, and suggest that this is significant for the maintenance and continuity of a sense of family. This is an anthropological trope. Bennini proposes that the origins of the males were probably more frequently relatively more recent and provincial, as compared with the females, whose families more often had been residing in the capital for more decades.

In most cases the female spouses in powerful families signed before the groom's sister; but in general female spouses signed according to their husband's rank, not that of their own family.
The ordering observed by witnesses signing wedding contracts did not remain the same across the century. For example, in 14 instances, the bride's parents signed ahead of the groom's parents prior to 1650; but things proceeded quite differently after that. The groom's parents always signed first after 1650!

This reviewer lacks the synthetic powers to present the originality and learned precision found on every page of these two books. He can only say "read them," and keep them handy as reference works for the plethora of significant facts found therein.