Michel Nassiet, Guerre civile et pardon royal en Anjou (1580-1600), Paris: Société de l'Histoire de France, 2013
In 2011 Michel Nassiet (hereafter "MN") published La violence, une histoire sociale. Now, not unlike a thèse complémentaire, he publishes an edition of a unique surviving register for the presidial court of Angers, beginning with a remarkable, indeed learnedly brilliant Introduction. Ninety letters of royal pardon and rémission from 1582-1599 offer MN the opportunity to bear down with all the knowledge he developed in the more general work, with stunning clarity, brevity and significance.
First off, there is a description of the register itself, which leads directly to the all-important definitions of crimes and the different instruments affected to them, some with seals of yellow wax, and others with green. In Fiction in the Archives, N.Z. Davis apparently found only one all-encompassing title for the crime of homicide, whereas in the Angevin presidial court the distinction between the act, homicide, and being accessory to it (in English, manslaughter), is a regular part of the jurisprudence by the 1560s. The pardon letter for a judgment of manslaughter is a letters patent sealed with yellow wax. The lettre de rémission for homicide given in royal pleine puissance is larger and sealed with green wax. There are different formulas, following the distinction between two different types of royal power. The pardon letter is an expression of royal grâce; the rémission is one of sovereign institutional law.
In addition to a precise statistical presentation of the crimes committed for which the pardons were granted, MN explores the reasons that account for the near absence of nobles, the strong presence of urban criminals, and the near nonexistence of peasants.
Instruction in swordsmanship was available in Angers to nobles and non-nobles alike during the period. Only 2% of all the cases in the register involve nobles. Cases involving homicide therefore went before a parlement and, according to recent legislation, the decisions involving pardon or rémission were then referred back to the présidial to be recorded. It would seem, from the realm-wide figures, that pardons for a homicide in a duel were quite frequent.
The presentation of the affrontements in the cases brought me back to Yves Castan's pioneering and brilliantly learned Honnêteté et relations sociales en Languedoc au XVIIIe siècle (Paris: Plon, 1974). It is not in MN's bibliography, though he does list some works from the eighteenth century and Languedoc. Honor, dignity, and violence are at the core of Y. and N. Castan's work. The gloomy and depersonalized paradigms of the social-scientist functionalists (honor had been a conceptual frame almost entirely reserved for discussing noble behavior) were not so much refuted as ignored. The works by the Castans, Jouanna, Bercé, Agulhon and R.M. Andrews took their place. In the affrontements, the repetition of the epithet had (and still has!) a generalized and recognizable power (this is Christian Jouhaud's point as well), whereas the older social-functionist works almost never found language as such to be a source of social action. NM's findings, like Gauvard's, forces the historian to confront a truly remarkable longue, longue durée.
Most of the cases involving urban crimes were committed by those who could write. The category of merchant includes 18% if the total, and 16% for artisans. While not reading carefully all the pardons, it would seem to be true that the crimes of these groups had very little to do with their profession or occupation. Accidents with arquebuses and swords while guarding city gates, and mis-perceptions about the possible theft of grapes prior to the vendanges implies a society that has only recently become armed with weapons more lethal than clubs.
As civil war threatened and broke out, the nomenclature "Protestant" and "Leaguer" tended to prevail over the socio-professional. This change from a social to a religious "code" certainly influenced how the guilty and the accused would be perceived. Atrocities, attempts at repression, and attempts of self- and collective protection generated some interesting cases that all specialists in the history of civil-war violence will want to study. Particularly interesting is the analysis of some of the persons who captured the chateau of Angers in 1585. Though there is no evidence of their using the term "Politique," Leaguers could conceivably have used it to describe a follower of the late duc d'Anjou or a follower of the last Valois king.
Particularly important are MN's findings are striking about the much tighter relation between written royal law and judicial decisions. We often read that judges had latitude in their decisions, but here the relation between droit écrit and judgments in a presidial court is striking, and important. The role of violence in civil wars may actually have led to tighter requirements for judges to enforce the laws, and to decide cases accordingly.