Parlement of Brittany
The Parlement of Brittany (Fr: parlement de Bretagne) was a court of justice, in France’s Ancien Régime, with its seat at Rennes. The last building to house the parlement still stands and is now the Rennes Court of Appeal, the natural successor of the parlement.
Parlements under the Ancien Régime
As with all the parlements before they were abolished in 1789, that of of Brittany was a sovereign court of justice, principally listening to appeals of sentences issued by lower jurisdictions.
The parlement also possessed legislative powers, asserting some autonomy with respect to the royal prerogative. The nobles of Brittany were keen to defend the rights of the province, known as the "Breton liberties", maintained by the treaty of union with France. They were determined to exercise these powers and to play a big part in the life of the parlement and consequently in the life of the whole province.
This resistance to royal powers, involving the defending of its institutions and the privileges of the nobility, was widespread. Composed of similar members with many interests in common, the Estates of Brittany were invariably united with the parliament of Brittany in defence of their rights.
- 1485 : Duke Francis II establishes a sovereign parlement at Vannes, first sitting in the autumn.
- 1532 : Cancelled by a special tribunal of Charles VIII, after which, all appeals are judged by the Parlement of Paris, contributing to delays in the restoration of a sovereign court in the province.
- March 1553 : Recreation of the parlement of Brittany, sitting alternately at Rennes (August -October) and to Nantes (February–April).
- August 2, 1554 : First meeting at Rennes followed by the second one at Nantes on February 4, 1555
- June 1557 : Meeting bi-annually, but only at Nantes. The meetings are shared between the “Grand Chamber” and the “Inquiry Chamber”. Sixty judges preside.
- 1561 : Meeting solely at Rennes, at the convent of the Cordeliers.
- December 1575 : Creation of the criminal room, the Tournelle
- September 1580 : Creation of the “Repeal Chamber”, where appeals against sentences of the parliament itself were made.
- 1591 : Beginning of extended meetings, but with no increase in payments.
- March 20, 1598 : Duke Philippe-Emmanuel of Lorraine grants an amnesty for the parliamentarians that established a court at Nantes in 1589.
- 1599-1600 : Ban on magistrates meeting in August
- 1578 : Rennes is permitted to raise taxes for the construction of a new parlement building - notably a tax on cider jars.
- July 1600 : The meetings become bi-annual: February to July and August to January.
- September 15, 1618 : First stone laid for the new building
- 1631 : Conflict with Cardinal Richelieu after the restoration of mooring fees.
- January 16, 1655 : The new building officially opened by the oldest of the presidents of the parlement
- January 22, 1668 : Creation of the “Upper Chamber” of the nobility of Brittany
- September 18, 1675 : Louis XIV transfers the court to Vannes to punish Rennes for participating in the Stamp Duty Revolt
- February 1, 1690 : First meeting after the court returns to Rennes
- February 1704 : Creation of an Appeal Chamber for matters concerning water and forests.
- March 1724 : A single annual meeting from November to August. Creation of a chamber to be assembled during the summer vacation. A second ‘Inquiry Chamber’ was created, as well as fa second ‘Repeal Chamber’.
- July 15, 1769 : Parliament restored after 3 years’ suspension by the military governor, Emmanuel Armand de Vignerot.
- September 1771 : Parliament closed by Louis XV on the advice of René Nicolas de Maupeou
- December 1774 : Parliament recalled on the accession of Louis XVI
- 1788 : Strong opposition of the parliament of Brittany to the edicts setting up the creation of the new large administrative areas of France. It refuses to name any representatives to the “États Généraux”.
- 1789 : Last meeting.
- February 3, 1790 : Legal existence ended. The closure, by the National Assembly, was never ratified by the Breton parliamentarians, who, on the same day, declared the decision “null and void forever” (Thesis Toublanc).
The parliament of Brittany’s foremost responsibilities were the processing of appeals against judgements in civil matters rather than criminal matters. It had to instruct and to judge across wide-ranging areas of litigation and question all that which may have escaped the attention, for various reasons, of the lower provincial jurisdictions.
- Matters relating to the "privileges, prerogatives and pre-eminences” of the barons of Brittany
- Matters concerning the bishops chapter
- Matters concerning Royal officers and the Clergy
- Matters arising within the parliament itself
- Abuse or embezzlement by clerks, ushers and prosecutors
- Matters concerning privileges of cities, towns, communities and parishes
- Establishment of regulations for fairs and markets
- Questions of general policy
- Matters of vested interest
- Disputes of judges relating to their workloads
- Jurisdiction conflict
- Taxation disputes
- Questions of choice of place of judgement where the matters may cover many jurisdictions.
- Questions regarding guardianship of children or the insane
- Appeals as a result of "an incompetent judge"
- Appeals of royal jurisdictions (outside of tribunals) concerning ownership of land
- Appeals as a result of "denial of justice" and of "dismissal"
- Appeals against sentences passed by the Provost of the university of Nantes
- Appeals as a result of the jurisdiction of the chapter-house.
- Appeals as a result of abuse
- Appeals as a result of legal confiscation or permission to confiscate
- Appeals against leases and auctions of buildings
- Appeals against judgements regarding the beneficiaries of wills
- Appeals against consular and arbitration sentences
The judgements of the Chamber (excluding a few processes that lasted more than ten years) had an average delay between the initial sentence and the appeal decision of two or three years at the beginning of the 18th century, but this increased steadily until it was over five years at the end of the century.
With that same sample of judgements, parliament confirmed the judgement in 60% of cases. It was divided in 30% of cases, some being the object of an evocation before the Court. The remaining 10% of judgements were left unfinished as “having to be done right”). More half of the procedures concerned questions of succession, of property and of obligations.
The parliament of Brittany possessed many administrative prerogatives such as guardianship of parishes and control of policing. The contentions and complaints that it processed allowed for it to be fairly informed of general difficulties justifying the sentences passed or to override the strict judicial framework. All the same, royal orders and edicts could demand implementation more or less immediately. One of the innovations of the laws of August 16 and August 24, 1790 was the separation of the judicial and the administrative courts. The parishes had to ask for parliament’s agreement when they wanted to raise money for their own needs (repairs, for example). Forty parishes asked for such during a single term during the year 1693. The parish rector had to publicise any judgements.
The parliament building
Plans were drawn by the city architect, German Gaultier and reviewed by Salomon of Brush (designer of the facades). Built in a restrained style, the parliament of Brittany decided to site the palace in the heart of the city of Rennes, where the parliamentary representatives have sat ever since 1655. The building has been recently restored, following severe fire damage on February 5, 1994, a consequence linked to the violent demonstrations of the local fishermen. Adapted to the requirements of the 21st century, the Court of Appeal of Rennes was able to resume the activities of the previous centuries. Other, newer buildings in the city are home to the various forms of justice (Law courts, civil courts etc.).
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Notes and references
- Séverine debordes-lissillour, The royal sénéchaussées of Brittany, university Press of Rennes, 2006.
- Séverine debordes-lissillour, The royal sénéchaussées of Brittany, University Press of Rennes, 2006.
- Hurt, John J. "The Parlement of Brittany and the Crown: 1665-1675." French Historical Studies (1966): 411-433. in JSTOR
- (French) Henri Carré, Le Parlement de Bretagne après la ligue (1598-1610), Maison Quantin, Paris, 1888
- (French) Ernest Texier, Des appels du parlement de Bretagne au parlement de Paris, 1906
- (French) Arthur Le Moy, Le parlement de Bretagne et le pouvoir royal au XVIII siécle, Burdin, Angers, 1909
- (French) J. de La Martinière, « Le parlement de Bretagne sous les rois de France », Annales de Bretagne et des pays de l'Ouest|Annales de Bretagne, 1930, p. 219
- (French) Jean Egret, Louis XV et l'opposition parlementaire (1715-1774), Armand Colin, Paris, 1970
- (French) Frédéric Saulnier, Le Parlement de Bretagne (1554-1790), Imprimerie de la Manutention, Mayenne, 1991
- (French) Marie-Laure Legay, Les États provinciaux dans la construction de l'État moderne aux XVII siécle et XVIII siécle, Droz, Genève, 2001