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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Assisted by a small number of councillors


The

officer had gone to ask for fresh orders; the deputation sent to Versailles had returned, without having been received by Louis XVI., of whom an audience had not been requested. The court wanted to send some of the king's people at once to notify a fresh request; the troops guarded all the doors, nobody could leave the Palace.

"Gentlemen," said d'Espr4mesnil at last, "it would be contrary to our honor as well as to the dignity of the Parliament to prolong this scene any further; and, besides, we cannot be the ruin of Larchier; let M. d'Agoult be shown in again." The officer was recalled, the magistrates were seated and covered. "Sir," said M. d'Espremesnil, "I am one of those you are in search of. The law forbids me to obey orders irregularly obtained (_surpris_) of the sovereign, and it is to be faithful to him that I have not mentioned who I am until this moment. I call upon you to state whether, in case I should not go with you voluntarily, you have orders to drag me from this building." "Certainly, sir." D'Agoult was already striding towards the door to order in his troops. "Enough," said M. d'Espremesnil; "I yield to force;" and, turning to his colleagues, "Gentlemen," he said, "to you I protest against the violence of which I am the object; forget me and think henceforth of nothing but the common weal; I commend to you my family; whatever may be my fate, I shall never cease to glory in professing to the last hour the principles which

do honor to this court." He made a deep obeisance, and followed the major, going out by the secret staircases in order to avoid the crowd whose shouts could be heard even within the palace buildings. Goislard de Montsabert followed his colleague's example: he was confined at Pierre-Encise; M. d'Espremesnil had been taken to the Isle of St. Marguerite.

Useless and ill-judged violence, which excited the passions of the public without intimidating opponents! The day after the scene of May 6th, at the moment when the whole magistracy of France was growing hot over the thrilling account of the arrest of the two councillors, the Parliament of Paris was sent for to Versailles (May 8, 1788).

[Illustration: Arrest of the Members----502]

The magistrates knew beforehand what fate awaited them. The king uttered a few severe words. After a pompous preamble, the keeper of the seals read out six fresh edicts intended to ruin forever the power of the sovereign courts.

Forty-seven great baillie-courts, as a necessary intermediary between the parliaments and the inferior tribunals, were henceforth charged with all civil cases not involving sums of more than twenty thousand livres, as well as all criminal cases of the third order (estate). The representations of the provincial assembly of Dauphiny severely criticised the impropriety of this measure. "The ministers," they said, "have not been afraid to flout the third estate, whose life, honor, and property no longer appear to be objects worthy of the sovereign courts, for which are reserved only the causes of the rich and the crimes of the privileged." The number of members of the Parliament of Paris was reduced to sixty-nine. The registration of edicts, the only real political power left in the hands of the magistrates, was transferred to a plenary court, an old title without stability and without tradition, composed, under the king's presidency, of the great functionaries of state, assisted by a small number of councillors. The absolute power was thus preparing a rampart against encroachments of authority on the part of the sovereign courts; it had fortified itself beforehand against the pretensions of the States-general, "which cannot pretend to be anything but a more extended council on behalf of the sovereign, the latter still remaining supreme arbiter of their representations and their grievances."


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