Parlement of Brittany

Particularly vocal in its resistance to the financial edicts of 1763 was the Parlement of Rennes, which had jurisdiction in the province of Brittany. A series of "remonstrances," issued by this court between 1763 and 1765, reveal the conflict between the parlementarians and the crown. At first, the magistrates merely protested the proposed new taxes, but when several of them were arrested for defying the King’s orders, the rest argued that they had a collective obligation to protest royal decrees that, in their view, violated the traditional "liberties" of the region. The Breton magistrates later voiced opposition to the crown’s efforts to remove them and in their place seat a new, more docile court. Particularly infuriating to the magistrates were the machinations of the regional governor, the Duke d’Aguillon, who came from a long–standing, aristocratic Breton family, who therefore saw as rivals the "robe" nobles of the parlement. D’Aguillon tried to discredit Louis René Caradeuc de La Chalotais, the public prosecutor loyal to the parlement, by accusing him of sending threatening letters to the King. Here we see an effort by the Breton Parlement to stand up for its rights.


11 August 1764

Sire,

The magistracy of your kingdom has been continuously resented by those who have undertaken to change the principles of government. At this moment, your parlement is undergoing cruel proof of this. Brittany has exemptions and immunities which have never been touched, consecrated by the most authentic titles. They form a law similar to the common law of the kingdom, which was peacefully enforced until recently.

The administration of Saint Louis [IX], the decisions of the Estates-General at the beginning of the thirteenth century, and the rulings of 1355, 1560, and 1576, allow little doubt that under the common law of France the consent of the three orders in the assembly of the Estates-General is required to establish or prorogate taxes. . . .

Sire, your parlement, trustee of the laws of the kingdom and guardian of the province’s exemptions and freedoms, has not been able to simply watch them come under attack without calling for Your Majesty’s justice against this abuse of his authority.

Bound by oath to this precious duty, it can not maintain a guilty silence when the law is being broken. In a monarchical state, it is the preservation of the law which guarantees the security of the monarch and his subjects. This form of government, more perfect than all others, assures that a prince like Your Majesty who wishes to reign in accordance with the laws, will receive the obedience and love of his subjects. Quite unlike despots who recognize no other law than that of their own will, Your Majesty has nothing to fear from these resolutions inspired by tyranny. His will is always in harmony with the law that his people have voluntarily received, consequently the people’s will shall always reflect that of his majesty. . . .

We cannot keep it from you Sire. For a long time now, there has been those working to subjugate a free province of your fortunate realm. The constitution is being undermined and overturned. Everywhere limitations are being placed on the exemptions and freedoms which you yourself enlist us to preserve. The mayors and city representatives to the estates, elected from time immemorial by free vote in the community, can now only be elected with the approval of your commissioners. These commissioners must now also approve the choice, previously made freely by the province, of the men entrusted to distribute and collect the subscribed taxes. Finally, by a surprising order of your council on 12 October 1762, the estates were crushed by destroying their essential and original institution.

A decision which, though couched in no legal form, discounts all titles and customs, rulings and constitutions, common law and national law. A decision which, without any exemptive clause, contradicts and abrogates the oldest and wisest laws, and cannot but be regarded as having been falsely defended to Your Majesty. Sire, in general such is the administration whose members had the temerity to assure you that the province was satisfied.

Source: A. Le Moy, Remonstrances du Parlement de Bretagne du dix-huitième siècle (Paris: Champion, 1909) 86–95.