The Duke de Croy Describes the "Session of the Scourging" (3 March 1766)

The twelve highest royal courts, known as Parlements, not only heard civil and criminal suits; they also had the responsibility of discussing and registering royal edicts before enactment. Consequently, the Parlementary magistrates could, when they saw fit, prevent the King from ruling; by the same token, the King could exercise a sort of reverse veto by forcing the Parlements to register his edicts. He did this by convoking the judges of the Parlements to a special ceremony known as a "seat of justice" [lit de justice]. Ordinary appearances by the King before the Parlement of Paris were known as "sessions." Here the Duke de Croy, a peer of the realm, describes the "session of the scourging" (Séance de la Flagellation) during the "Brittany Affair" discussed in other documents. Louis XV verbally "lashed out" at the magistrates for asserting that they were linked to the Parlement of Rennes and all the other regional courts in a "union"; in the King’s view, the idea of such a "union" interfered with his ability to rule over the French people.


Due to the King's distress over the death of the Dauphin, the Parlement of Paris had not addressed the Brittany Affair. For the first time, the court had taken the upper hand in the affair when it was forced to break up the Breton Parlement whose members had refused to withdraw their resignations. This allowed the King to form a new, smaller parlement, which was more submissive to the court.

At the end of February, the Parlement of Paris came to life again. Making common cause with the other parlements in accordance with their collective affiliation, it forcefully asked the King to reestablish the former Parlement of Brittany and to give them back jurisdiction over the case of Monsieur de la Chalotais. If the court were to back down, it would lose what was left of its authority. This was greatly embarrassing for the council. . . .

With the decision taken the previous evening, orders were given that night for the two regiments of guards to form the usual honor guard, while the first president was ordered to inform parlement that the King was going to come. The king would not be holding a lit de justice [seat of justice], but rather was coming to personally hold his parlement. No one in Paris knew anything about it. At ten fifteen the King arrived. An incident occurred that had left a good impression: On the Pont-Neuf the King crossed paths with a procession carrying the Blessed Sacrament to a sick man. He immediately stopped, dismounted alone and, amongst the people, knelt in the mud. When the Blessed Sacrament had passed, the crowd, charmed by this gesture, shouted "Long live the King!" over and over. This was something that had not happened in a long time.

Arriving in the Great Hall, the King took his seat with those princes and peers who had been able to be informed, and ordered the houses of parlement be summoned. They assembled, much astonished at the suddenness of this measure. With that majestic air he possesses beyond all description, the King was quite impressive. He said, "I have come in person to give you my answer and to explain my wishes. Here they are, written by my own hand!"

He ordered it read, and no sooner had this been completed when he arose with the greatest majesty and said, "Yes, those are my wishes exactly, and I know how to make sure that they are carried out. Dufranc [the clerk of the court], bring me the register containing [the latest] decree!" Looking at it, he said, "I order you to strike it out!" When Dufranc seemed to hesitate, the King, with a commanding voice, said, "Dufranc, strike it out at once!" The clerk struck it out. "Bring it to me so that I may verify that it has indeed been stricken!" Then, having spoken a little more, firmly but gently, he arose and returned to Versailles.

All who saw him in the parlement that day admitted that no one could have displayed more grandeur or majesty. The entire demonstration was well conceived, well-managed, and well-supported, and consequently impressed all of parlement, which remained disconcerted.

Source: Duc de Croy, Journal inédit du duc de Croy, 17181784, vol. 2 (Paris: E. Flammarion, 19067), 22028.