The Lit de Justice: Semantics, Ceremonial, and the Parlement of Paris, 1300–1600

The Lit de Justice: Semantics, Ceremonial, and the Parlement of Paris, 1300–1600

The Lit de Justice: Semantics, Ceremonial, and the Parlement of Paris, 1300–1600

Elizabeth A. R. Brown and Richard C. Famiglietti

Beihefte Der Francia: Herausgegeben vom Deutschen Historischen Institut Paris, Band 31 (1994)


The curious phrase lit de justice originated in the fourteenth century and by the first decade of the fifteenth century designated particularly important royal sessions of the Parlement of Paris. Its institutional significance was recognized when in April 1485 Charles VIII (1483-98) declared that in the Parlement of Paris and nowhere else is held and must be held our lit de justice. The intriguing name prompts curiosity and speculation. It is easy to envisage Saint Louis sitting under an oak tree to pronounce judgments,but it may be harder to imagine what a lit, a bed, could have had to do with the dispensation of justice – although, just before describing Louis’ sylvan court at Vincennes, Joinville reported the king’s custom of sitting at the foot of his bed (“au pié de son lit”) to render justice. As will be seen, such practice, as well as medieval terminology, explains how the term lit de justice came into being. Understanding what the institution was and how it developed is a far more difficult task because of the number and variety of source s that illuminat e an d sometimes obscure its history . Any conclusion s regarding the lit de justice are necessarily provisional because of the nature of this evidence.

The survival of documentation concerning the king and his justice is haphazard, but much evidence has been preserved. No historian can know all the records that bear on this topic and the lit de justice – official texts , contemporary correspondence , histories, treatises , poems , and tracts . The records of the Parlement pose particular problems. Some of the court’s registers have been lost, but a staggering number survive. These registers are fundamentally important for establishing when, why, and how kings visited the tribunal , but their bulk make s systematic examination difficult and exhaustive analysis virtually impossible. For the most part they have not been fully inventoried. In the seventeenth century the parlementary councilor and master of requests Jean Le Nain (1613-98 ) compiled massive lists, indexes , and collections of extracts, which are precious guides to these records.

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