Law, City, and King

July 2007
9 black and white, 2 line illustrations
324 pages
9x6 in
Changing Perspectives on Early Modern Europe
ISBN: 9781580462365
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
University of Rochester Press
BISAC POL010000, LAW089000, HIS013000

Law, City, and King

Legal Culture, Municipal Politics, and State Formation in Early Modern Dijon

Michael P. Breen

An in-depth examination of political activities in early modern France that opens up new perspectives on the local workings of the French state and the experiences of those who participated in it.
Law, City, and King provides important new insights into the transformation of political participation and consciousness among urban notables who bridged the gap between local society and the state in early modern France. Breen's detailed research shows how the educated, socially-middling avocats who staffed Dijon's municipality used law, patronage, and the other resources at their disposal to protect the city council's authority and their own participation in local governance. Drawing on juridical and historical authorities, the avocats favored a traditional conception of limited "absolute" monarchy increasingly at odds with royal ideology. Despite their efforts to resist the monarchy's growth, the expansion of royal power under Louis XIV eventually excluded Dijon's avocats from the French state.
In opening up new perspectives on the local workings of the French state and the experiences of those who participated in it, Law, City, and King recasts debates about absolutism and early modern state formation. By focusing on the political alienation of notables who had long linked the crown to provincial society, Breen explains why Louis XIV's collaborative absolutism did not endure. At the same time, the book's examination of lawyers' political activities and ideas provides insights into the transformation of French political culture in the decades leading up to the French Revolution.

Michael P. Breen is Associate Professor of History and Humanities at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.

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Table of Contents

Lawyers and Municipal Government in Dijon
The Avocats and the Politics of Local Privilege (1595-1648)
The Collapse of the Municipal Political System (1649-68)
From Local Government to Royal Administration (1669-1715)
Legal Culture and Political Thought in Early Seventeenth-Century Dijon
Custom, Reason, and the Limits of Royal Authority


Michael Breen's successful synthesis of manuscript and printed sources with a thoughtful understanding of recent work in seventeenth-century French urban history has yielded the first really successful political-culture study known to this reviewer. RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY [Orest Ranum]

Breen's book is thoroughly researched and effectively argued, presenting a persuasive case study of center and periphery relations during a dynamic phase in the development of the French State. AMERICAN HISTORICAL REVIEW, October 2008 [Penny Roberts]

Breen has served the seventeenth-century Dijon avocats well; historians of early modern absolutism in general and Louis XIV's reign in particular should read this book. FRENCH HISTORY ADVANCE ACCESS [K.A.J. McLay]

[Breen] puts the many events [of the political history of Dijon] in a convincing and analytical framework that makes abstract processes of state building tangible and understandable. . . It is a good example of how local historical analyses can contribute to a better understanding of large-scale processes. --Griet Vermeesch, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium

[Law, City, and King] is a fine contribution to an important set of ongoing debates, and a welcome instance of how a history of the French middle classes might be rewritten. . . . These arguments rest on impressive research, both in Dijon's civic records and in the surprisingly extensive records that the city's lawyers left of their private lives and thoughts; Breen also displays a wide and sympathetic understanding of other historical research on these issues. H-FRANCE REVIEW, March 2008 [Jonathan Dewald]

Michael Breen has written an important book that will do much to recast our understanding of seventeenth-century French society. Deeply researched and cogently written, it sheds new light on the development of the French monarchy, the changing status of French cities, the place of the law in French political culture, and above all, the transformation of a crucial social group: lawyers. Historians, historical sociologists, and anyone interested in the relationship between law and society will find it a very rewarding read. --David A. Bell, Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities, Johns Hopkins University, and author of The First Total War

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