The King's Bench

December 2008
3 black and white illustrations
340 pages
9x6 in
Changing Perspectives on Early Modern Europe
ISBN: 9781580462921
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
University of Rochester Press

The King's Bench

Bailiwick Magistrates and Local Governance in Normandy, 1670-1740

Zoë A. Schneider

An examination of kings' courts and lords' courts in Normandy that opens a new chapter in the debate over absolutism, sovereignty, and the nature of the state in early modern France.
Hidden deep in the countryside of France lay early modern Europe's largest bureaucracy: twenty- to thirty-thousand royal bailiwick and seigneurial courts that served more than eighty-five percent of the king's subjects. The crown courts and lords' courts were far more than arenas of litigation, in the modern sense. They had become the nexus of local governance by the middle of the seventeenth century, a rich breeding ground for men who controlled the villages, towns, and bailiwicks of France. Yet even as the centralizing state was reaching its zenith under Louis XIV, the king's largest permanent bureaucracy became increasingly alienated and cut adrift from the crown, many decades before the French Revolution.
In The King's Bench, Zoë Schneider vividly brings to life the teeming world of the local courts, with their magistrates and jailers, townspeople and peasants. Together they contested that vital border where the private world of families and property collided with the public commonwealth. Schneider chronicles the transformation of local governance after the mid-seventeenth century, as judges and their courts became the face of public order in the countryside.
With this richly detailed local study of Normandy in the seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries, Zoë Schneider opens a new chapter in the debate over absolutism, sovereignty, and the nature of the state in early modern France.

Zoë A. Schneider has taught at Georgetown University and with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

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Table of Contents

Rex and Lex: The Problem of Legislative Sovereignty
Howling with the Wolves: The Normans and Their Courts
Officers and Gentlemen: The Local Judiciary
Law and Lawyers in the "Empire of Custom"
The Red Robe and the Black: Common Courts and the State
Villagers and Townspeople: Civil Litigants
Uncivil Acts: Crime and Punishment
Unruly Governors: Functions and Dysfunctions of the Common Courts
Appendix A: Courts of the Généralité of Rouen
Appendix B: Jurisdictions of the Ordinary Courts
Appendix C: Criminal Trial Procedure
Glossary of Legal Terms


The King's Bench is an outstanding book. It is based on an impressive amount of research in archives that are unwieldy and difficult to use. It makes a major contribution to the debate concerning the functioning of the absolutist state. FRANCE

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