Sunday, April 5, 2009

France History: The Parliament of Paris

France had a wise ruler in Blanche, and a still better one in her son, Louis IX., who is better known as St. Louis, and who was a really good and great man. He was the first to establish the Parliament of Paris—a court consisting of the great feudal vassals, lay and ecclesiastical, who held of the king direct, and who had to try all causes. They much disliked giving such attendance, and a certain number of men trained to the law were added to them to guide the decisions. The Parliament was thus only a court of justice and an office for registering wills and edicts. The representative assembly of France was called the States-General, and consisted of all estates of the realm, but was only summoned in time of emergency. Louis IX. was the first king to bring nobles of the highest rank to submit to the judgment of Parliament when guilty of a crime. Enguerrand de Coucy, one of the proudest nobles of France, who had hung two Flemish youths for killing a rabbit, was sentenced to death. The penalty was commuted, but the principle was established.

Louis's uprightness and wisdom gained him honour and love everywhere, and he was always remembered as sitting under the great oak at Vincennes, doing equal justice to rich and poor. Louis was equally upright in his dealings with foreign powers. He would not take advantage of the weakness of Henry III. of England to attack his lands in Guienne, though he maintained the right of France to Normandy as having been forfeited by King John. So much was he respected that he was called in to judge between Henry and his barons, respecting the oaths exacted from the king by the Mad Parliament. His decision in favour of Henry was probably an honest one; but he was misled by the very different relations of the French and English kings to their nobles, who in France maintained lawlessness and violence, while in England they were struggling for law and order.

Throughout the struggles between the Popes and the Emperor Frederick II., Louis would not be induced to assist in a persecution of the Emperor which he considered unjust, nor permit one of his sons to accept the kingdom of Apulia and Sicily, when the Pope declared that Frederick had forfeited it. He could not, however, prevent his brother Charles, Count of Anjou, from accepting it; for Charles had married Beatrice, heiress of the imperial fief of Provence, and being thus independent of his brother Louis, was able to establish a branch of the French royal family on the throne at Naples.

The reign of St. Louis was a time of much progress and improvement. There were great scholars and thinkers at all the universities. Romance and poetry were flourishing, and influencing people's habits, so that courtesy, i.e. the manners taught in castle courts, was softening the demeanour of knights and nobles. Architecture was at its most beautiful period, as is seen, above all, in the Sainte Chapelle at Paris. This was built by Louis IX. to receive a gift of the Greek Emperor, namely, a thorn, which was believed to be from the crown of thorns. It is one of the most perfect buildings in existence.

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