Preface
Justice is ‘‘public vengeance, not
private.’’1
So pronounced Pierre de Sau-
maise, the Seigneur de Chasans, one of the key players in a causecélèbre that
shookBurgundyinthemid-seventeenthcentury.Thisbookisaboutthathis-
torical episode. It centers on the murder trial of a distinguished and power-
ful man, Philippe Giroux, a président, or presiding judge, at Burgundy’s Par-
lement, the highest court of appeal in the province.The trial was not simply
of provincial importance, however, for it came to involve the most powerful
men in France, among them Henri II de Bourbon, the prince of Condé; the
primeministerCardinalRichelieu;andthekinghimself,LouisXIII.Because
of the powerful figures who became entangled in this affair, it dramatically
illuminates the intricateweb of power relations of the time, and so demon-
strates how power and influence were exerted in concrete, lived situations.
One goal of mine, therefore, is to show the reader how power worked, both
formally through the law and informally through patron-client relations. I
also hope that this story exposes something more subtle and perhaps even
more profound about the nature of seventeenth-century political culture:
the deep contradictions upon which the social, judicial, and political sys-
tems rested. Saumaise’s pronouncement about the public nature of justice
wasonlypartlytrue,infact,forfamiliesdrivenbyprivateinterestsguidedby
social imperatives captured the judicial system at a timewhen impartial law
and disinterested justice—what we call the rule of law—were crystallizing
as essential theoretical attributes of governing public polities.
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