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Maupeou, Rene Nicolas Charles Augustin

MAUPEOU, RENE NICOLAS CHARLES AUGUSTIN (1714- 1792), chancellor of France, was born on the 25th of February 1714, being the eldest son of Rene Charles de Maupeou (1688- 1775), who was president of the parlement of Paris from 1743 to 1757. He married in 1744 a rich heiress, Anne de Roncherolles, a cousin of Madame d'Epinay. Entering public life, he was his father's right hand in the conflicts between the parlement and Christophe de Beaumont, archbishop of Paris, who was supported by the court. Between 1763 and 1768, dates which cover the revision of the case of Jean Galas and the trial of the comte de Lally, Maupeou was himself president of the parlement. In 1768, through the protection of Choiseul, whose fall two years later was in large measure his work, he became chancellor in succession to his father, who had held the office for a few days only. He determined to support the royal authority against the parlement, which in league with the provincial magistratures was seeking to arrogate to itself the functions of the states-general. He allied himself with the due d'Aiguillon and Madame du Barry, and secured for a creature of his own, the Abbe Terrai, the office of comptroller-general. The struggle came over the trial of the case of the due d'Aiguillon, ex-governor of Brittany, and of La Chalotais, procureur-general of the province, who had been imprisoned by the governor for accusations against his administration. When the parlement showed signs of hostility against Aiguillon, Maupeou read letters patent from Louis XV. annulling the proceedings. Louis replied to remonstrances from the parlement by a lit de justice, in which he demanded the surrender of the minutes of procedure. On the 27th of November 1770 appeared the dit de reglement et de discipline, which was promulgated by the chancellor, forbidding the union of the various branches of the parlement and correspondence with the provincial magistratures. It also made a strike on the part of the parlement punishable by confiscation of goods, and forbade further obstruction to the registration of royal decrees after the royal reply had been given to a first remonstrance. This edict the magistrates refused to register, and it was registered in a lit de justice held at Versailles on the 7th of December, whereupon the parlement suspended its functions. After five summonses to return to their duties, the magistrates were surprised individually on the night of the 19th of January 1771 by musketeers, who required them to sign yes or no to a further request to return. Thirtyeight magistrates gave an affirmative answer, but on the exile of their former colleagues by lettres de cachet they retracted, and were also exiled. Maupeou installed the council of state to administer justice pending the establishment of six superior courts in the provinces, and of a new parlement in Paris. The cour des aides was next suppressed.

Voltaire praised this revolution, applauding the suppression of the old hereditary magistrature, but in general Maupeou's policy was regarded as the triumph of tyranny. The remonstrances of the princes, of the nobles, and of the minor courts, were met by exile and suppression, but by the end of 1771 the new system was established, and the Bar, which had offered a passive resistance, recommenced to plead. But the death of Louis XV. in May 1774 ruined the chancellor. The restoration of the parlements was followed by a renewal of the quarrels between the new king and the magistrature. Maupeou and Terrai were replaced by Malesherbes and Turgot. Maupeou lived in retreat until his death at Thuit on the 29th of July 1792, having lived to see the overthrow of the ancien regime. His work, in so far as it was directed towards the separation of the judicial and political functions and to the reform of the abuses attaching to a hereditary magistrature, was subsequently endorsed by the Revolution ; but no justification of his violent methods or defence of his intriguing and avaricious character is possible. He aimed at securing absolute power for Louis XV., but his action was in reality a serious blow to the monarchy.

The chief authority for the administration of Maupeou is the compte rendu in his own justification presented by him to Louis XVI. in 1789, which included a dossier of his speeches and edicts, and is preserved in the Bibliotheque nationale. These documents, in the hands of his former secretary, C. F. Lebrun, due de Plaisance, formed the basis of the judicial system of France as established under the consulate (cf. C. F. Lebrun, Opinions, rapports et choix d'ecrits politiques, published posthumously in 1829). See further Mav.peoua.na (6 vols., Paris, 1775), which contains the pamphlets directed against him; Journal hist, de la revolution operee . . . par M. de Maupeou (7 vols., 1775) ; the official correspondence of Mercythe letters of Mme d'Epinay; and Jules Flammermont, Le Chancelier Maupeou et les parlements (1883).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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