Judicial and Administrative Systems

The administrative organisation of France was convoluted and highly inefficient under the ancien régime.

There were numerous overlapping jurisdictions with 39 different provinces each managed by a governor, and then 36 généralités which were managed by Intendants. Each type of authority here would interpret rules and regulations in different ways, which led to inconsistent taxes, weights, measures and customs duties. This whole system and process was further hampered by the fact that French was not the singular language spoken across the nation, with multiple dialects spoken instead, which varied regionally.

The justice system was similarly complex and corrupt. There was Roman code law applied in Southern France and Germanic case law applied in Northern France, introducing inconsistency and bias into the system1. The King, Louis XVI, was the supreme Judge of the Kingdom, and was responsible for hearing and presiding over final appeals. Many judges were in their positions due to venality, meaning they had purchased their position and their noble title, which became an avenue for corruption. Furthermore, there were several different jurisdictions, including ecclesiastical courts, military courts, the parlements and special courts in which nobles were allowed to be trialled on a preferential basis. Nobles were also allowed to be executed by sword, a relatively quick and painless execution method, if they were found guilty of committing a capital offence. The arbitrary nature of justice was further exemplified by royally-issued lettres de cachet, which were decrees that ordered the imprisonment of the individual addressed, with no justification or warrant necessary.


See Also

Tax System


  1. Fenwick & Anderson, Liberating France, p.11