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Formation of the French nation


Louis VII
Louis VII

Aside from building the royal domain and uprooting the Plantagenets, the Capetians contributed to the formation of the French nation by developing a set of core political institutions, many of which would last until 1789. Among them was a local administration composed of judicial officials variously called prévôts, baillis, and sénéchaux. In Paris, which gradually emerged as the country’s capital, a central administration began to develop. Administrative and judicial duties that had previously been performed by the royal council were assigned to other bodies, such as the parlements, courts with wide-ranging jurisdiction, and the more specialized Chambres de Comptes, which heard fiscal cases. Loosely associated with these courts was the Estates-General, an assembly composed of representatives from the three estates, or legally defined social classes: clergy, nobility, and commoners. These representatives were elected throughout the realm. The Estates-General counseled the king and consented to important initiatives of the crown. The crown also developed a rudimentary tax system. This system enabled the crown to tap the expanding wealth of the nation, although taxes were always controversial and often fiercely resisted.

When it functioned, this machinery and the institutions of the church no doubt reduced the levels of violence and disorder that had existed in earlier periods. Yet these administrative mechanisms were also used to exclude and to repress. The king and the papacy tried to enforce religious orthodoxy, which led to the bloody repression of nonorthodox believers such as the Albigenses. The rights of Jews, who were associated with heretics and lepers, eroded, and they were eventually expelled from the kingdom. Homosexuals and prostitutes also appear to have suffered increasing persecution. And although it is risky to generalize in this matter, some evidence suggests that the general reform movement of the church wresting control of church lands from lay lords caused their families to try to keep their remaining properties intact by granting women smaller shares of family estates than they had received during the Early Middle Ages. In sum, processes that led to the building of the nation were hardly cost-free. "France" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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