Dissertations – «Furieux et de petit gouvernement»

Maud Ternon: «Furieux et de petit gouvernement».
Judicial forms and practices relative to madness in the royal jurisdictions of France between the middle of the 12th century and the end of the 15th century.

In the archives of the royal justice system of the 14th and 15th centuries, madness was distinguished by two distinct judicial attributes: full incapacity in civil proceedings and the exception from penal responsibility in judicial matters. Dementia (furor) was summarily defined as an illness, stemming from the laws of nature, which deprived the subject of his ability to express any valid intent. Within this legal framework, whether or not conduct was deemed mad depended in large part on the specific circumstances of each law suit. The insanity plea could be used, for example, to acquit a crime, to nullify a contract or a testament as well as to prevent a relative from squandering the possessions of the family line by either having him barred and/or placed under guardianship.

"Legal Dispute", Distinctiones in Decretales Gregorii IX, c. 1470-1480, Paris - Bibl. Mazarine - ms. 1331, 121, © Institut de recherche et d'histoire des textes - CNRS.

“Legal Dispute”, Distinctiones in Decretales Gregorii IX, c. 1470-1480, Paris – Bibl. Mazarine – ms. 1331, 121, © Institut de recherche et d’histoire des textes – CNRS.

Those who were regarded as insane found themselves placed, primarily, under the authority of their relatives who thus deprived them of the ordinary privileges associated to adulthood and, should they prove dangerous, kept them at home. If customary law was generally used to arbitrate these situations, more and more appeals to the royal courts and to the opinions of legal scholars were made during this period. Even if the king did not pass judgment on such family matters, he did deputize certain mid-level actors, such as the burghers, to take these vulnerable subjects in their custody. In turn, these lawmen remained particularly attentive to appeal systematically to his sovereign authority.

Maud Ternon, a former student of the Ecole normale supérieure de Lettres et Sciences humaines,  graduated in December 2014 in the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. She has teached Medieval History in the universities of Paris 1, Versailles and Nanterre. She currently is a professeur agrégé in high school.

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