Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/440

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judicial, had already begun. Certainly it was an evil day for France, when the sale of offices was first adopted as a financial expedient, whether by Louis XII in 1512, or by another sovereign.

The efficiency of the King's officers throughout the land is chiefly shown by their zeal for his interests and their own. Under Louis XII a considerable improvement is evident in the matters of public order and police, but on this side very much still remains to be desired. The police is in the hands of the prevots and baillis assisted by their sergens. The prevot of Paris also exercised a singular police jurisdiction throughout the land; and Louis XI made extensive use of the summary jurisdiction of the prevot des marechaux, whose powers properly extended only over the military.

Complicated as is the financial system of France at the end of the Middle Ages, an effort to understand it is not wasted. The life of the Middle Ages for the most part escapes all quantitative analysis; and even the detail of anatomy and function must in great measure remain unknown. It is much then that we are permitted to know the main outlines of the scheme which supplied the means for the expulsion of the English, for the long struggle with Charles the Bold and Maximilian, and for the Italian campaigns, as well as for the not inconsiderable luxury and display of the French Court in this period. It is much that we are able to give approximate figures for the revenue, and to guess what was the weight of the public burdens, and how and on whom they pressed. Moreover, the financial institutions are themselves of rare historical interest; for each anomaly of the system is a mark left on the structure of the government by the history of the nation.

The history of French finance in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries can be summed up with relative accuracy in a few words. When Philip the Fair first felt the need of extraordinary revenue, he endeavoured to secure the consent of the seigneurs individually for the taxation of their subjects. Afterwards the Estates made grants of imposts, direct and indirect, to meet exceptional emergencies. As the result of masked or open usurpation, the Kings succeeded in making good their claim to levy those taxes by royal fiat over the greater part of the kingdom.

In the earlier half of the fifteenth century it was still usual to secure the consent of the provincial Estates of at least the centre of France for the taUle. Under Charles VII this impost, the last and the most important, became, definitely and finally, an annual tax, and the fiction of a vote by the Estates, whether general or provincial, was almost entirely given up in Languedoil. From that time till the reforms of Francis I no important change in method was introduced. The screw was frequently tightened, and occasionally relaxed. New provinces were added to the kingdom, and received exceptional and indulgent treatment. But the main scheme of finance was fixed. Many of its features, indeed, were to remain unaltered till the Revolution.