Lettres de cachet and Eighteenth Century Crime

Lettres de cachet and Eighteenth Century Crime

I am here in Paris for the summer, assisting Professor Graham with her research on debauchery in eighteenth century France. She is writing a book, Debauchery and Enlightenment in Eighteenth Century France, that looks at debauchery from a variety of different angles. As her assistant last summer, I read eighteenth century books on women’s physiology, treatises about women and morality, biographies of Louis XV’s mistresses, and legal texts, all of which offered different perspectives on moral crime. This summer, I am working at the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal in Paris, to learn more about debauchery from lettres de cachet. Lettres de cachet were letters signed by the king that allowed a suspect to be imprisoned without any legal process. Farge & Foucault explain how the system of lettres de cachet served as a way to avoid the judicial system, which was inefficient and impossible. They also argue that this system worked to the advantage of the families, the king, and the police: family honor was maintained, as was public order. The two were closely related. (By the end of the eighteenth century, lettres de cachet were associated with oppression, tyranny, and arbitrary monarchal rule). In Le désordre des familles, Farge & Foucault describe their study of lettres de cachet at the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal in the early 1980s. “We were […] struck by the fact that, in many cases, these demands were made about private family matters: small conflicts between parents and children, domestic discord, misconduct of one of the spouses, disorder of a boy or girl. […] despite the incomplete character of these archives, we often found, around a demand...