The drawing of lots versus the state: Fate, divine inspiration, and the vocation of town magistrates in seventeenth century France

2. The medieval world and the modern world
By Yann Lignereux

After forty years of civil and religious unrest, French towns lost their privileges as the administrative monarchy’s power intensified in the seventeenth century. This authoritarian drift came about as a result of both the demands of absolutist religious pacification and political and social normalization. Its main instrument was the control, under the first Bourbon kings, of the urban governments, whose obedience and fidelity they could be assured of by intervening at different levels of the process of maintaining public buildings. Through the use of lots in the designation of the principal urban magistrates—whether it was the fact of a real draw or to be celebrated in the municipal rhetorical apparatus—several cities, such as Lyon and Marseille, strove to adapt the terms of this state subordination by defining a policy autonomy free of the existing social and financial mechanisms. In the context of the historical experience of a generation (1630-1660), a modus operandi for urban political representation—which could explain immediately contemporary dramaturgical evolutions—was thus defined. This autonomy, however, must be examined in connection with its exact purposes, which could be less directed towards preserving the independence of towns from monarchic appetites than towards an institutional and arithmetical ingenuity attempting to ensure the satiety of power of certain clans involved in the maintenance of public buildings.


  • Lyon
  • Marseille
  • seventeenth century
  • electoral competition
  • providence
  • absolutism
  • probabilities
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