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Lettres De Cachet

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CACHET, LETTRES DE, were let ters proceeding from and signed by the kings of France, and countersigned by a secretary of state. They were called also "lettres closes," or "sealed letters," to dis tinguish them from the " lettres patentes" which were in the nature of public docu ments and sealed with the great seal. Lettres de cachet were rarely employed to deprive men of their personal liberty before the seventeenth century. It is said that they were devised by Pere Joseph under the administration of Riche lieu. They were at first made use of occasionally as a means of delaying the course of justice; but during the reign of Louis XIV. they were obtained by any person who had sufficient influence with the king or his ministers, and persons were thus imprisoned for life, or for a long period, on the most frivolous pre texts, for the gratification of private pique or revenge, and without any rea son being assigned for such punishment. The terms of a lettre de cachet were as follows :" M. le Marquis de vows fail cette lettre pour vous dire de recevoir dana mon chateau de la Bastille le Sieur et de l'y retenir jusqult nouvel ordre de ma part. Sur ce, je prie Dieu qu'il vons aft, M. le Marquis de Launay, en sa sainte garde." These letters. which gave power over personal liberty, were openly sold in the reign of Louis XV. by the mistress of one of the

ministers. " They were often given to the ministers, the mistresses, and fa vourites as cartes blanches, or only with the king's signature, so that the persons to whom they were given could insert such names and terms as they pleased." (Welcker.) The lettres de cachet were also granted by the king for the purpose of shielding his favourites or their friends from the consequences of their crimes; and thus were as pernicious in their opera tion as the protection afforded by the church to criminals in a former age. Their necessity was strongly maintained by the great families, as they were thus enabled to remove such of their con nexions as had acted in a derogatory manner. During the contentions of the Mirabeau family, fifty-nine lettres de cachet were issued on the demand of one or other of its members. The independ ent members of the parliaments and of the magistracy were proscribed and Eunished by means of these warrants. This monstrous evil was swept away at the Revolution, after Louis XVI. had in vain endeavoured to remedy it.

(Mirabeau, Des Lettres de Cachet, ecc, 1782; Translation, published at London, in two volumes, in 1787 ; Rotteck and Welcker, art. " Cachet, Lettres de," by Welcher.)