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La Reynie was the first holder of the lieutenant general of the police, from 1667 to 1697. Until then, the security of Paris depended on four departments serving as the Police. Thanks to the disappearance of the criminal lieutenant and the civilian lieutenant, Colbert will be able to reform the Paris Police to form a single body, at the head of which Louis XIV installs Gabriel Nicolas de La Reynie, a man loyal to royalty, patient, efficient and determined. Thanks to him, Paris will become the cleanest city in Europe.
Police before La Reynie
In the Grand Siècle, Paris is secure thanks to four interconnected but very distinct departments. The commissioners, the archers and exonerates from the watch, the services of the criminal lieutenant and the provost of the Island sitting at the Châtelet. The provost had commissioners who were judges but not police officers. At the head of the provost, the civilian lieutenant must "work" with the criminal lieutenant, but both feel that they are each responsible for the Police! The commissioners, for their part, sixteen in number, are responsible for the sixteen districts of Paris and often come up against the Prévôt des Marchands (Hôtel de Ville) and those in charge of the Châtelet. Alongside these services, we must not forget the Parliament of Paris, which intends to administer its police, as well as the courts of the Church. All of these different bodies, even if they are successful, lack coordination and centralized direction. As a result, the five hundred thousand Parisians can only count on themselves to ensure their safety. Boileau wrote in 1660 "the most disastrous wood and the least frequented, is near Paris, a place of safety"!
Faced with this tangle of competences and jurisdictions, Colbert, who is also a representative of the police, wishes to reform the whole. Having the support of the King, he must find "an iron fist". However, two problems exist: managing the prerogatives of the criminal lieutenant and the civilian lieutenant, knowing that these functions and therefore these charges bring in a lot of money for the state, so we cannot remove them so quickly!
The new centralization of the Police
A happy combination of circumstances will serve Colbert: the criminal lieutenant died in the summer of 1665 and the civilian lieutenant Antoine Dreux d 'Aubray was poisoned by his daughter the Marquise de Brinvilliers in the summer of 1666. It was the perfect opportunity to reform the police. A Council is founded, a new position of lieutenant general of the Paris Police is created, the office of criminal lieutenant disappears, the civilian lieutenant will only have to judge civil cases. The edict of March 15, 1667 states "the office of lieutenant general of police of Paris will be separated from that of the civilian lieutenant".
This new charge will take care of the security of the city, encompassing the carrying of weapons, whether authorized or not, street cleaning, fire and flood management, subsistence, inspection of halls, checking of shops, gaming and tobacco houses as well as ill-reputed places, the fight against delinquency, control of factories, printing houses and bookstores, not to mention the hunt for delinquents and their judgment.
The Police of Gabriel Nicolas de La Reynie
Born in Limoges in 1625, he came from a family of dress and studied law in Bordeaux. Having become a lawyer, he remained in this environment by marrying the daughter of a lawyer in 1645, made a rich marriage and took the name of La Reynie, but was quickly widowed. After several positions in the courts such as magistrate in Angoulême, president in Bordeaux, also loyal to royalty during the Fronde, he became intendant of the Duke of Epernon, the latter introducing him to the Court. Administering his fortune, he managed to buy in 1661 the office of master of requests to Parliament for an amount of 320,000 pounds. Esteemed by Chancellor Séguier, Colbert entrusted him with missions in the economic, social, police and justice fields. Having found "his man", Colbert introduced him to the King who created for him this new office of lieutenant general of police. La Reynie was sworn in at the end of March 1667 and remained faithful to her post for thirty years. Councilor of State in 1680, judge and prosecutor, he participated in major trials such as the Poisons affair or the trial of the Chevalier de Rohan. Having received the full powers of the King, he becomes the executive agent of his orders, directing the persecutions against the Protestants or ensuring the supply of wheat to Paris. In addition, the King authorizes him to establish all the necessary letters of seal.
He began by setting up his offices, not at the Palais de Justice, but near the Royal Palace in a private mansion and surrounded himself with reliable assistants, but above all in whom he trusted. Obtaining a huge budget, he can set up his "flies" all over Paris. Despite everything, he must help Louvois, must report to Séguier the Keeper of the Seals who still believes himself responsible for police functions.
Attaching himself to this great reform, he will transform many things:
- The commissioners now have the status of salaried civil servant, they are divided into seventeen districts and take the title of King's Counselor. They are assisted by mounted sergeants and so-called "rod" sergeants who also perform the functions of bailiffs and auctioneers.
- He will restore royal authority by "bringing in line" the Governor of Paris, the Parliament and the Provost of Merchants.
- He fiercely tackles the insecurity in the city, by launching punch operations, in particular on the Pont Neuf (massive raid following the sale of pocket pistols) or preventing the servants of the Great from doing the law. They are arrested and hanged despite the intervention of their masters.
To suppress seditious writings, he hunts down libellists and pamphleteers, then booksellers who publish these pages.
La Reynie transforms Paris
The security in the city is threatened by the empty pockets and the beggars harassing the inhabitants, in the evening the courses of miracles swarm with these false cripples, blind, lame and other paralytics. La Reynie razed the houses and breached the walls of Charles V's enclosure to suppress the course of miracles, then sent the beggars and false cripples marked first with a hot iron to the galleys. He sets up a special "rogue-hunter" police tasked with roaming the streets to lock up beggars and prostitutes at the General Hospital.
It installs public lighting, establishes traffic and parking rules, takes care of the paving of streets and the water supply.
Parisians are used to throwing rubbish out of windows and on rainy days, the streets are turned into filthy sewers, despite the ordinance of the Châtelet obliging residents to maintain the front of their house until half of the day. street and transport the waste out of town, under penalty of fines. Decreeing the Mud and Lantern tax (there will be five thousand lanterns installed until the end of the reign of Louis XIV), tax due by Parisian owners for the cleaning of streets and the maintenance of lanterns, Paris becomes the city of Europe's cleaner.
La Reynie makes compulsory the tax of unpaved streets "to be paid in front of his inheritance", as well as the road tax: the houses of the capital are listed with the name of their inhabitants and the details of the signs, this tax having to be regulated all six months and in advance, under penalty of a fine. In 1697, he retired from his duties, surrounded by general esteem and now devoted himself to the Council of State, then disappeared in Paris in 1709. He left his name to two streets: one in the center of Paris and one in Limoges .
Saint Simon paid homage to him by describing him as "a man of great virtue and great capacity, who, in a place which he had so to speak created, was to attract public hatred, acquired yet universal esteem ”.
- A Shadow on the Sun King by Claude Quétel. Larousse, 2010.
- La Reynie: The policeman of Louis XIV, by Éric Le Nabour. Perrin, 1990.