Montesquieu
 

XII.8 On the misapplication of the name of crime of sacrilege and of lese-majesty

It is ano­ther vio­lent abuse to give the name of crime of lese-majesty to an act that is not one. A law of the empe­rors1 pur­sued as sacri­le­gious those who ques­tio­ned the prince’s judg­ment and doub­ted the merit of those he had cho­sen for some office.2 It was, to be sure, the coun­cil and the favo­ri­tes who ins­ti­tu­ted this crime. Another law had decla­red that those who make attempts on the prince’s minis­ters and offi­cers are guilty of lese-majesty, as if their attempt were on the prince him­self.3 We owe this law to two prin­ces4 whose weak­ness is legen­dary in his­tory : two prin­ces who were conduc­ted by their minis­ters as herds are led by she­pherds ; two prin­ces who were sla­ves in the palace, chil­dren in the coun­cil, stran­gers to the armies, and who pre­ser­ved the empire only by giving it away day by day. Some of these favo­ri­tes cons­pi­red against their empe­rors. They went fur­ther : they cons­pi­red against the empire ; they cal­led in the bar­ba­rians, and those who wan­ted to stop them found the state was so weak that it was neces­sary to break their law and risk the crime of lese-majesty in order to punish them.

Yet it was on this law that the judge-advo­cate of M. de Cinq-Mars5 relied when, trying to prove him guilty of the crime of lese-majesty for attemp­ting to drive the Cardinal de Richelieu out of the coun­cil, he said : “The crime tou­ching the per­son of the prin­ces’ minis­ters is repu­ted by the cons­ti­tu­tions of the empe­rors of equal weight with those tou­ching their per­son. A minis­ter indeed ser­ves his prince and his state ; he is taken from both : it is as if the for­mer were being depri­ved of an arm6 and the second of a part of its autho­rity.” Were ser­vi­tude in per­son to come to earth, it would not speak other­wise.

Another law of Valentinian, Theodosus, and Arcadius7 decla­res coun­ter­fei­ters guilty of the crime of lese-majesty. But was that not to confuse ideas and things ? Is applying to ano­ther crime the name of lese-majesty not to dimi­nish the hor­ror of the crime of lese-majesty ?

Gratian, Valentinian, and Theodosius. It is the second one of the Code De crimine sacriegiil.

Sacrilegii instar est dubitare an is dignus sit quem elegerit Imperator (ibid.) [‘It is almost a sacrilege to doubt the emperor’s choice’]. This law served as a model to that of Roger in the Constitutions of Naples, Tit. 4.

Fifth law ad legem Juliam majestatis.

Arcadius and Honorius.

Mémoires de Montrésor, vol. I.

Nam ipsi pars corporis nostri sunt [‘For they themselves are a part of our body’] ; same law in the Code ad legem Iuliam majestatis [’Julian law on lese-majesty’].

It is the ninth in the Codex Théodosianus : de falsa moneta [‘On false money’].