Montesquieu
 

XXX.15 That what was called « census » was levied only on serfs, and not on free men

The king, the eccle­sias­tics, and the lords levied regu­lar tri­bu­tes, each on the serfs of their own domains. I can prove this with res­pect to the king with the capi­tu­lary De Villis ; with res­pect to eccle­sias­tics by the law codes1 of the bar­ba­rians ; and with res­pect to the lords by the sta­tu­tes that Charlemagne issued on that sub­ject.2

These tri­bu­tes were cal­led census ; they were eco­no­mic and not fis­cal duties, pri­vate fees solely and not public impo­si­tions.

I say that what was cal­led census was a tri­bute levied on serfs. I can prove this with a for­mula of Marculfus, which inclu­des a per­mis­sion from the king to become a priest, pro­vi­ded one is free­born and not lis­ted on the regis­ter of the cens.3 I can fur­ther prove it by a com­mis­sion which Charlemagne gave to a count whom he sent into the Saxon regions4 ; it inclu­des the eman­ci­pa­tion of the Saxons for having embra­ced Christianity, and it is pro­perly a char­ter of free birth.5 This prince res­to­res to them their ori­gi­nal civil liberty, and exempts them from paying the cens.6 It was the­re­fore the same thing to be a serf and to pay the cens ; to be free and not to pay it.

By a sort of let­ters-patent from the same prince in favor of the Spaniards who had been recei­ved into the monar­chy,7 the counts are pro­hi­bi­ted from requi­ring of them any cens at all, and from taking their lands. We know that forei­gners who arri­ved in France were trea­ted as serfs ; and Charlemagne, wan­ting them to be regar­ded as free men, since he wan­ted them to own their own land, pro­hi­bi­ted requi­ring the cens of them.

A capi­tu­lary of Charles the Bald issued in favor of the same Spaniards, would have them trea­ted as other Franks were trea­ted, and for­bids requi­ring the cens of them8 : free men the­re­fore did not pay it.

Article 30 of the Edict of Pistres reforms the abuse by which some colo­nists of the king or the Church were sel­ling the lands atta­ched to their manors to eccle­sias­tics or to men of their condi­tion, and reser­ving for them­sel­ves nothing but a lit­tle house, in such a way that the cens could no lon­ger be col­lec­ted on it ; and he orders that things be res­to­red to their ori­gi­nal state : the cens was the­re­fore a tri­bute of sla­ves.

It fur­ther results from this that there was no gene­ral cens in the monar­chy, and this is clear from a large num­ber of texts. For what would this capi­tu­lary mean9 : “It is our will that the royal cens be requi­red in all pla­ces where it was once legi­ti­ma­tely requi­red” ?10 What would be the mea­ning of the one11 where Charlemagne orders his envoys in the pro­vin­ces to make an exact inquiry into all the cens that had once exis­ted in the king’s domain ?12 And the one13 where he dis­po­ses of the cens paid by those from whom they are being requi­red ?14 What mea­ning can we give to this other one15 where we read : “If someone16 has acqui­red a tri­bu­tary estate on which we were accus­to­med to rai­sing the cens” ? Or this one,17 finally, where Charles the Bald speaks of censual lands, of which the cens had from all time belon­ged to the king ?18

Note that there are some texts which at first seem to refute what I have said, and which none­the­less confirm it. We have seen above that free men under the monar­chy were obli­ged only to fur­nish cer­tain conveyan­ces ; the capi­tu­lary which I have just cited calls that census, and contrasts it to the cens which was paid by serfs.19

Moreover, the Edict of Pistres20 speaks of those free men who had to pay the royal cens for them­sel­ves and for their hou­ses,21 and who had sold them­sel­ves during the famine. The king wants them to be redee­med. The rea­son is22 that those who were freed by royal let­ters did not nor­mally acquire a full and entire free­dom,23 but paid cen­sum in capite, and that is the sort of per­sons who are spo­ken of here.

We must the­re­fore dis­card the idea of a gene­ral and uni­ver­sal cens deri­ved from the Romans’ admi­nis­tra­tion, from which we sup­pose that the duties of lords have simi­larly deri­ved by usur­pa­tions. What was cal­led cens in the French monar­chy, inde­pen­dently of the abuse that has been made of this word, was an indi­vi­dual duty levied on serfs by mas­ters.

I beg the rea­der’s for­gi­ve­ness for the mor­tal tedium which so many quo­ta­tions must give him ; I would be more brief if I did not still find before me the book on The Establishment of the French Monarchy in the Gauls by the abbé Dubos. Nothing sets back the pro­gress of know­ledge more than a bad book by a well-known author, because before you can ins­truct, you must first disa­buse.

Leges alamannorum, ch. xxii, and Lex Baiuwariorum, tit. 1, ch. xiv, where we find the statutes which the ecclesiastics made on their state.

Book V of the capitularies, ch. ccciii.

Si ille de capite suo bene ingenuus sit, and in Puletico publico censitus non est (book I, formula 19).

Of the year 789, Baluze ed. of capitularies, vol. I, p. 250.

Et ut ista Ingenuitatis pagina firma stabilisque consistat (ibid.).

Pristinæque libertati donatos, and omni nobis debito Censu solutos (ibid.).

Præceptum pro Hispanis, of the year 812, Baluze ed., vol. I, p. 500.

Year 844, Baluze ed., vol. II, art. 1–2, p. 27.

Capitulary III of the year 805, art. 20 and 22 appended to the Compendium of Anzegise, book III, art. 15 ; it is consistent with that of Charles the Bald for the year 854 apud Attiniacum, art. 6.

Undecumque legitime exigebatur (ibid.).

For the year 812, arts. 10–11, Baluze ed., vol. I, p. 498.

Undecumque antiquitus ad partem regis venire solebant (capitulary of the year 812, art. 10–11).

Of the year 813, art. 6, Baluze ed., vol. I, p. 508.

De illis unde censa exigunt (capitulaire of the year 813, art. 6).

Book IV of the capitularies, art. 37, and appended to Leges Langobardoroum.

Si quis terram tributariam, unde census ad partem nostram exire solebat, susceperit (book IV of the capitularies, art. 37).

Of the year 805, art. 8.

Unde census ad partem regis exivit antiquitus (capitulary of the year 805, art. 8).

Censibus vel paraveredis quos franci homines ad regiam potestatem exsolvere debent.

Of the year 864, art. 34, Baluze ed., p. 192.

De illis francis hominibus qui censum regium de suo capite and de suis recellis debeant (ibid.).

Art. 28 of the same edict explains all this well ; it makes a distinction between the Roman and Frankish freed men, and there again we see that the cens was not general : this must be read.

As seen in a capitulary of Charlemagne of the year 813, already cited.