Protestant Reformation of Law in France and the Establishment of the Modern State

We are pleased to announce the lecture ‘Protestant Reformation of Law in France and the Establishment of the Modern State’ by Professor Mathias Schmoeckel.

Professor Mathias Schmoeckel is the Director of the Institute for German and Rhenish Legal History and Civil Law and the Rhenish Institute for Notary Law at the University of Bonn.


The Protestant Reformation in Germany provoked new legal discussions in the Empire. This literature was immediately read in France and led to different reactions, from assent to rejection. From the 1530s onwards, a national discussion started on new foundations of jurisprudence, e.g. a trustworthy methodology, ways to determine history as a source of national law, etc. This not only created the starting point of a scientific legal history and the foundations of new research on Roman, canon, and national French law, but was also meant as a quest for a new legal order in France, which should help to protect individuals in an increasingly violent era of religious wars. The richness of the XVIth-century discussion is astonishing in depth, quality and quantity, with Bodin, Cujas, Montaigne etc, marked by the all-time highlights of French jurisprudence. This new concept led to a new understanding of the French state as a legal order, which decided the different powers, developed terms such as "sovereignty", "constitution" and "fundamental laws", and established national churches. This was the invention of the modern European state, but was also a clear forerunner of the discussion before 1789, and cannot be regarded as a precursor of the absolutism of Richelieu or Louis XIV.

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