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The regulations by which modern France was organised derived either from custom or from enacted law. The whole of private law (professional, patrimonial or family law, and so on) was based on the codification of immemorial practices, and on their tacit acceptance. These customs did not originate in the authority of any individual or in the action of the sovereign power. In actual practice these customs would apply only for a limited area - a town or district, at the most a province. At the time of his coronation, or in the treaty by which he annexed a new province, the king swore to respect such customs.

On 15 December 1614 the Third Estate extracted one of the points from the cahier of the Ile-de-France and placed it at the top of their list of grievances : that the king be requested to draw up in the assembly of the Estates, as a fundamental law of the kingdom which shall be known and inviolable to all, that as he is sovereign within his own state and holds his crown from God alone, there is no power on earth, whether spiritual or temporal, which has any right over his kingdom, either to remove from it the sacred persons of our kings or to absolve their subjects from the obedience and loyalty which they owe them, on whatever pretext it may be.

Absolutism can therefore only be understood as a constant struggle, an endless effort by the sovereign power to free itself. This implies that the 'absolute' monarchies were continually moving in the direction of greater independence without ever achieving complete freedom of action. They encountered serious opposition. To regard absolutism as a 'constitutional system' is to deal in myths rather than in realities. Absolutism is not so * From G. Durand, Etats et institutions XVI"-XVJII• sidcles (Paris, 1969).

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