History of Toulouse. Lawyer, prosecutor, merchant… How the capitoulate was born in the Pink City

This painting by Jacques Boulbène (1595) represents Providence, Honor and Vigilance, moral virtues of the capitouls. (©Didier Descouens)

“We capitouls, governors of the city of Toulouse, heads of nobles, judges of civil and criminal cases, of the police and roads of the said city and gardiage (the suburbs which include the parishes of Croix-Daurade, Lalande, Montaudran, Pouvourville, Saint-Exupère, Saint-Martin-du-Touch, Saint-Michel-du-Faubourg, Saint-Michel-du-Touch (or Saint-Michel-Ferrery) in Lardenne and Saint-Simon) from icelle”.

The ordinance of 1438

Under the Ancien Régime, these magistrates were elected each year, on November 25, to form the municipal council. Their number varied before finally settling at 8, following an ordinance of 1438. Each of them, who most often exercised the profession of lawyer, prosecutor, squire or merchant, represented one of the capitoulates ( or neighborhoods) of the City where he resides: La Daurade, Saint-Étienne, Pont-Vieux, La Pierre-Saint-Gérauld, La Dalbade, Saint-Pierre-des-Cuisines, Saint-Barthélémy and Saint-Sernin.

Until 1248, they were chosen from among the old families of the local oligarchy, before wealthy bourgeois in turn acceded to the prestigious title.

The “Common Council of the City and the Bourg”

You have to go back three centuries to understand the long genesis of this institution.. It all starts in 1147 when the all-powerful Alphonse Jourdain decides to surround himself with advisers in order to arbitrate commercial affairs. Five years later, under the reign of his successor, Raimond V, the “Common Council of the City and the Bourg” was born.

He understands six members : four judges including a canon of Saint-Sernin and two characters who can be described as lawyers. They still decide according to a customary law, transmitted orally and which will not be written down until 1286 when the Customs of Toulouse are written. The legal procedure is still quite barbaric… A document from 1157 evokes the incandescent iron or boiling water to which the accused may be subjected. The chapter which benefits from a certain vacancy of the county power monopolized to war in Provence and in Languedoc, supports the “return” of Raimond badly.

Supported by the population, overwhelmed by heavy taxes and fines, he demanded, in 1189, full power over the city, which he ended up (almost) obtaining. The count retains only the right to mint his own currency and that of levying troops in the city provided that the interests of the people of Toulouse are directly threatened.

And the town hall became the Capitol in 1522…

The following year, the consuls bought a house and land near a tower of the Roman ramparts not far from the old Porterie, on the border of the City and the Bourg. They founded a “Common House”, a fortified complex whose area will encompass both the current Capitol and the Square Charles-de-Gaulle. In 1522, the capitulum (chapter) town hall became Capitolium (Capitol), reflecting the desire to imitate Rome and its ancient references.

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Matthew Arnal

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