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Defiance - the Acte de Respect

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One thing we like about French law is that its approach seems always to have been to take all of the crazy things that humans do and make laws to deal with each type of behaviour. In this, some of their laws seem designed to bring people back into society after their little episodes of aberration, like roping wandering cattle back into the herd. Other countries prefer to deny that crazy behaviour is human or is normal, and try to stamp it out with severe punishment for each occurrence. This is comparable to shooting dead the stupid cow that wanders off. 

The last post on notarial records was about marriage contracts and showed how much parents dominate the negotiations and decision-making. We felt sorry for the young couple, but at least their parents allowed them to marry. This post is about what young people could do if their parents did not allow them to marry.


Marriage consent phrase copy

In short, they could each go to a notaire and have a Document of Respect, an Acte de Respect, drawn up. The acte de respect existed in the Ancien Régime (pre-Revolution) at least as far back as the 1700s, and continued into the nineteenth century as a part of the Code Civil (it no longer is).  If parents refused to one of their children the necessary permission to marry the person of their choice, it was not necessary to poison people. The willful child could start the process of gaining the right to marry without permission. To do this, he or she stated all the facts of relationship, address and age in the document, and then added that he or she was respectfully and submissively asking the parent to be so kind as to grant permission to marry. One had to wait a month for the written response.

It was hoped that the disapproving parent would say yes, but if the answer were to be no, the recourse was to issue a second acte de respect and wait another month. If the answer were still no, then a third and final acte de respect and month-long wait was required. Then, the child could marry whomever he or she pleased. If the child was of the age of majority (twenty-five for women, thirty for men) before the process began, then only one acte de respect and a month's wait were necessary. Had they been in France, Romeo and Juliet would have lived, married, to a ripe old age, their passion and defiance smothered with the indifferent acceptance that so permeates that short but all-encompassing phrase,  c'est la vie.

The Acte de Respect will be found in the notarial archives in the Archives Départementales. As it gives the names of parents and the intended, ages of those wishing to marry, sometimes the professions, and places of residence, sometimes with street address, it is a very good genealogical resource. It is priceless as a window on personalities and family politics.

©2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

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