Early Modern Police And Policing Research Paper

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The concept of “police” in the early modern period was far removed from our present understanding. From the end of the Middle Ages as used in legislative texts, the term was used to mean the maintenance of good order, at first frequently in a local or regional context, extending later to a territory or kingdom. It entailed practices of authority notionally described as “police,” associated with the concept of sovereignty and attempting to regulate the relations between individuals. In an era in which kings began to lay down laws defining social norms, this legislation extended to everything but the affairs of the court, the justice system, taxes, and the military. In practice, however, irrespective of the laws passed and contrary to their intention, social order long continued to be established and maintained at local or regional level.

Under the early modern model of social order, security tasks as well as preventive supervision and subsequent control were distributed across a large number of agencies which were responsible to varying, generally local authorities. These duties were frequently performed in addition to other occupations and sometimes voluntarily, while those who performed them were possessed of differing competences in differing locations. Moreover, social control long remained a task that, rather than being entrusted to specific institutions, was exercised on a day-to-day basis directly through the horizontal and vertical structures of society, normatively safeguarded and institutionally overseen by the courts. Policing by one element of society of another was embedded in their day-to-day social interaction. Up until and indeed even after the French Revolution – out of reach of the institutions of the state – it remained primarily a matter for the entirety of stakeholders in society irrespective of their social status and prestige.

Our present concept of the police as a supracompetent body, charged with maintaining good order and exercising a preventive task under uniform state command, was entirely absent in the early modern era. Its emergence was coupled with the development of a state monopoly on the use of force, which in turn is exercised and represented internally by the police. However, during this period in Western Europe, the precursors of today’s police began to emerge in two forms. Towards the end of the Middle Ages, the first paramilitary police troops were formed, some aspects of which characterized the initial precursors of modern gendarmerie units. While from the late seventeenth century onwards, the nucleus was formed in Paris of the first modern police organization which was to set a pattern for the rest of Europe.

Public Security In The Premodern Period: Without Police

The State, The People, And The Making Of Social Order

In learned discourse in premodern Europe, the term police or Policey described the exercise of authority in regulating day-to-day affairs. Included within this was the aspiration to achieve normative standardization and behavioral control through the medium of courts. Or to put it another way, the concept of police encompassed the formation of social order in areas not controlled by specialist administrative structures, such as the tax system and military organization. Under the Old Regime this concept meant the ongoing day-to-day practice in a local, particularly urban, context of establishing a system of order governed by laws. Thus, within the theory of monarchy, the concept embraced the dual meaning of order as on the one hand a social condition in which daily needs (food, economy, hygiene, security) could be satisfied and as on the other of the political authority capable of producing such order.

However, in view of the minimal effective reach of central state power and in deviation from monarchical theory, until well into the eighteenth century, it was not the norms promulgated by central instances of authority and the guardians of good order deployed by their local equivalents which materially regulated daily life, but the informal mechanisms by which social norms and social control were produced. Social norms reproduced themselves predominantly through day-to-day contacts and were complied with by everyone in the course of daily life. The vertical structures of social dominance played as much a part as horizontal daily contacts, for example, in urban neighborhoods or village communities, as well as relationships within corporations and church communities. All of these quotidian relationships in various ways inherently offered the opportunity for mutual supervision and the tangible imposition of sanctions (S€alter 2000).

The central instances of authority and the elites accepted these mechanisms of informal social control, provided that their own interests or specific moral concepts were unaffected. They regulated this form of social control primarily through the judicial system. The courts were set up by the ruling powers and staffed or overseen by members of social elites. This form of overseeing conformity with norms was reactive: confident as they were that the informal establishment and control of norms were in any case influenced and dominated by them, as far as formal social control was concerned, the elites restricted themselves to the role of arbitrator. They decided conflicts when these were brought to court by an injured party, and as Alfred Soman (1980) has concluded, they stabilized the established order and the mechanisms of social control in equal measure through the threat of punishment that could be imposed by the court. Only in certain fields did the courts actively seek to discover breaches of norms and impose sanctions. The reproduction of social order was thus based on autoregulation by local communities, both urban and rural, and the social dominance of the nobility, urban elites, dignitaries, ministers of religion, master craftsmen, burgesses, and heads of families, who in turn were overseen by instances of authority constituted as judicial bodies.

In the early modern era, there were various practices and discourses associated with the concept of police as an all-embracing description of public order. A variety of individual as well as collective participants joined in these discourses on the proper order of society which, to list but a few examples, were conducted at a legislative level, in petitions, through the medium of deviating conduct and disobedience, in conversation with neighbors, in publicly performed songs satirizing the agencies of authority, and in disputes before the courts. Such discourses and the associated practices were aimed at influencing the norms of social life to the advantage of those concerned and adapting the existing order to their needs. In this way they contributed to the reproduction of norms and the preservation of social order.

Public Security And Its Officials

Before the idea of sovereignty was spread through Europe with the advent of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, a police force uniformly organized through an entire country would have been inconceivable. On the other hand the mostly locally oriented practices employed in reproducing good order on the principle of individual and collective self-help needed no such force. That which is occasionally described by scholars as a deficit in the premodern executive was, more properly, a form of defining the tasks and competences of the forces of order in a manner closely allied with society’s practices of maintaining social order.

In the states and territories of Europe in the early modern era, there were numerous coexistent forces of law and order, the demarcations between whose competences were generally blurred. Many of these offices were performed as ancillary occupations, leading to the accumulation identifiable in many places. Characteristically, too, these offices were generally responsible to local instances: a town council such as in Germany the Stadtrat, a rural official elected by local notables such as in England the parish constable, or a member of the nobility with their own jurisdiction, such as in France the seigneur. Accordingly, most of these upholders of good order possessed only local competence. Their activities were normatively regulated, and overseen in practice, by locally competent courts mostly composed of members of the elites.

With regard to their duties, there were three distinct groups of law enforcement officers:

– Firstly, court officials who formed the executive arm of the civil and criminal courts

– Secondly, units of the watch in cities and ndividual night watchmen in small towns and villages

– Thirdly, local officials who in towns and villages performed widely varying executive and supervisory roles in the field of police, such as supervising markets or preventing fires

Court Officials

The court officials – in England court ushers or bailiffs; in France huissiers, archers, or sergents; in Germany Bu€ttel, Gerichtsdiener, Schergen, or Gerichtsboten; in Italy uscieri del tribunale or sbirri; and in Spain aguaciles mayores or esbirros – formed the executive arm of the court staff who administered civil and criminal justice. They served summonses, writs, and judgments; collected debts confirmed by the court; impounded goods and searched properties; applied court seals in, for example, inheritance matters; arrested suspects and convicts; pursued fugitives; guarded the homes of those arrested for debt in order to protect their property; were responsible for guarding prisoners; and served judges as an armed presence in court and on inspection tours. In some places they were responsible for publishing court judgments and official decrees, and they frequently performed other tasks associated with the exercise of municipal authority. On occasion they would patrol within the jurisdiction of the court, sometimes accompanied by a judge. In Paris the sergents were obliged to ensure that some of their number were present at certain locations in the city, so that citizens knew how to reach an officer when required.

There were also wide variations in the specific form taken by these offices. In France, for example, the offices could be purchased and the officiers were organized in corporations similar to the guilds, with the result that neither the crown nor the city council nor the court had much influence over how these posts were filled. And holding, as they did, a de facto heritable title to their office, the post holders were not easy to discipline. Thanks to their corporate organization, the court officials of Paris had the ability to negotiate collectively with their superiors and the crown regarding the extent of their competences and duties. Their position was further strengthened by the fact that their corporation had made substantial loans to the crown. A different situation applied in German cities and territories, where the courts could dismiss their officials if they failed to carry out their duties as instructed. Generally, the officials were responsible only to the court that employed them. The situation in England appears to have been similar.

Court officials generally received no salary with which they and their families could scrape a living. Their income, which varied from country to country and place to place, was composed of a basic wage (known in France as gages, being the interest on the purchase price for the office), sometimes a payment in kind (food, firewood, clothing), fees for specific duties, and a share in fines imposed. In England, they and the watchmen received fees for crimes reported if they could present the perpetrator before the court. It was not until the end of the eighteenth century that regular payment in money slowly took over.

Night Watches And Other Watchmen

In most towns and rural communities in Europe, the inhabitants were originally themselves responsible for public safety, to which end they appointed a night watch from among their number. However, this was frequently an unpopular service to perform, leading some citizens to send their apprentices, underage sons, or aged invalids to do duty in their place. In some cities it was common practice for citizens to engage paid replacements to act in their stead. Because of these structural weaknesses, but also because the central authorities became progressively less willing to tolerate citizens bearing arms, from the sixteenth to seventeenth centuries, in larger towns, these nightly duties were performed by semiprofessional, paid units of the watch. However, this led to conflict as these watchmen were frequently answerable not to the town elders but to the crown. For this reason for a time in Vienna two competing night watches existed side by side. In England from the thirteenth century onwards, every town was obliged to employ watchmen. In London that meant six in each of the city’s 24 wards, as well as one unit that patrolled throughout the city.

The most important tasks of these night watchmen or watches were to warn their fellow citizens of an outbreak of fire and to prevent nocturnal intrusions and attacks. As the majority of European states became increasingly peaceful, it became less important to give timely warning of an approaching enemy. Those who manned the walls and watchtowers to fulfill this task either became redundant or were redeployed as fire watchers who also sounded a horn to mark the passing hours. In smaller towns they also played the role of jailers, with provisional lockups located in the towers. In some towns they ensured that the inns closed at the appointed time, and the houses were locked up at night. The watch did not remain awake throughout the night in every town – it is recorded that in some places, their duties ended at midnight when all was quiet.

There were also gatekeepers who controlled access to the towns and cities, checked passports, collected fees and customs duties, and ensured that no goods were illegally imported or exported. Only the larger cities could afford other guards in addition to the above who patrolled by day. These were not introduced in Paris until the eighteenth century, just as the first permanent guard post for the city watch was not established until 1720. In Vienna, by contrast, the Stadtguardia had a manned guard post in the seventeenth century. From 1705 several laws were enacted to improve the efficiency of London’s watch, and towards the end of the eighteenth century, a guard that patrolled by day was instituted in the City of London. Many villages had watchmen, particularly in order to prevent thefts from the fields at harvest time.

All these watchmen were paid according to varying local custom partly in cash and partly in kind. In some places they received free accommodation. Most of them were dependent on earning a second income; or alternatively, a day laborer might undertake the duties of watchman as a secondary occupation. This sometimes limited their efficiency: complaints were voiced from time to time that after a full day’s work, the poorly paid watchmen fell asleep while on their nightly duty. Another restriction on their efficiency, particularly in the cities, was rooted in their low social status. As members of the lower orders with correspondingly weak personal authority, they stood little chance of intervening in breaches of norms committed by members of the elites. For example, when the sons of the nobility or certain dignitaries roamed loud-voiced through the streets forcing innkeepers to open after hours, it was better for the men of the watch not to interfere. Even if they intervened in an obvious case of attempted rape and in doing so injured a member of a city elite, there was a risk that they rather than the malefactor might be hauled before the court.

From the seventeenth century onwards, the authorities became increasingly concerned about begging. Some communities employed inspectors of beggars to ensure that only authorized person, the so-called honorable poor, was in the streets to beg. They monitored the streets and squares to prevent unauthorized begging and arrest vagabonds. Beggars from elsewhere were brought before the court for sentencing and removed from the city. Given that begging was one of the normal temporary sources of income for the poorer members of society in times of seasonal or accidental unemployment, in many places these inspectors were the target of a corresponding hatred.

Other Officials

In towns and villages there were also various officials who performed duties under the heading of public order and public safety. Firstly, there were the heads of village, marketplace, and district communities, in some regions elected and in others appointed. In addition there were elected community officials such as the parish constables in England or Ru€ger in parts of Germany, whose tasks were focused on maintaining public order. Both formed a link between the superior administrative authority and its attempts to introduce norms and the local population, in that they were required to implement decrees and instructions on a day-to-day basis and see that these were complied with. They had often to restore harmony or mediate between the central legislation and local customs and interests. In many cases they could also fall back on armed personnel of the executive arm, though these were rarely available in large numbers.

Beyond the above there were also numerous officials charged with overseeing markets. They supervised the accuracy of the weights and measures used and monitored the quality of goods, particularly foodstuffs. While in many cities it was the guilds who performed these duties, in small towns and villages, the tasks fell to village dignitaries in addition to their other occupations.

The Military: Soldiers On Police Duty

It was characteristic of the premodern era that there was as yet no consistent demarcation of roles between the military and the police – something which developed only with the emergence of the modern constitutional state. Accordingly, the soldiers who with the creation of standing armies were in any case available were also deployed in a public security role. In England, which was late in forming a standing army, urban and rural militias known as trained bands composed of burgesses and landowners were used for this purpose. Such deployments were not restricted to revolts and unrest which were put down by loyal military units. In European states, particularly in the cities, soldiers were used on a daily basis to carry out the duties nowadays performed by the police: keeping order at markets and fairs, providing armed assistance in making arrests ordered by the courts, preventing and fighting fires, and acting as watchmen.

In Paris, for example, the 4,000 soldiers of the gardes franc¸aises stationed in the city were used for such purposes. Especially in the suburbs, it would also seem that they were charged with general duties of ensuring good order. By the start of the eighteenth century, they in fact maintained permanent guard posts in some suburbs. They also supervised markets and fairs and were responsible for ensuring safety at the entrances to the city’s three big theaters before and after performances and for keeping watch outside the buildings. In Lubeck a municipal military force was regularly called on by civil institutions to provide armed assistance, for example, in controlling traffic in the streets, providing security at major events, rounding up beggars, making arrests, making customs inspections, and preventing fires. Elsewhere regular troops were used for reasons of cost instead of a town watch. These examples seem to have been the rule, rather than the exception.

The Emergence Of “Modern” Police Forces

Legislation, Centralization, And The Changing Face Of Social Order

In the early modern period, some of the agencies of social control, namely, the central instances of authority in premodern Europe, slowly, and in conjunction with the formulation of absolutist theories of monarchy, developed an aspiration to impose norms on and oversee social life. They were partially supported in doing so by the social elites who however were also partially in competition with the crown and its administration. Efforts were made to standardize and remodel locally determined systems of order in a process which expressed itself from the sixteenth century onwards in an increasing number of normative interventions in the organically developed structure of the law.

This new legislation was initially aimed at documenting the state’s claim to normative competence, but in the medium term it became associated with the expectation that the norms formulated in this legislation would be implemented, accepted, and adhered to. Still, these premodern states were far removed from either possessing or even aspiring to a monopoly on the use of force – this is a hallmark of the modern state. It took a certain amount of time for even the idea of a monopoly on the use of force to develop out of the concept of sovereignty formulated by Thomas Hobbes.

In the course of this development, public safety and security – formerly a matter for a large number of actors networked with one another in various ways – increasingly came within the purlieu of the central instances of power. The latter in turn tended to entrust the implementation of norms and behavioral controls to professional personnel under central management. In many cases this went hand in hand with efforts to increasingly subject local keepers of good order to central direction and central control. Thus, policing slowly ceased to be the responsibility of citizens and became a matter for professional policemen who were answerable not to the citizenry but to distant superiors in their country’s capital. These processes entailed much friction and conflict and by the time of the French Revolution had yet to be completed in every European country.

Clive Emsley (1999), looking at the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, distinguishes between several types of police in Europe: civil police forces employed by the state, military police units employed by the state, and police employed by local authorities. The first precursors of such police forces and of such a police system came into existence in the premodern era. In particular the police system which had been established in stages in Paris and already set an example for other European states, with some changes survived the Revolution and following the Napoleonic wars, became a model for the whole of continental Europe.

Paramilitary Police Organizations

The Spanish and French monarchies were the first in Europe to set up paramilitary police organizations at the end of the Middle Ages. This at least in part reflected the desire to reinforce royal power and jurisdiction in competition with the rural nobility and urban elites. However, their first task was to bring the military to heel. Military units and demobilized soldiery roamed through both countries (in Spain in the aftermath of the Reconquista), living off the land by force of arms and reaching plague proportions in many areas. The new military police units were intended to intervene. In the long term, this intervention developed into an attempt to make the highways and thereby also interregional trade a little safer by instituting frequent patrols. The first task, that of controlling the military, led to these new units adopting a paramilitary form of organization and coming under the auspices of the ministries of war. Both these units had characteristics that are absent from modern police units. Each brigade was allocated judges who held special powers to administer summary justice against which there could be no appeal.

The Castilian crown founded the Santa Hermandad at the end of the fifteenth century. There are indications here that the self-organization of society was to some extent overridden as the newly created institution displaced the locally organized hermandades (brotherhoods) or milicias populares which had been maintained by the towns and cities to keep order in the countryside and in particular to protect pilgrims and merchants travelling the highways. They also served as protection against encroachments by the local nobility.

The Santa Hermandad, which had as many as 2,000 men under arms, was directed by the Junta General located in Toledo. Their units were spread across the rural regions under the control of the Spanish crown. Their judges, whose competence was restricted to areas outside of the towns and cities, had jurisdiction over such offenses as robbery, homicide, arson, and resistance to the power of the crown. Given that most of these were capital crimes and the judges frequently sentenced the delinquents on the spot, the justice they dispensed often took the form of severe corporal punishments or executions. These judges were feared accordingly. Later on their jurisdiction was transferred from the Santa Hermandad to the ordinary courts, and the brigades became purely police units which were replaced in Castile in 1835 by the Guardia Civil.

The mare´chausse´e founded in France in the sixteenth century combined the functions of a military police force with those of a rural police troop whose local commanders (pre´voˆts des mare´chaux) were also judges. The geographic competence of these pre´voˆts, who were answerable to the Minister of War, extended only to the countryside and the highways, not to the towns and cities which administered their own justice. The crimes over which they had competence included offenses committed by members of the military as well as vagabondage, salt smuggling, housebreaking, highway robbery, and a variety of capital crimes and crimes of violence, not least among which were insurrection and resisting a public officer. In common with the Santa Hermandad, their judgments were reached after a summary hearing with no possibility of appeal. The pre´voˆt de l’ˆıl based in Paris was responsible within the city limits for desertion and some other military crimes; the brigades headed by him also watched over the periphery of the city.

By the seventeenth century the units of the mare´chausse´e were still widely spread out; however, sometime later there began a process of distributing the companies and brigades evenly along the highways. From 1720 when the mare´chausse´e was reformed and its manpower increased, the expectation was that the intendant in every ge´ne´ralite´ should have a company at his disposal. In the eighteenth century the force was around 4,000 strong. The system of purchasing the positions of judges and officers was abolished in 1778. At the same time the command structure was simplified and modeled along military lines, as a result of which the previously used official titles adopted from the justice system also disappeared. At the latest from this time onwards, the brigades were also obliged to conduct daily patrols of their assigned areas.

The Habsburg states established similar police units at the end of the sixteenth century. In some territories the Landprofosen were also given the dual role of commander of a militarily organized police troop and judge with special powers. In most areas ruled by the Habsburgs, however, it proved impossible for this position to be maintained in the long term in face of the sometimes vehement protests of the local nobility who saw it as an encroachment on their own jurisdictional competence.

In the eighteenth century various German territories adopted these models and organized police troops along military lines, the commanders of which did not however have authority to act as judges. In Baden-Durlach, for example, in 1763, a corps of hussars was set up who, in addition to the bodies of citizens formed on an ad hoc basis and locally deployed police officers (Hatschiere) who had been in existence since around 1750, formed a police troop answerable to the central administrative authority. The smaller territories frequently balked at the cost of a special police troop. In some cases in Germany the Reichskreise set up their own troops of dragoons or hussars charged with police duties. By dint of carrying out patrols, these units were effective vis-a`-vis both the local population and the regional elites and local authorities in representing and asserting the power of the state to impose order in the country.

The Origination Of A Modern Police Force In Paris

A civil municipal police force originated for the first time as an independent institution in Paris at the end of the reign of Louis XIV and continued to develop in the eighteenth century. Its origination was not planned. On the contrary, it was the accidental result of an administrative reform aimed at asserting the power of the monarch. In 1667 the king created a new judicial office at the royal court in Paris under the name lieutenance de police, to which by the beginning of the eighteenth century, he then proceeded to transfer most of the functions involved in governing the city of Paris which had previously been exercised by a variety of instances closely associated with the city elites. The concentration of competences awarded to this office constitutes a stage in the centralization of political power that is typical of the Ancien Re´gime. This office became the nucleus of the first modern police organization in Europe.

Scholars have long interpreted this reform as a conscious reaction to the processes of urbanization, as well as a regulatory policy response to population growth, migration problems, and rising criminality. Leaving aside the fact there is no sustainable proof that this was the case, this was also not a reaction that would have accorded with the political mentality of the premodern period. It has been argued, as Clive Emsley (1991: 8) established with reference to England, “along lines similar to the police reformers of the nineteenth century, namely, that the system before 1800 had been in steady decline for perhaps as much as half a millennium.” Corresponding accounts make a functionalistic connection between socioeconomic processes and political decisions which anachronistically transfers elements of the regulatory policy thinking of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to the early modern period and the decision-makers of that time (S€alter 2002b).

By contrast the concentration of government competences in Paris represented the continuation of a tendency observable since the sixteenth century on the part of the crown to increasingly exclude local elites from holding power; a tendency which reached a provisional conclusion with the creation of the office of lieutenant ge´ne´ral de police. The latter assumed control of the city of Paris as commissioner directly responsible to the crown. The object of this reform was not to materially change the way in which authority was exercised, nor did it include any new concept of municipal order. It was aimed exclusively at disempowering the urban elites who were in competition with the crown and who had opposed the king in the Fronde civil war and the agencies dominated by them.

Triggered by the change in institutional structure, in the decades that followed, the practices of authority as these related to social control slowly began to alter. The installation of the lieutenant ge´ne´ral had prevented the urban-governing elites and prominent individuals allied with them from participating further in the process of shaping urban order. Prior to 1667 this system of order had been founded on the widest possible consensus embracing broad swathes of the population in a socially graduated model of cooperation. In return, those with a participating role in power and in the reproduction of urban order guaranteed that this system would prevail. When deprived of their power, they forfeited their previous role in overseeing social control on a day-to-day basis as well as their influence. They were no longer able to mediate between quotidian aspects of social control and those aspects that were institutionalized in the judiciary.

The lieutenant ge´ne´ral, on the other hand, had neither the same access to nor communication with the life of the city as did the networks of urban elites with their numerous dependent social relationships. The centralization of state power denied the lieutenant ge´ne´ral access to the discourses in which urban order had previously been shaped and reproduced. From the police perspective, this resulted in an increasingly palpable power vacuum, a restriction in the capacity of the political authorities to supervise day-to-day affairs, which the lieutenant ge´ne´ral sought to fill with new forms of state control. Thus, it was the implantation of a new instance of authority in the Parisian center of power, an instance which was consciously removed from the networks of social relationships, that made it necessary to develop the offices and techniques which we nowadays refer to as police.

As a reaction to the deficiency in oversight perceived by the lieutenant ge´ne´ral, from around 1700 as minor reforms were initiated on an ad hoc basis, the structure gradually developed of a police-like institution and the initial manifestations of police activities which deviated from previous practices that had been dominated by the judiciary. The nucleus of a modern police organization was established, and with this change something akin to a new concept of the reproduction of urban order slowly emerged.

The role of the courts in supervising compliance with norms had been reactive: the justice system mainly responded to a breach of norms if and when this could no longer be dealt with by the networks of social control that were firmly anchored in everyday life, leaving no option but to bring the matter before the court. The police now began themselves, albeit initially only in certain fields, to actively seek, detect, and punish infringements of the law. To this end the lieutenant ge´ne´ral D’Argenson (1697–1718) from around 1700 established new posts which no longer corresponded with the functions of court officials or the city watch, even though it was from these groups that the first police officers were recruited. For the first time the duties with which the inspecteurs de police were tasked amounted to systematic preventive social control. Their tasks included monitoring the economy of the poor, gambling, strangers and foreigners, the illegal trade in goods on which the state had a monopoly, and tracking down clandestine protestants. Given that little information was forthcoming from the populace in respect of offenses of this kind, the police developed their own investigative arm which employed secret informers. In broad terms, one might describe this organization as a precursor of a criminal investigation force but also of a political police force.

The emancipation of the police associated with this development which distanced them from the judiciary also brought forth new methods of sanction. The police acquired a system of sanctions of their own which rendered them independent of the formalities of the criminal justice system. The lieutenant ge´ne´ral having recourse to the power of the crown could impose penalties with no need for a court verdict and oversee the enforcement of these penalties for himself. As a result, penal jurisdiction was partially removed from the courts still dominated by the old elites. The police penalties also to some extent differed from court practices: in addition to expulsion from Paris and banishment to a specified place, the main punishments imposed were relatively long terms of imprisonment. Corporal punishments and public humiliation, on the other hand, were not imposed.

In the eighteenth century Commissaires au Chaˆtelet were integrated into the new police system. This was an ancient office whose holders had been charged with traditional forms of policing since the Middle Ages. They had a dual function in the Parisian court system: They were a kind of examining magistrate with civil as well as criminal jurisdiction, to whom citizens and residents could bring suit, and in their role as members of the court, they also oversaw the fulfillment of traditional police duties such as street cleaning, food supplies, and Sunday observance. In the eighteenth century some of them were assigned portfolios within the police that were defined by subject area. In the long term in police hierarchy, they prevailed over the inspectors, and in the nineteenth century as commissaires de police, they became the senior functionaries in the new police system.

In summary it may be said that from around 1700 Paris produced Europe’s first modern police. Their defining feature was that unlike the courts before them, they no longer functioned reactively with the object of supporting informal means of social control and excluding offenders deemed by the stakeholders concerned to be no longer tolerable (or as one might say today, no longer capable of reintegration or resocialization) from the community through formal sanction. The new police began to develop a form of social control which was formal, institutional, and preventative. They now decided who posed a risk to society; this decision was no longer left to the agencies of informal social control. This can be seen as the transfer of essential elements of social control from society to an arm of the state administration, which was to become a characteristic feature of the development of the police in the nineteenth century.

The Transition To The Nineteenth Century: The Continent And England

The development in Paris initially remained a special case in Europe. The attempt to transfer the Parisian system to the major towns and cities throughout France collapsed in 1699 in the face of resistance by local governing elites. Not until the Revolution was the Paris model, supplemented by the gendarmerie which had developed out of the mare´chausse´e and with modified official titles and certain adaptations, adopted across the country. Despite intense interest the model was not initially imitated in other European states. The Czar of Russia took an interest in the Paris model in 1718, as did the King of Prussia in 1742 and the Empress of Austria in 1751, and in some cases detailed studies were prepared. However in every country political resistance prevented anything more than fragmentary implementation. Not until after the French Revolution was the model spread across the continent at the hands of Napoleon’s troops.

In England the Parisian system was always regarded as an expression of French tyranny, in stark contrast to the liberties won in England by the common man. For this reason (and because England was not occupied by Napoleon) there was substantial resistance to the adoption of the police system that was spreading across the continent and indeed to any change in the customary system of public security. Several police reform bills were rejected by Parliament. It was not until 1829 that the traditional system characterized by the parish constables and their watchmen was supplemented first in London and, from 1835 to 1839 throughout England, by uniformed police units organized on a standardized basis. However the old system continued to exist for a while in parallel both in London and in many towns and cities in England and Wales.

Conclusion And Suggestions For Future Research

The emergence of police organizations brought a fundamental change in the way European societies functioned. With the arrival of the police, policing became far more a function of the state than in the past. The procedures by which society had negotiated social order were replaced by state decision-making processes. The ground had already been laid since the sixteenth century by progressive legislation which sought to regulate ever more aspects of social life and expected ever greater obedience. However, so long as the implementation of these new laws went hand in hand with qualifying negotiation processes which respected local circumstances, the powers of these laws to reconfigure society were minimal. It was only with the arrival of a police force able and intended to compel compliance with state-imposed norms that the state in the long term displaced the informal processes by which norms were produced in society.

The practices of social control – for that is what policing means – changed as a result. Originally linked inseparably with the informal processes by which norms were produced, these practices were an integral part of day-to-day activities and communications (S€alter 2002a). With the creation of the police, the decision as to who was regarded as still capable of integration and who was deemed unacceptable passed from local stakeholders to state institutions. The criteria by which normal and deviant behavior were measured accordingly also came under greater state influence. The very existence of a police organization, which initially dominated and in the longer term largely displaced the direct negotiation of norms between social stakeholders of differing status, together with the legal system established in parallel, set these stakeholders apart from one another, since they were always aware of the presence of the state as a third protagonist between them who in the event of dispute would appear in the form a policeman (or indeed several).

Following this line of argument, one is left with some assumptions and requirements with regard to research into the police. One might consider whether the greater steps in centralizing and professionalizing the police ought not also to be explained in the context of power policy. What appears against a certain theoretical background to be a deliberate state reaction to socioeconomic processes may also be interpreted as the outcome of rivalry between certain social groups to achieve social dominance. It would surely be conducive in this regard to more strongly disengage police history from the normative burdens of earlier research with its affirmative references to the state and step back from the fixation with the crime rate as the prime motive for these developments. The criticisms leveled by police reformers at earlier institutions which they decried as lacking in efficiency should be understood as a strategy of legitimation. The frequently encountered uncritical acceptance of this justification by scholars is also likely to be linked with an underestimate of the competence and adaptability of traditional practices in establishing public security.

Most reforms of this nature in the early modern period were not primarily concerned with the common good but were aimed at reorganizing the processes of authority to give greater power to the political center, generally the crown. The implicitly or explicitly underlying assumption that the authorities in the early modern period were concerned solely with protecting the population against crime has already been refuted by Dirk Blasius (1988: 141) as displaying “an excess of simplification and naivety.” Hay and Snyder (1989) on the other hand have emphasized the political character of the English police reform of 1829. In this case, as in Paris in the seventeenth century, one aim of the reform was to roll back the social power of urban and rural elites, which is why the latter, as Clive Emsley (1991) has shown, long maintained their opposition. It would consequently appear meaningful to embed police history more firmly into the context of research into the history of authority and how this has changed, and integrate specific social backgrounds.

This would clear the way for a reassessment of the relationship between police and society. If one assumes police organizations to be an institutionalized means of exercising authority, then scholars must disassociate themselves even more strongly than in the past from a purely institutional history perspective in which police practices lie hidden in a blind spot. Our interest should then be directed towards the process, contested on a daily basis by various social groups, of producing and reproducing order in society or, in the words of Alf Ludtke (1992), towards the practices of policing. Concerning changes in police practices, which as an implementation of authority must adapt themselves to social changes, that is to say, socioeconomic processes, it may heuristically be assumed that these occurred not in the form of major reforms, but in a series of ad hoc revisions on a trial-and-error principle. Changes aimed at diversification and professionalization can only be studied through an analysis of day-to-day relations between police and populace, in which consideration should also be given to the power structures in society. Microanalyses of the actual activities of individual police organizations appear desirable.

Thus far in the study of police history, there has been no shortage of enquiry into the influence of social conditions on police organization. If the history of the police is interpreted as a part of political social history, two further effects must be considered. On the one hand it is to be anticipated that, as Philip Rawlings (1995) has emphasized, in most societies, policing takes place to a significant extent out of the hands of the police. This means that informal social control must be integrated into police history as the counterpart of state control of and via the police. It can be both allied with and in competition with the state’s intended control over society. Taking the example of Paris in the early modern period, the transfer of power from corporative instances to the police reduced the opportunities open to the social elites to exercise control over the lower orders of society directly via their social conduct. On the other hand, forms of horizontal social control continued to exist within local communities and appeared to escape the influence of the police. This example shows that a change in informal social control, the manner in which it was influenced by institutional change in the police, and forms of cooperation between informal and official social control might prove interesting subjects for investigation with the capacity to provide valuable clues to the parameters within which the police operate.

Another source of influence is to be found in the reverse effect of institutional changes on the relationship between police and society and on society itself. In Paris the formation of a police organization brought about a change in the power relationships and constellations of society. Because this change resulted in a more effective assertion of the force of the state, new conditions emerged for private actions and new rules by which conflicts were played out. Among other things, individuals were more strongly dependent on state support in asserting their ideas of order and pursuing their interests and were less often able to achieve their aims by the use of force. They became increasingly obliged to involve the state, which itself was increasingly coming to act as controller of society, as arbitrator, or as mediator in private conflicts (Rousseaux 1996). As a result it became necessary for each individual that others, too, should assent to the rules for the nonviolent resolution of conflict. In turn these processes caused a shift in security thresholds and in perceptions of safety and security.

In the first place it was probably the burgesses who adapted themselves to the changing standards of behavior concomitant with the development of police. The centralization of the functions of authority and a more effective assertion of the state monopoly on force caused them to turn increasingly to the state in general and the functionality of the police in particular to assert their interests and preserve their personal safety. As Allan Silver (1967: 97) has argued: “With rising standards of public order has come an increasing intolerance of criminality, violence and riotous protest.” Eric H. Monkkonen (1996: 208) similarly commented that “… the creation of the police reflected a growing intolerance for riots and disorder rather than a response to an increase of crime.” Thus, it was the creation of the police that established a need for greater police efficiency. The elites subsequently had need of the police in order to monitor those elements of the population who were under suspicion of having adapted themselves to a lesser extent to the new standards. In their perception, the lower orders of society became a dangerous class which had to be controlled. This was reflected in England, as Hay and Snyder (1989) have identified, in an increasing number of complaints and reports to the police.

If one concurs with Silver and Monkkonen, it was the elites who insisted on the efficiency of the new police and observed them with a critical eye. For similar reasons, as David Garrioch (1994) has emphasized, the police in Paris in the eighteenth century were concerned to create a balance between the interests of the crown in asserting control and those of the city elites in maintaining security. As a result, by depriving the urban elites of power and requiring them to adapt to the exercise of force by the state, the police were compelled to act with a certain degree of efficiency. When reforms were enacted, local elites watched to see whether the state fulfilled its promise of greater security. They critically weighed the justification of the public good against the central grip on the use of force and demanded efficiency. This resulted in police practices being matched to their demands, in a process which in turn drove the adaptation of the police to meet the needs of society.

Some of the arguments expressed are based on research into the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This is partly because there has so far been too little research into the practices of social control in the early modern period. Fixated on institutions and fascinated by the sources they have produced, scholars have concentrated either on identifying the precursors of modern police organizations in the premodern world or on studying the practices of the courts. Despite numerous enticements, little attention has been paid to the practices of policing and social control. The fact that the norms of day-to-day life were for a longtime generated and overseen locally and informally as part of daily interaction is meanwhile acknowledged but has yet to be systematically investigated to a desirable extent. It would appear more necessary than ever to escape the temptation to project modern thought processes, motives, and concepts of order onto the protagonists of the early modern period.

What’s more, with the possible exception of England, there has been a lack of research into the institutions and office holders who guaranteed public safety at local and regional level in early modern Europe. We know too little about how the security forces were charged with their duties and how they were paid, about their function and reputation, and their integration into society and the structures of the state. There also appears to me to be a lack of studies which address the techniques and practices of social protagonists jointly with those of state institutions in most European countries in the context by which they contributed to the maintenance of public security and the imposition of their ideas of order on their fellow men. Rather than research which focuses on institutions and their premodern precursors and is pleased to discover deficiencies in the early modern period, there is an attraction in learning more about the actual practices in their social context and the associated discourses on good order. This would make no small contribution to our understanding of early modern societies.


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