Peyrou c. Nivelle (Tribunal of Paris, 20 July 1792)

In 2015  I bought a legal document from the French ancien regime on eBay for the princely sum of $10.00. I recently translated it.  I thought it may be of interest to other lawyers.


French Court Doc page 1French Court Doc page 2


Translation was not straightforward: The script is hard to read and words often run into each other. In addition, a number of the words appear to be French legalese or archaic (or both). Often accents are not where one would expect them to be.

I have transcribed and translated the document line by line below. Doubtful points are marked by asterisks and question marks. Interpolations and educated guesses are marked by square brackets.


Le S[eigneu]r Dourif avoué en tribunal de Paris

Lord Dourif solicitor in the Tribunal of Paris

Declare au Jean Godot avoué du Citoyen Nivelle

Declares to Jean Godot solicitor for Citizen Nivelle

Que sans aucune approbation prejudicielle

That without any prejudicial consent

et sous touttes [sic] reserva de droit meme de demandes

And under all [reservations?] of law and also of claims

la nullite de l’assignation et accupera[?] pour le

the nullity of the summons and ******** for the

jean[?] peyrou ancien negotiant à paris sur l’assignation

Jean Peyrou former trader at Paris on the summons

à la Donnée au tribunal du de*reme arrondissement

at the [finding?] of the tribunal of the [2nd?] district

du Department de Paris aus funde requete

of the Region of Paris *** ***** request

et ordonnance des place des quinces fermès derniers

and judgment of the place of the ******* ****** last

*** novembre prefere **if à requie n’ent

*** November prefers **** to ****** *’***

ignore du *** acte.

ignores from the *** act.

F. Donnet Bourgeois De eglucerne [Signature?]

F. Donnet gentleman of *********

**u au * Godot afre*e le

*** of the Godot ****** the

vingt j[ui]l[le]t[?] 1792 [Signature?]

20 July 1792


[Stamp:] La loi le roi

The law, the king

D[epartment] de Paris

D[epartment] of Paris


Minute / note


2 sols 6 deniers [probably the filing fee].

[Handwritten:] L’arrond’

The dist.

a *ier au

to **** to the

J Godot avoué

J Godot solicitor

Context and Comment

This document appears to be a waiver of a claim (or part of a claim) between a trader named Peyrou and a man named Nivelle, or perhaps a waiver of the benefit of a procedural point. Presumably the dispute was a commercial one.

The document is a good artefact from its time. The seal marked La loi, Le Roi is appropriate for the date 1792: at that time the motto of the Kingdom of France was La Nation, la Loi, le Roi.

Alternative Royal Arms of France 1789–1792 (Image from here)

The conventional date “20 July 1792” would not long continue: on 22 September 1792 the Republican calendar recommenced with Year I. I’m intrigued that the document seems to use both the titles “Seigneur” (Lord) and Citoyen (citizen).

I have no idea of the current value of the filing fee of 2 sols 6 deniers.  It could have been (and perhaps was) paid using coins:

2 sols
2 sols (Image from here)
6 deniers
6 deniers (Image from here)

Looking at the rest of that year, one notes that in 1792 France entered upon wars with Austria and Prussia, that the Paris mob stormed the Tuilleries and conducted the September massacres, and that the trial of King Louis XVI commenced. This document is a useful reminder that even when the great events of world history occur, ordinary men and women still go on earning a living and leading a life.

A tyranny of memory?

It’s not often history grabs more than a small slice of the public attention, but this week it did. The incident said something interesting about the relationship between the state and the past.

Military historian David Horner this week revisited the meaning for Australia of the Kokoda campaign. By way of background, what can be said uncontroversially is that in the second half of 1942 Australian and Japanese troops fought a series of engagements on the Kokoda Track (or Trail) in New Guinea. It can also be said uncontroversially that public memory (that is, that of the public generally) holds that this represented Australia holding off an inevitable Japanese invasion, while the preponderance of professional historians consider that there was no Japanese plan for an invasion at that time and that Japanese consideration of an invasion represented little more than thought balloons.

What has been revealing about this latest face-off between these world views is the relationship between the lay public and this particular aspect of the past.

I think it can fairly be said that the reaction from the public, or (which is not quite the same thing) the reaction from the sections of the press which love to help the public feel outraged, was resentment. The Herald Sun’s editorial made little effort to engage with the historyical question, merely saying grudgingly that

Military historian Professor David Horner has every right to opine that Australia has developed a tendency to exaggerate the significance of our country’s military campaigns, including the Kokoda battle.

It’s his belief, and freedom of speech was among the democratic values more than 100,000 Diggers have given their lives to protect.

Mr Derryn Hinch, on radio station 3AW responded with contempt

I guess I should assume that the Japanese bombers who hit Darwin were really lost and their real target was Argentina. That the mini-sub found in Sydney Harbour was a misguided tourist. That the Battle of the Coral Sea was really an America’s Cup event. And that currency found in Japan to be used in Australia post-invasion was really Monopoly money for post-war entertainment. …

At the weekend some proud World War II veterans – 90 years old and older – were in Egypt commemorating their brave mates who died in the desert in the Battle of El Alamein 70 years ago.

Don’t tell the professor. He probably thinks they were playing in a sand pit

The lay public’s own reaction was even less restrained. In the Herald Sun’s letters page on 23 October 2012 one writer said that “[t]o revise history now and claim there was no danger of an invasion … is an insult to the memory of those Diggers whose courageous gallantry maintained the freedom we enjoy today”. Another asked “How dare anyone undermine or underestimate (sic) those of our Australian defence (sic) who were serving Australia at Kokoda”

Writers with the benefit of online anonymity were even more vitriolic. On 3AW’s website one writer described Horner as a revisionist, a term usually reserved for the likes of the Holocaust-denying David Irving. On Sydney’s radio station 2UE, “Peter” said –

Yet again history being re-written by some dumb arsed propeller head hoping that the reaction will boast sales and try to legitimatise his misguided take on history! God save us from the PC loony left!

And “Fuji” said

On 19 February 1942 Darwin itself was bombed. Japanese fighters and bombers attacked the port and shipping in the harbour twice during the day, killing 252 Allied service personnel and civilians!! Evidently the $$$Professor David Horner is obviously talking through his dumb arse.

The fundamental problem is of course that Professor Horner’s assessment is based on the documentary record, and the public response is based, in essence, on the invasion story as something akin to an article of faith.

The more interesting light is thrown by the public reaction as a foundational form of a more troubling current phenomenon: the use of the machinery of the state to create a definitive history, where historical argument alone may not be able to stand on its own. One can see this trend in the attempts to secure a pardon for the Australian war criminal Harry Morant. One can also see it in the review by the Supreme Court of Victoria of the trial of Colin Ross, convicted in 1922 of the murder of a child, long after the trial and appellate judges, witnesses and legal representatives were unable to speak for themselves.

The creation of “endorsed” histories, it seems to me, treat the documentary record, and any differing analysis to be extracted from it, as something to be pushed down a memory hole. For this reason, reading the responses to Horner’s theories, I wondered if some aspiring politician may feel that there was mileage in pressing for, as Prime Minister Keating perhaps began to do, an “endorsed history” of the events of 1942. At which point, I had the uncomfortable sensation of hearing voices insist: “Oceania is at war with Eastasia. Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia”.

A use of history to illuminate the present

This piece was submitted (unsuccessfully) to a couple of French newspapers.  It looked at connections between present criminal justice debates in Australia and Ancien Regime criminal justice. In this case, I consider that the past threw a clear light on the present.


On peut dire qu’un spectre hante l’Australie: le spectre de la Révolution française.  Si le moment clef de la Révolution a été la rejection des trois états de la France et leur supercession par l’Assemblée Nationale, peut-être le moment clef pour l’Australie moderne se montrer a ce moment, quand on peut dire que le tiers etat paraît devenir incapable de gouverner.

Cette possibilité presente par voie d’un meurtrier.  Le 9 août 1987 un ancien soldat, M. Julian Knight, a fait un massacre dans le cité de Melbourne.  Sept personnes ont été tuées; 19 ont souffert des blessures.  Devant la Cour Suprême de l’état de Victoria, M. Knight s’est declaré coupable des meurtres et des tentatives de meurtre.  Le 10 novembre 1988 M. le Juge Hampel lui a prononcer qu’il serait imprisonner pour toute sa vie, mais qu’il peut être relâcher dans le communauté apres qu’il a servi 27 années.

Ces 27 années sont presque passées.  En août 2012, apres la Conseil qui peut approuver son relâchment a refusé son application sortir de la prison, M. Knight a declaré qu’il appellera au Cour Suprême.  Un avocat très distingué, M. Robert Richter, a dit qu’il est prêt lui representer.

Cet affaire a été noté par un présentateur du radio, M. Derryn Hinch.  Ses auditeurs ont exprimés leur horreur face à la situation.  Sur le site web du station de radio 3AW, M. Richter a été appelé ‘lâche’ par “Mandy”, qui paraît ignorant qu’un avocat – au système de droit commun – doit réprésenter chaque personne qu’il peut aider.  “Lily” a declarée “rétablir la peine de mort et le juger à nouveau”.  Et “Appauled” a dit “j’espère qu’un membre de la famille d’une victime met une balle dans Richter et Knight”.  Le quotidien Herald-Sun demandait que le Parlement amend la loi afin de garantir que Knight rester prisonnier.  Et le Premier Ministre du Victoria, M. Ted Baillieu a dit que le gouvernement considera les mesures a ce but.  Les demandes par ces citoyens pour l’emprisonnement législative de M. Knight ne pas tiennes comptes, il paraît, qu’un gouvernement qui peut imprisonner un meurtrier seulement au nom de la sécurité publique (et pas en conséquence du procés criminel), peut aussi imprisonner un journaliste, ou un membre du Parlement, ou bien “M. Dupont” pour la même raison.  Il n’y a pas de raison pour qu’ils le pense: Statistiquement, 46% de la population australienne est fonctionnellement incapable de lire.  Donc, comment reconnâitre-t-ils la lettre de cachet, quand ils ne peuvent pas lire de l’ancien regime?  Comment reconnaitre-t-ils l’homme au masque de fer, quand ils croient que l’Alexandre Dumas joue pour Olympique de Marseilles?  Il semble que, en Australie au moins, il y a un déficit chez le tiers état de la capacité à participer dans l’administration de la patrie. 

On veut dire, toutefois, que jusqu’à présent personne n’a demandé “Quoi sont le premier et le deuxième états?”