16 Street Laws in Paris Shaped by the Infamous Court of Miracles
16 Street Laws in Paris Shaped by the Infamous Court of Miracles

16 Street Laws in Paris Shaped by the Infamous Court of Miracles

Trista - November 3, 2018

16 Street Laws in Paris Shaped by the Infamous Court of Miracles
A painting of French aristocrats. Wikimedia.

3. The Slums Highlighted the Division Of Wealth in France

The reign of Louis XIV, known as the Sun King, was a time of absolute opulence for the aristocracy of France. Louis himself was a believer in the religious doctrine of the divine right of kings. He inhabited the lavish palace at Versailles and required that many members of the nobility live with him, where they would throw incredibly indulgent balls. While the nobles lived a truly gilded life in Versailles within the center of Paris, they were surrounded by utter squalor and poverty.

Due to poverty and famine, many rural residents of France fled to Paris throughout the 17th century looking for new sources of work and income. These refugees quickly found that joining the hierarchies of the slums were the only source of safety and income. They became beggars, thieves, prostitutes or other underworld denizens.

Louis XIV’s response to the Court of Miracles wasn’t to lower taxes, create social safety nets, or aid them in any other way. Instead, he established an office of police that was tasked with slowing the growth of the slums to preserve the wealthier parts of Paris. The increasingly large gap between the rich and the poor, combined with the lack of aid from Louis XIV during a period of stable monarchic rule, set the groundwork for the turbulent and violent period of the French Revolution in the 18th century.

16 Street Laws in Paris Shaped by the Infamous Court of Miracles
Portrait of Gabriel Nicolas de La Reynie, Lieutenant General of Police of Paris during the reign of Louis XIV. Private Collection. Christophel Fine Art/UIG via Getty Images.

2. The Court Led to the First Modern Police Force

The disdain of begging and the sight of poverty led French politicians to take action against the Court of Miracles in the latter half of the 17th century. Jean-Baptiste Colbert presented King Louis XIV with a proclamation that would establish an office of Lieutenant General of Police, which would enable the office holder to create a police force comparable to modern police forces. King Louis XIV approved, and Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie was installed as the first holder of the office.

De la Reynie’s task was to create a force that would both protect and preserve the more beautiful portions of the city while inhibiting the growth of the unpopular slums known collectively as the Court of Miracles. De la Reynie held the office from 1667 to 1697. During his time in office, he held a very modern view of law enforcement and developed police units and tactics that influenced the development of current police forces.

One hallmark of De la Reynie’s time in office was the severe and extensive punishment of what he viewed as seditious writings. He also was brutal towards the poor, mentally ill and prostitutes. The hôtels-Dieu, or Houses of God, were French hospitals originally built to tend for the poor sick. De la Reynie used them to incarcerate the poor and anyone he deemed immoral in cramped, inhumane conditions.

16 Street Laws in Paris Shaped by the Infamous Court of Miracles
A painting of disabled beggars. Wikimedia.

1. The Beggars Were Magically Cured Each Night, Hence the Court’s Name

Begging was deeply frowned upon in 17th century France. The wealthy residents of Paris did not want to be accosted by the site of the poverty they ignored through their legislation and actions. There was a massive divide in wealth during the period, and the wealthy did not care to be reminded of it. The King himself took steps to eliminate the sight of the beggars in the city. It is worth noting he didn’t want to fix the poverty, he just didn’t wish to see it.

There were several noteworthy exceptions to the general disdain for beggars. War veterans, orphans, the ill and the disabled were seen as legitimate charity cases, and their begging was not frowned upon the same way as that of non-disabled adults. The wealthy Parisian citizens were far more likely to open their purses to help those they viewed as valid charity cases.

These exceptions were common knowledge to the beggars, so it became commonplace for beggars to prepare for their day of work by applying makeup or other devices to appear sick or disabled. Limbs were bound with a cloth to fake amputation; makeup was used to replicate skin conditions or diseases, among other effects. At night, after the day’s begging was done, the beggars would return home and seem to miraculously heal of their ailments as limbs were freed and diseases disappeared. The name, Court of Miracles, is a reference to this practice as grievously afflicted men and women healed magically every night.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

The Slums of Paris Had Their Own Intricate Systems of Laws Ruled By Thieves and Prostitutes” Cleo Egnal, Ranker. n.d.

“Let There Be Light: Paris’ first police chief exposes the unholy work afoot in the ‘crime capital of the world'” Holly Tucker, Vanderbilt Magazine. September 2017.

“Cours des Miracles (Court of Miracles)” Aaron Netsky, Atlas Obscura. n.d.

“La Cour des Miracles” Party Like It’s 1660 staff, n.d.

“Paris under Louis XIV, XV, XVI” Yoojin Jang. November 2007.