Prévôt des marchands

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The Prévôt des marchands(French Prévôt: bailiff, meaning: head of the merchants’ guild) was the elected head of the association of Parisian riverboatmen, who later represented the economic interests of the entire Parisian citizenry and was thus the representative of the citizens also to the king, who did not want to grant the municipality the rank of a city, but still needed an interlocutor and mediator from the ranks of the inhabitants, for example in tax matters.


The river boatmen had united – similar to the Nautae in Gallo-Roman times – in the 12th century against the competition from Rouen. The association was initially based in the Parloir aux Bourgeois, which was initially installed at the foot of the Rue Saint-Denis near the Grand Châtelet, but in the 14th century was temporarily moved to the left bank of the Seine, near the Porte Saint-Jacques, making it decidedly distant from the political and economic centres. In 1357, the Prévôt Étienne Marcel then moved it to the Place de Grève, to the famous Maison aux Piliers, which he had bought for this purpose and which was immediately regarded as the Hôtel de Ville.

In his political work, the royal Prévôt de Paris soon found himself confronted with this economic association, which not only acquired and extended its rights and privileges, but also knew how to use them. Already in the time of Louis VI. († 1137) he had acquired his position, which Louis VII then confirmed in 1171. He had the monopoly of the river navigation in the Détroits, by which the middle Seine and its tributaries were meant. From Louis IX onwards, the president of the association, the Prévôt des marchands, and his four aldermen, the Échevins, elected for four and two years respectively from the city’s merchant aristocracy, were accepted by the king as interlocutors in all areas in which the royal administration – which did not grant the capital the status of a commune, which in turn gave the largest city in the kingdom a dangerously special position – could not avail itself of a representative institution of the Parisian bourgeoisie.

The association then quickly transformed itself from a representative of the interests of commerce into a body defending the common interests of the citizenry. In fact, the Prévot des marchands and the aldermen created a municipal administration with officials who took care of the material concerns of the town – refuse collection, road construction, night watch, supervision – as well as commercial justice and the port and market police.

The Prévôt des marchands, elected for four years, could be confirmed in office. He had to be born in Paris. The office presided over by the Prévôt and the Échevins was called Prévôté des marchands.

Most prévôts des marchands regulated only the economic life and the city and questions of commercial law. Important prévôts des marchands that also played a political role were:

  • Étienne Barbette (II.) (1298-1303 and 1313-1318)
  • Étienne Marcel (1355-1358)
  • Jean Jouvenel, Garde de la prévôté des marchands (from 1389)
  • Jean Bureau (1450-1452)
  • Henri de Livres (1460-1466 and 1476-1483)

After the Maillotins’ revolt (1382), the Prévôté des marchands fell into the hands of the king. However, the Garde de la prévôté des marchands Jean Jouvenel (appointed in 1389), who was appointed by him, very quickly identified with the interests of the Parisians and embarked on a path which, in time, enabled him to regain the old privileges. Officially, however, the Prévôté des marchands was not re-established until January 1412, under the rule of the Bourguignons.

The power of the Prévôt des marchands was constantly opposed by the power of the Prévôt de Paris, who was a bailiff appointed by the king with his seat in the Grand Châtelet at today’s Place du Châtelet. From the 1440s onwards, the Prévôt des marchands, as well as the majority of the aldermen, were elected from the ranks of royal officials rather than from the ranks of merchants.

See also

  • List of the bailiffs of Paris
  • Civil war of the Armagnacs and Bourguignons


  • Jean Favier, Dictionnaire de la France médiévale, 1993