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

An illustration of the Court of Miracles after the reformation. Wikimedia.

The Parisian slums of the 17th century were a wild place. Unlike most other cities, Paris had numerous slums throughout the city. Each tenement had its own culture, hierarchy, and language. Despite the prosperous and famed reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King, the peasants of France were poor as ever. Many rural French fled to Paris to seek better fortune than they were finding in the country. Many of these refugees became beggars. To increase their earnings, these beggars often pretended to be sick or disabled during the day, while miraculously healing when work was done at night. Indeed the Court of Miracles.

An illustration of the Court of Miracles. Wikimedia.

16. Victor Hugo Drew Inspiration From the Court of Miracles

Victor Hugo is one of France’s most famous novelists. Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Notre-Dame de Paris or “Our Lady of Paris” in the original French) are iconic pieces of literature that have been adapted to the stage and screen countless times. Hugo found a great deal of inspiration in the historical and anthropological account of the Court of Miracles written by historian Henri Sauval.

The criminal and desperate underbelly must have held a great deal of fascination for the well-bred Hugo, who was the comfortably middle-class son of a general and a painter. Hugo once floridly described the court, calling it, “a gutter of vice and beggary, of vagrancy that spills over into the streets of the capital […] immense changing-room of all the actors of this comedy that robbery, prostitution and murder play on the cobbled streets of Paris.

Both of Hugo’s most famous novels derived a great deal of inspiration from the depictions of poverty and suffering that appeared so broadly through Savual’s documentation of the Court. Both books feature tragic and penniless characters, and Hunchback even features the Court as a location in the story. While Hugo’s characters are far better known than any of the true stories of the Court, one can glimpse a few their lives through his fiction.