La police des Lumières, the free exhibition at the National Archives in Paris

Published by Elodie D. · Published on 5 August 2020 at 17h20 · Updated on 6 August 2020 at 12h26
The National Archives devotes an exhibition to the “Police des Lumières”, the police in the 18th century. All along a themed tour, the Archives wished to show the creation of the police in a historical context: the riots because of the famine. We are told how France has been fitted with a centralized, professional police, and what was the work of police chiefs and other inspectors in 1750. Free of charge, the exhibition runs from September 18, 2020 to January 18, 2021.

This is a free exhibition that will provide some wonderful history lesson. The National Archives – or Archives nationales – is taking out old manuscripts and illustrations to present the police in the 18th century, under Louis XV, in France and in Europe.

Even though Paris is fitter with a police lieutenant in 1667, it is only a few decades later that European kingdoms make of the police one of the main ways of managing cities. Some public order leaders claim the police is a “science of happiness” devoted to guaranteeing the “sheer happiness of men in the society”.

But quickly, thinkers and philosophers of the Enlightenment wonder about how the police works. People like Rousseau, Diderot, Sade have tangles with the forces of order and intend to “improve” the police in their writtings and debates.

While before, the functions of the police were entrusted to small officers – rarely professional -, in the 18th century, there is the idea of creating works related to maintaining the order and safety in cities. And at that time, safety is not only managing violence: the order comes especially – in Paris and in France – from controlling work and… the price of wheat and bread. As a matter of fact, Parisian riots started in 1725 against bakers who immodestly increased their prices, and the police had to take action to control the supply of the capital in terms of wheat to avoid clashes.

Serving the King, the “gazetins” listen to rumors and tell about the evolutions of the public’s mind. These police officers go up to tracking authors of satirical songs and pulling working force’s insubordination back into line. Other specialized police officers and “mouches” have to keep an eye on the different “groups at risk” such as foreigners, prostitutes, professional players, thieves, religious minorities.

At that time already, throwing rocks is not rare and violent riots in May and June 1750 break out because of the quick transformations of the police. Voices rise and the police, especially in Paris, multiples positive actions towards the people: nurse office, public lightning, rescuing drowning people…

In pictures, through newspapers and archives, the Police des Lumières is told at the Hôtel de Soubise. The exhibition is free of charge, so do not hesitate and give it a look.

Practical information

Dates and Opening Time
From 18 September 2020 to 18 January 2021



    60 Rue des Francs Bourgeois
    75004 Paris 4


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    More informations
    Horaires : du lundi au vendredi de 10h à 17h30, les samedis et dimanches de 14h à 17h30
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