It is now 22 May 1698. The first meeting of the Sovereign Council to be held in Colmar is taking place in the Wagkeller, the old seat of the patricians. The day began with a mass in the Augustinian chapel of the palace. This is where the judges collect their thoughts and pray, alone, before making their appearance in public. The Councillors meet up a few hours later in the assembly room. They are dressed in costume and sit down on benches opposite the Presiding judge´s seat. The clerk sits next to the Presiding judge, with the bar on the left and the Prosecutor on the right.
Colmar has changed in both status and stature. It is now the seat of the Sovereign Court of Justice for all Alsace and a lot more besides, for the Council is also a Parliament that fashions the future of the province, by bolstering its unity and helping its integration into the Kingdom of France. A lot of ground had been covered since it was created by Royal edict in September 1657 "for the countries and areas ceded to His Majesty by the Treaty of Munster" in 1648. The Council´s task is to assert the King´s rights over his new possessions. The King effectively gave the Council the job of "carrying out justice and maintaining our rights without changing any of the laws, constitutions and customs existing up to now in the said area." The Council was initially situated in Ensisheim, the old administrative capital for the Austrian possessions in the region and moved to Ville Neuve Saint-Louis-Les- Brisach on the Rhine in 1681, before settling in Colmar in 1695.
The Sovereign Court was the court of last instance for appeals from lower courts. It also heard legal appeals from ecclesiastical, Protestant and Jewish courts.
Session of the Sovereign Council of Alsace, painting by Holdt,
18th century. Unterlinden Museum.
Its jurisdiction covered a wide area and it handled all cases related to people, whether noble or ecclesiastic. It was the first judge of the so-called "Royal" cases, those cases involving Royal sovereignty or the Catholic religion.
In its role as a Parliament, it registered and officialised acts from central government, papal bulls, personal titles, the statutes of trade and artistic bodies and laws and legislation drawn up by local government. It also oversaw the lower courts and acted as Royal Bailiff and as judge for forestry and water. The Royal Mint was also housed there.
The Council dispensed justice, to general approval. It defended local customs, while bringing in French laws and jurisprudence.
The Sovereign Council helped to introduce Colmar to the French mind and brought it onto the national map. Without the Council, which was disbanded at the Revolution, Colmar would not be the administrative and legal capital it is today.
The Council provided some of the first bricks for the construction of the "Colmar pattern", the meeting-up of a republican tradition with the principles of an absolute monarchy, which provided the basis for the unity of the province, while contributing on a larger scale to the unity of the country itself.
The Palace of the Sovereign Council, illuminated to celebrate the birth of the Dauphin,
10 November 1781, drawing by Schauberger. Colmar municipal library.