While it is true that Paris has dominated the life of France since the Revolution, it is also true that France, more than any other country, reveals with the greatest clarity the arrangement of town and countryside in small units of human life and organization with a popular consciousness of that unity. This applies both to the very small human units called pays and to the larger pre-1789 units called provinces. These are alike in the sense that they have been for centuries units of social life and their names are ancient in origin and popular in their usage.
Under the ancien rÉgime France was divided into ecclesiastical, judicial, financial, military and administrative divisions. The judicial divisions were the bailliages, of which there were about two hundred and fifty. For financial matters there were the pays d' etat and the pays d' Élections. In the former there were provincial assemblies for voting taxation, while in the latter, covering three-quarters of the area of the country, the representative of the king ruled as a virtual viceroy. The gouvernements were military districts for the levying of troops under the supervision of a Lieutenant-General. The gÉneralitÉs were by far the most important divisions in France. There were thirty-three of these divisions, which sometimes embraced several provinces, and sometimes several were embraced in one province as in the case of Normandy, which was divided into the gÉnÉralitÉs of Rouen and Caen. The head of this district was the Intendant, who was the real administrator of the realm, presiding over the Parlement and controlling the legal and financial administration.
Parlements were held in the pays d' etat at Rennes (Brittany), Rouen (Normandy), Arras, Douai, Metz, Nancy (Lorraine), Dijon (Bourgogne), Besançon ( Franche ComtÉ), Grenoble (DauphinÉ), Aix (Provence), Toulouse (Languedoc), Perpignan (Roussillon), Pau (BÉarn), Bordeaux. Each of these was also the seat of its gouvernement and gÉnÉralitÉ. Cities that were the seats of both a gouvernement and a gÉneralitÉ were as follows: Tours, Orleans, Lille, Amiens, Strasbourg, Lyon, La Rochelle, Moulins, Bourges, Poitiers. Cities that were seats of either one or the other but not of both were as follows: Boulogne, Angers, Troyes, Chalons, Toul, Valenciennes, Nevers, Saintes, Gueret, Riom, Limoges, Trevoux, Soissons, Alencon, Montpellier, Auch, Montauban.