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Michael de L'hospital

Michael de L'Hospital

Born at Aigueperse, about 1504; d. at Courdimanche, 13 March, 1573. While very young he went to Italy to join his father, who had been a follower of the traitor, the Constable of Bourbon, in the camp of Charles V. He acquired his juridical training first as a student at Padua and then as auditor of the Rota at Rome, and in 1537 became a councillor of the Parliament of Paris. In 1547 he was charged by Henry II with a mission to the oecumenical council, which had been transferred from Trent to Bologna, returning after sixteen months to take his seat in the Parliament. He was next appointed chancellor of Berry by Marguerite of France, the daughter of Francis I, in 1554 became the first president of the court of exchequer (chambre des comptes), and, upon the accession of Francis II (1559), entered the privy council through the patronage of the Guises. Catharine de' Medici appointed him chancellor in 1560. On the one hand, L'Hospital had written a eulogy in Latin verse on the Duke of Guise and the Cardinal of Lorraine; on the other hand, he was the husband of a Protestant wife, and had had his children brought up Protestants. At the opening of his career as chancellor his complex personality is thus described by Brantôme: "He was held to be a Huguenot, though he went to Mass; but at court they said, 'God save us from L'Hospital's Mass!'" Théodore de Bèze had had a portrait of L'Hospital made, in which he was represented with a lighted torch behind his back, a way of indicating that the chancellor had known the "light" of the Reformation, but would not look at it. As a matter of fact, the policy of tolerance, of which he was the apostle in France, was, perhaps, inspired by a certain scepticism; the differences of religious belief seemed to him less serious and less profound than they really were; he would have readily classed in the same category the Council of Trent and certain Calvinistic manifestations, as equally embarrassing to the State; and the state of mind of which he was a representative was much nearer to that of the eighteenth-century philosophers than it was to that of men living in his own day, whether Protestants or Catholics.

The Edict of Romorantin (May, 1560) gave to the bishops criminal jurisdiction in cases of heresy, and to the secular courts the function of punishing the offence of holding Protestant meetings. This was L'Hospital's first effort to draw the line between spiritual and temporal -- between the religion of the kingdom and its police regulation. His address at the opening of the States General of Orléans (13 December, 1560) is summed up in these words: "The knife is worth little against the spirit. We must garnish ourselves with virtues and good morals, and then assail the Protestants with weapons of charity, prayers, persuasion, the word of God. Away with those diabolical names -- Lutheran, Huguenot, Papist -- names of factions and seditions. Let us keep to the name of Christian." To this programme of tolerance he added some extremely severe threats against Protestants who should stir up seditions, while, on the other hand, the religious articles of the Ordinance of Orléans (31 January, 1561) essayed to bring back the Church of France to the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges, to restore to it certain elective franchises, and thus to do away with the exclusive rights which the pope and the king had exercised over it since the concordat of Francis I. On 19 April, 1561, L'Hospital sent to the governors, without previously submitting it to the Parliament, an edict granting to all subjects the right of worshipping as they pleased in their own homes. In July, 1561, he caused all prosecutions for religious opinions to be suspended until a "council" should be assembled. This "council," which was the Colloquy of Poissy, resulted in nothing. By another edict (15 January, 1562) he granted to the Protestants liberty of worship outside of cities, and recognized their right to hold meetings in private houses, even within the limits of cities. This edict the Protestants always regarded as a kind of charter of enfranchisement, and during the religious wars they constantly demanded its restoration.

But other measures touching the Church, taken by L'Hospital at the same time, gave the Holy See good reason for uneasiness. He caused a thesis on the pope to be denounced before the Parliament, because it seemed to him too ultramontane; he opposed the monitorium by which Pius IV had invited Jeanne d'Albret to appear in France before the Inquisition. At last Pius IV in 1562 requested of the French Court that the chancellor be dismissed. L'Hospital, in fact, was not present at the conclusion of the council which decided on war against Condé and the Protestants; he returned to court only after this first war of religion, when the Edict of Amboise (19 March, 1563) restored religious peace by guaranteeing certain liberties to the Protestants. He agreed with Catharine de' Medici that the cause of peace would be served by having Charles IX declared of age, and by letting him make a progress through the country. The declaration of the king's majority took place in 1563, and from 1564 to 1566 L'Hospital caused him to make an extensive journey through France. During this tour the Ordinance of Moulins (February, 1566) was promulgated by the chancellor, to reform the administration of justice. But L'Hospital's plans failed; party violence continued, and the Catholics blamed him for his indulgence towards the Protestants, all the more bitterly because he refused to let the Council of Trent be published in France. In February, 1564, he had declared himself so strongly against the acceptance of the Tridentine decrees that the Cardinal of Lorraine exclaimed: "You should take off your mask and embrace Protestantism." The same cardinal also, when he appeared before L'Hospital at Moulins (February, 1566) to demand the abrogation of the Edict of Amboise, treated him as a worthless fellow (bélître).

Meanwhile, suspicion of him continued to increase in the Catholic camp, and after the Protestants had made an attempt at Meaux (26-28 September, 1567) to get possession of the king's person, thus precipitating the second war of religion, Catharine de' Medici turned against the chancellor with the brutal words: "It is you who have brought us to this pass with your counsels of moderation." From that day the policy of moderation, which had been L'Hospital's dream, was exploded; his repeated assurances of Huguenot loyalty were belied by the conspiracy of Meaux, and he retired, disheartened, to his estate at Vignay. Irremovable as chancellor, he had to give up the seals on 24 May, 1568. He followed from a distance the events which little by little brought Catharine de' Medici to the Massacre of St. Bartholomew. His daughter, who was in Paris at the time of the massacre, was saved through the protection of François de Guise's widow. L'Hospital himself and his wife were threatened by the peasantry of Vignay, and a report was spread that they had been killed; Catharine sent some soldiers to protect him. On 1 February, 1573, the Court compelled L'Hospital to resign the chancellorship, and he died six weeks later. His Latin poems, which in the seventeenth century had passed into the hands of Jan de Witt, grand pensionary of Holland, were published in 1732, in a more complete edition than that of his grandson (1585). His complete works, edited by Dufey, appeared at Paris, in 1824, in five volumes.

Villemain, Etudes d'Histoire moderne (2nd ed., Paris, 1856); Amphoux, Michel de L'Höpital et la libert, de conscience au XVIe siècle (Paris, 1900); Atkinson, Michel de L'Hospital (London, 1900); Dupr,-Lasale, Michel de L'Hospital avant son élévation au poste de chancelier de France (2 vols., Paris, 1875-1899); Shaw, Michel de L'Hospital and His Policy (London, 1905).


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