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De Thou Studies

Part I

The Divinity (or the non-Divinity?) of King Henry IV

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Chapter 1 — Divinity and royalty: some contexts

Between 1596 and 1598, several treatises on royalty were published. The authors were neither jurists nor theologians; they were merely writers (hommes de plume) attached to the court. (W.F. Church calls them "publicists.") Former Leaguers who were famous for having violently attacked Henry of Navarre, and who had supported the proposition of "reestablishing" the elective Monarchy in order to distance Navarre from the throne, were transformed into apologists for that very prince, now that he had converted to Catholicism and had been crowned king. (1) With a few variations, David Du Rivault de Fleurance, Regnault Dorléans (Louis's brother), Pierre Constant and Pierre Poisson, as if with one voice, became absolutists: not only did they characterize royal power as divine, through the sacre, but they also saw the king as a divinity. In other words, the king is God. Du Rivault declared:

En fin pour conclure ce present discours du Prince qui est le Christ et l'oint de Dieu, il luy seroit tres-utile d'avoir tousious deuant les yeux, la description qu'Esaie faict du sainct, parfaict et immaculé, [sic] Christ, laquelle ne peut estre mal attribué [sic] aux Roys, desquels il est escript Vous estes Dieux et les fils du tres-haut. (2)

Through the choice of words, through the grammar (that is, through this key phrase), and through the use of a negative grammatical structure whose meaning is positive (ne peut être mal attribuée = peut être bien attribuée), Du Rivault shows his readers that he is walking on eggs, that he is going beyond the limits of established attributes, in order to formulate an extremist characterization of the king's divinity:

D'avantage comme Dieu qui est le Roy universel donne les loix generales et supremes: aussi le Prince faict les loix de son Estat, ausquelles nul ne peut contrevenir .... Et par conséquent, si les authoritez se ressemblent, et que les noms de dignité suivent l'authorité, pourquoy le Roy ne seroit-il appellé proprement Dieu? (3)

And without evoking the recent statute that elevated princes of the blood above all the other princes, Du Rivault continues:

Or ceste influence divine tombée en l'homme que Dieu eslit et faict naistre de la race qui légitimement regne, confirme la Majesté de-ia nee en luy mesme dès que la succession legitime l'avoit saisi et appellé à la dignité ...

Is it mere chance that Du Rivault and the other "publicists" almost simultaneously published the same formulations of the theory of divine right? W.F. Church did not think so. For him, the extremist writings about divine right were part of a current of thought among some former Leaguers, and among the dévots -- hotheads and extremists --, a current that tended toward an absolutism that would have, as a keystone, the idea that the king is God. (4)

It is not my intention in this article to verify or refute Church's thesis; but the existence of this current should be taken into consideration in my analysis of divinity, as Jacques-Auguste de Thou presents it in the Préface to the History he offers the king in 1603.

Published in 1604, La Citadelle de la Royauté of Gabriel Chappuys, secretary and interpreter to the king himself, is contemporary with the publication by de Thou of the "first books" of his History. Chappuys declares:

Or entre les hommes, les Princes reluisent comme le Soleil entre les autres estoilles : Ils sont l'ame du Royaume, par laquelle vivent et respirent tant de milliers d'hommes: et en quelque manière comme Dieu, au monde : et pour ceste cause ils sont appellez Dieux, es sainctes lettres, et Psaumes. (5)

As in Chappuys ("sainctes lettres"), the references of writers who express this current are almost always vague; but they all are conscious that they are articulating and extrapolating a divine identity, let us say conventional, that is, the canonical and monotheistic doctrine.

Historians of our days, especially specialists of literature, have noted the tendency to deify kings in epideictic works. For example, in his Ode (1549) dedicated to Henry II, Ronsard sang:

Sus donq, regarde quel doit estre
Ton heur futur, en adorant ton maistre,
Ton nouveau Dieu, dont la divinité
T'enrichira d'une immortalité. (6)

Throughout the sixteenth century, humanists sought examples of royal divinity, in the kings of the Old Testament, Egypt, Greece, and Ancient Rome. Machiavelli, Cardano and even Naudé would follow the path traced by Dante concerning the divinity of Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome, known as saintly and charitable well before the arrival of Christianity (7) and well-known thanks to a portrait sketched by Plutarch, the ancient author whom Henry IV read and loved. But since de Thou does not call upon that tradition of parallels between Henry and the examples drawn from either the Bible or Antiquity, we will only mention this in passing, in order to grasp the climate of thought about the divinity of kings at the moment when de Thou was writing.

Nor does our historian call upon the rich source of parallels that poets and painters so frequently exploited. Nor does he call upon the antique pantheons -- in particularly the Greek pantheon, but also the same gods known by Roman names. Dazzled by his reading in pagan literature, Guillaume Budé would evoke divine Jove and divine Hercules in a text intended for Francis I. He did not seek to confuse thr pagan and the Christian; but like so many others who sought to praise, either by allegory or by parallel, he allowed his pen to fly up to Mount Olympus. (8)

This leaves the argument that de Thou would employ to sustain his own faith: history. (9) Not chronicles of facts and fine actions; not rambling narratives, blends of wonders and moral lessons; but the history that holds up the Gallican Monarchy: events that are known to everyone, that are incontestable, and that are part of the public memory -- beginning with the assassination of Henry III, "qui aurait entraîné l'État et la Religion dans une ruine sans ressource si, par une faveur inesperée du Ciel, Vostre Majesté, que Dieu, qui veilloit pour notre salut, avoit réservée à notre tems, n'eut servi de colonne et d'appui à l'État ..." (10)

De Thou did not have to say it. Cardinal Charles de Bourbon, a relative to the twentieth degree, going back to Louis IX; Henri de Bourbon de Navarre, to the twenty-first degree. (11) But the first was ruled out by the Salic Law, for he was the younger brother of Antoine de Navaarre. It was certain, Henri was benefitting from the help of Heaven: he was legitimate, his wife was a king's daughter and sister of three kings, and he had been blessed by the last of these kings. One must confess that, even in the twenty-first century, the legitimate successor to the throne of France was impressive. The dynasty and the divine benediction form a whole.

For de Thou, king Henry IV came from the most ancient royal race (or dynasty) of Europe. (12) God had preserved him, first during a perilous childhood in Béarn, then throughout the countless battles of the civil wars: "Vous exposant le premier à la tranchée, n'interrompant point les fatigues du jour par le repos de la nuit, marchant à toute heure par les pluyes et sur les glaces ... sans alterer vostre santé ...." (13) De Thou does not mention specific victories, for example Coutras and Ivry, doubtlessly because he wants to call attention to royal clemency and forgiveness.

The words Dieu and Ciel are not scattered throughout the text. They appear above all when it is a question of intimacy and privacy. These are emotional high points, situated approximately half-way through the Préface, and also at the end. De Thou does not hesitate to evoke the divine, but he does not characterize the king as being divine, nor pious. He observes that the king has returned to the religion of his ancestors. His first reference to another Divinity goes to the heart of his thought; it is a question of the mother country and the laws:

Après ce que je dois à Dieu, rien ne me devoit être plus cher et plus sacré que l'amour et le respect dû à ma Patrie .... J'ai apporté cet esprit à l'administration des affaires, persuadé, selon la pensée des anciens, que la Patrie est une seconde Divinité, que les Loix viennent de Dieu ... (14)

This is his only use of what became a topos: first there is a reference to verses of Scripture, and this is followed by the Divinity, a Divinity (Numen) that is, we shall see, merely a synonym for Palladium.

For de Thou, then, the king is not divine, even though he is sustained and protected by God throughout his life. It is France that is divine, according to a second order of Divinity about which de Thou offers no further precisions -- this Numen that is mentioned only three times. De Thou does not talk about the Sacre, nor about the status that it confers. Nor is the Capetian race divine: Clovis's baptism is not evoked. The very old origins of this race nonetheless confers upon it a membership in the antique religion, and in Nature.

Here is the first mention of the sanctity of Laws: "Ceux qui les violent, de quelque prétexte spécieux de religion qu'il se couvrent, sont des sacrilèges et des parricides.". When de Thou returns to the subject of Laws, he speaks directly to Henry:

Persévérés, Sire, dans vos généreux desseins; rendés aux Loix leur juste autorité, comme vous avés commencé de le faire si heureusement. Conservés à vos peuples cette paix que vous leur avés acquise au prix de tant de travaux. N'oubliés jamais cette maxime, que la force et l'appui d'un Estat, ce sont les Loix ...: les Magistrats et les Juges n'en sont que les Ministres et les Interprétes .... (15)

His peroration is both a confession of faith and a prayer addressed to God, that is to say, to Grand Dieu (Deum Omnium):

Auteur de tous les biens, qui avec votre Fils unique et le saint Esprit, êtes Dieu en trois personnes, mais un seul Dieu en bonté, en sagesse, en miséricorde, et en puissance; qui êtes avant les siècles, qui êtes, et qui serez toûjours tout en toutes choses .... (16)

In this prayer of exhortation, one understands the absence of allusions to the Catholic and Roman Church, or even to the Gallican Church, to the sacraments, to the saints, and to canon law. A president of the Parlement, in his gown, his toge, is speaking; he is the worthy successor of several generations of judges who have taken the oath, before God, to render justice in accordance with the sanctity that is the mother country, France, in conformity with its Laws.

The prayer ends with a long list of benefits being requested by de Thou, beginning with: "Conservez le Roi, conservez le Dauphin ; de là dépend notre paix, notre union, notre sûreté, notre bien, tout notre bonheur" (17)

Divinity in the Préface

We know the "preface" as a genre: not often read, and often omitted from cheap later editions, it shares certain characteristics with the éloge, the hymne (in verse), the louange, the panégyrique, and the dédicace. Through the narration of "hauts faits," the relations between the divine and the person being praised, living or dead, take shape. The person who does the writing demonstrates a more discreet presence. Despite the fact that de Thou exceeds the norm in his use of the first person, he avoids using je or nous too often: that would detract from the heroic concetto o the person being celebrated. On the other hand, using the first person from time to time heightens the rhetorical effect. Through a written conversation, the reader can witness exchanges between the hero and the orator, the latter bowing low his head, and the form lifting it upwards. (18) The author talks about himself in a tone that is not familiar, but direct; he expresses the homage of those who write or sing heroic topoi, virtues incarnate, the divine benediction. (19)

De Thou does not lower himself to flatter. The gravity of his discourse is sustained by a Latin that is "cicéronien ou, si l'on préfère, livien," to borrow André Thierry's phrase. It is also sustained by the nobility of someone whose nature claims to render him incapable of dissimulation. By his heritage, and by his life spent in the upper spheres of the State, de Thou expresses himself as the incarnation of an absolute right to talk candidly to the king. (20) The incense of royal judges does not have the same aroma as the incense of churchmen; the power to decide between life and death makes the oratorical authority of the judge more secular and more dependant on the royalty. With his grand message transmitted in the form of historical accounts of how weapons unfortunately failed to assure religious conformity, de Thou dares being familiar when he recalls to Henry their encounter at Nérac in1582, twenty years earlier.

It is therefore not surprising that the preface of his great historical work should be profoundly historical. By narrating several schismatic crises within the Church, de Thou intends to demonstrate, and prove, that neither arms nor repression by the judicial system will reestablish the desired religious unity. By his being, man's conscience does not bow down, whatever the violence and the pain endured by body and soul. In his single reference to the Church (the Gallican one) of his day, de Thou exhorts Henry IV to use his authority to establish, through the clergy, a religious conformity that conforms to the royal wishes. (21) Are the liturgies published by Jacques-Auguste's uncle, Nicolas de Thou bishop of Chartres, part of a Gallican reformist program?

De Thou leaves the subject-citizen entirely free (he must, however, obey the law), to "choisir ce qui est le meilleur dans la Religion, je veux dire ce qu'on trouve de plus conforme à l'Antiquité" (22) -a leitmotiv that is echoed in the phrase "la Religion de vos ancêtres." (23) The reference to the Church, "cette bonne mère," (24) is accompanied by the observation that, since the time of St. Martin, the Church has had less recourse to armed force in order to impose religious conformism. Yet de Thou notes an exception: the persecution of the Vaudois, which led to a diaspora of the heretics into Calabria, Hungary, Germany and England.

For de Thou, the existence of a primordial urkultur that is constituted of human nature -- the royal family, Henry IV, France (Gaul) and religion -- that is to say, an ensemble that exists and is present in history, just as the Palladium (Palladion) is present in the history of ancient Athens: a Divinity and an anima.

The use, on three occasions in the Préface, of the noun Numen -- and the translation as "God," or "Divine" -- is not totally explained by the possibility of a signification that has been rendered dubious by more recent research. Numen, in the ancient Roman religion -- and for de Thou -- signified a divine power, for example, a god who lived in the forest on the Capitoline Hill (Æneid, 8, 351). (25) In his Dictionarium latinogallicum of 1552, about Numen Robert Estienne referred frequently to Ovid, Quintilien and Cicero.

E. Kantorowicz has observed that:

... as opposed to the earlier "liturgical" kingship, the late-mediaeval kingship by "divine right" was modelled after the Father in Heaven rather than after the Son on the altar, and focused in a philosophy of the Law rather than in the -- still antique -- physiology of the two-natured Mediator. (26)

De Thou's choice of divine names in the Préface confirms Kantorowicz's observations. That is to say, "the ideal of the Prince's twin-like duplication was still active; it became manifest in the king's new relationship to Law and Justice, which replaced his former status in regard to Sacrament and Altar." (27)

As for the uses of Numen and Palladium, de Thou indicates, by syntax, not only the actions but also this Divinity varies. By divini Numinis gratia, he seems to want to indicate that it is question of a synonym for God, as in Hotman-Villiers's translation: "la grâce de Dieu." In the case of Numinis ira, which is translated as "la vengeance Divine," de Thou perhaps was trying -- and what follows is merely a hypothesis (28) -- to eliminate every possibility that this would be read as manichean. He speaks of God as being "un seul Dieu en bonté," bonitate unus semper est. By using Numen rather than Deus, de Thou avoids any possibility that these words will be interpreted as meaning that God acts by doing evil.

The three uses of Numen are in the center of a veritable knot of significations: France, God, Palladium. And the words in this knot make the meaning clear: secundum coeleste Numen is translated as "après ce que je dois à Dieu," while patriam alterum Deum becomes "une seconde Divinité," and hoc alterum Franco-Galliae Palladium is rendered "le Palladium de notre France." Kantorovicz pointed out that Numen is found in judicial texts, notably those of Andreas Isernia (d. 1316): "et dicitur 'nostri numinis' qui Imperator vel Rex in Regno dicitur habere numen divinum, quia est in terris sicut Deus in coelo...." (29)

Let us look closer at the expression divini Numinis gratia. For Hotman-Villiers, "la grâce de Dieu" is the equivalent not only of divini Numinis gratia but also of Dei gratia. Let us also look at secundum coeleste Numen: thanks to the adjective coeleste, Numen becomes the equivalent of "Dieu."

Mere chance? A rhetorical effect? Over-interpretation is a danger; but it seems that, in the expression where de Thou uses Palladium, he was seeking to convey the divine character of this trans-historical France-Gaul, with its people of God (30) and its laws of divine origin (31) -- an ensemble, that is to say a Palladium, that divinity that is the founding family of Athens.

And it is not mere coincidene that de Thou reserved for his peroration the formulae Deus omnium and D.O.M (Deo Optimo Maximo) -- twice translated "grand Dieu" by Hotman-Villiers. It is indeed the Divine Being, in its plenitude and its goodness, that the historian is calling upon here, before the king.

* * *

At the heart of any ontology lies the name. During the Renaissance centuries, when it was a question of a king, or of God, the most specific contexts, syntax, and adjectives formed a very rich ensemble. De Thou does not seem to have been influenced by a Nominalism or another philosophy-theology that may have tended to use that word sensu stricto. One might almost dare to suggest that he took pleasure in varying and enriching the Idea of the Divinity itself. But if Agrippa d'Aubigné implies that he himself is "d'élection divine," de Thou does not make such a claim when writing his History. (32)

Drawing a conclusion on the basis of these rapid analyses would be audacious; but it is certain that de Thou did not follow the current of the "publicists" of divine right, in the manner of Du Rivault whom I cited earlier in this chapter: "le roi est Dieu." De Thou did not even characterize the king's power as absolute. It is a question of the "loix qui viennent de Dieu," the most ancient of which are the most divine and the most just.

The peroraison of the Préface takes the form of a confession of faith and a prayer for the protection of the king and the dauphin; it evokes the Trinity, but not the saints and not the Church:

Grand Dieu, auteur de tous les biens, qui avec votre fils unique, et le Saint Esprit, êtes Dieu en trois personnes, mais un seul Dieu en bonté, en sagesse, en miséricorde et en puissance; qui étiez avant les siècles, qui êtes, et qui serez toûjours tout en toutes choses .... (33)

After the Deus omnium in the first sentence, which spans eleven lines, references to God are very rare. The equivalent of the words "êtes Dieu" are not in the Latin version!

Deus omnium, bonorum dator, qui cum Filio unigenito et Spiritu sancto trinus,
potentia, sapientia, bonitate unus semper omnibus, et era ante omnia .... (34)

In conformity, perhaps, with a Neoplatonism that is scarcely more articulated than the one that St. Augustine had adopted, God is the source of everything that is well and good, and emanationist. One might ask whether the use of Numen was a deliberate choice to signify "vengeance Divine" (Numinis ira), and whether France-Palladium is perhaps less divine that the laws, and less divine than the "grand Dieu" of the Universe.

The Christian and Gallican faith is founded on the antique religion, that is to say the Bible, the writings of the Church Fathers, the royal religion, and the sacred laws registered and enforced by the Parlement. De Thou certainly knew about the doctrinal and institutional controversies that resided in the Early Church, but throughout the Préface his appeal to the Early Church implies unity in conformity. Having only been institutionalized by the French royalty, the irenicist and historical faith that de Thou confesses and declares in his Préface is an absolute Erastianism. This Gallican faith will sustain the reformed French Catholic and Roman Church that was in full expansion in 1604.



1. W.F. Church, Constitutional Thought in Sixteenth-Century France (Cambridge, U.S.A.: Harvard University Press, 1941), chapter VI. Du Rivault perhaps did not belong to the League, but since he was the protégé of Guy XX de Laval, who converted to Catholicism before setting off on a crusade in Hungary, he certainly was devout. Du Rivault would become the preceptor of Louis XIII and would write several works on mathematics and fortifictions. For a recent mise au point, see D. Crouzet, "Les fondements idéologiques de la Royauté d'Henri IV," Henri IV. Le roi et la reconstruction du royaume, Actes du colloque de Pau-Nérac, September 14-17, 1989 (Biarritz: J & D Editions, 1990), pp. 164-194 ; D. Ménager, "Dieu et le Roi," Études sur le Satire Ménippée, ed. F. Lestringant and D. Ménager (Genève: Droz, 1987), pp. 201-226; Louis Marin, "Le corps-de-pouvoir et l'incarnation à Port-Royal ...," in Le Corps spectacle, ed. France Borel (Bruxelles: Éditions de l'Université de Bruxelles, 1987), p. 180.

2. Church, p. 309.

3. Church, p. 311.

4. Not simply the image of God: G. Sabatier, " 'Le portrait de César, c'est César,' Lieux et mise en scène du portrait du roi dans la France de Louis XIV," L'image du roi de François 1er à Louis XIV, ed. T.W. Gaehtgens and N. Hochner (Paris: Éditions de la Maison des Sciences de l'homme, 2006), pp. 209-244.

5. Quoted by P.-A. Mellet, Les Traités Monarchomaques (1560-1600) (Genève: Droz, 2007), p. 10. Works on the metaphor of the sun are very numerous. I will cite a classic: E. Kantorowicz, "Oriens Augusti-Lever du Roi," Dumbarton Oaks Papers, no 17 (1963), pp. 117-177; and D. Cannadine and S. Price, eds., Rituals of Royalty (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), passim.

6. Edition of P. Laumonier, I, p. 18. Quoted by M.C. Smith, Renaissance Studies, ed. R. Calder (Genève: Droz, 1999), p. 240, reprinted in Bibliothèque d'Humanisme et Renaissance, 52 (1990), no. 1, pp. 7-21. For the biblical references, p. 9.

7. Laumonier, pp. 234f.

8. M.-R. Jung, Hercule dans la littérature française au XVIe siècle (Genève: Droz, 1966), pp. 115f.

9. J. Parsons, The Church in the Republic (Washington: Catholic University Press, 2004), pp. 163ss; and E. Grassi, Renaissance Humanism, trans. by W.F. Veit (Bingham, NY: Medieval and Renaissance Texts, 1988), cited by S.E. Schreiner, Are You Alone Wise? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 30ff.

10. Préface, p. 323.

11. A. Jouanna, La France du XVIe siècle, 1483-1598 (Paris: Presses universitaires françaises, 1996), p. 601.

12. On the contexts for these terms in de Thou's time, see J. Barzun, The French Race (New York, 1932), passim.

13. Préface, p. 330. As for Henry IV, de Thou scarcely respects the order of royal virtues. See M. Tyvaert, "L'image du Roi: légitimité et moralité royales dans les histoires de France au XVIIe siècle," Revue d'Histoire moderne et contemporaine, 21 (1974), pp. 521-547. For patriotism, M. Yardeni, La Conscience nationale en France pendant les Guerres de Religion (Paris: Presses universitaires françaises, 1971); T. Hampton, Literature and Nation in Sixteenth Century France (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001); and M. Keller, Figurations of France: Literary Nation Building (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2011).

14. Préface, p. 328.

15. Préface, p. 331.

16. Préface, p. 332.

17. Préface, p. 333.

18. Albert Py's analysis of the Hymnes de Ronsard (Geneva: Droz, 1978) focused attention on several terms: the discourse of "je" to "tu"; a "je" that extended and "developed" to a "tu" that is mobile; the "nomination"; the "characterization"; the "dedicatory"; the "ritual"; "functions"; the "petite finale"; "structures"; and the "final prayer." This perspective could serve as a framework for a deeper reading of de Thou's Préface.

19. J. Poujol noted the evolution of Claude de Seyssel's dedications, the earliest of which was a panegyric of the sort that Erasmus offered to Philippe le Beau in 1504, and the last of which, for the preface to his translation of Thucydides, consisted of demands/claims directed to Louis XII. La Monarchie de France (Paris: d'Argences, 1961), p. 32. De Thou's dedication does not take the form of an apotheosis. For the éloge today, I share the wise opinion of F. Goyet, Les Audaces de la Prudence (Paris: Garnier, 2009), pp. 347-352. Let us note in passing that, in his Préface, de Thou only mentions Prudence once!

20. According to U. Langer, in his Essays Montaigne seems to put himself in the place of God: Divine and Poetic Freedom in the Renaissance (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), p. 112. De Thou appeals to God not as a humble sinner, but as someone who holds a divine office.

21. Préface, p. 326.

22. Préface, p. 324.

23. Préface, p. 326.

24. Préface, p. 324.

25. M.C. Howatson, Oxford Companion to Classical Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 482.

26. Kantorowicz, The King's Two Bodies.... (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957), p. 93.

27. Kantorowicz, The King's Two Bodies, p. 94.

28. The "style simple" that de Thou claimed to be seeking did not exclude a serious effort to make his thoughts precise. C.-G. Dubois, La conception de l'Histoire en France, (Paris: Nizet, 1977), p. 182.

29. Kantorowicz, The King's Two Bodies, p. 92.

30. Préface, p. 317.

31. Préface, p. 328.

32. Thierry, p. 69 ; De Smet, p. 241.

33. Préface, p. 332.

34. Préface in Latin, p. 18.