"In the Scriptures kings are called gods ...",
-- James I, king of England and Scotland,
before "his" Parliament, March 21, 1610
Who is not familiar with the name of Jacques-Auguste de Thou? Who is unaware that he is a historian of the Wars of Religion, and that his masterpiece was censured by the Roman Inquisition? His Historarium sui temporis was reedited many times; it was translated into French, German and English (but that translation was not completed). (2) However, with the exception of a few specialists, de Thou is scarcely read today. That's a shame!
De Thou wrote his own Vita in Latin, a work worthy of being shelved beside Gargantua and the Essays. The Vita has been translated into French and edited by Anne Teissier-Ensminger, with scholarly notes. (3) Very sensitive to the fact that de Thou wrote his own biography, Ingrid A.R. De Smet wrote her fine book as an in-depth complement to the Vita, with analyses of his poetry, his relations with the Republic of Letters, his marriages and social ambitions, his philosophical concetto, and his writing the Historiarum temporis. (4) Her book is an indispensable starting place and guide in any effort to analyze the greatest historical work between Guicciardini and Clarendon. (In this article, all references to the Latin text come from the Carte and Buckley edition, London, 1733; passages in French come from the Des Fontaines edition, "London," Paris, 1734).
The memoirs written by his contemporaries characterize Jacques-Auguste de Thou as a crypto-Protestant, or even as a man of dubious religious beliefs -- this, we shall see, despite his frequent and sincere statements that he remained faithful to the religion of his ancestors. True, he helped negotiate the Edict of Nantes and to get it registered in the Parlement. True, he praised several Protestant Reformers, among them Melanchthon, for their erudition. And a few parents and friends -- notably Nicolas de Thou, Renaud de Beaune and Isaac Casaubon, who facilitated the conversion of Henry of Navarre -- thought as he did. (5) Or rather, de Thou sought to have this conversion accepted by those subjects who suspected the king of being a Politique, a tendency that was absolutely unpardonable for the Leaguers, faithful partisans of the Duc de Mayenne.
As president in the Parlement of Paris, de Thou is wrapped in the silences and the whispering of numerous colleagues, especially those who did not obey the order to go to Tours and who are authentic royalists, solid magistrates who think like him and who acted like him, notably his brother-in-law Achille de Harlay, first president in the Parlement.
According to Claude Joly, de Thou's close friend Pierre Pithou:
... fit rayer et biffer des registres tout ce qui y avoit esté escrit au desadvantage de nos roys et de nos loix, fit oster et arracher plusieurs tableaux et inscriptions scandaleuses, mises dans les églises et autres lieux publics, ensemble toutes les marques qui eussent peu rafraischir la memoire des sermens et des autres folies de la Ligue, si bien que Messieurs estans revenus de Tours, trouverent pour ce regard les choses en mesme estat, qu'elles estoient avant leur partement ... (6)
The Edict of Nantes was finally registered (with some secret clauses), thanks to the negotiations of Politiques in the Parlement, Harlay and de Thou at their head. This edict forbade any litigious deposition relative to an action or an affair regarding religion whose origins went back to 1585:
Défendons à tous nos sujets, de quelque état et qualité qu'ils soient, d'en renouveler la mémoire, s'attaquer, ressentir, injurier ni provoquer l'un l'autre par reproche de ce qui s'est passé, pour quelque cause et prétexte que ce soit, en disputer, contester, quereller, ni s'outrager, ou s'offenser de fait ou de parole. (7)
De Thou doubtlessly never thought that the publication of the Historiarum (hereafter referred to as the Histoire) might place its author among the people who were troubling the public peace (les perturbateurs du repos public). In the first paragraph of his Préface, he recognizes, however, having envisaged that "cette entreprise m'attireroit des Censeurs de quelque manière que je m'en acquitasse." The king had reestablished peace, "en étouffant le monstre de la Rébellion et éteint les factions, grâce à une protection visible du Ciel." (8) De Thou presents himself, before his king, as a sensible man and a man who is capable of characterizing his interlocutor as the defender of freedom of expression. Henry IV will not confirm that image, hence de Thou's feeling, after the equivocal reception of his work, that he had been abandoned. (9)
1. This Introduction and Chapter 1 were written originally in French as an article submitted for publication in a volume of mélanges to honor Professor Gérard Sabatier of the University Pierre Mendès France-Grenoble 2. It is included here in a translation by Patricia M. Ranum.
2. See the great model of erudition, S. Kinser, The Works of Jacques-Auguste de Thou (La Haye: Nijhoff, 1966). The title page of the Histoire is reproduced in the festschrift for André Thierry, Autour de l'Histoire universelle d'Agrippa d'Aubigné (Genève: Droz, 2006), p. 84, taken from the copy owned by de Thou's friend Nicolas Rapin, which bears the inscription Donum auctoris, as well as the stamp "Bibliothèque de la ville de la Rochelle."
De Thou owned and annotated a copy of Livy, Harrisse, Le Président de Thou (Paris: Leclerc, 1905), p. 63; he also owned a Tacitus, Historiarum et Annalium (Antwerp: Plantin, 1574), that is to say, an edition by Lipsius with a beautiful ornamented green morocco binding from his own library. Did he take particular satisfaction in reading the debates of the Roman Senate in Tacitus' Book IV of the Historiarum ?
3. La vie de Jacques-Auguste de Thou (Paris: Champion, 2007).
4. Thuanus : The making of Jacques-Auguste de Thou (Genève: Droz, 2006).
5. Michael Wolfe, The Conversion of Henry IV (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993).
6. La Vie ... Divers opuscules ... (Paris: Guignard, 1656), p. 269, cited by S. Daubresse, Une histoire de la Mémoire judiciaire, O. Poncet et I. Storez-Brancourt, eds. (Paris: École des Chartes, 29 (2009), p. 90. Michel de Waele, "De Paris à Tours: la crise d'identité des magistrats parisiens de 1589 à 1594," Revue historique, no 607, 1998, pp. 559-577.
7. Roland Mousnier, L'Assassinat d'Henri IV (Paris: Gallimard, 1964), p. 296. N. Russell, Transformations of Memory and Forgetting in Sixteenth-Century France (Newark: U. of Delaware Press, 2011), pp. 33-53.
8. Des Fontaines, ed., Histoire universelle ..., pp. 271s. Voir Kinser, pp. 271f. A royal command to translate the Préface, done by Villiers-Hotman (1604) and/or Nicolas Rapin (1614). De Thou does not seem to have ever criticized it; Kinser describes it as inadequate. Having gone through several editions, this particular translation became well-known and was appreciated by the non-erudite.
9. A. Soman, "Book Censorship in France before Richelieu", Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1968; De Smet, conclusion. The religious climate quickly changed after the king's death, and perhaps even before, P. Benoist, "Prélats et clergé de cour en France au XVIIe siècle," XVIIe Siècle, no 253 (2011), pp. 713-724; I. Maclean, Scholarship, commerce, religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 30-37; D. Wooton, Paolo Sarpi (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), chapter 3, Duperron and Casaubon.