Panat in postcardThe Ranums'

Panat Times

Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


Volume 1


Orest's Pages

Patricia's Musings



Musical Rhetoric

Transcribed Sources


De Thou Studies

Part II

Jacques-Auguste de Thou on Heresy

Return to Table of Contents


In her Jean du Tillet and the French Wars of Religion, Five Tracts, 1562-1569, (1) Elizabeth A.R. Brown provides a more than ample context for the study of precisely how the history of the Albigensian Crusades came to be part of the argument over the repression of religious nonconformity during the Wars of Religion. Jean Du Tillet, the greffier civil of the Parlement of Paris, wrote in 1562:

Je me suis advisé tirer de bon lieu (qui est le tresor de ses Chartes) et representer à vos majestés l'histoire sommaire des moyens, par lesquels fut de ce Royaume extirpee et entierement chassee l'heresie des Albigeois tant obstinee et soustenue que vingt ans (de tresfort rigueur) y furent employez. En fin les honneurs et profit par le Createur reservez au Roy sainct Loys, eagé seulement de 14 anz trois jours, moyennant la sage conduite de la tresvertueuse Royne Blanche sa mere." (2)

Brown has shown how prominent poets, essayists and jurists joined to articulate the parallel between the history of a lengthy, brutal and costly repressive war in the thirteenth century, and the alternatives between judicial and military repression and an accommodation with Protestants in the 1560s.

The tragic history of the descent into civil war in the 1560s is well known. What is less known are the attempts by jurists and hommes de lettres to seek some understanding of their political and spiritual crisis through a study of the past. In my Artisans of Glory I characterized" as primordial ways of thinking and writing in Western civilization, the parallels of deeds, the summing up of the significance of the deceased, and the praising of worthy examples of conduct had been codified, as it were, by the ancient rhetoricians." (3)

Recently there has been much new and brilliant research on exemplarity (4) and representation (5) (note that Du Tillet uses the latter term), but to my knowledge, the very simplicity of paralleling appears to have received very little attention. Like so many other terms in historical thought ("revolution" is a good example), the slow transfer from the Greek (particularly from mathematics) to words describing historical thought, turned on the reception and elaboration of Plutarch.

Brown has not found a general critique of Du Tillet's writings on the Albigensians, nor does there seem to be a refutation of what are in fact two very strong parallels. First, there is repressing heresy in the fourteenth century, and repressing heresy in the sixteenth century; and second, young Louis IX and his regent mother Blanche are paralleled with young Charles IX and his regent mother, Catherine de Médicis. Du Tillet says that Louis was fourteen years and three days old; he does not give Charles's age because he presumed his listeners knew it (born 1550). The parallel involves an age difference of two years. In his dedication to the queen mother, Du Tillet wrote:

If rebels and those who disdained the king's youth tried to use religion to disguise their true aims or attempted to alter the faith ... the book would serve as a guide to her and the council so that like a good pilot she could avoid shipwreck. (6)

In 1562 the learned greffier could not foresee events to come, but like so many others he clearly believed that possible rebellion in the guise of changing the faith would have to be repressed. The rebellion of great nobles was, of course, also a parallel, and none other than Du Tillet would address Condé on behalf of the Protestant leader of the Parlement regarding his grievances (Brown, pp. 69-95). As France sank deeper into civil war, Henry III was assassinated, and Henry of Navarre acquired increasing legitimacy through conquest, Du Tillet's son fled to Brussels (and Liège) along with dozens of other die-hard Leaguers.

Note what Du Tillet does not parallel. That task is left to the reader. He does not descend into all the controversies about the doctrinal and jurisdictional issues facing the Monarchy in what we should refer to as the "so-called" Albigensian Crusade. Would Jacques-August de Thou, in his Historiarum, simply follow the paths traced by Du Tillet and others? Jotham Parsons has broken new ground by exploring jurisdiction as an intellectual-legal modality for everyone trained in the law. (7) Applied here, jurisdiction largely accounts for why Du Tillet does not integrate an account of doctrinal issues, distinctly matters for the Church. For centuries, parlementaires had been accepting cases on matters of church property, criminal actions by the clergy, etc., which would, over the sixteenth century, continue the conflict with the Papacy and with what might be called the unreformed Gallican church. As controversies deepened, jurisdictions would become less and less stable, a source of anxiety, frustration, and anger on the part of the more learned and elite robins, who were very conservative on such matters. We shall see, from reading de Thou, how contestation arose as a result of pressures from proponents of a return to the practices of the Early Church and from upholders of Tradition, Gallican and/or Ultramontanist. What distinguished ecclesiastical from civil, that is, from royal, constituted almost more than a jurisdiction, but it was one.

In his account of his own times, will de Thou simply historicize the jurisdictions established by the courts over the centuries? Or will he find it necessary to narrate the rise of doctrinal differences? Were these an integral part of the history he was writing?

In preparation for a close reading on the themes of heresy, repression, and movements to return to the Early Church, an inventory of de Thou's comments on these matters in the first 10 books of the Historiarum will provide a context for his understanding of the parallels between events of his time and the Albigensian heresy.

And it must be recalled that jurisdictional questions between the Papacy and the French Monarchy were nothing new. If the royal courts were charged with carrying out sentences laid down by ecclesiastical courts, did they not also judge matters of doctrine, the "jurisdiction" reported to be reserved for papal and French ecclesiastical courts? During Francis I's reign, the Parlement of Paris had expanded its jurisdiction by trying and condemning some of the king's subjects for heresy. (8)

Sylvie Daubresse has made a careful review of the whole issue of the Parlement of Paris and heresy. She stresses the judges' repugnance for disorder and rebellion associated with religious nonconformity. (9) She also observes that -- while it is relatively easy to discern the activities of judges who were acting stridently on behalf of conformity (for example, Gilles le Maistre, François de Saint-André, Antoine Ménard, and Gilles Bourdin) -- no journals, correspondence, or public statements by individual judges report the majority's views on reform. While Jacques-Auguste de Thou did not join the Parlement until 1595, his father was a president, then first president; and his uncle was a councilor, then president after 1585. A close reading of his History might, we hope, shed some light on his views on heresy. (10)



1. Elizabeth A.R. Brown, Jean du Tillet and the French Wars of Religion, Five Tracts, 1562-1569 (Binghamton: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1994), vol. 108.

2. Brown, p. 21, which cites the Sommaire, 7r.

3. Orest Ranum, Artisans of Glory (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980), p. 18.

4. T. Hampton, Writing from History (Ithaca, 1990); L. Giavarini, ed., Construire l'exemplarité (Dijon: Études universitaires, 2008).

5. Most notably the journal by that name, published by the University of California Press.

6. Brown, p. 21.

7. Jotham Parsons, The Church in the Republic (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 2004), chap. 4; and T. Lange, The First French Reformation (New York: Cambridge, 2014).

8. James K. Farge, Orthodoxy and Reform in Early Reformation France (Leiden: Brill, 1985), passim; and W. Monter, Judging the French Reformation (Cambridge, USA: Harvard University Press, 1999), passim.

9. Sylvie Daubresse, Le Parlement de Paris ou la voix de la raison (Geneva: Droz, 2005); see also N. Roelker, One King, One Faith (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).

10. The major life of de Thou is by Ingrid De Smet, Thuanus (Geneva: Droz, 2006).