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Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


Volume 1


Orest's Pages

Patricia's Musings



Musical Rhetoric

Transcribed Sources


Household Service and Literary Patronage

Sharon Kettering

(... a cheery, un-footnoted evocation of patronage by Sharon Kettering, historian of clienteles, offered to Orest Ranum at "Glorious Artisan," a session in his honor at the annual meeting of the Society for French Historical Studies, March 1999 )


Men of letters, including historians, were often employed in great noble and royal households in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Three of the six historians that Orest studied in Artisans of Glory were in household service. Charles Bernard was a reader in Louis XIII's household. Jean Chapelain was a tutor and intendant in the household of the marquis de la Trousse, and Paul Pellisson was a secretary of Nicolas Foucquet. Writers usually held the position of secretary, but they could also be tutors, librarians, chaplains, readers, preachers, almoners, intendants, chancellors, and maîtres d'hôtel. Secretary was a loosely-defined job that went far beyond composing letters and copying documents. Pellisson, for instance, handled Foucquet's financial affairs and acted as his business manager. The humanist Nicolas de Fabri, sieur de Peiresc, was a secretary to Guillaume Du Vair, but he was also a companion, friend, and surrogate family member because neither man had married. The poet François de Boisrobert was not only Richelieu's secretary, but also his literary adviser who advanced those whom he thought talented. This paper discusses the advantages and disadvantages of household service as a form of literary patronage, and suggests some reasons for its replacement by other forms of patronage in the late seventeenth century.

Place, profit, and advancement were the advantages. The salary was low, but household service included lodgings, food, clothes, occasional gifts, ways to make extra money, possibilities of advancement, and opportunities to promote family and friends. If the household head had literary interests, he might act as a patron to commission a specific work, or to provide protection in case of trouble. Jean-Louis Guez de Balzac, who became known for his elegant prose, entered the due d'Epernon's service as his principal secretary in 1618. His father had secured the position for him, having held it himself for years. His father's influence also secured a place for the poet, Theophile de Viau, as maître d'hôtel of the household of Epernon's oldest son, the comte de Candale. Viau later joined the household of the duc de Montmorency as his secretary, and the duke protected him when he was indicted for writing libertine or free-thinking poetry. Bertaut, a poet, became the tutor of Henri d'Angoulême, Grand Prieur of Malta, an illegitimate son of Charles IX, and Bertaut secured a place as secretary in the Grand Prior's household for another young Norman poet and friend, François de Malherbe. Bertaut himself went on to become a reader in the household of Henri III, then grand almoner in the household of Marie de Médicis, and finally a bishop in 1607. Mathieu de Morgues began writing political pamphlets for Richelieu in 1618. Richelieu, who was intendant of the Queen Mother's household, secured him a place as her preacher in 1620. François de Fancan, another of Richelieu's pamphlet writers, had a brother who was the Cardinal's secretary and confidential agent.

The disadvantages of household service are well-known — the cramped living quarters, tense daily atmosphere, and time-consuming, onerous duties; the lack of privacy, personal freedom, and family life; and the necessity of pleasing the household head. There were special disadvantages for writers, the lack of time alone to write, and the limited intellectual stimulation. Household duties were not always agreeable. Claude de Vaugelas, an expert on grammar and usage who began the dictionary of the Academie française, was a tutor of Madame de Carignan's three children, one of whom was mute and another of whom stuttered, which must have been frustrating. Household duties were usually time-consuming, and the more important positions could be emotionally and intellectually exhausting. Neither Boisrobert nor Pellisson wrote much while they were in household service. Nor was there much time for reading, going to salons, socializing with other writers, or attending academy meetings, especially if the household head changed residences frequently.

If a household member wanted to remain in service, his work had to reflect favorably on his employer. Writers were expected to embellish the public reputation and image of their household head or patron, enabling him to bask in their reflected glory and shine in the social circles in which he moved. Great nobles and princes competed to become the patrons of writers and artists whose creations would glorify their image. Gazette-writers were especially qualified to do this. Jean Loret placed his Muse historique at the service of Marie, duchesse de Longueville, in return for her patronage, and kept the public minutely informed about her health, travels, and activities in return for a pension. A number of secretaries wrote laudatory biographies, memoirs, and treatises about their employers. Videl and Girard wrote biographies of the ducs de Lesdiguières and d'Epernon. Pierre Lenet wrote memoirs about his years with the prince de Condé, and Nicolas Faret, secretary to the dashing courtier and soldier, the comte d'Harcourt, wrote a treatise on how to behave at court. Not surprisingly, there was a general consensus among writers on how to describe the nobility, who were always of ancient lineage, courageous, generous, and honorable; they were never small, mean, or nasty. Dunois, the hero of Jean de Chapelain's epic poem, Pucelle, was the ancestor of his patron, the duc de Longueville, who paid him an annual pension of 2,000 livres.

The alternative to household service was a pension from a noble or royal patron. This was probably the most frequent form of literary patronage. Royal historians received pensions rather than places in the king's household. François de Mézerai was a pensioner in turn of Chancellor Séguier, who also gave him a place to live, and of Mazarin and Colbert. Foucquet on Pellisson's advice had given pensions to Boisrobert, the historian Charles Sorel, the dramatist Paul Scarron, and the poet Jean de Gombauld, who was also given a horse and a servant by the marquis d'Uxelles; he was expected to write love letters for the marquis in return. Pensions provided certain advantages over household service. They permitted more privacy, time, and personal freedom to write and socialize, and they allowed the recipient to establish his own family and household. But they also restricted artistic freedom. A pensioner had to please his patron or lose his pension. Limited artistic freedom was the price of dependency, as was the constant anxiety of having to find and keep patrons, replace lost patrons, and cope with the difficulties caused by rival, competing, or hostile patrons.

François de Malherbe, court poet from 1609 until his death in 1628, was always trying to secure or keep the patronage of some court personage. He wrote flattering odes about nearly everyone at court, including the king and queen, the prince and princesse de Conti, the ducs de Bellegarde, Luynes, Montpension and d'Orléans, the duchesses of Guise and Montmorency, the comtes de Soissons and Charny, and the comtesse de Sault. Royal historians were always careful to praise the king. Jean-Louis Guez de Balzac left Epernon's service after a year to solicit, unsuccessfully, Richelieu's patronage; and he wrote works intended to flatter the Cardinal and his secretary Boisrobert. François de Mézerai was one of Colbert's pensioners. Jean de Chapelain, who liked Mézerai, advised Colbert on his pension list. So, from 1664 to 1670, Mézerai received an annual pension of 4,000 livres. Then Colbert read his history of the origins of royal taxation, took offense, and cut his pension to 2,000 livres. He never got it restored. Paul Pellisson went to prison when Foucquet was arrested. After he was released, he was able, with Madame de Montespan's help, to gain the attention and then the patronage of Colbert and the kings, to become a royal historian. Pellisson had survived the loss of a patron, the hostility of competing patrons, and the need to find a new patron. Not everyone did. Nicolas Vauquelin Des Yveteaux, another Norman poet who had been a friend of Malherbe and a protector of Mézerai when he first came to Paris, was the tutor of Henri IV's sons. His social and intellectual nonconformity angered the Parisian clergy, and he was dismissed after the king's death. He never found another household position or a court patron. Charles Sorel, among all the royal historians that Orest studied, was probably the least dependent upon patronage because he had financial means of his own, and had inherited his office from his uncle, Charles Bernard. Needless to say, Sorel soon lost his royal pension and never obtained another. He was unskilled at the "patronage game" because he did not have to play it.

Household service as a form of literary patronage began to disappear after the 1650s for several reasons. With the gradual decline in the size of great noble households, positions became fewer. Simultaneously, nobles began to leave household service in large numbers. Service had not been considered demeaning as long as nobles filled the higher offices, but became so when they no longer did. The taint of servility made household patronage less attractive to men of letters, who were often of low birth and seeking to rise in the world. As Orest described in Artisans of Glory, other types of patronage were becoming available. The crown was offering more and more pensions, administered by the king, Colbert, and other royal ministers. There were the new academies founded in Paris and the provinces. Membership did not provide a salary, but did offer access to potential patrons. The first patron of the Académie française was Richelieu, followed by Chancellor Séguier, and then by Louis XIV. Molière benefited from the permanent theatrical companies established in Paris after the mid-seventeenth century. Writers preferred these other forms of patronage because they allowed more freedom. Restrictions on artistic freedoms were the reality of literary patronage in whatever form.