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Education of Parlementaires

There is no doubt that the "new learning" of the sixteenth century, that is, the revival of the classics with a new, humanistic spirit, was especially strong in the French magistracy. The evidence is abundant in the content of their libraries, in citations adorning their speeches and writings, in their patronage of humanistic scholarship as reflected in dedications. George Huppert, who has written extensively on robin intellectual pursuits, goes so far as to say, "The celebration of letters must be understood not merely as an intellectual fashion, but also as a profound cultural revolution. . . . The Renaissance in France was the creation of this class and its passport to honors."[1] With a few notable exceptions, the old aristocracy of the sword in France came late to humanist activity, and in small numbers. The powerful prelates, like Guillaume Briçonnet, who played a prominent role, were often unusually successful members of great robe families.[2]

Yet the humanist program as such was neutral in class terms and in confessional terms, as Eugene Rice points out: "Like the several varieties of Protestantism, humanism appealed to men of diverse social origins and for reasons dependent on local and temporal circumstances." While recognizing the professional relevance of training in rhetoric for young men destined to be royal counselors, administrators, and diplomats, Rice suggests that the motivating force is to be found in the need of bureaucrats—who were


"new" men, rivals of the old nobility for the seats of power—for cultural ideals distinct from those of the latter. "Legitimate preeminence in the republic of letters helped legitimize an earned preeminence in the wider republic. . . . A humanist education inculcated a self-confident dignity independent of both office and birth and helped bridge the gap between legal nobility, the reward of service, and acceptance as a gentleman."[3]

In addition to the general prevalence of humanist tastes as manifested in libraries and speeches, some royal officers at the highest level experienced a humanist education similar to the Italian, that is, instruction in Latin language and literature by a private tutor whose métier was scholarship. This was the case of the sons of Pierre Briçonnet, who were taught Latin and history by Paulo Emilio and moral philosophy by Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples in the 1520s.[4] Nevertheless, this was not common outside the endogamous circle at the top of the robe hierarchy, consisting of the Briçonnet, the Beaune, the Ganay, the Hurault, the Ruzé, and the Poncher who, as we have seen, came from the same regions of the country and had risen together in the service of the late fifteenth-century kings. In her analysis of the background and formation of the French légistes in the second half of the sixteenth century, Mical H. Schneider finds that about one-fourth of them had a humanist education in the legal sense, eleven being students of Jacques Cujas, and three of François Baudouin. But this was professional training and not "liberal education."[5]

A much larger proportion of parlementaires and members of the other sovereign courts probably attended the humanist schools that were springing up in French cities and towns because "more than the notary's skill and the savoir-faire of the local bourgeoisie" was required to prepare their careers and their "life-style founded on books and learning."[6] Freelance teachers of Latin and primary schools also existed, even in some villages, but the most important new educational institution was the municipal collège , of which lawyers were the moving spirits and organizers. On this account they were frequently in conflict with the local bishop and cathedral chapter, who suffered from the loss of their long-established monopoly of


education and looked with suspicion on the new learning as the seedbed of heresy. There were enough examples of this linkage to make the fear realistic.[7]

Huppert points out that a "radical re-orientation of habits" was involved for boys who were "sequestered" in the collèges until about seventeen years of age and then sent to law school (and who were not considered adult until they were provided with office and possibly married as well), by contrast with the older pattern, in which boys participated in adult life as early as somewhere between their seventh and their eleventh year.[8] At the collège they were conditioned to a life where everything was regimented: early rising, long hours of study, supervised religious exercises, and meals. In class they were disciplined by hours of drill, in oral recitation and written exercises, based on a series of Latin texts of graduated difficulty, and Greek was added in the fifth form. Huppert believes that reading in French was in practical terms their most important instruction because of the impressive results obtained. Boys entering illiterate would emerge ten years later "able to express themselves in elegant French, capable of writing both French and Latin with facility, with some knowledge of Greek and mathematics, and always a great deal of history and philosophy." In contrast to the study of law with a humanistic legal master, this kind of education had no direct professional bearing on the careers of the future officers, but it provided them with the general culture and manners that expressed the "new mentality" of the age.[9]

It is probably true that humanist study, especially Greek, was valued chiefly as an ornament by members of the judicial elite, although there would be exceptions, those who became—or wished they could become—true classical scholars. Elements of both approaches are to be discerned in Michel de L'Hôpital's remark, "Greek is like lace; any man gets as much of it as he can," and in the opinion of a twentieth-century authority on early modern lawyers, "The importance of Greek studies to the jurists can hardly be overestimated."[10]


For the great majority of the officer class, however, their education was pre-professional. The law schools taught Roman law, and a proficiency in the legal Latin of the glossators was an absolute prerequisite. Significantly, our spokesmen of the latter part of the century who expressed the distilled parlementaire conventional wisdom on their own profession—for example, Loisel, Loyseau, La Roche-Flavin—agree that the best education is at the Palais de Justice and that too much time spent on study of other than legal subjects is at best a waste of time and at worst a dangerous distraction. Study for its own sake, or for pleasure, is specifically frowned upon, they say; Latin orators and historians are approved, but the poets are suspect because they encourage voluptés (as Plato had maintained before La Roche-Flavin!). The same utilitarian criteria apply to travel, which should always have a useful objective. The approved places to visit are Padua and Bologna, sites of the two great Italian law schools. Even scripture should be read for devotional purposes only and not too frequently. (Apparently the study of Greek is not mentioned.) The law schools themselves do not escape criticism: their curriculum is "too theoretical" and overloaded with frills like Latin rhetoric. Instead, there should be a continuing education in customary law, from youth right on to the end of one's career.[11]

A frequent observation on an admired colleague was, "He grew up in the Palais," or "He drank in the coutume with his mother's milk," or his suffisance from mere association with older members of his parlementaire family was such that he was "admitted without the usual examination." The advanced classical education of the Briçonnet group seems to have been truly exceptional, and while they did not draw disapproval for it (at least in recorded opinions) because they were so successful professionally—and politically—they were not held up as models at the Palais, where a much more severe and strictly professional view prevailed.

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