Michel de l'Hôpital
Michel de l'Hôpital (or l'Hospital) (1507 – 13 March 1573) was a
De l'Hôpital was born near Aigueperse in Auvergne (now Puy-de-Dôme).
His father, who was physician to the Constable de Bourbon, sent him to
study at Toulouse. At the age of eighteen he was driven to leave
Padua by the poor fortunes of the family patron. He
studied law and letters for about six years in Padua, after which he
joined his father at Bologna. He also studied law in Bologna. When
Charles of Bourbon died, he went to
Rome in the suite of Charles V.
For some time he held a position in the papal court at Rome, but about
1534 he returned to France, and became an advocate. His marriage, in
1537, procured for him the post of counsellor to the parlement of
He held this office until 1547, when he was sent by Henry II on a
mission to Bologna, where the
Council of Trent
Council of Trent was sitting; after
sixteen months of wearisome inactivity there, he chose to be recalled
at the end of 1548. L'Hôpital then held the position of chancellor to
the king's sister, Margaret of France, Duchess of Berry. In 1553, on
the recommendation of the Cardinal of Lorraine (Charles de Guise,
brother of Mary of Guise, regent of Scotland), he was named master of
the requests, and afterwards president of the chambre des comptes
In 1559, sickly fifteen-year-old Francis II of
France (married to the
young Mary, Queen of Scots) succeeded to the throne; Mary's uncles
François, Duc de Guise, and Charles de Guise may have held much of
the true power in this period, and did much to persecute the French
Protestants and reduce the power of the Bourbon and Condé princes. In
an attempt to balance their power, the queen-mother Catherine de'
Medici sent word to the more even-handed l'Hôpital in
Nice (where he
had accompanied the princess Margaret, now duchess of Savoy) that he
had been chosen to succeed François Olivier in the chancellorship of
One of l'Hôpital's first acts after assuming the duties of chancellor
on 1 April 1560 was to cause the Parliament of
Paris to register the
Edict of Romorantin, of which he is sometimes erroneously said to have
been the author. Designed to protect heretics from the secret and
summary methods of the Inquisition, it certainly had his sympathy and
approval. In accordance with the consistent policy of inclusion and
toleration by which the whole of his official life was characterized,
he suspended all proceedings against heretics pending the reformation
of the church by a general or national council.
Frontispiece depicting Michel de l'Hôpital.
He then induced the council to call the assembly of notables, which
Chateau Fontainebleau in August 1560 and agreed that the
States-General (a council of clergy, nobles and commons) should be
summoned. The States-General met in December, shortly after the death
of Francis II and the succession of his younger brother Charles IX.
The Edict of Orleans (January 1561) soon followed, and finally, after
the Colloquy of Poissy, the famous
Edict of St. Germain was issued in
January 1562. It was the most liberal ever obtained by the Protestants
France other than the Edict of Nantes.
Its terms, however, were not carried out. l'Hôpital's dismissal had
been urged for some time by the papal legate Ippolito d'Este, and
during the beginning of the
French Wars of Religion
French Wars of Religion which were the
inevitable result of the massacre of Huguenots in
Wassy (on 1 March
1562), he found it necessary to retire to his estate at Vignay (near
Étampes), from which he did not return until after the pacification
of Amboise (19 March 1563).
It was by his advice that thirteen-year-old Charles IX was declared of
Rouen in August 1563, a measure which in actuality increased
the power of the queen-mother
Catherine de' Medici
Catherine de' Medici as she battled the
machinations of the Guise family.
It was also under l'Hôpital's influence that the royal council in
1564 refused to authorize the publication of the anti-Protestant acts
of the Council of Trent, on account of their inconsistency with the
Gallican liberties. In 1564–1566 he accompanied the young king on an
extended tour through France; and in 1566 he was instrumental in the
promulgation of an important edict for the reform of abuses in the
administration of justice.
In the meantime, Catherine, ever more independent of counsel,
continued to pursue her ambitions for her children. However, her use
of the religious strains of the times to play one faction against
another gradually got out of her control. The renewal of the religious
war in September 1567 was at once a symptom and a cause of diminished
influence of l'Hôpital, and in February 1568 he obtained from
Catherine his letters of discharge, which were registered by the
parlement on 11 May. His titles, honors and emoluments were retained
by him for the remainder of his life.
Afterward, he lived a life of unbroken seclusion at Vignay. His only
subsequent public appearance was on the occasion of a mémoire which
he addressed to the king in 1570 under the title Le but de la guerre
et de la paix, ou discours pour exhorter Charles IX à donner la paix
à ses sujets ("The goal of war and peace, or a speech exhorting
Charles IX to give peace to his subjects"). Though not exempt from
considerable danger, he survived the
St. Bartholomew's Day massacre
St. Bartholomew's Day massacre (a
wave of mob violence against the Huguenots starting on 24 August
1572). His death took place either at Vignay or at Bellébat on 13
Montaigne referred to both him and François Olivier as being "men
extraordinarily sufficient, and endowed with no vulgar virtue [...]
Chancellor of France".
This article incorporates text from a publication now in
the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "L'Hôpital,
Michel de". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University
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