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L'Hôpital, Michel De


L'HÔPITAL, MICHEL DE (15071573), French lawyer and statesman. Michel de L'Hôpital, the future chancellor of France and architect of religious toleration, was the son of a physician who served the dukes of Bourbon. L'Hôpital was destined for a legal career, but in addition to studying law he had a humanist education at a number of Italian and French universities. His religious orthodoxy in his early life is attested by his marriage in 1537 to Marie Morin, daughter of Jean Morin, a Parisian royal official and fierce opponent of heresy. Councillor at the Parlement of Paris in 1544, president of the Chambre des Comptes, and councillor of the Grand Conseil, his career was greatly aided by aristocratic patronage. His father had ended his days in the service of Renée de Bourbon, wife of the duke of Lorraine, and it was through this route that Michel moved into the orbit of the Guise, the most powerful princely family in France, and became the most famous product of the irenic intellectual circle that revolved around Charles of Guise, cardinal of Lorraine. Lorraine procured for his client the office of maître des requêtes in 1553 and served as godparent to L'Hôpital's first grandson in 1558.

L'Hôpital's Christian humanist pacifism did not prevent him from becoming an apologist for the Guise war policy in the 1550s. When Henry II died in July 1559 he was succeeded by his sickly fifteen-year-old son, Francis II, who was dominated by his wife Mary Stuart and his Guise uncles. The new regime continued the policy of religious persecution, but the weakness of royal authority and the opposition of the princes of the blood gave encouragement to Calvinism, which was expanding rapidly. The regime was badly shaken by a bloody failed Protestant coup at Amboise in March 1560, following which the cardinal of Lorraine began to rethink the policy of repression. Catherine de Médicis, the queen mother, now began to play a greater role in the shaping of policy. When Olivier, the chancellor of France, died on 28 March 1560, the cardinal procured the appointment of his protégé L'Hôpital.

The new policy formulated by Lorraine, Catherine, and L'Hôpital aimed to promote civil peace by disentangling religious discord from sedition, making a distinction between heresy, which was to be treated more leniently, and rebellion. At the opening of the Estates-General at Orléans in December 1560 L'Hôpital spoke forcefully in favor of religious concord. Following the death of Francis II, the disgrace of the Guise, and the establishment of a regency under Catherine, L'Hôpital's intellectual authority grew, and the policy of compromise it represented was pursued more systematically. Until the end of 1561 neither L'Hôpital nor Catherine believed that toleration and the existence of two religions in a state was possible. The Colloquy of Poissy, which met in August 1561, enshrined their belief that peace could only be achieved by reaching doctrinal concord between Catholics and Protestants. L'Hôpital's move toward toleration was a realistic response to the failure of Poissy and the divisive political and religious situation facing the monarchy. The Edict of Toleration of January 1562 and the Peace of Amboise of March 1563, which followed the First War of Religion, were novel legal attempts to solve the crisis of religious schism by establishing limited rights of worship for Protestant communities.

By the end of 1563 L'Hôpital and his moderate allies had come to dominate the royal council. He combated religious conservatives in the parlements who opposed his religious policy, and he clashed openly in the council with his former patron, Lorraine, who returned from the Council of Trent opposed to his former policies. Between 1563 and 1567 L'Hôpital was concerned with the reform of the royal judiciary and administration, which had suffered from the growth of venal office-holding and the collapse of royal authority. His reforms were enacted in the Ordonnance of Moulins (1566). Catherine de Médicis had been adopting a more intransigent position toward the Protestants for a number of years, and the outbreak of the brief second civil war in 1568 and the breakdown of L'Hôpital's relations with Lorraine led to his removal from the council in June 1568. At the outbreak of the third civil war in September he was forced to give up the seals, and he retired to his residence at Vignay, dying in 1573. Accused by his opponents of being a secret heretic, L'Hôpital was above all a faithful servant of the crown. Realizing that doctrinal reconciliation was impossible, he saw that toleration was the only means to achieve peace and was prescient in seeing Ultra-Catholicism as the main threat to monarchical power.

See also Catherine de Médicis ; Guise Family ; Toleration ; Wars of Religion, French .


Kim, Seong-Hak. "The Chancellor's Crusade: Michel de L'Hôpital and the Parlement of Paris." French History 7 (1993): 129.

. "Dieu nous garde la messe du chancelier: The Religious Belief and Political Opinion of Michel de L'Hôpital." Sixteenth Century Journal 24 (1993): 595620.

. Michel de L'Hôpital: the Vision of a Reformist Chancellor during the French Religious Wars. Kirksville, Mo., 1997.

Nugent, Donald. Ecumenism in the Age of Reformation: The Colloquy of Poissy. Cambridge, Mass., 1974.

Salmon, J. H. M. Society in Crisis: France in the Sixteenth Century. London, 1975. See the summary of L'Hôpital's policies on pp. 5162.

Sutherland, N. M. The Massacre of Saint Bartholomew and the European Conflict, 15591572. London, 1973.

Stuart Carroll

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L'Hôpital, Michel de

Michel de L'Hôpital (both: mēshĕl´ də lōpētäl´), c.1505–1573, chancellor of France under Catherine de' Medici. He was Catherine's chief collaborator in the policy of religious toleration that she followed during most of her early administration. He favored, although he did not originate, the Edict of Romorantin (1560), which deprived the secular courts of jurisdiction in cases involving religion, and he was responsible for the edicts granting liberty of conscience (1561) and restricted liberty of worship (1562). He withdrew from court during the first War of Religion (1562–63; see Religion, Wars of), but subsequently returned to power and in 1566 was the author of important judicial reforms. After the outbreak (1567) of the second War of Religion he was forced out of office (1568) by Charles and Henri de Guise. In his retirement he composed Latin poetry.

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