Marillac, Michel De (1560–1632)

views updated


MARILLAC, MICHEL DE (15601632), French political and religious figure. Scion of an old noble family from the Auvergne with a long history of service to the ducs de Bourbon and then the French monarchy, Marillac was born in Paris on the eve of the Wars of Religion. His father, superintendent of the royal finances in 1569, died in 1573, and Marillac was raised by an uncle. He married Nicola (Marguerite) Barbe de la Fortune in 1587 and had six children with her; after her death in 1600, he married Marie de Saint-Germain in 1601.

Law studies and practice as a barrister prepared Marillac for an office as councillor in the Paris parlement in 1586. His active participation in the Catholic League for several years after 1589 might have destroyed his career, but some deft footwork in 1593 enabled him to draw a discreet veil over it. With the consent of the new king, Henry IV (ruled 15891610), Marillac became a master of requests in 1595. In this capacity he worked mainly as an agent of the royal council, embarking on numerous missions to the provinces and carrying out judicial and financial commissions, especially under Chancellor Nicolas Brûlart de Sillery (16071624), an experience that enduringly shaped his view of government. When Marillac resigned as master of requests in 1612, Sillery made him councillor of state, a post in which he specialized in financial affairs. This advancement was supported by Marie de Médicis (15731642), the queen regent during the minority of Louis XIII (ruled 16011643), to whom the Marillac extended family was already attached by ties of marriage and household service.

These personal and political connections dovetailed with the religious ones that were central to the so-called Dévot movement that emerged after the religious wars. Marillac was an emblematic figure of the movement. He apparently wished at various moments to abandon his career for the religious life. After 1602 he was closely associated with the influential Acarie circle, dedicated to pursuing spiritual renewal and reform. Some of the most significant religious developments of the time, such as the introduction into France of the Spanish reformed Carmelites (1604) and the foundation by Pierre de Bérulle (15751629) of the French Oratory (1611), were spearheaded by the circle. Marillac used his professional position to enable these and numerous other religious foundations to negotiate the legal and financial obstacles to their development. His personal combination of scholarship and religion led him to publish his own translations of the Imitation of Christ (1621) and the Psalms and Canticles (1625).

Marillac's career exemplified the myriad links between religion and politics under Louis XIII, and they propelled him toward higher office in royal service, especially once Marie de Médicis recovered her political influence during the early 1620s. She and Cardinal Richelieu (15851642) enabled Marillac to serve as finance minister from August 1624 until June 1626, when he moved sideways to the more congenial post of keeper of the seals, whose responsibilities far transcended judicial affairs. His activity as keeper was the culmination of his long career as a magistrate, which had made him acutely aware of the need to overhaul and improve internal government, as the Estates-General (1614) and successive Assemblies of Notables (1617, 1626) had demanded. This led him to envisage reform from above via comprehensive royal ordinances. With its 461 articles, the vast Code Michau of 1629 (nicknamed for Mirallac) was largely but not exclusively his doing. It codified numerous existing laws and focused mainly on religious, judicial, and financial reforms. Simultaneously Marillac's ministerial responsibilities convinced him of the corruption of government. His efforts at reform, which involved curbing the powers of the parlements and provincial Estates, earned him a reputation as being even more authoritarian than Richelieu. However, the real differences between them were in temperament and emphasis.

The political consensus that brought Richelieu and Marillac into office broke down once the Protestant revolts ended in 1629. Marillac emerged as the principal Dévot critic of Richelieu's anti-Habsburg strategy. Apart from rejecting Protestant alliances, Marillac feared that war, by perpetuating disorder and preventing badly needed reforms, would weaken France further. Marie de Médicis rallied to this position in 1630 and agreed to demand Richelieu's removal from office. Instead, Marillac lost out in the prolonged infighting that erupted in the Day of the Dupes (1011 November 1630). Disgraced and arrested, Marillac was kept in detention in Châteaudun, where he died in August 1632. He was luckier than his half brother, who was executed after a show trial on trumped-up charges. Much remains mysterious about the wellsprings of the career of a man whose only biographer, his admiring disciple Lefebvre de Lezeau, reduced his life to an instantiation of religious virtue and high-minded self-denial, a man who was seemingly devoid of all ambition yet who might well have replaced Richelieu as chief minister to Louis XIII.

See also Absolutism ; Louis XIII (France) ; Marie de Médicis ; Richelieu, Armand-Jean Du Plessis, cardinal .


Bailey, Donald A. "The Family and Early Career of Michel de Marillac (15601632)." In Society and Institutions in Early Modern France, edited by Mack P. Holt, pp. 170189. Athens, Ga., and London, 1991. The only modern study of Marillac, well documented.

Major, J. Russell. Representative Government in Early Modern France. New Haven, 1980. Attempts to place Marillac in political context.

Joseph Bergin

About this article

Marillac, Michel De (1560–1632)

Updated About content Print Article