Budé, Guillaume (1468–1540)

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BUDÉ, GUILLAUME (14681540)

BUDÉ, GUILLAUME (14681540), French scholar. Budé was born into a prominent Paris bourgeois family with ties to the French crown and a large collection of books and manuscripts. He dropped out of law school but experienced a "conversion" around 1491, turning to a life of humanistic study and advocacy of bonae literae (good letters). Calling himself self-taught and late-to-learn, he eventually became known for massive works of great erudition and complexity.

Budé was the preeminent humanist of the early years of the French Renaissance and the foremost European Hellenist of his time, famous for his encyclopedic knowledge of ancient law, monies and measures, and the Greek language. Considered on the level of Desiderius Erasmus, Budé was the very embodiment of a thesis dear to his heart: that leadership in literary culture was passing from Italy to France. Today he is remembered for his historical approach to law, economics, and politics, and for a ponderous prose style full of classical allusions, symbols, and metaphors. His advocacy of humanist learning influenced French cultural policy to some extent, although he cannot be said to have tempered the harsh reaction of the crown to the Reformation.

Budé held prominent political positions, beginning as a royal secretary to Charles VIII (ruled 14831498). His service to Francis I (ruled 15151547) began in 1517, when he corresponded with Erasmus about forming a French trilingual college. Their letters span a decade, but there was a fallingout after Budé judged Erasmus's lighter works "insignificant" and Erasmus found Budé's overly obscure and flowery. Budé corresponded with many other humanistically inclined persons, sometimes in Greek, occasionally engaging in controversies about humanist reputations.

Budé's active life included duties as maître des requêtes (master of requests of the royal household, a position he held for life, requiring considerable travel with the royal court), a term as prévot des marchands (provost of Paris merchants, the most important royal officer in the city government), and maître de la librairie du roi (master of the king's library, another lifetime post). The humanist was considered an asset to the monarchy, and Budé welcomed such honors and duties as an opportunity for promoting the cause of letters and the foundation of a college of royal readers (later the Collège de France). However, he often complained that public responsibilities, personal affairs, and chronic poor health interfered with his study and writing.

His first major work was a historical study of excerpts from earlier jurists contained in Justinian'sCorpus iuris civilis. The Annotationes in Pandectas (Annotations on the Pandects, 1508) included a scathing attack on traditional "Italian-style" legal scholarship; Budé was the main founder of the mos gallicus (French) school of legal humanism. This work is an early example of Budé's philological practice, reading ancient texts mindful of their historical context. He expanded upon this method in later Annotationes (1526). The De philologia (On philology) and De studio litterarum recte et commode instituendo (On the proper institution of the study of letters) of 1532 extended his cultural and educational projects to include more spiritual pursuits.

Budé's De asse et partibus ejus (On the pound and its parts), a vast inventory and study of ancient coinage and units of measure, appeared in 1515. Despite its prolix Latin style and rather polemical digressions on political economy and attacks on social and clerical abuses and the vanities of wealth, it was reedited five times during Budé's life and was long the standard work on the subject.

Budé's next works are associated with his career as an official and advisor of Francis I, who did not read Latin. One was a manuscript compendium of translations from ancient sources with advice to the ruler (the Institution du Prince, presented to the king in 1519 but published only in 1547), another a French summary of De asse prepared for the king in 1522.

His Comentarii linguae graecae (Commentaries on the Greek language) of 1529, based on years of research, had a lasting influence on Greek language studies in the West; editions of this lexicographical work appeared the following year in Basel, Cologne, and Venice as well as after Budé's death.

Budé's role in Reformation controversies remains a subject of discussion by scholars. Although he was in a position to influence the king and to disarm hostility to the "good letters" that were increasingly linked to Reformation ideas, there is no evidence that he opposed the persecutions of reform-minded humanists. His final major work, De Transitu Hellenismi ad Christianismum (On the transition from Hellenism to Christianity) of 1535 reflects ambivalence and concern over the relationship of humanism to Reformation controversies. It calls for a moral regeneration through the pursuit of higher, Christian wisdom and has been viewed as a serious attempt to transcend the apparent conflict between sacred and profane knowledge. Writing in an atmosphere of hysteria over Protestant subversion, Budé condemned new religious doctrines in De Transitu.

Some have wondered about Budé's true religious feelings, for he was buried unceremoniously at night, and his family moved to Protestant Geneva soon after his death. Surely his great love for classical philology was eclipsed by the Reformation crisis, and at the end of his life his enthusiasm for pagan learning waned in favor of more spiritual pursuits. His letters, philosophical works, and political ideas continue to interest students of the period, and his legendary reputation for encyclopedic erudition and philological expertise remains intact.

See also Erasmus, Desiderius ; Francis I (France) ; Humanists and Humanism ; Libraries.


Primary Source

Budé, Guillaume. Opera omnia. Basel, 1557. Reprinted Farnborough, U.K., 1967.

Secondary Sources

Gadoffre, Gilbert. La révolution culturelle dans la France des humanistes: Guillaume Budé et François Ier. Geneva, 1997. Study of cultural politics of sixteenth-century France.

La Garanderie, Marie-Madeleine de. Christianisme & lettres profanes: Essai sur l'humanisme français (15151535) et sur la pensée de Guillaume Budé. 2nd ed. Paris, 1995. Emphasizes philosophical and spiritual aspects of Budé's thought.

McNeil, David O. Guillaume Budé and Humanism in the Reign of Francis I. Geneva, 1975. General treatment of Budé's life and works.

David O. McNeil

Guillaume Budé

views updated May 23 2018

Guillaume Budé

The French Renaissance humanist Guillaume Budé (1467-1540) is best known for his influence on the revival of Greek studies in France through his scholarly works and success in persuading the King to establish the Collège de France.

Guillaume Budé was born in Paris on Jan. 26, 1467. His university education at Orléans and Paris centered on the study of law and the "liberal studies," especially Greek. He was basically a lawyer turned humanist. His interest in the classics was demonstrated by his translation of three of Plutarch's treatises into Latin (1502-1505). Budé's abilities brought him to the attention of King Louis XII, who sent him to Rome as his ambassador at the coronation of Pope Julius II in 1502. After this mission Budé became secretary to the King, a position he held until 1515.

During this period Budé produced two works that displayed his superb scholarly abilities and his interest in law and classical antiquity. His work on Roman law, Annotationes in XXIV Pandectarum libros (1508; Notes on Twenty-four books of the Pandects), was a milestone in the Renaissance humanist attack on medieval jurisprudence. Budé's aim was to eliminate corruptions and misreadings from the medieval versions of Roman law. His second work of this period was De asse et partibus (1515; On the As and Its Parts), a treatise on ancient coins and measures, in which he attempted to determine their exact values in antiquity and their modern equivalents. This work required an exhausting and critical examination of the ancient authors, and it earned Budé the reputation of being among the foremost scholars of his day.

In 1515 Budé was again sent to Rome, this time on a diplomatic mission to Pope Leo X. Under the new king, Francis I, Budé was eventually made master of the royal library. In this position he urged the King to establish a college for the study of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. Since Francis I did not immediately respond, Budé gave supplementary encouragement in additional literary works. In the preface to his Commentarii linguae Graecae (1529; Commentaries on the Greek Language), which he intended as a Greek lexicon, he criticized Francis publicly for not beginning the endeavor. The King finally responded in 1530 by establishing the Collège Royal, later known as the Collège de France. The foundation of this institution was an important step in the revival of classical studies in France.

Budé's position as royal librarian also enabled him to establish the royal library at Fontainebleau, which, when later moved to Paris, became the Bibliothèque Nationale. His later years were clouded with the unfounded accusation that he was inclined to Calvinism. He died in Paris on Aug. 22, 1540.

Further Reading

The standard works on Budé are in French. For his role in French humanistic education see William H. Woodward, Studies in Education during the Age of the Renaissance, 1400-1600 (1906; repr. 1966). For background material Paul O. Kristeller, Renaissance Thought: The Classic, Scholastic, and Humanistic Strains (1955; rev. ed. 1961), is recommended.

Additional Sources

McNeil, David O., Guillaume Budé and humanism in the reign of Francis I, Genéve: Droz, 1975. □

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