The Limits of Influence: Pico, Louvain, and the Crisis of Renaissance Astrology

By Steven Vanden Broecke | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
ASTROLOGY AND LATE MEDIEVAL
ACADEMIC CULTURE. LOUVAIN, 1425–1516

A request for the foundation of a new university at Louvain (submitted by Duke Jan iv of Brabant, the Louvain town authorities, and the local chapter of St. Peter) was approved by Pope Martin v in 1425. It seems likely that the initiative originated (at least in part) in an attempt to reverse the struggling local economy, by preventing the outflow of local students and attracting foreign funds. Accordingly, we find that the Louvain town council diligently covered most of the new university’s expenses.’

Standing at the end of the first wave of German university foundations in the Middle Ages (1348–1425), the new university flourished beyond expectation, and remained the only academic institution of the Low Countries until 1562.2 Its success largely followed the increasing preference for university graduates in administrative positions across the Low Countries. University-trained jurists dominated the chancery of Flanders by the end of the fourteenth century. Most members of the provincial council of Brabant held academic degrees by the middle of the fifteenth century. It is estimated that over seventy percent of Brabant town officials were university graduates in the fifteenth century.3

This particular valuation of university learning in the southern Low Countries was not limited to the study of law. Jeroen Salman has shown how local and regional governments in the Dutch Republic bought thousands of “almanacs” with astrological predictions each year. They were freely distributed, both as sources of information

1 Van Eijl, “The Foundation of the University of Louvain,” p. 33.

2 On the periodization of German university foundations, see Schubert, “Motive
und Problème,” pp. 13–78. The university of Douai (essentially a local outpost of Lou-
vain) started teaching in 1562, while the northern provinces erected an independent
university at Leiden in 1575.

3 De Ridder-Symoens, “Possibilités de carrière et de mobilité social,” pp. 349–352.

-29-

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