Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Wisdom and Absolute Power in Guillaume Bude's Institution Du Prince

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Wisdom and Absolute Power in Guillaume Bude's Institution Du Prince

Article excerpt

Recognized as France's most eminent early humanist, Guillaume Bude (1468-1540), whose indefatigable efforts led to the establishment of the College des Lecteurs Royaux in 1530, stood at the forefront of the application of new philological methods to problems of ancient learning. His Latin writings range from a commentary on Justinian's

sixth-century compendium of Roman law (Annotationes ad Pandectas, 1508) to his magisterial opus on money and weights in antiquity (De asse, 1515), to his final work describing the transition from philological studies of ancient and profane culture to those of the sacred and revealed truths of the Word (De transitu Hellenismi ad Christianismum, 1535). In the vernacular is a compilation of anecdotes or apophthegmata on political governance, composed most likely in 1519. Bude himself presented this untitled French tract in manuscript form to Francis I, and it was published posthumously in 1547 as the Institution du prince. (1)

The foundation of good government on humanist learning, forged by Italian humanists of the quattrocento, led to the extensive development of the mirror-for-prince genre in sixteenth-century northern Europe. Though few such treatises appeared in England, important tracts were written in France, Spain, and Germany, and Bude's Institution is a leading example of this enterprise. Northern humanists, like their Italian predecessors, believed in the conjunction of philosophy and politics, and as Quentin Skinner conveys, "if philosophers cannot hope to become kings, the next best thing must be for kings to be advised as closely as possible by philosophers." (2) With that end in mind, Bude became one of Francis's Masters of Requests in 1522, which bolstered his position as humanist architect of the Valois king's reign. Bude's innovation as a political theorist lies in his rationale for absolute authority. This study examines how he legitimates absolute power on humanist grounds and in particular on a certain understanding of wisdom.

Although Bude addresses Francis in the Institution as "tres chretien," "don divin," and "premier filz" of the maternal "saincte eglise," he does not develop the affiliation of the French monarch to the Catholic and Apostolic Church, as does Claude de Seyssel, but the sacred nature of the king does enter his discourse. (3) The Parisian humanist opens immediately with a reference to Solomon that hardly veils his strategy for winning Francis over to the humanist agenda. Citing Solomon, Bude writes: "le don presente par l'homme luy // eslargist son chemin pour soy gecter en avant, et luy fait ouverture, pour soy presenter devant la face des princes" (77). (4) By his gift, Bude seeks to carve a space for himself and his princely program. King Solomon will serve as Bude's historical model and will justify both the means and the ends of his project, which is to explain to Francis the humanist foundations of good government. From Solomon's advice on how to influence princes to his example as the prudent and wise monarch of Israel, Bude makes a shift from Seyssel and implicitly allies the identity of the "Most Christian" king not with the Faculty of Theology of Paris (which he does not mention) but with humanism and the bonae literae. The "sacred" qualities of France's sovereign, which closely resemble the iconography of the late Middle Ages, ate revealed by a new kind of learning, so that it is no surprise that Bude repeatedly urges Francis to support poets, orators, and historians.

At one point in the manuscript, Bude candidly admonishes theologians for not knowing either Greek or Latin, for that hinders them severely from understanding the early languages of Scripture, particularly the texts involving Solomon upon whom France's prince should model his actions. This critical stance does not reflect Bude's pervasive attitude towards the Church. The De transitu shows his pronounced adherence to Catholicism and mitigates the disparaging comments about the clergy made earlier in such works as De asse or De studio literarum (1532). …

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