Academic journal article Journalism History

Censorship & Retraction: Théophraste Renaudot's Gazette and the Galileo Affair, 1631-33

Academic journal article Journalism History

Censorship & Retraction: Théophraste Renaudot's Gazette and the Galileo Affair, 1631-33

Article excerpt

In seventeenth-century France, newspapers, which were subject to pre-publication censorship, served as instruments of propaganda for the monarchy, and the Gazette of Théophraste Renaudot was no exception. But in December 1633, he published a retraction for a public conference he held on the heliocentric system and included the Inquisition's sentence against Galileo and condemnation of the Copernican system, which were unknown to most scholars. This article takes the so-called retraction as a point of departure to examine his purpose in its publication and the flow of information between public and private channels. Letters and conference proceedings suggest he planned to call attention to the astronomical content of future conferences. Furthermore, he placed "privileged information" in the public domain. The possibility of censorship catalysed French scholars to publish pro-Copernican texts abroad as well as in France by using evasive strategies.

Théophraste Renaudot (1586-1653) established the Gazette in 1631, a French weekly periodical, and is known today as the Father of French Journalism. His friendship with the powerful Cardinal Richelieu assured him a monopoly in printing and enabled him to quash competition, but the support was given with the understanding that he publish only favorable accounts of royalty and French politics. Although Renaudot claimed the paper functioned in the public interest, the prefatory dedication to the king showed it "celebrate [d] the glory of the monarchy."1 Even more telling, the cardinal penned numerous articles to control public opinion and promote royal policy. Richelieu headed what has been described as an "editorial committee," which reviewed materials and submitted articles,2 and, on occasion, it stopped the presses in mid-edition to incorporate last-minute changes.3

In addition to establishing the Gazette and other newspapers, Rcnaudot also was a populist, innovator, and convert to Catholicism.4 Hc implemented measures such as an employment office and medical dispensary to help indigent populations, and he held public conferences on popular topics-science, medicine, and curiosities-at a time when most information circulated only in private academies. These "innovations" and his status as Richelieu's protégé made him a distrusted figure among members of the emerging scientific community, who maintained esoteric information should not be circulated to the general public.

Most stories in the Gazette focused on domestic and foreign news: miracles performed by the king, royal marriages and visits, hunting expeditions, births and deaths, and atrocities from abroad with the occasional mention of a curiosity or presage (e.g., a monstrous birth or the passage of a comet). Military victories were emphasized while news of territorial losses was suppressed.5

However, the Gazette of December 1633 differed from most of the issues, which generally provided propaganda for the monarchy. After four pages of summaries from abroad, consisting mainly of military news, Renaudot concluded: "So much for the affairs of war. Let's examine another that ended between mathematicians."6 He used this tone, rife with apology and reprimand, to preface the text of Galileo's sentence of June 22, 1633, issued by the Inquisition in Rome: "In what was discussed at one of the conferences held in the bureau [office] last October 24 and before we knew the decision by the Holy see, we discussed the movement of the Earth. I believe I am obligated to convey to you the sentence handed down last June 22 [1633] against Galileo, erroneous supporter of this opinion . . . and to prevent further discussion of this question."7 The sentence outlined the two propositions-a sun-centered world about which the earth moves, which it described as "not only absurd and false in philosophy but erroneous in the faith... .That you Galileo have rendered yourself suspect of heresy, having upheld this false doctrine of the movement of the Earth and immobility of the sun as probable after it was declared contrary to the scriptures. …

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