Biography of Bodin | Page 2

A somewhat revised and amplified edition of the Methodus appeared in 1572. Meanwhile, in 1568 Bodin published his Response … au paradoxe de monsieur de Malestroit, a rebuttal of the explanation of the nature and causes of contemporary price-inflation which an officer of the king’s principal fiscal institution, the Chambre des Comptes, had proposed. Reviewing the phenomenon’s economic and social implications as well as its impact upon royal finance, Bodin put forward his own five-point explanation headed by the proposition that the principal cause was the presence in the French and European economy of an extraordinary ‘abundance of gold and silver’. The thesis led to his subsequently being credited with formulating the ‘quantity theory’ of money, but modern scholarship is now less inclined to allow him such recognition.

In the following year a ‘Jehan Baudin’, described as soi-disant barrister in the Parlement and ‘natif d’Angers’, was arrested and imprisoned in Paris’s Conciergerie for being ‘of the new opinion’ on matters of religion. Although some features of the case provoke doubts about the prisoner’s identity, it has broadly been accepted that he was indeed the author of the Methodus. It has also been argued that at around this same time Bodin underwent a multi-faceted spiritual conversion which stimulated his self-fashioning as a prophet, encouraged him to believe himself attended by a demon, and reinforced his existing orientation towards Judaism. Such contentions are rooted in the fundamental problem of Bodin’s religion, a problem of great complexity to which no satisfactory solution has as yet emerged.

However uncertain or suspect his position in matters of religious faith, Bodin’s career gained during the 1570s both public and private momentum. In 1570 he was made a commissioner for the reform of the royal forests in Normandy. Two years later he survived the massacre of Huguenots on St Bartholomew’s Night despite his alleged protestant leanings. In the following year, thanks no doubt to the support of a patron whose family he had cultivated since his Toulouse days, he accompanied and served as translator for a French delegation to greet ambassadors from Poland who came to announce the election of France’s future Henry III to the Polish throne. In 1576 he married Françoise Trouillard, the widow of a senior administrator of the royal domain in the province of Vermandois and sister of the king’s proctor in the présidial court at Laon. That same year saw the commencement of Henry III’s ‘Palace Academy’, a gathering of high-ranking courtiers and intellectuals who joined the king after his mid-day repast in hearing and discussing lectures on philosophical subjects. Bodin, whose principal patron, Guy du Faur de Pibrac, was one of the Academy’s leading lights, was among those invited to join the group. While the frequency and mode of his participation are unknown, there are indications that King Henry took particular pleasure in Bodin’s conversation.

This was indeed a climactic year in Bodin’s life. It saw the publication of his most celebrated treatise, the Six Livres de la République (Six books of the Commonwealth), which he dedicated to Pibrac. That he was invited to Henry III’s Academy doubtless owed much to this work’s appearance and its extraordinary success. By 1600 it had run through at least 24 editions, some overseen by Bodin himself, and including translations into other vernaculars, Italian, Spanish and German (the only full English translation, by Richard Knolles, appeared in 1606). The most important translation was Bodin’s own Latin version which, appearing in 1586, contained extensive revisions, modifications and amplifications of the original text. Bodin’s République attracted fierce controversy and critical attacks some of which he countered in his Apologie de René Herpin whilst silently taking positive account of others in subsequent editions of the work. The book was placed on the Index by the Roman church, representatives of which produced detailed objections to and refutations of its author’s opinions. Not the least provocative of these was his counsel against enforcement of religious orthodoxy. German scholars took particular exception to his most noteworthy thesis, his definition of unitary and legislative sovereignty. This, they held, was altogether inapplicable to the constitution of the Empire and its component parts. Disharmony has attended the reception of a book designed above all else to promote a doctrine of ‘harmonic justice’. It must none the less rank among the most wide-ranging and important works of political philosophy to have appeared in the early-modern era.

Within months of his République’s publication Bodin attended the assembly of the Estates-General at Blois, as deputy for the third estate of Vermandois. Emerging as a spokesman for the order, he championed resistance to royal proposals for radical reform of taxation and for the alienation of crown lands in order to supply the monarch with financial support much needed in circumstances of recurrent civil war. In his journal of the assembly, the Recueil de tout ce qui s’est negotié en la compagnie du Tiers Estat de France en l’assemblee generale des trois Estats (1577), he recorded his determination to serve the ‘public good’ even at the cost of forfeiting the king’s good will. Certainly, the financial and religious measures which the Valois regime proceeded to adopt bore scant resemblance to the policies recommended in Bodin’s writings and, possibly, mooted in Palace Academy debates. Certainly, the advancement for which he might reasonably have hoped in view of his enjoyment of influential patronage coupled with occasional proximity to the king did not materialise to any substantial degree.

At some point during the 1570s, most likely after 1576 but before 1580, Bodin hitched his wagon to the seemingly rising star of François duc d’Alençon / Anjou, troublesome brother and heir presumptive to the reigning monarch. He accompanied the duke on the latter’s marital quest to England in 1581, meeting a number of leading English scholars and courtiers during the visit and, reportedly, offending Queen Elizabeth herself. In the following year he was again with Alençon on the duke’s ill-judged and ill-fated expedition to the Netherlands. Despite his manifest association with Alençon, Bodin’s name does not figure in extant lists of paid members of the extensive ducal household, though other evidence indicates him to have held at least nominally a position there as counsellor and master of requests. Alençon himself promised the Angevin an office of judicature in one of his dependent territories, but died in 1584, before the promise was fulfilled. Such disappointments afflicted Bodin throughout a career which never yielded him in terms of office and material reward the advancement which he might reasonably have considered himself to have earned.

Previous | Next