- War, Domination, and the Monarchy of France: Claude de Seyssel and the Language of Politics in the Renaissance
Claude de Seyssel (ca. 1450–1520) has received some attention for his political thought, but he is also one of the most understudied figures in French history. That he was Savoyard and not French may have something to do with this, but Rebecca Boone's book puts his political ideas into the contexts of sixteenth-century European diplomatic, military, political, and humanist cultures in ways that help clarify both French and Italian history for the period. While doing this [End Page 892] she makes it clear that much of the novelty of his ideas comes from his application to France of his experiences with the Italian city-states and his familiarity with ancient history.
Boone's introduction and biographical chapter introduce key elements of Seyssel's life and style that she weaves into the later topical chapters. These include his posi tion as a Savoyard, placing him between France and Italy, both geographically and diplomatically; his technique of writing in different styles for his different audiences, a straightforward approach for conveying useful information privately to his employers and a more literary style only for his broader, public writings; and his attempts to create order out of disorder and convey useful information.
Individual chapters focus on his roles as an advisor and occasional diplomat for the King of France and for the Duke of Savoy, and as a translator of ancient histories. Two later chapters are devoted to his major work named in the title, The Monarchy of France (La Monarchie de France), but these chapters are not a traditional textual analysis: they are a contextual analysis. The earlier chapters give depth and perspective to this work. The final chapter, on Seyssel's religious life, seems like an addendum to the book, but this is fitting, since in some ways it was an addendum to his life as well.
Two main themes of the Monarchy of France are police (the administrative and social organization of the realm) and force (the ability to overcome enemies on the battlefield). Both themes were related to his emphasis on order and providing useful information. Active participation in government was one of his defining characteristics, and he felt his experience made his writings valuable. His translations of ancient historians, including Appian, Diodorus Siculus, Thucydides, and Xenophon, directly related to his role as a royal advisor. The connection is not obvious to a casual reader, but Boone explains that Seyssel meant for his translations of ancient historical works to be used for their military tactics and strategy. He observed the success of citizen infantries in ancient Greek and contemporary Italian and Swiss history and concluded that force was related to republican government. The French armies lacked order and discipline and were still based on cavalry. The French also feared social disorder and a threat to their elites if they armed their own commoners, so they hired foreign mercenaries or sought alliances with infantry-rich states.
Seyssel attempted to deal with the challenge to the monarchy and aristocracy inherent in a domestic infantry by describing a model of mixed government and social mobility for France. He set aside the traditional view of three estates seen as fixed orders, and instead described them as flexible états that echoed the Italian social structure: the nobility, the rich people (peuple gras), and the lesser people (peuple menu). The clergy were simultaneously omitted as a group, but present in each état as individuals. Seyssel believed that everyone wanted the same things: money, honor, and social status. He felt only members of the first two états had the franchise, but all three could acquire church and royal offices, which represented the true power of the realm. This social mobility is the most original feature of Seyssel's thought and led to his solution of France...