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  • Religion, Reformation and Repression in the Reign of Francis I: Documents from the Parlement of Paris, 1515–1547 by James K. Farge
  • Michael Hayden
Religion, Reformation and Repression in the Reign of Francis I: Documents from the Parlement of Paris, 1515–1547, by James K. Farge. Toronto, Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 2015. 2 vols., xlvi, 1463 pp. $200.00 Cdn (cloth).

The Basilian priest and scholar James Farge is well known to the small but international group of scholars who are interested in the legal, intellectual, institutional, and religious history of France during the first half of the sixteenth century. He deserves a much larger audience and this masterful work should provide that. At the very least, these two volumes should be in the library of every university worthy of the name because they provide valuable keys to understanding the importance of religion in pre- and proto-modern societies, the growth of and resistance to new ideas, and the nature and functioning of bureaucracy and legal systems. The author’s doctoral thesis on the Faculty of Theology of the University of Paris in the first half of the sixteenth century was presented in 1976. From 1980 onward he has published books and articles on the individual members of that faculty, its collective mentality and methods of action, and its involvement in the religious affairs of France and Europe, as well as on Parisian booksellers and French religious censorship, all during the first half of the sixteenth century. In addition, Fr. Farge spent more than a decade collecting the documents that are reproduced in their original Middle French in these two volumes, as well as an unspecified number of years in analyzing them. Anyone who has used the records of the early modern Parlement of Paris knows how amazing it is that he deciphered and read carefully more than 100,000 pages in over 100 large registers of the records of the Parlement (the size of which are illustrated on the dust covers of the volumes under review here). He then transcribed the incredibly difficult script of 1,183 of the documents he had read and explained them through informative introductions and annotations.

The reproduced documents pertain most directly to religion, reformation, and repression, specifically the development of what became known as the Protestant Reformation, attempts to eradicate it and efforts to reform the Catholic Church from within (the First Catholic Reformation). However, they also provide source material for many topics, ranging from the functioning of the French legal system, France’s interaction with Emperor Charles V, the development of absolutism, the history of printing and bookselling to popular religion, and collective and individual psychology.

The author provides an invaluable forty-six page introduction in which he sets out his intention: not to ‘‘disparage or to attempt to justify’’ the beliefs and actions of the members of Parlement, but to ‘‘make available a significant, complete array of documents that have heretofore been almost exclusively unknown’’ (xix). In the introduction Fr. Farge provides a brief [End Page 358] but incisive introduction to the scope, membership, and complicated functioning of Parlement, along with ample references for further inquiry. He also comments at some length on the change in the attitude of King Francis I to religious reform, showing that it began earlier than the Placards Affair of 1534 and developed slowly but definitely thereafter. Likewise, he traces the development of Parlement’s reaction to religious dissent beginning with what were perceived as ‘‘Lutheran’’ errors and slowly became an awareness of the dangers of the ideas of John Calvin.

Particularly important for historians of early modern Europe are the three appendices (documents related to the Concordat of Bologna, documents related to the royal commission to suppress heresy in Alençon in 1534, and royal and papal documents published or mentioned in the documents). The extensive bibliography and, especially, the three carefully interrelated and extraordinarily complete indices of persons, places and topics will prove invaluable to a wide range of literary, religious, social, and intellectual history.

The sixty-four page index of persons includes virtually everyone who appears in the documents, with significant references to some fifty individuals, including fifteen — from Louis...


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