- Pierre de L'Estoile and his World in the Wars of Religion by Tom Hamilton
This is a fascinating and accomplished monograph, a reworked Oxford doctoral thesis, about the Samuel Pepys of early modern France. No French memorialist is better known before Saint-Simon than Pierre de L'Estoile; none has been more frequently edited into print. L'Estoile's journal became, from the moment it was (selectively) published in 1621 by Pierre Dupuy, the most substantiated contemporary account of events by a Parisian, who made it his business to know what was going on. Its (negative) assessments of the diarchy of the last Valois king, Henri III, and his mother, Catherine de Médicis, became common currency under the Bourbons. This 'normative' use of L'Estoile's diary has dominated historical approaches to it as a source. L'Estoile has therefore been presented as an observer who records what he sees for us, and transmits it to us in a faithful reproduction, like a camera. Tom Hamilton transcends the apparent constraints of the subject by an approach that is original and striking. Hamilton's thesis is that L'Estoile was not an observer but a collector, to be placed in the context of the culture of collecting, which was generating the cabinets of curiosities of the day. His diary becomes a cabinet of curiosities, not a camera. That transforms the text (or rather the various versions of what became his diary) from being a record of what happened into a cultural and social artefact. L'Estoile, in turn, becomes a more significant figure in the Republic of Letters than we previously realized. Hamilton discusses, for example, L'Estoile's hitherto overlooked correspondence with Joseph Scaliger. He puts together a fascinatingly detailed picture of L'Estoile's family and friendship networks, his providentialism, and his discretion when approaching matters of religion as befits someone in the uncomfortable middle ground during the civil wars. Hamilton analyses, however, how his neutral position was sometimes a polemic strategy in itself, serving as a mask to his reclusive piety, to his befriending Protestants, and as a foil to his mature Gallican attitudes. A key chapter of the book considers the most famous of L'Estoile's collections of ephemera, the 'Drolleries of the League', placards and engravings from the end of the Wars of Religion. Hamilton plausibly suggests that it was put together for an audience of L'Estoile's royalist friends and illustrates how he cut and arranged the placards to fit the pages, his disfigurement of the images being of a piece with the way that he collected oral remarks and rumours. The text repeatedly demonstrates Hamilton's gift for targeted research, his forensic grasp of detail, his technical abilities in palaeography, his grasp of linguistic and [End Page 432] iconographical analysis, and his capacity to construct a convincing argument that will change the way that historians of this period approach his important source-text.