In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Paris

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Society and Social Groups
  • Work and Economy
  • Religion and the Sacred
  • Urbanism and Architecture
  • Education and Philosophy

Renaissance and Reformation Paris
Barbara B. Diefendorf
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0039


With a population of two hundred to three hundred thousand people, Paris was the largest city in northern Europe during the 16th century. Its greatest growth came during the prosperous first half of the century, especially after King Francis I (r. 1515–1547) announced his intention to spend more time in Paris, instead of the Loire Valley castles favored by his predecessors. Although the court remained peripatetic, the shift in focus to the Île-de-France encouraged considerable building and also the spread of Renaissance arts and culture. The outbreak of religious war in 1562 hampered but did not extinguish the cultivation of a new taste for learning and a distinctive French Renaissance style of art and architecture that married classical motifs favored by the Italian Renaissance to indigenous traditions and style.

General Overviews

Babelon 1986 is an indispensable synthesis, offering a rich and detailed treatment of the architectural, political, social, and cultural history of 16th-century Paris. Favier 1974 covers the last decades of the 15th century. Pillorget 1988 rounds out the picture it offers of Renaissance Paris by extending this broad coverage through the reign of Henry IV and into the 17th century. Ranum 2002 is a readable overview and especially useful for the reign of Henry IV. Its focus is on the 17th-century city, and its treatment of 16th-century developments is necessarily brief.

  • Babelon, Jean-Pierre. Paris au XVIe siècle. Nouvelle histoire de Paris. Paris: Hachette, 1986.

    This magisterial work by a noted architectural and urban historian looks at representations of Paris in art and literature, its role in the monarchy, its elite and popular culture, and its architectural evolution through the 16th century. Richly illustrated, it examines the physical city in terms of the growth and distribution of population, provisioning and commerce, and habitation. It also examines the impact of religious divisions on the city.

  • Favier, Jean. Paris au xve siècle, 1380–1500. Nouvelle histoire de Paris. Paris: Hachette, 1974.

    A beautifully illustrated and rich synthesis of the history of Paris in the later Middle Ages, useful also for the early stages of the Renaissance in the late 15th century.

  • Pillorget, René. Paris sous les premiers Bourbons, 1594–1661. Nouvelle histoire de Paris. Paris: Hachette, 1988.

    The early chapters, which trace the evolution of the material fabric of the city, but also its society and politics during the reign of Henry IV (r. 1589–1610), belong to the history of the French Renaissance and contain valuable material on both urbanism and the beginnings of the Catholic renewal that occurred in the early 17th century.

  • Ranum, Orest. Paris in the Age of Absolutism: An Essay, Rev. ed. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002.

    First published in 1968, this interpretive essay takes the end of the Wars of Religion as its point of departure and surveys the city’s political and economic recovery under Henry IV, along with the important changes in the urban fabric that occurred. The heart of the book lies in the 17th century, but chapters “Early Bourbon Absolutism” and “The Birth of Modern Paris” are directly relevant to Paris’s Renaissance history.

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