In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Agrippa d’Aubigné

  • Introduction
  • Overviews of Historical Context of Aubigné’s Life and Works
  • Overviews of Literary Contexts of Aubigné’s Writings
  • Journals, Reference Works, and Bibliographies
  • Biographical Studies
  • Aubigné’s Religious Views

Renaissance and Reformation Agrippa d’Aubigné
Valerie Worth-Stylianou
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0465


Born in 1552, Théodore Agrippa d’Aubigné was taken by his father, at the age of eight, to look upon the severed heads of Huguenots executed for their part in the failed Conspiracy of Amboise. The spectacle marked the child, stirring his devotion to the Protestant cause, which determined his whole life. His military career included serving in the first three Wars of Religion under the prince de Condé, and then in the army of Henri of Navarre. When wounded at the battle of Casteljaloux (1576), Aubigné experienced a religious vision, which, he claims, was the first inspiration for his epic poem Les Tragiques, written and revised over some forty years, before its publication in 1616. His best-known work for modern readers—monumental, and by turn dramatic, satirical, and deeply moving—it is above all imbued with his Calvinist faith in the ultimate triumph of divine purpose, despite the horrific scars wrought by the civil wars. Yet Aubigné’s personal relationship with other leading Protestants was often tense. When Henri IV converted to Catholicism in 1593, Aubigné felt bitterly betrayed and retreated for a while to his family and his provincial estates in Poitou, where he penned his Lettre à Madame, urging the king’s sister, Catherine de Bourbon, to hold firm to her Protestant faith. The need to make his voice heard and shape the Protestant cause impelled him, however, to return repeatedly to the political fray, albeit with increasing disappointment. The accession of Louis XIII and the Regency of Marie de’ Medici fueled his anger against those Protestants willing to appease the new regime. Never inclined to hide his views, he indulged his full satirical venom in his novel Les Aventures du baron de Fæneste (1617–1619), while the seditious views voiced in the first two volumes of his Histoire Universelle (1618–1619) saw this work condemned to be burned. In the last decade of his life, Aubigné took refuge in Geneva (1620–1630), where his marriage with Renée Burlamacchi brought companionship and literary support, not least in her role, after his death, of ensuring his many manuscripts were safely transmitted to the pastor Tronchin, his literary executor. Aubigné may appear as intransigent, and easily moved to anger and scorn, but he was also devoted to his family, as shown in his manuscript Sa Vie à ses enfants, and he had a striking regard for women who stood fast for their Protestant faith.

Overviews of Historical Context of Aubigné’s Life and Works

For most readers, encountering Aubigné will be balanced between appreciating the texts and understanding the specific historical contexts from which they arose. (It is worth noting that library catalogues and critical works use both d’Aubigné and Aubigné for his surname, with Aubigné gaining ground over recent years). Benedict 2001 offers an expert study of the Huguenots’ experience of the late 16th and 17th centuries, and Holt 2005 is a magisterial and concise account of the complex political and military period leading up to, during, and following the civil wars. Shorter chronological overviews are provided in English by Knecht 2000 and in French by Boisson and Daussy 2006. Diefendorf 1991 remains a classic historical analysis of Catholic and Protestant divisions in Paris, while Greengrass 1995 judiciously dissects the pivotal challenges of Henry IV’s reign. To understand the period from the lived experience of Huguenots, there are two outstanding recent collections of essays: Mentzer and Spicer 2002, focusing on the sociocultural aspects, and Mentzer and van Ruymbeke 2016, on the nature of Huguenot life in both France and the diaspora.

  • Benedict, Philip. The Faith and Fortune of France’s Huguenots, 1600–85. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2001.

    The volume brings together articles previously published by this leading historian of the French Protestant Reformation. Approaches the experience of the Protestant minority in France between the Edict of Nantes (1598) and its Revocation (1685) from distinctive and mutually illuminating viewpoints. Detailed quantitative investigations sit alongside local case studies, with the volume as a whole showing that a fuller synthesis depends on the dialogue between social history and cultural history.

  • Boisson, Didier, and Hugues Daussy. Les Protestants dans la France moderne. Paris: Belin, 2006.

    A detailed chronological examination of Huguenots in early modern France, aimed at French-speaking university students.

  • Diefendorf, Barbara B. Beneath the Cross: Catholics and Huguenots in Sixteenth-Century Paris. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

    Classic study of the reasons for and nature of the antagonism between Huguenots and Catholics in Paris. Deftly balances analysis of socioeconomic, political and—crucially—religious motivations. Argues that historians must look to the tensions of the 1550s and 1560s in order to understand the eruption of violence from the 1570s.

  • Greengrass, Mark. France in the Age of Henri IV: The Struggle for Stability. 2d ed. London: Longman, 1995.

    Draws on a very detailed knowledge of current scholarship to examine the myriad problems besetting France at the end of the Wars of Religion. Presents these as a necessary context for understanding the challenges Henry IV faced in restoring royal authority, building an economic recovery, and ensuring religious coexistence of the previously warring factions

  • Holt, Mack P. The French Wars of Religion, 1562–1629. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511817922

    Updated edition (first published 1995) of Holt’s classic study of the political and socioeconomic tensions that lay behind the long period of civil wars. Expertly analyzes both court politics and popular experiences of instability and shifting religious practices. Maps and full chronological tables make this volume particularly useful for students of the period.

  • Knecht, Robert J. The French Civil Wars, 1562–1598. Harlow, UK: Longman, 2000.

    An expert textbook on the subject, providing a chronological narrative aimed at English university students. Informed by recent scholarship, Knecht focuses on the political, religious and socioeconomic dimensions, with attention also to the military strategies of the wars.

  • Mentzer, Raymond A., and Andrew Spicer, eds. Society and Culture in the Huguenot World, 1559–1685. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

    Collection of essays by leading academic specialists who explore the character and identity of the Huguenot movement, Huguenot culture and institutions, patterns of belief and worship, and interaction with French state and society. Particularly strong on social identity and the significance of Huguenot architecture and religious spaces.

  • Mentzer, Raymond A., and Bertrand van Ruymbeke, eds. A Companion to the Huguenots. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2016.

    This collection of essays, with a very lucid introduction to themes in Huguenot history, covers both France (Part I) and the diaspora (Part II). The authors both take stock of key issues in Huguenot history and identify burgeoning areas for research. Part I, the most relevant to Aubigné, focuses on Huguenot organization, thought, and belief, but also the experience of being Huguenot, including the viewpoints of women, pastors and professors.

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