French Renaissance Paleography


Troyes?,[1] 1589­­
“Recueil des Serées.” In Commonplace book of Louis de Marillac
Chicago, DePaul University, SpCR. 809 M336 c1589


This text on the dangers of drinking appears in a commonplace book compiled for Louis de Marillac, a member of the French aristocracy, in the late 16th century.

It has sometimes been thought that the original owner was his more illustrious younger brother, Jean-Louis de Marillac, the Count of Beaumont-le-Roger (also sometimes known as just “Louis”), who was destined to lose his head in 1632 after being implicated in a plot to overthrow Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister of King Louis XIII. Because it’s such a great story, we’ll tell it here:
To ensure French dominance during the Thirty Years’ War that engulfed central Europe between 1618 and 1648, Richelieu rejected the Franco-Spanish alliance and supported instead a coalition of Protestant powers. Louis XIII stood by his minister, while others – including Louis de Marillac, Marshall of France, and his half-brother Michel, Keeper of the Seals – sided with the Queen Mother, Marie de Medici, in favor of pro-Spanish Catholic zealots. On Richelieu’s orders, Louis was arrested in Savoy in 1632, where he was commander of the French army, on trumped-up charges of misappropriation of funds. A special commission of hand-picked judges, who met in one of Richelieu’s palaces, condemned Louis to death by a narrow vote of thirteen to ten, and he was decapitated in Paris.

However, it is much more likely that the book first belonged to the older Louis de Marillac, who, shortly before his death in 1604, presented it to Louise de Marillac (later to become Saint Louise de Marillac). She was a child at the time. Louis served as guardian to Louise, and she probably was his natural daughter. The binding on the book appears to date from around 1600 and is stamped with the name “Loyse de Marilliac.” It’s not impossible that she could have been the daughter of Jean-Louis, who entrusted her to the guardianship of his older brother, but that seems much less likely, given that she was 40 years old when Jean-Louis died in 1632, and the binding clearly dates from several decades earlier. Louise later co-founded with Vincent de Paul the religious order of the Daughters of Charity, and she, as well as Vincent de Paul, has been canonized as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church.

The content of the Marillac manuscript is incredibly recursive – a lesson in the art of borrowing and abridging. The manuscript is a commonplace book, a compilation of material quoted and paraphrased from other sources. The section we have reproduced is a compilation of passages taken from various chapters of a popular commonplace book first printed in Paris in 1584, Guillaume Bouchet’s Les Ser__é__es. Bouchet’s volume consists of thirty-six after-dinner dialogues (“soirées,” evening gatherings) which he created by drawing on other commonplace books. André Janier has now published an extensive study of Bouchet and the tradition of these books in France in the later 16th and early 17th century.

Phrases in the Marillac version of Les Ser__é__es are taken from these sections of Bouchet’s book: the author’s introduction (“Discours de l’autheur sur son livre des Serées”); the first “serée,” on the subject of wine; the second “serée,” on water; the third “serée,” on women and girls; the fifth “serée,” on newlyweds; the sixth “serée,” on fish; and the seventh, on dogs.

Compare this document with the Meslanges curieux de litterature et d’histoire/manifest, a commonplace book originally compiled for a woman.


On the literary tradition of the Serées, see André Janier, ”Les Serées” (1584-1597-1598) du libraire-imprimeur Guillaume Bouchet (1514-1594). Paris: Honoré Champion, 2006.
On the historical and political events of Marillac’s day, see: