Poitiers

François Le Page (fl. 1575-92)

Adam Blackwood, Adversus Georgii Buchanani dialogum, De iure regni apud Scotos, pro regibus apologia. Per Adamum Blacuodaeum (Poitiers, 1581), title page device of François Le Page.

François Le Page (fl. 1575-92) was an enigmatic resident of the city of Poitiers, situated at the centre of the triangle formed by the cities of Nantes, Bordeaux and Orléans in western France. He is attested as a printer in Poitiers from 1575 onwards for he printed two works in that year: Enchiridion, seu manuale ecclesiarium Pictavensis, Lucionensis et Maleacensis dioceseon pastoribus utilissimum, ac maxime necessarium for the local Church and La gente Poitevinrie by Jean Boiceau, sieur de la Borderie (1513-91). Le Page chose an equally enigmatic printer’s device (Image 1). In the absence of an explanation for this magnificent medallion, we can only guess at its meaning. The general aspect of the medallion is reminiscent of the construction of a painting. Augustin de La Bouralière notes that in 1584 François Le Page described himself as a ‘parchment-painter’ – and perhaps he may have viewed his device in aesthetic terms, as a painting.[1] If so, it was a painting in two parts: in the upper section a man floats on a cloud with his gaze turned towards the west; beneath him lies a ruined city – its ancient ruins perhaps a reference to Poitiers. Viewing the device in the light of the little we know of Le Page’s own interests, it seems unlikely that the main figure was meant to represent a member of Greek or Roman mythology, such as Zeus, since this theme is absent from Le Page’s output. It is far more likely that the figure is a biblical figure, which would be more in line with Le Page’s publications (almost a quarter of his total output are on religious themes). The figure could be Elijah – an Old Testament prophet often associated with celestial manifestations and spectacular meteorological events. Elijah was association with praying for rain – which may explain why the figure in the printer’s device looks to the west, the source of rain-bearing clouds. Alternatively, the figure is reminiscent of many depictions of the Risen Christ.

The symbolism may not end there. In 1569, during the Third Wars of Religion (1568-70), Poitiers was besieged by Gaspard II de Coligny (1519-72), a leading Protestant general. Coligny, encouraged by the city’s Huguenot nobles, had attempted to take the city and his cannon bombarded it. In the face of fierce resistance, he lifted the siege on 7 September of that year.[2] This event, which took place some ten years before the publication of the work in Image 1, had been the subject of a copperplate engraving by Jacques Tortorel (fl. 1568-92) and Jean (Jean Jacques) Perrissin (1536?-1611?) entitled Poitiers assiégée par Coligny, été 1569 (1569-70), which displays striking similarities with the second part of the medallion of Le Page, who could almost certainly have seen this engraving.[3] The key difference is that the city of Poitiers is shown in ruins in the medallion, whereas in the engraving the city is still intact. Le Page lived through the worst of the Wars of Religion, and although by 1580 the war was more a matter of politics than field warfare, some fighting was still ongoing in the south-west of France. It may be that Le Page wanted to represent Poitiers after the siege by the Huguenot Admiral Coligny in 1569. The city survived the siege and had managed to remain in the bosom of the Catholic faith; in this reading the figure of Elijah/Christ represents the Catholic Church, rising above the ruins of the secular powers.

Adam Blackwood, Adversus Georgii Buchanani dialogum, De iure regni apud Scotos, pro regibus apologia. Per Adamum Blacuodaeum (Poitiers, 1581), Sig. Tt3v.

Of the 23 works of François Le Page recorded so far, 17 are in French and 6 are in Latin. The Adversus Georgii Buchanani dialogum, De iure regni apud Scotos, pro regibus apologia by Adam Blackwood (1539-1613), printed in Latin and annotated in Greek, is certainly one of the most valuable and unique of Le Page’s works. Its author, Adam Blackwood, had studied in Paris with the great humanists and was a protégé of Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87). He was known for his political publications, in which he argued that religious unity was essential to the maintenance of political order. In addition, he was a supporter of monarchical rule, arguing that the monarch was the only entity that could legitimize and unite political factions.[4]

In this work, dedicated to Mary Queen of Scots and her son James VI (1566-1625), Blackwood replied to George Buchanan’s De iure regni apud Scotos, which had been printed in 1579. Under this evocative title, Buchanan (1506-82) had written a political statement, imbued with the humanist-Calvinist ideas of the late sixteenth century, in favour of the forced abdication of Mary Stuart from the Scottish throne. Buchanan argued that this was perfectly in accordance with the Scottish constitution. So why did Blackwood feel compelled to take up his pen in response? The reason, as Howell A. Lloyd explains, was because it was inconceivable to Blackwood that a Scottish scholar like Buchanan, celebrated for his learning, a friend of Adrien Turnèbe (1512-65) and Jean Dorat (1508-88), one who had been, moreover, financially supported by Mary Queen of Scots, would now turn against her.[5]

The subject matter of the book was therefore contentious and its publication proved to be almost equally so. Le Page, in his ‘Letter to the Reader’, recounted the misadventures he had experienced during publication. He began by explaining that he learned that the Adversus Georgii Buchanani dialogum, De iure regni apud Scotos, pro regibus apologia had been illegally published a few months before his own edition (this was more common than might be imagined at the end of the sixteenth century).[6] Le Page appealed to his readers to support his edition rather than that of the thief, and he recounted the events leading up to the theft, never mentioning the plagiarist’s name in his explanation. He explained to his readers that this was the reason why his edition of the book had been produced in a hurry, and therefore lacked polish. He referred to commitments to which he had committed himself and which were as important as completing this particular work. It is difficult to determine what obligations he was talking about, for certainly he must also have made a commitment to Blackwood to publish the book on time. Le Page concluded his ‘Letter to the Reader’ by asking his readers not to blame the work for these problems, and by arguing that the haste involved in publication did not affect the importance of the work.

Adam Blackwood, Adversus Georgii Buchanani dialogum, De iure regni apud Scotos, pro regibus apologia. Per Adamum Blacuodaeum (Poitiers, 1581), fol 13r.

As the title pages of his books and their accompanying privilege declarations proclaim, François Le Page held the title of King’s Printer at Poitiers. It was no doubt for this reason that Adam Blackwood, who lived in Poitiers, decided to have his Adversus Georgii Buchanani dialogum, De iure regni apud Scotos, pro regibus apologia published by him. If he was hoping that the ‘Grecs-du-roi’ would be used in his work, he was to be disappointed for though Le Page carefully structured the book by mixing different typographical fonts on good paper, he did not use the King’s Greek fonts. To make matters worse, Le Page’s typographic material appears worn and somewhat dated, and he clearly preferred a more ‘Roman’ Greek font for Blackwood’s book.

According to Augustin de La Bouralière, François Le Page was himself a writer (in 1569), before becoming a printer and then a painter and parchment maker.[7] He was obviously multi-talented and a man who could not be brought down by economic crises. He also worked with the religious authorities in Poitiers from the 1570s onwards, first copying documents by hand, then printing missals and other religious books.[8]

Le Page lived near Saint-Michel, Rue du Pont-à-Joubert, in 1578 and 1579, then near Saint-Martial, Rue de Saint-Savin, in 1580. He was married, but the name of his wife is still unknown. However, he had at least one daughter, Louise, who is documented as a godmother in Notre-Dame-la-Pelite on 31 January 1594. La Bouralière suggests a family connection with a certain Hélie Le Paige, who printed in Angoulême from 1627 to 1631, and who could well be the son of François Le Page.[9] The fact that the name of this Hélie is Le Paige and not Le Page does not discount this, since in the monopoly privilege granted to François for his Adversus Georgii Buchanani dialogum, De iure regni apud Scotos, pro regibus apologia in 1581, his name is spelt both ways. Finally, though there are no references to texts printed by Le Page after 1592, administrative documents from Poitiers, studied by La Bouralière, suggest that he remained active until 1595.[10]

Sources

La Bouralière, Augustin de, L’imprimerie et la librairie à Poitiers pendant le XVIe siècle (Poitier, 1900).

Lloyd, Howell A., ‘The Political Thought of Adam Blackwood’, The Historical Journal, 43, no. 4 (2000) 915-935.

Musée protestant, ‘Le Siège de Poitiers (juillet à septembre 1569)’, Douze gravures de Tortorel et Perrissin sur les guerres de religion [online exhibition].

Pablo, Jean de, ‘Gaspard de Coligny, Chef de Guerre’, Bulletin de la Société de l’Histoire du Protestantisme Français (1974), 53-76.

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[1] La Bouralière, Augustin de, L’imprimerie et la librairie à Poitiers pendant le XVIe siècle (Poitier, 1900), pp 214-219.

[2] Pablo, Jean de, ‘Gaspard de Coligny, Chef de Guerre’, Bulletin de la Société de l’Histoire du Protestantisme Français (1974), 53-76.

[3] Agence bibliographique de l’enseignement supérieur (abes), ‘Tortorel, Jacques (15..-15..?)’, IdRef – Identifiants et Référentiels pour l’enseignement supérieur et la recherche; Musée protestant, ‘Le Siège de Poitiers (juillet à septembre 1569)’, Douze gravures de Tortorel et Perrissin sur les guerres de religion [online exhibition].

[4] Lloyd, Howell A., ‘The Political Thought of Adam Blackwood’, The Historical Journal, 43, no. 4 (2000), 915.

[5] Ibid., 924-925.

[6] Le Page had been granted the sole privilege to print it in Poitiers.

[7] La Bouralière, L’imprimerie et la librairie à Poitiers pendant le XVIe siècle, p. 215.

[8] Ibid., p. 214.

[9] Ibid., p. 219.

[10] Ibid., p. 216. The Library of Congress suggests that he ceased activity in 1592.

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