LA BOESTIE, Etienne de

A magistrate in the Bordeaux Parlement, humanist, poet, and political writer, Estienne de La Boestie is best known for the role he played in the life of Michel de Montaigne.* Montaigne celebrates their friendship in "De l'amitie," one of the most famous chapters of the Essais. After the untimely death of La Boestie, Montaigne undertook the project of having his friend's work published.
Born in Sarlat in Pesrigord, La Boestie came from a family whose ancestry dated back to the fourteenth century. He followed in his father Antoine's pro­fessional footsteps by studying law. He received his degree in 1553 from the law faculty of the University of Orleans. A year later he became one of the youngest conseillers admitted to the Bordeaux Parlement. It is believed that he and Montaigne met in 1557 when Montaigne became a member of the Bordeaux Parlement.
An accomplished humanist scholar, La Boestie translated Greek texts into French, including Plutarch's Lettre de consolation, dedicated to his wife, Mar­guerite de Carle, upon the death of her child, and from the Oeconomicus, Le Mesnagerie de Xenophon. These translations, along with others, were published in 1571. The volume also included Latin and French poetry composed by La Boetie. What has become La Boetie's most controversial work, a treatise entitled Discours de la servitude volontaire (also known as the Contr'un), was originally intended to be the centerpiece of the first book of Essais by Montaigne, pub­lished in 1580. Montaigne planned for it to follow immediately the twenty-eight essay, "De l'amitie," describing the deep friendship the two shared. Believed to have been written in response to the 1548 revolt against the salt tax and the brutal repression of the popular uprising, La Boetie's treatise against tyranny was put to use by the Huguenots to attack the monarchy. After the St. Barthol­omew's Day Massacre, they printed long extracts of it in their publication Reveille-matin. At a time when the Wars of Religion were dividing France, Montaigne defended his late friend against accusations of being a Huguenot sympathizer, characterizing the treatise as a schoolboy exercise. Nevertheless, Montaigne chose not to publish what had become a politically charged pamphlet and substituted instead twenty-nine sonnets of La Boestie.
La Boestie died unexpectedly of dysentery at the age of thirty-three. In a letter Montaigne wrote to his father, most likely shortly after La Boestie's death, and published in 1570, he describes at great length the death of his cherished soul mate. Numerous references to La Boestie in the Essais attest to the important role he played in Montaigne's life. It is generally believed that the need to fill the void left in Montaigne's life after his friend's death was a major factor in Montaigne's writing the Essais. Apart from the notoriety his political treatise achieved because of its co-opting by the Huguenots, La Boestie was not redis­covered until the nineteenth century. In the last decade his life and works have been given closer attention in their own right.
A. Cocula, Etienne de la Boetie, 1995.
E. de la Boetie, Oeuvres completes d'Estienne de La Boetie, ed. L. Desgraves, 1991.
Dora E. Polachek

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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