MONTAIGNE, Michel Eyquem de

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne is famous for his essays, a genre of writing he largely originated, and for the honest, frank observations found within these essays. Montaigne also served as the mayor of Bordeaux and was friends with Henri of Navarre, later King Henri IV of France.
Montaigne was born on 28 February 1533 in the family domain of Montaigne in Perigueux, in southwestern France. As a child, Montaigne was tutored at home in accordance with his father's ideas of pedagogy. This included the use of Latin as the only language that was spoken in the presence of the young Michel. Latin was considered the language educated people should know, and thus the young Michel was raised speaking Latin as his first language; he was not exposed to French until he was six years old. He later continued his edu­cation at the College de Guyenne, where he was studying to practice medicine. Montaigne found university life extremely boring, and the instructors he de­scribed as abhorrent; he later transferred to the University of Toulouse, where he studied law. After his studies, Montaigne continued in the tradition of his father and grandfather by entering public service. He entered the magistrature, where he became a member of the Board of Excise—the tax court of Perigueux. When this board was disbanded in 1557, Montaigne then served in the Parlement of Bordeaux, one of the eight regional parliaments that constituted the French Parlement, the highest national court of justice.
It was while Montaigne was serving on the Parlement of Bordeaux that he met Etienne de La Boetie.* La Boetie and Montaigne became close friends. La Boetie was a humanist and scholar, and he and Montaigne engaged in many extended conversations. When La Boetie died of dysentery in 1563, Montaigne was disconsolate, so to appease his grief, he began writing his essays in an effort to recapture the conversations he had once had with his friend. In 1570 Mon­taigne sold his seat in the Parlement of Bordeaux and retired to his estate to devote time to reading, writing, and compiling and preparing the posthumous publication of La Boetie's works.
The essays Montaigne wrote in honor of his friend are what have given Mon­taigne his fame, and they continue to be a source of information and insight regarding sixteenth-century culture. Montaigne's essays, along with his travel journals, provide a rare glimpse into the daily life of people in the sixteenth century, and for this reason historians continually refer to these essays as a primary source. Philosophers and literary theorists also find in Montaigne the beginnings of what has been called the modern era, whether it be modern phi­losophy or modern literature. The essays were composed primarily during Mon­taigne's period of retirement, between 1571 and 1580. The first two books of the Essays were published in Bordeaux in 1580. After their publication and a lengthy period of time at home, Montaigne left on the travels that would lead to the travel journals. While traveling in Italy, Montaigne found out that he had been elected mayor of Bordeaux, a position his father had once held. Although he was reluctant to accept the post due to ill health—Montaigne long suffered from kidney stones—he returned to Bordeaux and served as mayor for two terms, until 1585. While serving as mayor, Montaigne fought to keep Bordeaux loyal to the Protestant king, Henri IV, though he faced much opposition from the Catholic majority. After serving his tumultuous second term, Montaigne returned home to his reading and writing. He died at his home on 13 September 1592. The essays Montaigne left behind after his death, although they were prompted by the tragic loss of his friend, are nevertheless something for which anyone interested in sixteenth-century culture will be forever thankful.
B. Bowen, The Age of Bluff: Paradox and Ambiguity in Rabelais and Montaigne, 1972.
D. Frame, Montaigne: A Biography, 1965.
H. Friedrich, Montaigne, 1991.
Jeffrey A. Bell

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

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