ABSTRACT

The path that Denis Sauvage (1520?–87?) took to becoming the editor of medieval French historiography almost reads like a caricature of the career of a Renaissance man. An examination of his subsequent evolution tells us much about his – and his century’s – attitude to authorities, whether textual or historical. Historiographer by appointment to four successive French monarchs, Henri II, François II, Charles IX and Henri III, Sauvage’s early work was, like that of his mentor and friend, Jean Martin dedicated to the transmission of Latin and Italian culture to an impoverished France.1 Between 1546 and 1553 he published at least seven such works, beginning with a translation of Plutarch before moving onto Italian authors such as Bocaccio and the works of writers of history, Paul Jove and Pandolfo Collenuccio. At some point he seems to have become convinced, along with many of his contemporaries, that mere translation of Italian works would not be sufficient to rescue France from the state of post-classical desuetude into which it had fallen, and that what was necessary was the creation of a competing French tradition equally aware of its classical ancestry. This decision may have had a personal motivation: he had spent a short period in Geneva and appears to have flirted with Protestantism and, on his return, was seeking to prove his orthodox credentials by acquiring aristocratic patronage.2 Flattery of France and of its royal family was one way to do this, but Sauvage suggests that he has other disinterested

1 Sauvage’s close relationship with Martin, who was over a decade his senior, means that he appears in a peripheral role in accounts of the other man’s career. See Jean Martin: Un traducteur au temps de François Ier et de Henri II, Cahiers Saulnier, 16 (Paris: Presses de l’École Normale Supérieure, 1999). Indeed, it was Sauvage who wrote Martin’s biography when he died. However, the fact that Martin was above all else a translator means that many accounts of Sauvage’s activity focus on this aspect of his work, and on the editorial assistance he provided to Martin, rather than on his editions of French texts. For an appraisal of Sauvage’s role as royal historiographer, see Paul-Martin Bondois, ‘Henri II et ses historiographes’, Bulletin Philologique et historique (jusqu’à 1715) du comité des travaux historiques et scientifiques (1925), pp. 135-49.