Guillaume Budé

The French Renaissance humanist Guillaume Budé (1467-1540) is best known for his influence on the revival of Greek studies in France through his scholarly works and success in persuading the King to establish the Collège de France.

Guillaume Budé was born in Paris on Jan. 26, 1467. His university education at Orléans and Paris centered on the study of law and the "liberal studies," especially Greek. He was basically a lawyer turned humanist. His interest in the classics was demonstrated by his translation of three of Plutarch's treatises into Latin (1502-1505). Budé's abilities brought him to the attention of King Louis XII, who sent him to Rome as his ambassador at the coronation of Pope Julius II in 1502. After this mission Budé became secretary to the King, a position he held until 1515.

During this period Budé produced two works that displayed his superb scholarly abilities and his interest in law and classical antiquity. His work on Roman law, Annotationes in XXIV Pandectarum libros (1508; Notes on Twenty-four books of the Pandects), was a milestone in the Renaissance humanist attack on medieval jurisprudence. Budé's aim was to eliminate corruptions and misreadings from the medieval versions of Roman law. His second work of this period was De asse et partibus (1515; On the As and Its Parts), a treatise on ancient coins and measures, in which he attempted to determine their exact values in antiquity and their modern equivalents. This work required an exhausting and critical examination of the ancient authors, and it earned Budé the reputation of being among the foremost scholars of his day.

In 1515 Budé was again sent to Rome, this time on a diplomatic mission to Pope Leo X. Under the new king, Francis I, Budé was eventually made master of the royal library. In this position he urged the King to establish a college for the study of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. Since Francis I did not immediately respond, Budé gave supplementary encouragement in additional literary works. In the preface to his Commentarii linguae Graecae (1529; Commentaries on the Greek Language), which he intended as a Greek lexicon, he criticized Francis publicly for not beginning the endeavor. The King finally responded in 1530 by establishing the Collège Royal, later known as the Collège de France. The foundation of this institution was an important step in the revival of classical studies in France.

Budé's position as royal librarian also enabled him to establish the royal library at Fontainebleau, which, when later moved to Paris, became the Bibliothèque Nationale. His later years were clouded with the unfounded accusation that he was inclined to Calvinism. He died in Paris on Aug. 22, 1540.

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Further Reading on Guillaume Budé

The standard works on Budé are in French. For his role in French humanistic education see William H. Woodward, Studies in Education during the Age of the Renaissance, 1400-1600 (1906; repr. 1966). For background material Paul O. Kristeller, Renaissance Thought: The Classic, Scholastic, and Humanistic Strains (1955; rev. ed. 1961), is recommended.

Additional Biography Sources

McNeil, David O., Guillaume Budé and humanism in the reign of Francis I, Genéve: Droz, 1975.