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Jean de Dinteville

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Listed Below is a background summary to Jean de Dinteville's life which will be found in our future publication.

 

Jean de Dinteville was born on the 21st September 1504, the third son of Gaucher de Dinteville, Seigneur of Palissy and Anne du Plessis. His family was well connected with the French Court and it was expected that Jean would probably find a position there too. It is likely that he followed his eldest brother Francois to the University of Paris where he would have been educated in the Seven Liberal Arts (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric and Geometry, Arithmetic, Astronomy and Music) and a degree could be obtained by the age of 16. It is known from the Court records that by the age of 17 he was already part of the royal household in attendance to the royal children holding the position of Echanson (Cup-Bearer) between 1521 to 1524.

The French Court was a large and growing establishment in the early C16th. During the latter part of the C15th France had followed a confident and expansionist policy whereby neighbouring principalities that had not been part of France's domain were taken over. She had also pursued her ambitions for the Italian City States particularly Milan, Genoa and Naples by Marriage alliances. King Francis I (reign 1515-1547) was the epitome of the new type of monarch that was reigning in Europe. The monarchy's power had become stronger and more centralised and C16th kings were expected to intervene personally in crises and to make all the administrative decisions that were to see the necessary development of a Civil Service and Cabinet Ministry. These too were the years of professional efficient royal servants and the growth of professional diplomats with the establishment of numerous residential posts throughout Europe.

In 1494 the French Court had 314 paid officials but by 1523 Francis I's household comprised of 540 officials and this takes no account of the separate retinues of his family or the countless secretaries and diplomatic and political agents. This was the world Jean de Dinteville entered, but he was fortunate that his family was well connected within the Royal Court. His father Gaucher was the 'premier maitre d'hotel' to the Dauphin Francois and his cousin Anne de Mont. Montmorency was to become the chief and most influential minister in Francis I's reign. Whilst still remaining at the French Court Jean de Dinteville succeeded his father as Bailly de Troyes in 1520 and as Captain and Govenor of Bar-Sur-Seine in 1527.

Two great themes run through the France of Jean de Dinteville's adult life - the Valois - Hapsburg feud (the rivalry between Francis I and Charles V the Emperor) and the religious strife of the Reformation.

In 1525 Francis I, pursuing his Italian ambitions and claims, had lost the decisive battle of Pavia to the Emperor Charles V of Spain. Francis I who was commanding the French forces was captured and sent to Spain where he was forced to sign the humiliating Treaty of Madrid whereby one of the clauses would have meant the cessation of the Duchy of Burgundy and as a result Jean de Dinteville's family seal of Polissy would have become a Fief of the Empire. French diplomatic policy was now honed to the fundamental point that any enemy of Charles V should be turned into an ally of France and that France's alliances should always be capable of negating Charles V's power and resisting encirclement. Francis was only released by the exchange of his two eldest sons as hostages pending the payment of a large ransom which was mainly funded by Henry VIII. As a result the Treaty of Madrid was repudiated and Henry VIII, The King of Poland, the Protestant Princes of Germany, headed by the Elector of Saxony, and the Turkish Sultan were all courted for their support and friendship Sixteen months after the Treaty of Madrid, the League of Cognac, a common alliance against Charles V, between Francis I, Pope Clement VII, the Duchy of Venice and the Duchy of Milan was under the protection of Henry VIII was formed. However within a year Imperial troops of Charles V comprising of German and Spanish mercenaries had sacked Rome and had placed the Papacy firmly under Charles V's influence.

By 1500 humanist ideas were spreading throughout Europe. This was the major cultural and intellectual trend of the Renaissance. It promoted the classical studies of ancient Greece and Rome and changed the emphasis of medieval education from logic, natural philosophy and metaphysics to the study of the Liberal Arts. It was this quest for knowledge, coupled with the spread of printing presses (The New York Gores / Magellan Globe is the 2nd earliest surviving printed globe, the 1st being the Waldseemuller Gores in 1507) and the translation of classical works that led to the questioning of the Church's dominant role in both religious and secular matters. It brought about new ideas about man's relationship with God and was the philosophical force behind the Reformation. Such fundamental usage's of the Medieval Church as the veneration of saints and relics and the sale of 'indulgences' were denounced as incompatible with the biblical sources as revealed by the humanist critique. The reformation's early successes were dependent on the popular response of the German people and Principalities to Luther's theses, but in France as in other parts of Europe the humanist movement was bringing the Church's dogmas into question.

Although Jacques Lefevre of Etaples had translated the Bible into French, as well as a large proportion of Aristotle's works under the tutelage of Brinconnet, the Bishop of Meaux, and Guillaume Bude Master of Francis I's library, had brought out commentaries and translations of Greek and Roman laws and both these men were regular correspondents with Erasmus, the French humanists were reluctant to directly attack the Papacy and promote a schism in the Church. Luther had his followers in the learned society of Meaux, and some of the practices and dogmas of the church were under attack, but neither Lefevre nor Briconnet would countenance the extremes of Lutheranism. By the second decade of the C16th many of the French Court were suspicious that the new humanist learning was promoting heresy and in 1521 coinciding with the anti Lutheran Diet of Worms, the Sorbonne had decreed that 104 of Luther's theological propositions were heretical. In some French provinces repression and heresy spread quickly and in 1530 Bucer, the Strasbourg reformer described parts of Normandy as 'Little Germany'.

Jean de Dinteville like many of the humanists at the French Court, relying on royal protection and not associating themselves too strongly with Lutheranism hoped to see areligion based on a more personal devotion to the Gospels without resorting to the establishment of a separate church. Indeed the King, Francis I softened and hardened his approach to reformers when it suited his diplomatic alliances, but he had gained most of what he wanted from the church by the concordat of 1516 whereby in return for the payment of an annual fee the Pope conceded to the King the right to nominate his own candidates for vacant bishoprics and other Church positions. He had no strong reasons for a quarrel with the Pope and had spent a lot of diplomatic energy in keeping the Pope from coming under too strong a domination from Charles V. It is of interest that Jean de Dinteville may have been instrumental in recommending Lefevre as tutor to the young Duke of Angouleme. However, this would probably have had more to do with his respect for the learning of Lefevre in philosophy and mathematics than for his religious beliefs. The Dinteville family whilst having a humanist approach to learning and being sympathetic to the works of Lefevre and Bude were staunch Catholics, albeit on the more tolerant liberal side of Catholicism than the outright bigotry of their cousin Montmorency who seemingly went out of his way to persecute heretics. At this time in France humanist ideas were being promulgated without forsaking the religious authority of Rome and Jean de Dinteville like most of the liberal orthodox members of French high society occupied the middle ground between the reformers and the hard line clerical party of his cousin MontMorency.

In 1531 Gaueher de Dinteville, Jean's father died and his eldest brother Francois had succeeded his Uncle as the Bishop of Auxerre. Jean now 27, succeeded his father to the collar of St Michael. He can be seen wearing the Medallion of the order in the portrait of The Ambassadors and was now appointed Governor to Charles Duke of Angouleme. His brothers Guillaume and Gaucher held similar positions with the Dauphin and Henry Duke of Orleans. Thus 3 Dinteville brothers were each entrusted with the care of the 3 sons of Francis I. The following year another brother Louis de Dinteville who was a knight of St John died in Malta at the age of 28. This has some importance in regards to tracing Jean de Dinteville's career because the only record of his first visit to England arises from his family's connection with this Order. Sir William Weston was the prior of the English branch of this order and Jean de Dinteville appears to have known one of his sons. His eldest brother Francois was soon involved in a judicial dispute which would have meant his being tried by the Parliament of Paris. This was very much the case of Parliament asserting its power over the increased power of the Crown, here represented by Francois who had secured his appointment as the Bishop of Auxerre through royal patronage. Anne de Montmorency the Dinteville's cousin was able to use her powerful influence in helping Francois overcome his adversaries but the result was that it was thought prudent to remove him from France and he was sent as an ambassador to the Holy Seet at Rome. At about the same time Jean was sent to England on his first diplomatic mission.

The friendship between Francis I and Henry VIII was being strengthened. Henry's financial backing and political and military support were important to Francis I's anti-Imperial policies and Francis' political support was being sought by Henry who at this time was involved in the protracted dispute with the Pope over his proposed divorce of his first wife Catherine of Aragon. Who was Charles V's aunt. Henry had begun pressing for a divorce from Katherine since 1527. Katherine who had previously been married to Henry's elder brother Arthur was 6 years older than him and had failed to provide him with an heir. Henry quoted the Bible Leviticus XX. 21 on the prohibition upon taking one's brother's widow as one's wife concluding that as a result his marriage was cursed by God. He, therefore sought the annulment by the Church in order that he could remarry his mistress Anne Boelyn. Henry claimed he was acting from the best motives, whether it was from interpretation of the scriptures, the concern for a male heir or just love for Anne Boelyn. His appeal to the Pope eventually involved the leading scholars and churchmen of Europe. He had a strong case and one with precedent, but the Pope, Clement VII who was firmly under the influence of Charles V since the sacking of Rome in 1527 was reluctant to offend the Emperor and therefore unable to oblige Henry.

As well as resident Ambassadors at both French and English Courts, special envoys were employed to convey messages of a confidential nature and it would appear that this was Jean de Dinteville's role. Francis I had strongly backed Henry's claim for an annulment and both the Dinteville brothers Jean in France and England and Francois in Rome were employed in supporting his cause.

The Pope Clement VII was keen to counteract the influence of Charles V by keeping on good terms with Francis but was to find the problem of Henry's divorce from Katherine of Aragon a perpetual thorn in his side making it impossible not to offend either Charles V or Francis I. This in turn was to lead to frenzied diplomatic positioning and duplicity throughout the next four years by Henry, Francis, Charles and the Pope. It was also instrumental in bringing about England's split with Rome and the forging of the English Reformation. The winter of 1531-1532 saw an escalation in the confrontation. A form of excommunication had been drafted in Rome ordering Henry to abandon his mistress Anne Boelyn but Henry had retaliated with the Annates Act of 1532 whereby the Papal finances due from England were limited to 5 percent of their previous amount. This was a tense time for Henry. He could not be sure that his won clergy would support him and they might possibly openly oppose him. There were rumours of a rebellion, and an invasion from the Low Countries by Charles V. France's support was deemed to be of the utmost importance.

October 1532 saw the meeting of Henry and Francis at Calais (& Boulogne) at which Jean de Dinteville and his two brothers would have been present in their positions of charge of the royal children. He had expressed the wish to see the two eldest sons as it was his financial help that had secured their release after 3 years as hostages of Charles V. The Bishop of Auxerre, Francois de Dinteville was originally supposed to be there to report on negotiations in Rome, but in the end his presence was not called for. The manifest purpose of the meeting was supposed to be the defence of Christian Europe against the Turk but the secret agenda was to discuss a common policy against Charles V and in particular how to resolve the impasse in Henry's petition for divorce. Francis I considered it prudent to keep Henry informed about his forthcoming meeting with the Pope. He planned to discuss the prospect of marriage between his second son Henry Duke of Orleans and the Pope's niece Catherine de Medici, France's claims to the Duchy of Milan, an Italians defence league with Charles V against the Turk and a resolution to Henry's divorce. Henry's understanding of the proposals was that the prospect of a marriage between the Valois and Medici houses was the bribe for favourably settling Henry's divorce. Whilst Francis eager to please Henry also wanted to draw the Pope away from Charles V's influence and pursue his own Italian ambitions. Both Kings, however declined Clement's invitation to join with Charles V in an Italian Defence League (along with Venice).

Disregarding the threat of excommunication Henry secretly married Anne Boelyn in January 1533. To do this Cranmer a reformist clergyman was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. This appointment was approved by the Pope mainly because of the threatened use of a rigorous application of the Act of Annates. The ecclesiastical revolution was furthered by the passage through Parliament of the Act of Appeals which was drafted and supervised by Thomas Cromwell; This Act vested in the Archbishop the powers formerly possessed by the Pope to hear and decide all appeals from the ecclesiastical courts in England; Soon afterwards Henry's marriage to Katherine was annulled by Cranmer (Katherine had tried to enlist Cornelius Agrippa for her defence). The break between Rome and England was now complete for the judgements of the English Courts were not to be affected by any Papal verdict or by excommunication and with a stroke if Papal authority was removed from England. The following month Henry was describing himself as "King and Sovereign recognising no Superior on Earth but God".

It was in February 1533 with this background of events that Jean de Dinteville arrived in England on his 2nd diplomatic mission. His main task was undoubtedly to reassure Henry of Francis I's support and also to gauge the strength of Henry's opposition. It would appear that Henry was not without his own doubts concerning Francis' diplomatic endeavours, but he seems to have generally held Jean de Dinteville in high regard. Dinteville was given the residency of Bridewell Palace, just outside the walls of the City of London and seems to have become a popular figure at the Court. It was perhaps through the Court that he first was acquainted with the Artist Hans Holbein. Although Holbein had already painted portraits of Court figures, another more likely point of contact could have been the German merchants of the Steelyard whom Holbein had just painted. At the time these merchants were often used for diplomatic missions involving the German Protestant Princes whose friendship and support both France and England were cultivating. What is known is that by the Spring of 1533 (possibly April 13) Jean de Dinteville together with his friend George de Selve sat for Holbein. Whilst George de Selve's stay in England was relatively brief, Jean de Dinteville's visit lasted nearly a year and it was he who probably gave the portrait of "The Ambassadors" so much input as to its detail and composition. Although Jean de Dinteville was involved in his diplomatic duties at Court he probably had enough time away from his political endeavours to take what was obviously a thoughtful and painstaking interest in the portrait.

With the appointment of Cranmer, the annulment of Henry's marriage, the passing of the Act in Restraint of Appeals and the secret marriage to Anne Boelyn already taken place Jean de Dinteville was anxious that Henry's intention of crowning Anne Boelyn at Whitsun would jeopardise Francis' intended meeting with the Pope. Henry refused to keep his marriage secret any longer and refused to delay Anne's coronation. It is known that Jean de Dinteville sent two letters, one to Francis relaying Henry's intentions (in the letter to Francis he also requests extra funds because of the great expense that he will incur over Anne Boelyn's Coronation - he was subsequently given 500 gold Crowns) and one to his brother, Francois who was being sent on a 2nd diplomatic mission to Rome. Jean was concerned about his brothers mission and although he urged his brother to entreat with the Pope on behalf of Henry he was relieved when Francois' mission was cancelled. The letter to his brother is also of interest concerning Jean's private life. He talks of his lack of ability as an archer and also the lack of interest in Henry's Court in Falconry, a pastime in which he was obviously an enthusiast. His interest in science is shown by the fascination in the description of a new oval compass that his brother has recently obtained. He mentions that his good friend George de Selve has visited him but intriguingly requests that his brother does not mention this fact to Anne de Montmorercy (the Chief Minister). He talks of how tiresome he finds his stay in England and hopes for a prompt recall to France, surprisingly after only 3 months in this Country.

After Anne Boelyn's Coronation, relations between England and France were beginning to strain. One of Henry's concerns was over Francis' intentions towards his own Lutheran reformers. Rumours were rife that a severe clamp down in France was imminent and Henry thought that this could prejudice the good relationship that had been achieved with the German Princes. Dinteville was requested to write to Francis, Montmorecy and Du Bellay (Bishop of Paris) to ensure that the German Princes were informed and reassured as to the true intentions of Francis' proposed meeting with the Pope Clement VII. These were trying times for Henry as he was beginning to suspect (quite rightly) French duplicity in the negotiations with the Pope concerning his divorce and remarriage.The prospect of a rebellion by his people over the treatment of Katherine of Aragon, a popular figure, was gaining ground. Jean de Dinteville thought that there was indeed a possibility of rebellion especially if the Pope carried out his threat to excommunicate Henry. He was forced to reassure Henry that Francis' meeting with the Pope would only encompass the proposed Valois - The Medici marriage and the settlement of Henry's divorce.

Dinteville had now been in England six months and was eager to end his mission and return to France. His health was suffering and his relationship with the Tudor Court was becoming increasingly difficult. However he ended his diplomatic mission was put on hold as Francis I's anti Imperial diplomacy was beginning to unravel. Francis had been out manoeuvred by Charles V with the murder of a secret French agent in Milan which had led in turn to the virtual termination of the League of Cognac and the thwarting of Francis' ambition to secure the Duchy of Milan. The Pope was still firmly under Charles V's domination and the meeting between him and Francis was continually being postponed. Henry was growing increasingly impatient and suspicious over this proposed meeting and Dinteville probably bore the brunt of his suspicions. The Pope meanwhile, influenced by the strong imperial faction of Cardinals had pronounced the sentence of excommunication on Henry and only would agree to delay the execution of the sentence until after the proposed meeting with Francis, as he was still eager to arrange a marriage between his niece and the younger son of Francis I, Henry Duke of Orleans. Dinteville was forced to remain in England during these manoeuvrings, although not in the best of health. Henry received a further blow to his cause when Anne Boelyn gave birth on September 7th to the future Queen Elizabeth. This now left two female contenders to his throne. French vacillations over the meeting with the Pope caused him to recall the two Ambassadors (The Dukes of Norfolk and Richmond) who were to represent his interests and if he could he would have called for the cancellation of the meeting and it was only after French intervention (Dinteville's and others) that he agreed to find replacements for them. Jean de Dinteville, along with Beauvais - French Ambassador to Scotland- was instrumental at this time in arranging a truce between Henry and his nephew James V of Scotland. Dispite all the intrigue and apparent suspicions of French motives, Dinteville was evidently still in favour at the Court to the degree that he appears to have spent much of this time as a guest of Henry's at the royal palace of Greenwich.

When the meeting between Francis I and Clement VII finally took place at Marseilles in October, just as he feared Henry's problems were largely ignored. Apart from the marriage arrangement between his son and the Pope's niece Francis was given the go ahead to reconquer the Duchy of Milan and also received from the Pope Parma and Piacea. Henry was furious that his divorce had been ignored and it needed all Jean de Dinteville's tact, charm and skill to keep relationships between Henry and Francis from reaching breaking point. Jean de Dinteville's replacement, Castillion had already arrived by now and it was probably with much relief that on 18th November he set off to return to France.

Although his stay in England had seen a progressive deterioration in the relationship between the two crowns, no fault could be attached to his ambassadorship. Indeed, considering Henry's fiery and impetuous temper and his own King's diplomatic duplicity it is remarkable that he was able to remain on such good terms at Court and prevent a complete rupture in the relationship.

Jean de Dinteville probably spent most of 1534-35 at the French Court fulfilling his duties to the Duke of Angouleme. His next diplomatic mission was again to England in the Autumn of 1535. Henry VIII had by this time finalised his break with Rome in 1534 with the Act of Supremacy by which Parliament made the King and his successors the supreme heads of the Church of England. Those who refused to take the oath of Supremacy such as Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher (Henry's principle religious opposition - The Bishop of Rochester - John Fisher who had opposed itıs divorce and against the Act in Restraint of Appeals in the House of Lords and had refused to take the Oath of Supremacy. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London, tried for treason and eventually beheaded) were executed. Pope Clement VII had died the same year and Henry had great hopes that the new Pope, Paul III would re-open his case and find favourably for him but Paul III reached the same conclusions as his predecessor, and infact instructed Francis I to break off relations with Henry and prepare to make plans for war. Francis evaded complying and sent Jean de Dinteville to England to keep Henry informed of these new Papal moves. The situation had been exacerbated by the new Pope making Fisher a Cardinal and this more than anything else sealed his fate. The Pope retaliated with a Bill depriving Henry of the throne of England. Jean's mission was not only to inform Henry of the Pope's plans but also to negotiate a price for Francis' mediation and support.

Apart from visiting Winchester where the Court had retreated to escape the plague that was widespread in London Jean de Dinteville accompanied Castlenau the resident French Ambassador to see the young Princess Elizabeth. There also appears to have been an abortive attempt to visit Princess Mary with a scheme for her marriage to the Dauphin.

The visit was a short one and Dinteville returned to France in mid October 1535. His mission had been a difficult one and as far as Francis I was concerned unsuccessful, as Henryıs financial support was not forthcoming. Whilst in England Jean de Dinteville had been exposed to a new ruthless political climate following the execution of More and Fisher in France an increasing devisiveness the persecution of Reformers reaching new heights in 1535. The Lutheran reforms were spreading throughout Europe, especially in France where the gulf between the two sides was growing and forcing the occupiers of the middle ground like Jean de Dinteville, his family and friends to choose one side or the other.

The alliances that had been pursued for the last 10 years were also beginning to fragment. Francis I determined to realise his station ambitions was reluctant to antagonise the Pope and with the death of Katherine of Aragon in January 1536 a major obstacle to a rapprochement between Henry and Charles V had been removed. Henry who had completely broken with Rome but not with Catholicism could see more advantage to an undertaking with Charles V.

French anxiety over an improvement in the relationship between Henry and Charles V brought Jean de Dinteville back to England in May 1536. His mission was to ensure that Henry reaffirmed his commitment to Francis I, but it was to be almost a complete failure. He obtained no more than a promise of empirical neutrality from Henry in any dispute with Charles V and there was no offer of further financial support. Dinteville's proposal of marriage between his former charge the Duke of Angouleme and Princess Mary also came to nothing, as there was also a counter proposal from Charles for Mary to marry Don Loys of Portugal. Jean de Dinteville returned to France at the beginning of July with little achieved save for the promise of a pension to Thomas Cromwell with which it was hoped to exert an influence in France's favour from the King's Chief Minister.

Jean de Dinteville's fifth and as far as we know his last mission to England early in 1537 concerned Cardinal Pole's (the Papal Legate and friend of George de Selve) proposed crusade to bring the people of England out in rebellion against Henry. The North of England had already seen a major insurrection (The Pilgrimage of Grace) and the Pope thought that the time was ripe for the overthrow of Henry. Jean's mission was to inform Henry of Pole's progress through Europe and offer Francis' support. Henry's insistance that Pole should be arrested could not be counternanced by Francis as it would inviolate his diplomatic immunity and the least he could promise was to expel Pole from France. This he did and Pole retired to Flanders where he was again asked to leave by the Regent of the Netherlands, also anxious not to antagonise Henry. Pole retreated to Liege and subsequently abandoned his crusade effectively outmanoeuvred by Henry's forthright diplomacy.

Jean de Dinteville now returned to France and his court duties, but a number of family disasters coloured his later life. In 1536 his brother Guillaume had been falsely implicated in the death of the Dauphin, but was able to eventually establish his innocence. The French Court was now dividing into two rival factors, one around Francis, the other around Henry who had now become the Dauphin. Jean's youngest brother Gaucher, Guillaume and this eldest brother Francois the Bishop of Ancerre and even for a time Jean himself were out of favour with Francis' faction. The principle reason would appear to have been some form of implied treason, but whether there was any truth to the charges seems to have been negligible. However the three brothers were forced to flee to Venice and even their powerful cousin Montmorency was unable or unwilling to save them. Numerous attempts were made to have them expelled from both Venice and later Rome. Meanwhile Jean still with Charles (former Duke of Angouleme) now Duke of Orleans campaigned ceaselessly for their restoration, but to no avail, until the succession of Henry II in 1547 enabled all the Dinteville brothers to return to France and resume their positions.

Jean de Dinteville's health which had never been robust, deteriorated and he was forced to abandon his public career and retire to Polissy. He spent his remaining years rebuilding his Chateau at Polissy and living in quiet retirement. He died there aged 51 in 1555.

 

Iain Murray

 

Text copyright ©1999 Greaves & Thomas. London.

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