Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, 1533 - 1592

portrait of Michel de Montaigne
Anonymous (17th century), based on Kerkado (ca. 1580)

Born: 28 February 1533, Ch
Died: 13 September 1592, Ch

Montaigne was born on the family estate and soon embarked on one of the strangest courses of education imaginable. Instead of allowing the boy to become accustomed to great wealth on the family estate, he was sent to live with a peasant family for three years. His father wanted Michel to learn Latin as his first language and hired a German tutor (who spoke no French) to teach him, then banned the use of French in the Chateau when Michel was within hearing. To make sure that he learned to delight in music, a musician was hired to constantly attend the boy and play whenever his interest flagged. He studied under one of the greatest Latin scholars of the era at Bordeaux. He studied law at Toulouse and began a legal career and was appointed counselor of the high court in Bordeaux. He joined the court of Charles IX for a time and was awarded the collar of the order of St Michael, the highest honor in the French nobility. In 1571 he retired from public life, on his 38th birthday he retreated to his library and started writing the Essais, essentially inventing the form, which he worked on for the rest of his life. In 1581, while on a trip to Rome, he was elected mayor of Bordeaux and was ordered by the king to return home to take up that role, which he did for four years. Montaigne was an influential mediator between Roman Catholic and Protestant partisans (he and his father were Catholic, his mother a Jewish convert to Protestantism), in 1588 he was arrested by the Protestant League and taken to the Bastille, but was released after several hours. He was afflicted by quinsy, now called peritonsillar abscess, which caused the paralysis of his tongue, and may have been the cause of his death.

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