Behind every great man, lies an even greater man, often unknown. Hubert Languet is one of those men. We know him not for himself but for the influence he had on others.

Hubert Languet was born in 1518 France, at that time a country breeding religious intolerance. The Reformation was spreading from Germany into other parts of Europe. Many countries were unsure of how to receive this “new” faith, while others were increasingly hostile towards it. France did not welcome anyone aberrant to the Roman Catholic faith. Every dissident was termed a Lutheran, even if he was not necessarily linked to Martin Luther or his teachings. As the works of Luther infiltrated the borders of France, the faculty of the University of Paris began to take note. On April 15, 1521, the faculty condemned 104 Lutheran propositions. Later in the year, in conjunction with the Parliament, the faculty took control of the book trade in France.{footnote}R.J. Knecht, The Rise and Fall of Renaissance France: 1483-1610, 2nd Edition (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2001), 115-116.{/footnote} What began as a ban on books soon led to imprisonment of adherents to the Reformed faith, and as the century progressed, this in turn led to burnings and massacres.

AugustIFrancis I ruled France from 1515 to 1547. During this time, and throughout much of the 16th century, France experienced internal as well as external conflicts. Francis I was by turn in conflict with other countries and with his own people, but he remained allied with the pope. In a meeting in 1533 with Pope Clement VII, Francis promised to “eradicate heresy” from France.[footnote}Knecht, 141.{/footnote} However, Francis’ increased persecution of French Protestants damaged his reputation, particularly in Germany, as “imperial agents pointed to the shameful contrast between his harsh treatment of French Protestants and his friendly reception of Turkish envoys.”{footnote}Knecht, 145.{/footnote}

During the reign of Francis I, Hubert Languet was living in Vitteaux in Burgundy. He studied law, theology, and science at the University of Poitiers. After some travel, he attended the University of Bologna and the University of Padua in Italy, where he received his doctorate.{footnote}“Hubert Languet” Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911. Available online at /Hubert_Languet.{/footnote} It was at Bologna where he first read Melancthon’s Loci Communes Theologiae. Languet, raised as a Roman Catholic, was so influenced by Melancthon’s writings that he resolved to journey to Wittenberg to meet him, and he did so in 1549. Shortly after this meeting, he converted to the Protestant faith.{footnote}William Aspenwall Bradley, Ed., The Correspondence of Philip Sidney and Hubert Languet (Boston: The Merrymount Press, 1912), x-xi.{/footnote}

MaximilianIIIn 1559, Languet accepted the invitation of August I, elector of Saxony, to enter his service, where he showed remarkable skill in diplomacy. He was stationed at the French court as the representative of the elector from 1561 to 1572. He escaped the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre with the help of Jean de Morvilliers, bishop of Orleans.

He represented the elector at the imperial court of Maximillian II, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, from 1573 to 1577. After this he retired from court, though he still accepted commissions from the elector from time to time. He went on a mission to England for John Casimir, and he became an adviser to William the Silent, Prince of Orange.{footnote}“Hubert Languet” Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911. Available online at /Hubert_Languet.{/footnote}

PhilippedeMornayIt was in Paris in 1572 that Languet first met Philip Sidney. At the time of their meeting, Languet was 54 and Sidney was 18. Despite this difference in age, they became great friends.{footnote}It has been suggested that Shakespeare based his character of Hamlet on Philip Sidney and that of Horatio on Hubert Languet, though this has been disputed by textual critics. However, it was probable that William Shakespeare and Philip Sidney did meet at some point during their lives. See George Russell French, Shakspeareana Genealogica (London and Cambridge: Macmillan and Co., 1869).{/footnote} After the notorious St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, they again met up in Frankfurt. When Sidney continued his travels, he and Languet began a long history of correspondence. In these letters, Languet’s conception of the “state of Europe collectively as a Christian commonwealth” shines through,{footnote}Bradley, xvi.{/footnote} as well as his vision of Sidney as a “savior of society.”{footnote}Bradley, xxvi.{/footnote} Languet’s fervent hopes for Sidney and the Christian commonwealth, as he conceived it, are matched by the admiration Sidney displays for Languet and the counsel he provides to him. In a letter from Venice to Languet, Sidney writes, “one conversation with you would give me more delight than all the magnificent magnificences of all these magnificos.”{footnote}Bradley, 11.{/footnote} He frequently refers to Languet as his “much honored master and friend.”{footnote}Bradley, 35.{/footnote} Sidney asks Languet for his suggestions on what to study, on how to write letters, and on his views of the current political and religious climate. In another letter he writes “in your letters I fancy I see a picture of the age in which we live: an age that resembles a bow too long bent; it must be unstrung, or it will break.”{footnote}Bradley, 36.{/footnote}

LouisXIIILanguet and Philippe de Mornay are often credited with the joint authorship of Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos or A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants. De Mornay was born in 1549, received a Protestant education from his mother, narrowly escaped the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, became a Protestant leader, and was eventually expelled from his governorship at Saumur by Louis XIII.{footnote}Philippe de Mornay, A Work Concerning the Trueness of the Christian Religion (Delmar, New York: Scholars’ Facsimiles & Reprints, Inc., 1976), v.{/footnote} The religious wars in France, and particularly the massacre, led to the people questioning the right of kings:

If kingship existed for the protection of subjects, what were their rights when the very basis of its meaning was taken away? St. Bartholomew’s Day, as Duplessis-Mornay said, destroyed the mutual faith of prince and subjects, and so uprooted the foundations of the state. It made necessary the abandonment of the fiction that the powers of the king were not a fit subject for discussion. It became essential to survey the rights of citizenship, to discover whether a royal power so obviously capable of abuse, could be permitted to exist without definite and guaranteed limitations.{footnote}A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants (London: G. Bell and Sons, Ltd., 1924), 23.{/footnote}

The Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos, among other pamphlets and books that addressed this subject during the late 16th century, posed four questions:
1. Whether subjects be bound, or ought, to obey princes who command anything against the law of God.
2. Whether it be lawful to resist a prince wishing to abrogate the law of God and devastate the church: also by whom, how, and to what extent.
3. Whether, and to what extent, it be lawful to resist a prince who is oppressing or ruining the commonwealth: also by whom, how, and by what right it may be allowed.
4. Whether neighboring princes may be right, or ought, to render assistance to subjects of other princes who are being persecuted on account of pure religion, or oppressed by manifest tyranny.{footnote}Vindiciae Conta Tyrannos (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).{/footnote}

Languet did not live his life in fear, nor did he seek to be displayed to the world. He sought to use his talents for the kingdom of God. He did this by serving others, whether in official capacities or in counseling friends. Languet spent the remaining years of his life in the Low Countries until his death in 1581 at Antwerp.{footnote}“Hubert Languet.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911. Available online at{/footnote} His own words reflect his life, when, in a letter to Philip Sidney, written on March 26, 1574, he writes, “the hatred of the Papists which you speak of, does not disturb me; my life and my death are in the hands of God, and they can do to me no more than God shall permit.”{footnote}Bradley, 47.{/footnote}


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