L’HÔPITAL (or L’Hospital), MICHEL DE (c. 1505–1573), French statesman, was born near Aigueperse in Auvergne (now Puy-de-Dôme). His father, who was physician to the constable Charles of Bourbon, sent him to study at Toulouse, whence at the age of eighteen he was driven, a consequence of the evil fortunes of the family patron, to Padua, where he studied law and letters for about six years. On the completion of his studies he joined his father at Bologna, and afterwards, the constable having died, went to Rome in the suite of Charles V. For some time he held a position in the papal court at Rome, but about 1534 he returned to France, and becoming an advocate, his marriage, in 1537, procured for him the post of counsellor to the parlement of Paris. This office he held until 1547, when he was sent by Henry II. on a mission to Bologna, where the council of Trent was at that time sitting; after sixteen months of wearisome inactivity there, he was by his own desire recalled at the close of 1548. L’Hôpital now for some time held the position of chancellor to the king’s sister, Margaret, duchess of Berry. In 1553, on the recommendation of the Cardinal of Lorraine, he was named master of the requests, and afterwards president of the chambre des comptes. In 1559 he accompanied the princess Margaret, now duchess of Savoy, to Nice, where, in the following year, tidings reached him that he had been chosen to succeed François Olivier (1487–1560) in the chancellorship of France.
One of his first acts after entering on the duties of his office was to cause the parlement of Paris to register the edict of Romorantin, of which he is sometimes, but erroneously, said to have been the author. Designed to protect heretics from the secret and summary methods of the Inquisition, it certainly had his sympathy and approval. In accordance with the consistent policy of inclusion and toleration by which the whole of his official life was characterized, he induced the council to call the assembly of notables, which met at Fontainebleau in August 1560 and agreed that the States General should be summoned, all proceedings against heretics being meanwhile suppressed, pending the reformation of the church by a general or national council. The States General met in December; the edict of Orleans (January 1561) followed, and finally, after the colloquy of Poissy, the edict of January 1562, the most liberal, except that of Nantes, ever obtained by the Protestants of France. Its terms, however, were not carried out, and during the war which was the inevitable result of the massacre of Vassy in March, L’Hôpital, whose dismissal had been for some time urged by the papal legate Hippolytus of Este, found it necessary to retire to his estate at Vignay, near Étampes, whence he did not return until after the pacification of Amboise (March 19, 1563). It was by his advice that Charles IX. was declared of age at Rouen in August 1563, a measure which really increased the power Of Catherine de’ Medici; and it was under his influence also that the royal council in 1564 refused to authorize the publication of the acts of the council of Trent, on account of their inconsistency with the Gallican liberties. In 1564–1566 he accompanied the young king on an extended tour through France; and in 1566 he was instrumental in the promulgation of an important edict for the reform of abuses in the administration of justice. The renewal of the religious war in September 1567, however, was at once a symptom and a cause of diminished influence to L’Hôpital, and in February 1568 he obtained his letters of discharge, which were registered by the parlement on the 11th of May, his titles, honours and emoluments being reserved to him during the remainder of his life. Henceforward he lived a life of unbroken seclusion at Vignay, his only subsequent public appearance being by means of a mémoire which he addressed to the king in 1570 under the title Le But de la guerre et de la paix, ou discours du chancelier l’Hospital pour exhorter Charles IX. à donner la paix à ses sujets. Though not exempt from considerable danger, he passed in safety through the troubles of St Bartholomew’s eve. His death took place either at Vignay or at Bellébat on the 13th of March 1573.
After his death Pibrac, assisted by De Thou and Scévole de Sainte-Marthe, collected a volume of the Poemata of L’Hôpital, and in 1585 his grandson published Epistolarum seu Sermonum libri sex. The complete Œuvres de l’Hôpital were published for the first time by P. J. S. Dufey (5 vols., Paris, 1824–1825). They include his “Harangues” and “Remonstrances,” the Epistles, the Mémoire to Charles IX., a Traité de la réformation de la justice, and his will. See also A. F. Villemain, Vie du Chancelier de l’Hôpital (Paris, 1874); R. G. E. T; St-René Taillandier, Le Chancelier de l’Hospital (Paris, 1861); Dupré-Lasalle, Michel de l’Hospital avant son élévation au poste de chancelier de France (Paris, 1875–1899); Amphoux, Michel de l’Hospital et la liberté de conscience au XVIe siècle (Paris, 1900); C. T. Atkinson, Michel de l’Hospital (London, 1900), containing an appendix on bibliography and sources; A. E. Shaw, Michel de l’Hospital and his Policy (London, 1905); and Eugène and Émile Haag, La France protestante (2nd ed., 1877 seq.).