Historical Figures

Théophraste Renaudot - Biography

Theophraste Renaudot (1586-1653) was a French doctor and journalist, founder of the Gazette de France. We also owe him Mont de Piété, classified ads, the employment agency, public assistance, newspapers... This exceptional man, researcher and doctor who treated the poor free of charge, invented solidarity and mutualism. Long forgotten, it resurfaces in our memories through a literary prize created by French journalists to which it will give its name in 1925:the Renaudot Prize.

The life of Théophraste Renaudot

Théophraste Renaudot was born in December 1586 in Loudun in Vienne. Protestant, he learned Latin and Greek, then in 1602 began studying medicine and surgery in Paris. While in Paris medicine was too traditional with its three "S"s (Senna, Bran and Saignée), he opted in 1605 for the famous University of Montpellier, renowned for its new and modern methods using chemicals where he received a Doctor of Medicine at the age of twenty.

After traveling to Spain, Italy, Switzerland and finally England, he settled in Ardèche, got married, practiced medicine and did research to create a drug . Frequenting the literary salon of Gaucher de Sainte-Marthe in Loudun, he met Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu as well as François Joseph Le Clerc du Tremblay, commonly known as the Eminence Grise of Richelieu. These two great characters will support Renaudot and promote his projects.

After publishing the "Treatise of the Poor" in 1612, he obtained a royal patent for the "Bureau d'Adresses" and a second for "Advisor and Ordinary Physician of the King" from the hands of Louis XIII, who was barely twenty-six years old, and then acquired the title of "General Commissioner of the Poor and Invalids of the Kingdom" in 1618.

Finally, he settled in Paris in 1626, converted to Catholicism and took care of the poor and the sick. He establishes a plan to fight against poverty, by creating an employment office for the employment of vagrants on tasks of public interest, then suggests occupying the very poor in removing mud from the streets and removing garbage. First official journalist in France, enjoying the absolute protection of the King and Cardinal Richelieu, he founded the “Gazette”. This weekly newspaper was a grand invention for its time, an organ of information as well as a means of propaganda for the state.

The works of Théophraste Renaudot

The Office of Addresses and Meetings

The first office opened on the Île de la Cité in 1630, under the sign of Grand Coq. Quickly, this office acts as a place of placement, dispensary, registration of job applications, purchase and sale proposals, declarations of all kinds, knowing that a job advertisement, purchase or sale cost only three cents.

According to his principle "experience has taught that in the affairs of life, timely help has all the importance of a treasure", Renaudot publishes the " Sheet of the Addresses Office” allowing employers and job seekers, buyers and sellers of goods, craft manufacturers and customers to be put in touch; at the same time, a royal ordinance obliges the unemployed to register there from 1633.

Because of this success, he opened a second office at the Louvre in 1641 … which would mark the beginning of his problems with the Faculty of Medicine.

The Gazette

Inspired by the "gazetta" discovered in Venice during his travels, Renaudot, who had already established conferences where politics, religion and philosophy were debated, on May 30, 1631, offered the "News, gazettes and accounts of everything that happens inside and outside the kingdom" under the title of "La Gazette ". Protected by Richelieu and defender of his ideas, Renaudot could thus officially disseminate the ideas of the government while announcing the Parisian news in his large weekly. Receiving the operating monopoly, the Gazette absorbs its competitor, the bookseller Martin et Vendôme. The success due to the quality of the newspaper and the clarity of the news, is such that the circulation reaches eight hundred copies in 1640, from four to twelve pages depending on the week, in the format fifteen by twenty three centimeters and appears every Friday.

On the death of his Eminence Grise in 1638, Renaudot took over the management of the "Mercure de France", a directory of the main annual events from the years 1605 to 1610, created in 1611. It continued publication until 1643…it was at this time that he lost his protectors through the death of Richelieu and Louis XIII…nobody daring to take his side, the Faculty forbade consultations and conferences in his Office, which was to close finally in 1646.

Mazarin tries to take over from Richelieu and the Gazette continues its publications very irregularly during the Fronde. Leaving the writing of the newspaper to his sons (who will also obtain the monopoly a little later), Renaudot accompanies the royal family to Saint Germain during this turbulent period. Although his pension as General Commissioner of the Poor was taken away from him, he obtained the post of "King's historiographer" in gratitude for his loyalty.

The Gazette will later be attributed to Minister Choiseul who will name it "Official Journal" in 1762 having a governmental character. Called the "Gazette de France", it appeared twice a week and then had a supplement publishing the debates and deliberations of the Constituent Assembly in 1787. Became a daily newspaper in 1791, the newspaper took the title of "Gazette Nationale de France" after the execution of Louis XVI and disappeared in 1915. And since 1925, no one has forgotten him since a literary prize bears his name.

The Help Desk or “Pawnshop”

A philanthropist, Renaudot cares for the poor and wishes to help them. It is based on the Italian model created in 1462 in Perugia by the monk Barnabas of Terni, legalized by Pope Leo X in 1515, to found his first public assistance office in 1637 in Paris. According to him, this is the best way to respond to the difficulties of the poor and the nobles ruined by the expenses of court and wars. We lend on pawns and then the auction takes place. This is how the first “Mont de Piété” was born. This practice was stopped on the death of Louis XIII and it was only thanks to an order from Louis XVI in 1777 that the office was reopened, at the corner of rue des Blancs-Manteaux and rue des Franc-bourgeois, in the Marais district. Closed in 1795, Napoleon I relaunched it in 1804 when it experienced a period of prosperity. Remember that the nickname "My Aunt" comes from the Prince de Joinville, third son of Louis-Philippe who had to put his watch there because of gambling debts. To his mother, he pretended to have forgotten it at his aunt's...and the expression "to put on the nail" goes back to the time when objects were hung on nails.

One ​​hundred years later in 1918, the Mont de Piété became Crédit Municipal de Paris. Alongside pledge loans, the establishment develops banking activities. Let's smile now with this anecdote:in 2003, a lot of jewelry consisting of two necklaces and a medal remained pledged for fifty-four years, four months and sixteen days. Finally, it was recovered by the family of the hirer who paid all this time the interests of the loan!

For the two hundred and thirtieth anniversary in 2007, the Mont de Piété did its Good Deed by returning a thirty-euro object to a thousand customers.

Charitable Consultations

Théophraste Renaudot, always wanting to help the poorest, wanted to found a free school of medicine in Paris. Supported by the King, he obtained letters patent in 1640 for his school and organized a public laboratory for apothecaries. There again, the Faculty is indignant and will constantly persecute him. A year later, the King granted him the privilege of Charitable Consultations. Organized by doctors, surgeons and apothecaries fighting against the Faculty, the consultations first took place every Tuesday, but in view of the large number of indigents, they became daily. Renaudot then imagined creating a “Hôtel des Consultations Charitables”, a sort of hospital where students would learn at the bedside of the sick…Louis XIII then granted him land in the Faubourg Saint Antoine district in 1643.

The persecution of the Faculty of Medicine

We learned above that the Faculty of Medicine, dissatisfied with Renaudot's actions, constantly persecutes him. On the death of the King and the Cardinal, this doctor of the poor finds himself without protectors. The Faculty will bring a lawsuit against him and his collaborators on the grounds of "illegal practice of medicine and use of potions of plant origin based on antimony".

As a first action, the Faculty attacks its children and denies them the diplomas they deserve. Then in March 1644, Parliament took away all the titles, monopolies and privileges acquired by Renaudot. He can no longer practice medicine, he only has the Gazette and the Bureau d'Adresses. Revolted, he takes Guy Patin to court. So mean and so fine, this one is acquitted by the judges. Renaudot continues to fight and obtains the appointment of his sons who will defend him and that of antimony, with the help of the students.

Exhausted, ill, Théophraste Renaudot was hit several times with hemiplegia. He died on October 25, 1653, in poverty, in the galleries of the Louvre, where he had had his accommodation as the King's historiographer. Buried in Saint Germain l'Auxerrois, he will not see that the Faculty of Paris will unanimously adopt in 1666, the emetic wine based on antimony! As well as the museum installed in his honor in Loudun, in his birthplace!

To go further

- Théophraste Renaudot:Journalist and doctor of the people – Pierre Roudy. Editions Edge of the water, 2006.

- History of the French press:From Théophraste Renaudot to the digital revolution, by Patrick Eveno. Flammarion, 2012.

- Unusual Stories from the History of France – Henri Pigaillem. City, 2009.