Author(s) De l’Orme, Philibert
Title Instruction de Monsieur d’Ivry...
Localisation Paris, BnF, MS Moreau 801 (XXXV A, 30-72), ff. 204-206
Subject Architecture, Military architecture
Consult in image mode


     This handwritten text was discovered in 1854 at the then Imperial Library by the historian and librarian Léopold Delisle (1826-1910), administrator of the National Library from 1874 to 1910. Adolphe Berry published a transcript of it in Les grands architectes français de la Renaissance (1860, pp. 47-59), then in the Topographie historique du Vieux Paris, Histoire du Louvre et des Tuileries (1885, pp. 179-185) ; it was taken up again by Anthony Blunt in his seminal monograph. The Inscription appears in a volume coming from Fevret de Fontette’s collection, devoted essentially to the history of Burgundy. The memoir, addressed to a powerful lord, “Your grace and best friend” whose identity is uncertain, was written by the architect during the years following the death of Henri II (1559), when he had fallen into disfavor and was subject to numerous threats and proceedings. In 1860, in Les grands architectes française de la Renaissance (1860, p. 48), Berty supposes that it was dedicated to Eustache du Bellay, bishop of Paris, a relative of the architect’s first patron, Cardinal du Bellay, who died in Rome in 1560. Philibert frequently makes reference to him, recalling how modern his chateau was at Saint-Maur-des-Fosses. But in the Topographie historique du vieux Paris (1885, vol. 2, p. 179), he suggests Christophe de Thou, the first president of the Parliament, who was one of the architect’s executors : this is the theory of Jean-Marie Pérouse de Montclos (2000, p. 73).
     The memoir written in the first person is an apologia, in which the architect responds essentially to the accusations of corruption aimed at him, or at least of personal enrichment. Recapitulating all of his income which he says is less consequent than his enemies claim, he endeavors to show that far from growing wealthy, most of the time he was obliged to draw from his own money in order to realize a good part of the works he was responsible for (for example paying for the scale models). In addition, through his efficient management and work as an architect he saved substantial amounts of money for the administration of the royal buildings. It was in this scrupulous management that he earned a large number of enemies in the little world of middlemen and profiteers who jumped on this occasion to avenge themselves. Finally he brought out all of the services he performed for the crown as an architect and also as a military engineer and even as an improvised warlord, saving Brest from the English invasion by himself thanks to a strategy worthy of the best antique stratagemata.
     This all results in fascinating text, in particular previously unpublished perspectives on Philibert’s activity as the person responsible for the fortifications along the coast of Normandy and Brittany during the reign of François I. Concerning the architecture, De l’Orme completed the Premier tome de l’architecture (1567), giving precious biographical indications and a specific catalog of the buildings he constructed. Thus allusions to his stay in Italy from 1533-1536 enable one to confirm that De l’Orme did not travel to Rome with Cardinal du Bellay, but that it was during that stay he entered his service. The Instruction also reveals that Philibert was awarded a responsibility at “Saint-Martin dello Bosco” in Calabria – in fact Santo Stefano del Bosco (Lenzo 2015). Naturally the architect gave priority to his activity in the royal construction sites, Fontainebleau Saint-Germain, Saint-Léger, Villers-Cotterêts and Madrid and he also mentions the tomb of François I at Saint-Denis, whereas not in the Premier tome. He also writes that he worked for the queen-mother at Montceaux. On the other hand, he writes briefly and cautiously about Anet, emphasizing that he worked there only under the express order of Henri II (f. 205v), which was one way of distancing himself from Diane de Piotiers, then in disgrace.
     The text is also a testament to a moral conversion. De l’Orme suffers his misfortunes as divine retribution which he is bearing for having overlooked service to God “and whereas I learned to build castles and houses, I will learn to edify men”. The arrogant King’s architect is on the way toward his metamorphosis into the pious canon of Notre-Dame.

Yves Pauwels (Centre d’études supérieures de la Renaissance, Tours) – 2017

     When he was appointed general supervisor of structure and fortifications in Brittany in February, 1545, Philibert de l’Orme took charge of a province whose coastline was regularly the target of attempts at raids. Starting with the fourth Italian war and the entry of Henry VIII in the Holy League and up until the treaties of Cambeau-Cambrésis were signed in April, 1559, English, Spanish and Flemish ships strove to land in Brittany. Alone or with their allies, the English carried out several important operations which mobilized from approximately 50 to 100 vessels transporting several thousand men aiming at Saint-Malo, Morlaix, the gulf of Morbihan and the estuaries of the Loire and of the Vilaine. But most often they were aiming at the harbor, the port and the château de Brest. In fact raids were carried out on this stronghold in 1512, 1513, 1522, 1543, 1546 and 1558. These multiple attempts can be explained due to Brittany’s contribution to the actions of François I, Henry II, on the seas and beyond. Brittany and the château de Brest in particular played a central role in the kingdom of France’s support of Scotland in François I’s expedition against the southern coast of England in 1545 or more generally in privateering activity.
     Condemning the use of the munitions and weapons of the château de Brest to arm ships, Philibert confirms the role that Brest played in Breton privateering in the 16th century. Far from being one of the “larcenies” discovered by the king’s architect, the use of the city’s munitions wasn’t limited to the stronghold’s defense. The artillery inventories at the chateau showed large reserves of powder, cannon balls and cannons in the stronghold. If the main part of this material was earmarked for the defense of the chateau, another part was used to arm ships for expeditions to Scotland or to equip other towns in Breton harbor parishes. De l’Orme is certainly exaggerating when he alludes to a chateau of Brest empty of its munitions, its vituals and its artillery. It is also the case in the account he gives of his contribution to the defense of Brest and of his work on the fortifications in Brittany. In fact, Brest and all of Brittany were able to resist the English and Flemish raids before Philibert de l’Orme was appointed to be head of fortifications in the duchy in 1545. Morlaix was taken and burned in 1522, but it was not the case for Brest, where the chateau’s artillery made the difference and forced the enemy ships to withdraw from the harbor. The 1546 raid mentioned by the architect is fairly similar to the account that the surgeon Ambroise Paré left of another raid on the Brest harbor in 1543. Unlike in 1522, it was not a surprise ; in both cases, 1543 and 1546, the enemy’s approach was expected. In order to prevent the English ships from landing in 1543, François I, in Champagne, sent Jean de Brosse, duc d’Étampes, René de Rohan et Claude de Laval to Brittany. Since Paré was then a surgeon in René de Rohan’s company, he was part of the trip to the Breton headland. The letter he wrote upon arriving in the district of Brest describes the organization of the town’s defenses precisely (Malgaigne 1841, pp. 692-693). The Instruction shows a similar organization facing the English ships three years later. The fact that the architect “yelled so much” that the duc d’Étampes, the king’s governor in Brittany, brought back Dampierre, the captain of Brest, is confirmed by a letter from Henri, the heir apparent and duc de Bretagne, in March, 1545, O. S. In this letter to the duc d’Étampes Henri confirms that “our enemies the English have pondered an undertaking on the said stronghold of Brest”. Therefore the architect was not the only one organizing the defense of Brest. And contrary to what he maintains, it is moreover very probable that his presence in that port was not connected to “good luck”. Several archives seem to indicate that his presence in this port was not so frequent, or at least that he was not always very available, as one sees in a letter from Montmorency to the duc d’Étampes in 1533, “Several times I have written and told Saint Germain the abbot of Ivry to go find you, or else that he send his brother to you if he cannot go. But I hear nothing from him”. It is very probable that his presence in Brest, when a raid was forecast, would be the result of a request coming from the heir apparent Henri or from the duc d’Étampes.
     Concerning his activity in the Breton fortifications, it is astonishing that De l’Orme is satisfied with a single line in which he states that he did more “in four years than [his predecessors ] had done in twenty”. It would have been useful to extend this remark by a few more lines. In fact, it is difficult to identify Philibert’s activity in the Breton fortifications. Probably he must be credited with constructing what is called the bastion of la Galère at the château de Saint Malo, installing an artillery battery on Ile du Grand Bé, also at Saint Malo, the layout of small bastions at the foot of the château de Brest to protect the entrance of the port and also participating in building the first château du Taureau in the bay of Morlaix. More generally De l’Orme’s nomination to Brittany in 1545 coincided with a new phase of construction in the fortifications of the duchy consisting in a transformation of existing works into artillery platforms. In Brest as in Saint Malo these changes were above all oriented toward the open sea and towards the entrance of the ports in order to be facing the developing marine artillery. Nevertheless, De l’Orme was not the only one to take action in Breton fortifications. His brother Jean worked side by side with him, at least starting during the first years of the 1550s. In Brest, the transformation of the former boulevards into small bastions to defend the entrance of the port can also very well be attributed to the vide-admiral of Brittany Nicolas Durand de Villegagnon who proposed it in 1552. Anne de Montmorency’s difficulty contacting the De l’Orme brothers by mail led him to guide the duc d’Étampes toward other experts. Moreover, Philibert minimized the work his predecessors did in Brittany. Whether it concerned Concarneau, Nantes, Saint-Malo and Brest, construction continued to transform these main strongholds of the Breton coastline from the last years of the 15th century. In Brest, from 1500-1540, the Madeleine tower was reinforced and enlarged, two new towers were constructed on the south-west front and the curtain walls were modified, either to remove recesses, or to reinforce their thickness, or to enlarge the total surface area of the chateau. In thirty or forty years the château de Brest changed profoundly, probably more than after the work done from 1540-1550 which could be the years Philibert de l’Orme was active there.

Pol Vendeville (La Chapelle-sur-Erdre) – 2017

Critical bibliography

A. Berty, “Mémoire manuscrit de De l’Orme sur sa vie et ses œuvres”, Les grands architectes français de la Renaissance…, Paris, Aubry, 1860, pp. 47-59.

A. Berty & H. Legrand (ed.), Topographie historique du Vieux Paris, Histoire du Louvre et des Tuileries, II, Paris, 1885, appendix VI, pp. 179-185.

A. Blunt, Philibert De L’Orme, Paris, Julliard, 1963, pp. 167-173 (Paris, Monfort, 1986 ; 1st ed. : London, Zwemmer, 1958).

C. Corvisier, “Le château de Brest. Du donjon des ducs de Bretagne à la place forte d’État”, Congrès archéologique de France, 165e session, 2007, Finistère, Paris, Société française d’archéologie, 2009, pp. 23-64.

F. Lemerle & Y. Pauwels (ed.), Philibert De l’Orme, un architecte dans l’histoire. Arts, sciences, techniques, Turnhout, Brepols, 2016.

F. Lenzo, “Philibert De l’Orme et les architectures antiques et modernes du royaume de Naples”, Revue de l’art, 188, 2015-2, pp. 41-47.

D. Le Page, Finances et politiques en Bretagne au début des temps modernes, 1491-1547, Paris, CHEF, 1997.

J.-F. Malgaigne (ed.), Ambroise Paré, Oeuvres complètes, vol. 3, Paris, Baillière, 1841.

J.-M. Pérouse de Montclos, Philibert de l’Orme. Architecte du Roi (1514-1570), Paris, Mengès, 2000.

P. Vendeville, “S’ils te mordent, mords-les”. Penser et organiser la défense d’une frontière maritime aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles en Bretagne (1491-1674), PhD, Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne University, 2014.