Michel de Montaigne’s life and the sixteenth century

This is the companion timeline to our short biography of Michel de Montaigne, On Montaigne. Events in grey are provided for context.

Birth of Pierre Eyquem de Montaigne, Michel’s father, at Montaigne (40 miles east of Bordeaux). Pierre’s grandfather, Ramon Eyquem, a wealthy merchant from Bordeaux, had bought the estate of Montaigne in 1477.
April 22: Pedro Álvares Cabral arrives in northeastern Brazil.
Birth of Antoinette de Louppes, Michel’s mother, in Toulouse. Her grandfather is Antoine de Louppes de Villeneuve (Antonio Lopez de Villanueva). She is likely descended from a family of conversos, Spanish and Portuguese Jews who converted to Catholicism.
In Wittenberg, Martin Luther writes the Ninety-five Theses. This marks the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.
Pierre Eyquem marries Antoinette de Louppes.
February 28: Birth of Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, at Montaigne.
Montaigne enters the College of Guyenne, one of the best schools in France according to him. He graduates early, in 1548, after which he spends time in Toulouse, Paris, and at Montaigne. Not much is known of this period of his life.
Publication of Nicolaus Copernicus’s On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres in Nuremberg.
Montaigne becomes magistrate in Périgueux. He purchases his office, as is commonly done at that time, from his uncle.
The court in Périgueux where Montaigne works is eliminated. Its thirteen members join the Parlement of Bordeaux where Montaigne is made a councillor of the “Chambre des Requêtes“ (Chamber of Petitions).
January 15: Elizabeth I is crowned Queen of England.
Montaigne meets and begins working with Étienne de La Boétie, another councillor in Parlement. Their friendship will inspire several important passages of the Essays, including On Friendship.
March 1: Massacre of Vassy. Fifty Hu­gue­nots (French Protestants) are killed in a barn where they had gathered to worship. The first of several civil wars fought over the status and rights of Protestants in France begins soon after. The conflict will go on for nearly forty years.
August 18: Death of Étienne de la Boétie.
April: During a visit of the king of France to Bordeaux, Montaigne meets Brazilian Indians. He will write about this encounter in On Cannibals.
September 22: Montaigne marries Françoise de la Chassaigne. She is 21 years old. Her family is very well connected in Bordeaux and its Parlement.
June 18: Death of Pierre Eyquem. His son, Michel, becomes owner and lord of Montaigne.
Publication of Montaigne’s translation of Raymond Sebond’s Theologia naturalis.
Montaigne sells his councillor’s office. He is no longer a member of the Parlement of Bordeaux.
Montaigne publishes a selection of La Boétie’s works in two small volumes: Mesnagerie de Xenophon and Vers françois de feu Estienne de La Boetie.
February: Montaigne moves in to the new tower he had added to his home that winter. It includes a chapel on the first floor, a bedroom on the second floor, and a study on the third. He begins working on what will become the Essays.
September: Birth of Léonor de Montaigne, Françoise de la Chassaigne and Michel de Montaigne’s second daughter, the only one to survive into adulthood.
October: Montaigne is made knight of the Order of Saint Michael by King Charles IX.
August 23–24: St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre. Thousands of Hu­gue­nots are killed throughout France in one of the darkest episodes of the French wars of religion.
Montaigne is named a gentleman of the chamber of King Charles IX.
Death of Charles IX. Henry III becomes king of France.
Montaigne is named a gentleman of the chamber of Henry of Bourbon, king of Navarre, the future king of France (as Henry IV).
May: The first edition of the Essays comes out. The book is published, in two volumes, by Simon Millanges in Bordeaux. Montaigne pays for much of the printing costs.
July: Henry III grants Montaigne an audience. The king receives a copy of the Essays.
September: Montaigne leaves for Rome hoping to be named ambassador there. He travels through eastern France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy to arrive on November 30.
August 1: While still in Italy, Montaigne learns that he has been elected mayor of Bordeaux. He found out, in April, that he would not become ambassador and has been traveling through Italy since.
November 30: Montaigne is back at his home. He is sworn in as mayor in December. He will serve two terms.
Simon Millanges releases a second, slightly revised edition of the Essays. It is more carefully printed and bound than the first, in one volume in octavo.
June: A month before Montaigne’s second term as mayor ends, the plague reaches Bordeaux. Those who can abandon the city do. Montaigne, who was away, chooses not to return, leaving city officials in charge.
August: The area around Montaigne has become too dangerous: war, wandering soldiers, and the plague are near. Montaigne and his family must leave their home and live on the road for six months.
January: Montaigne, who returned to his home the year before, sets out for Paris to negotiate a peace deal between Henry III, king of France, and Henry of Navarre, leader of the Hu­gue­nots, both of whom he knows personally. Negotiations fail.
February: While in Paris, Montaigne meets with Abel L’Angelier, his new publisher.
May: Paris is under the control of Catholic hardliners. The king of France, fearing for his life, must leave the city. Montaigne leaves with him.
June: The “fifth,” expanded edition of the Essays comes out. (A third and a fourth unauthorized edition had come out in Rouen (1583–84) and Paris (1587) respectively.) It includes the three books we know today.
July: Montaigne returns to Paris to pick up copies of his book. Opponents of Henry III and Henry of Navarre arrest and jail him for a day. Catherine de’ Medici, the king’s mother, intervenes to have him released.
August: Montaigne spends part of the summer and the fall in Gournay-sur-Aronde, 60 miles north of Paris, with Marie de Gournay, his adopted daughter.
Montaigne is back at his home, revising and adding to the Essays. He writes corrections and addenda on the margins of one of his copies of L’Angelier’s edition. Nowadays, that copy is known as the “Bordeaux Copy.”
August 1: Henry III is assassinated. Henry of Navarre becomes King Henry IV of France.
March 31: Montaigne’s daughter, Léonor, gives birth to a daughter, Françoise, Montaigne’s first granddaughter and the only grandchild he will know. (Léonor had another daughter, Marie, from a second marriage, in 1610.)
Montaigne suffers a series of strokes. He dies, at Montaigne, on September 13. He is buried in Bordeaux.
L’Angelier, Montaigne’s Parisian publisher, releases the first posthumous edition of the Essays. It is edited by Marie de Gournay and based on the “Bordeaux Copy.”
Publication of John Florio’s translation of the Essays (The Essayes or Morall, Politike and Militarie Discourses of Lord Michaell de Montaigne).
Publication of Charles Cotton’s translation of the Essays.