L'Académie de Lausanne (ca. 1537-1560)

L’Académie de Lausanne entre humanisme et Réforme (ca. 1537-1560). Crousaz, Karine. Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2012. Education and Society in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, vol. 41. 608 pp. $147. ISBN 978-90-04-21038-7.

Anja-Silvia Goeing

published in: History of Universities (2014), 176–180.


A diverse range of intellectually stimulating institutions developed in Renaissance and early modern Europe. Most of them stood outside the general notions of university and Latin school, which had begun to acquire a distinctive identity in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. French and also Italian speakers tended from an early date to describe these newcomers as academies, thus putting them within a broad spectrum: in fact, the Accademia degli Intronati in Siena, founded in 1527, a society of Siennese intellectuals who enjoyed themselves writing and performing comic theatre plays, was a completely different undertaking from the Strasbourg academy, a gymnasium illustre comparable to a kind of lower-tier town university, that Johannes Sturm founded in 1538 for the education of boys. The latter acquired the title of academy in 1566 by imperial privilege, without changing much of its curriculum, as Anton Schindling explained in his book Humanistische Hochschule und Freie Reichsstadt. Gymnasium und Akademie in Strassburg 1538-1621 (1977, pp. 36-60). Amongst all the new foundations it can be argued that the Berne Academy, founded in 1528, and the Zurich Lectorium or “Schola Tigurina”, founded in 1525 by Huldrych Zwingli, had the closest comparable features to the Lausanne Academy of this early period. Although it never got a name other than “Lectorium”, and adopted the title of academy only in the 17th century, the elder Zurich school had similar goals, a similar structure, and similar teaching practices.

Karine Crousaz describes the academy of Lausanne as a university-like institution of higher education with a focus on teaching the three languages Hebrew, Greek and Latin, together with an ample background in the artes liberales and Aristotelian physics, in order to prepare French-speaking future protestant theologians to read the bible in its original languages and become ministers in parishes of the Lausanne region. With her book, she captures the early years of this school in the setting of the town, from its foundation in ca. 1537, just one year after Lausanne came under the dominion of Berne. She ends with the school’s first exodus of teachers in 1558/1559, who went to teach at the newly founded academy of Geneva. Crousaz’s main sources are archival documents found in Swiss archives and libraries, and she sets special value on the correspondences of the teachers, which have not been used in historical analyses of the academy so far. In her introduction, she sheds light on town politics at Lausanne with its connections to the administration in Berne, placing them in the context of religious and educational developments in Europe. She checks methodically into the infrastructure of the academy, its laws and finances, and the people employed in it, the professors and the students. Her last chapter is devoted to the practices of education, from the formal process from enrollment to exams, via teaching methods, to the idea of good living that is nurtured and trained at the academy. In a series of appendices, she has also transcribed and translated sample letters and school documents, and provided short biographies of the main actors.

The academy’s greatest achievement was to provide a group of male youth, aged six and above, with an advanced and reformed Latin-school education that included a training on university level. The levels were separated as schola privata and schola publica. As in Berne, Strasbourg or Zurich, it was the town which had an interest in setting this up. In Zurich, the investment was always officially justified on the grounds that the rural parishes urgently needed new preachers who were taught in the reformed belief. Nonetheless, students trained in a much broader spectrum of humanist cultures, fostered especially in extended scholarships to outside universities. In Strasbourg the motive was town prestige and pride, and the feeling of the town elite that they wanted to offer to their youth a cultivation schooled on humanist rhetoric, with, on top of that, the first years of university-training in medicine, law, or theology. Although the structure of the school in Lausanne was comparable to that of Zurich and its German-speaking sister institution in Berne, the skills of the teachers and how they trained the youth, shaped a quite different curriculum. Their teaching lead the students to follow a humanist culture that came from Paris, but honoured the protestant religious orientation in Lausanne. Crousaz shows with ample citations from the letters to and from authorities, that the Paris-taught reformed theologian and minister of Lausanne Pierre Viret (1511-1571) was the dominant figure for these early developments.

Crousaz dedicates a large part of the book to a detailed reconstruction of the financial situation of the school. The series of accounting documents that make this research possible are kept in the Cantonal Archives in Lausanne. The documents reveal how much the town bailiff of Lausanne paid each year for the professors and scholarships. The research shows that the total costs increased during the twenty-four years from 1537 to 1560. More scholarships were given at the end of the period than at the beginning, and they lasted for much longer periods of time. The awards followed the basic school rule, set in the school regulations, not to exceed twelve new scholarships a year. Within the group of first four,  and then six principal administrators of the school, only the salary of the Hebrew professor stayed the same from 1537 to 1560 with 200 florins plus allowances for vine and grain. Crousaz presents us with detailed tables for four years, 1538, 1547, 1553, and 1560. By 1560 the professor of Greek earned one fourth more than he had before. The professor of theology is only mentioned from 1547; his salary fluctuated, ending up the same in 1560 as it had been in 1547, 300 florins plus vine and grain. The professor of artes liberales who was to supervise the twelve (and more) scholarship-holders started his position in 1542. With 400 florins plus vine and grain rations, at first the salary was twice as much as the Hebrew professor, but from 1553 the stipend was on the same level. Crousaz attributes the rather high level of the entrance salary to the specific negotiation policy of the town to get the famous Celio Secondo Curione (1503-1569) as the first artes liberales professor in 1542. He had to leave Lucca due to Italian inquisitory pressure, and only remained in Lausanne until 1546, when he left with his family, a wife and seven children, for the university of Basel. His follower in office, André Zébédée, earned the same amount, but the next in line, Quintin Le Boiteux, earned much less, 200 florins plus vine and grain, leveling finally with the Hebrew professor’s salary. In 1538 the Latin school principal was paid only half of the salary of the professors of Greek and Hebrew. He reached the salary of the professor of Hebrew in 1547 and stayed there until 1560. The school provisor was, as the assistant of the Latin school principal, at the tail-end of the salary hierarchy. In 1560, the salary showed a clear predominance of the two professors of Greek (in 1559, Hans Knechtenhofer followed Théodore de Bèze) and Theology (in 1559, Adrian Blauner followed Jean Ribit) over their colleagues. With her detailed account, Crousaz suggests that the salary levels reflect recognition of internationally renown scholars like Curione. Also, they create a hierarchy of the disciplines, with the Latin school clearly subordinate to the other courses, and, as in Strasbourg, and in constrast to Zurich, the artes liberales were the center and core of the upper level courses, the latter slightly amended after 1553 towards Greek and theology.

In her chapter on teaching practices, Crousaz unfolds the curriculum, based on the school rules that were set up in 1547, with addenda from letters and textbooks. The individual classes started with the 7th grade, elementary level, and ended with the 1st grade, then followed by the university-like structure of the upper level courses. This separation in schola privata and schola publica was enforced by a strict organization of the lower level Latin school-like schola privata into classes and exams. In the curriculum, innovations included instructions on how to teach, that are mostly connected to Mathurin Cordier (1479-1564), a humanist from Paris. He was the principal of the Lausanne schola privata from 1445 to 1557 and, during these years,  published a series of teaching manuals, dealing with the question of how best to teach elementary Latin to French-speaking students. In his publications, Cordier incorporated general pedagogical goals towards the formation of character, like those that Pierre Viret had already formulated when he was instrumental in founding the Academy in 1537, to train the students in a “literate piety”. By explaining this phrase in the context of Cordiers’ writings, Crousaz elevates this general goal of humanist learning into a specific course program for Lausanne. Subjects that were taught at Lausanne in a different fashion from other protestant institutions include theatricals, geography and French, which became subjects in their own right.

The institution allowed students to choose among the offerings of the curriculum in the schola publica. Crousaz quotes letters from students that show that people of higher educational degrees also went occasionally to Lausanne, taking time off and deepening their knowledge in Hebrew and French. However, it remains unclear if the curriculum fostered students’ own ideas and disputes, and how students actually worked with textbooks and lectures.

The author’s bold comparison of the institution with contemporary university structures suggests that historians should see early-modern university history as closely connected to the history of schools and academies. If we broadened Crousaz’s perspective by comparing the teaching of Greek or Hebrew, the artes liberales, or even physics, among schools like the academy of Lausanne and universities such as Heidelberg or Basel, we would see a new set of interconnections between institutions. We would be able to see how the teachers in Latin schools and academies participated, through teaching, letters and publications, in the forming of the intellectual republic of letters, and also what role institutional policy played in the transfer of knowledge.

 Crousaz’ book looks beyond rules and regulations to see how people communicated about the school. The individual quotes from letters that the author found in the archives make her study of the school special, because we begin to understand how people were putting together and interpreting the existing regulations on a day-to-day basis. They also illustrate the very complicated interdependencies between the government in Berne, the bailiff in Lausanne and the Lausanne academy. The book raises an important more general question for future scholarship. Crousaz often cites the influences of Philipp Melanchton and Johannes Sturm, but they are never exemplified or discussed in a broader context. Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560) was surely more than the “arm of Luther”, when it came to educational reforms in the long run, as recent research by Stefan Ehrenpreis, Jürgen Leonhardt, and Barbara Mahlmann-Bauer has amply revealed. Melanchthon-oriented, so-called Philippist school and university teaching, such as that at the university of Marburg (founded in 1527), tended to allow close ties to Calvinism, which made collaboration with Swiss academies much easier than for the orthodox Lutheran institutions, such as at the university of Giessen, founded in 1607. Finally, the connections between Lausanne, Paris, and Zurich seem to bear potential for further investigation.