Histoire, mémoire et postérité : La Popelinière et l’écriture de la Saint-Barthélémy

The case of La Popelinière, the first “professional” Protestant historian to write about the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, is original on at least three accounts: his conception of history, his style of writing, and his relationship to posterity. In L’Histoire des histoires, which La Popelinière devoted to his historiographical reflections, he revisits such classic themes as the relationship between theory and practice, the notion of truth, and the role of the passions, redefining them in the process. As such, he distances himself from the traditional conception of history as “magistra vitae” where truth is understood in its moral sense, and turns his attention to its epistemological sense. Passion, the worst enemy of any historian seeking to chronicle his own times, also forces La Popelinière to reflect on his own subjectivity and the way to achieve the necessary neutrality to assure future generations of the fidelity of his account. The critical method he adopted, especially in writing about so delicate an affair as the Massacre, nevertheless earned him the enmity of his fellow Protestants. Yet he was not writing for his contemporaries, from whom he expected no recognition. Instead, he was addressing his “great nephews” who he hoped would benefit from his writings in two ways: access to an authentic account of this troubling period of Protestant history, and the tools necessary to anticipate the future.