Ossat, Arnaud D'

, a celebrated cardinal, and one of the greatest men of his time, was born at a small village in the county of Almagnac, Aug. 23, 1526. He was descended of indigent parents, and left an orphan at nine years of age, in very hopeless circumstances; but Thomas de Marca, a neighbouring gentleman, having observed his promising genius, took the care of his education, and placed him under the tutors of the young lord of Castlenau de Mugnone, his nephew and ward. D’Ossat made such a quick progress, that he became preceptor to his companion; and was sent in that character with the young nobleman and two other youths to Paris, where they arrived in May 1559. He discharged this trust with fidelity and care, till they had completed their course of study; and then sent them back to Gascony, in 1562. During this time he had made himself master of rhetoric and philosophy, and became a good mathematician; and being now at leisure to improve himself, he repaired to Bourges, where he studied the law under Cujacius. About this time he wrote a defence of Peter Rarnus, under whom he had studied philosophy, against James Charpentier, entitled “Expositio in disputationem Jacobi Carpenterii de Methodo,” Parisi 1564, to which Charpentier published a scurrilous reply, “Ad expositionem disputationis de methodo, contra Thessalum Ossatum responsio.” D’Ossat, having obtained his diploma at Bourges, returned to Paris in 1568, and applied himself to the bar. In this station his merit procured him the acquaintance and esteem of many distinguished persons; and, among the rest, of Paul | de Foix, then counsellor to the parliament of Paris, took him in his company to Rome, in 1574.

This was the first step towards making his fortune; for the same friend being afterwards made archbishop of Thoulouse, and appointed by Henry III. ambassador in ordinary at the court of Rome in 1580, engaged D‘Ossat to be secretary to the embassy; and the archbishop dying in 1581, his secretary was employed in the same character by cardinal d’Este, protector of the French affairs at Rome. He continued in this service till the death of the cardinal protector, in 1586; who by will left him 4000 crowns, and offered him a diamond worth 20,000 crowns, to keep as a security till the legacy should be paid; but D‘Ossat generously refused the pledge, though he had no hopes of ever receiving the legacy. Before this time he had entered into the church, and been ordained priest; and during his residence with the cardinal, acquired a knowledge of the intrigues of the court of Rome, and displayed so much political ability, that he was -continued in the secretaryship under cardinal de Joyeuse, who succeeded d’Este. This was done by the express command of Henry ill. that he might be a kind of political tutor to that cardinal, who, being then only twenty-six years of age, had not gained sufficient experience; and he conducted himself so agreeably to Joyeuse, that he presented him in 1588 to the priory of St. Martyn du Vieux Bellesme; and the same year he was a second time invested with the post of counsellor to the praesidial court of Melun, which he had obtained before he left Paris.

Upon Henry the Fourth’s abjuring the Protestant religion in 1593, the papal absolution for him was obtained by D‘Ossat; which was deemed a master-stroke of his abilities. The favour was strongly opposed both by the Spaniards and the princes of the house of Lorrain, and also by the Hugonots, who were naturally averse to their beloved prince’s being reconciled to the see of Rome; but every difficulty was removed by the artful management of D’Ossat, who dissipated all the scruples of Clement VIII. a pope by nature extremely diffident; so that the affair was resolved on before the arrival of James Davy, afterwards cardinal Du Perron, who, indeed, by the figure that he made, quickened the execution .*


The verbal process of the king’s absolution is given in “Du Perron’s Letters.” The penance decreed by the Holy See on this occasion, was in


this manner: while the “Miserere” was sung in presence of the pope and consistory, Du Perron and D’Ossat, the king’s proxies, being prostrate with their faces to the earth, received each at every verse a stroke of a switch over his head, shoulders, and back, down to the feet, from the beginning of the psalm to the end: but D‘Ossat declares they felt the blows no more than if a fly had crept over their clothes, D’Ossai’s Letters, 1721, fol.

The king, in | consideration of this service, nominated D‘Ossat, in 1596, to the bishopric of Rennes, to which the bull was signed gratuitously by the pope. Sept. 1597, he was appointed counsellor of state, on which occasion he took the oath before the duke of Luxemburg, then the French ambassador at Rome; who, having leave to return home in 1598, the superintendency of the French affairs was committed to D’Ossat, till another ambassador should be appointed; and, May the following year, he was created a cardinal. The king had solicited this favour for some time, his low birth being made an objection. Nor indeed was his fortune even now equal to this high station; but he resolved not to lay aside the modesty and temperance he had hitherto observed, and in that spirit refused an equipage and some fine furniture which were sent him three weeks after his promotion, by cardinal de Joyeuse, in whose house he had received the compliments of the cardinals upon his election. The legacy, however, already mentioned, of cardinal d’Este, happened unexpectedly to be paid to him the following year, 1600; and so seasonably, that, as he himself declared, he should otherwise have been almost ruined. Some time after, the pope gave him the abbey of Nant, in Rouerge. Upon cardinal de Joyeuse returning to France this year, he was appointed vice-protector of the French nation; and in that quality was affable, easily accessible, and kind to those who had occasion to apply to him. All these preferments were highly agreeable to Henry IV. who the same year added to them the bishopric of Bayeux, the revenues of which were richer than those of Rennes. This, however, he resigned in 1603, finding the affairs of the court would not permit him to reside in his diocese; and he had scarcely made this sacrifice when he died, March 13, 1604, in his 68th year. His corpse was interred in the church of St. Lewis, at Rome, where there is a monument erected to his memory.

Father Tarquinio Galucci made his funeral oration, or panegyric; the sum of which is, that he united the most exact probity with the most consummate policy, and therefore was universally esteemed. He was a man, says | Perrault, of an incredible penetration and he laid his measures with such true discernment, and executed them with such diligence, that it is scarce possible to mark a single false step in the numerous affairs which he negociated. Wicquefort, speaking of his abilities, observes, that he had given proofs of his skill in negociations in that which he transacted, with the grand duke of Tuscany, for the restitution of the island of If; in that with pope Clement VIII. in order to reconcile Henty IV. to the church of Rome; in that of the invalidity of the said king’s marriage with queen Margaret of Valois, which had been valid near thirty years; in that of the dispensation with regard to the marriage between Catharine of Bourbon, sister to Henry, with the duke of Bar, a papist, then a protestant; and in several other very important and delicate affairs. His dispatches, continues this writer, are as useful to an ambassador, who hopes to succeed in his employment, as the Bible and the “Corpus Juris” to such lawyers and divines as would succeed in their respective professions.*


In one of his letters to Henry IV. he informs him, that the pope had a design to raise Arabella Stuan to the throne of England, and to marry her to cardinal Fainese, brother to the duke of Parma; and, says he, as in every thing there must be some shew of justice, it is pretended, that these two princes are by their mothers’ side descended from the true and lawful kings of England

They were descended from the daughter of a bastard of Edward IV.

and for this reason have some right to that crown. Letter 199. This particular is not mentioned in any of the histories of England. In another letter upon the accession of king James, he observes, that the Spaniards, who were vexed at it more than any body else, would be the most forward to congratulate him; which the event shewed, as is well known, was a true presage.

These letters of our minister were first published under the title of “Lettres du Cardinal D’Ossat,” at Paris, 1624, folio, and have been enlarged and published at several times and places since. They were published at Paris in 1697, 4to, with his life, and notes by Amelot de la Houssaye ;

This ingenious editor remarks, that D’Ossat’s style is nervous, and that of a person formed by nature for negociations so his diction is wholly consecrated to the use of the cabinet.

and, lastly, in 1708, at Amsterdam, 12mo, five volumes. This is the best and most ample edition. Several of his original letters were formerly in Colbert’s library. In 1771, a life of him was published at Paris, in 2 vols. 12mo, which is said to be extremely partial to the character of the cardinal, but to contain much valuable information as to the history of the events in which he was concerned. 1

Gen. Dict.—Niceron, vol. XXXLV.—Perrault Les Hommes Illustres.—Bullart’s Academie des Sciences.