Etienne de La Boétie Biography

Etienne de La Boétie (1 November 1530 – 18 August 1563). French lawyer and writer, recognized for his famous work The Counter One or Speech of Voluntary Servitude, where he exposes his political ideas of Freedom and against tyranny. He was also the author of numerous sonnets, verses, as well as important translations of the work of Sonnophon and Plutarch.


He is also known for his historical friendship with the philosopher Michel Montaigne, who was personally responsible for the printing of his work, which earned him great prestige among contemporary readers, following his rediscovery in 1917 by Paul Bonnefon.

Early life

Etienne de La Boétie was born on 1 November 1530, in the town of Sarlat, located in the south-west of France. His father served as the King’s lieutenant.

It is believed that he lost his parents in 1540, at the age of ten, from which he went into the care of his uncle Etienne, who was parish priest of Bouilhonnas, and who provided him with a good education, based on the study of Greek and Latin authors , most prestigious during the Renaissance. Shortly thereafter, that same year, he entered the University of Orléans, in order to study law.

Speech of Voluntary Servitude

At the University he had the opportunity to be a student of Professor Anne du Bourg, while also becoming interested in areas such as Theology, History, Philology, Poetry and Philosophy, in addition to those relevant to his legal career.

At this time he wrote his famous work, The Counter-One or Speech of the Voluntary Servitude, in which La Boétie exposes his moral and legal sanction against the figure of the tyrant, as well as his servants, as opposed to Freedom, which he labeled as the greatest of the hum assets years, though for this French author, paradoxically man does not seem to appreciate it.

In this sense, for Etienne de La Boétie, humanity submits voluntarily under the yoke of tyranny, even though all there are many compared to the tyrant and his supporters, at the same time becoming oppressed and complicit of the oppressor.

For Etienne de La Boétie, this social phenomenon is simply due to custom, which has caused men to forget their natural dignity. However, at some point the mass rises, overturning the hatred generated by oppression and old ageing, almost always with more intensity on the tyrant’s supporters than on it.

However, La Boétie does not propose a solution to this conflict, merely describing it.

Legal career

On 17 May 1554, he was appointed as a councillor of the Parliament of Bordeaux, thus starting his career as a man of law, even though he is a minor. It is in this city that he knows and begins his friendship with the philosopher Michel of Montaigne, who would last his whole life. He is believed to have married Marguerite de Carle that same year.

During 1560, Etienne de La Boétie worked as a censor of plays, intended to be presented at the Collége de Guyenne. A few months later, he makes a majestic speech to the Parliament of Bordeaux on religious tolerance.

In 1561, he traveled to Agen, in the company of Lieutenant and Lord of Burie, Charles de Coucy, in order to seek peace in this city, where tensions between Protestants and Catholics seemed to be on the verge of becoming a major conflict.

In 1562, La Boétie came to the city of Bergerac, as part of the delegation of twelve councillors, in order to lead groups of one hundred men, who defended the city from the reformers.

It is believed that that year he composed his work Mémoires de nos troubles sur l’édit de janvier, after the Edict published in January of that year by Catherine of Medici, which brought a climate favorable to the tolerant and peaceful coexistence of Catholics and Protestants, although historians such as Jasques Jospeh Desplat claim that the text could be composed before the sovereign’s edict.

Final stage

In 1563, three months after his 30th birthday, Etienne de La Boétie became seriously ill. He falls into bed on August 9. Michel de Montaigne presents him with the idea of moving to Germignan, so that he may be put under the care of his sister. However, his condition does not allow him to undertake the journey.

On August 14th he dictates his Testament. Four days later, on 18 August 1563, Etienne de La Boétie died early in the morning. Eight years later, in 1571, Michel de Montaigne decided to edit and publish some of his friend’s writings.

In this way the public knows his work The Against One or Speech of Voluntary Servitude, as well as some of his verses in Latin and French, his Mémoires de nos troubles sur l’édit de janvier and his translations of the ancient authors Plutarch, Xenophon and Aristotle.

Image source: artezeta.com.ar

Etienne de La Boétie Biography
Source: Education  
August 6, 2019


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