Biography of Peter Plaoul

By Jeffrey C. Witt

Edition: 2013.1 | January 14, 2013

Original Publication: Petrus Plaoul Editio Critica Electronica (PPECE), Boston, MA, March 23rd, 2011

License Availablity: free, Published under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

Early Life and Education

Peter Plaoul was born in either 1352 or 1353. That we know this is really little more than an accident, a fortunate slip of the tongue that found its way into the preserved records of the University of Paris. In a trial of sorts at the University of Paris related to the Blanchard Affair,1 Plaoul was called as witness on August 16th, 1385 and there he identified himself as being 32 years old.2 Therefore, he was born in either 1352 or 1353. The location of his birth is another happy fact gleaned from the documents that record his activity in Church politics. From a speech given in 1406, we learn that he is a man of Liege.3 We do not know much more than this regarding his early life, though Hélène Millet offers some plausible conjectures. She identifies reasons to think that Plaoul came from modest means, and that Plaoul was brought to the as a young boy. From here she suggests that Plaoul likely came into contact with Jean Blanchard, who was dean of the cathedral in Liege in 1363 and "was well positioned to identify young talents of the school chapter."4 Sometime after 1371 but before 1378 Plaoul was licensed as a Master in the Arts Faculty. Plaoul mentions that he was licensed in the arts faculty under the chancellor John of Calore, who began his term in 1371.5 But the earliest document that identifies Plaoul as a Master of the Arts is a provision from November, 17, 1378.6 Presumably, then, sometime between 1371 and 1378 Plaoul was licensed in the Arts Faculty. Three more documents from 1385 continue to list Plaoul as a Master of Arts: one from May7, one from July8, and one from August.9 However, another document also dated to August 1385 begins to list Plaoul as bachelor of theology, suggesting a terminus ad quem to his career in the arts faculty, and the beginning of his career as a theologian.10

Alongside these notes about Plaoul's academic status is the title which explains why he appears in Chartularium so often and becomes embroiled in what today is called the "Blanchard Affair." As early as 138111 Plaoul is identified as the sub-chancellor of the University of Paris. And on four different occasions in 1385, Plaoul is referred to as sub-chancellor.12 The nature of the position of sub-chancellor further explains Plaoul's client-patron connection to Jean Blanchard and the Blanchard Affair. It is also an important part of understanding the political allegiances and oppositions that will characterize much of Plaoul's later ecclesiastical career. While it is common to refer to a chancellor of the University of Paris (who in 1385 would have been Jean Blanchard) this is actually a misnomer. Blanchard was actually the chancellor of the Church of Paris, an ecclesiastical position within the cathedral chapter. The rector of the university, on the other hand, was elected to his position, represented the University faculty, and served at their pleasure. Rather than represent the University, the chancellor held the responsibility of overseeing the graduation and licensing of students within the university.13 This administrative task was often delegated to his sub-chancellor, who, in 1385, was Peter Plaoul.

This, in turn, leads us to the explanation for why Plaoul appears within the records of the University as a witness in an on-going trial. At the heart of the Blanchard Affair was the accusation that Blanchard, and Plaoul with him, were extorting money from students in return for letters of recommendation and licensing for degrees.14 In particular, both Blanchard and Plaoul were accused of acting unfavorably especially toward those who were sympathizers with Pope Urban VI (1378-1389), the first Roman Pope of the Western Schism.15 As is the case in universities today, there was often tension between the administration and the faculty and/or students. The Blanchard Affair is an instance in which this tension grew to the point of breaking. Because Plaoul was most likely responsible for the nitty gritty of administrative activities, it was natural that he would be caught up in the affair. Whether their favoritism is true or unfounded, it is also clear that Plaoul, through his patron, was originally aligned with the Avignon Pope. But this would change as Plaoul began actively looking for a way to end the schism.

Despite Blanchard's good standing in the eyes of the Avignon Pope, Clement VII (1378-1394) was forced to examine the accusations made against him and Plaoul. Importantly, the Pope appointed Pierre D'Ailly to try the case. D'Ailly was a rising superstar at Paris and this first opposition to Plaoul would not be his last. Moreover, D'Ailly was a teacher at the College of Navarre and was recently appointed its rector. It was here that D'Ailly formed a close bond with his student Jean Gerson.16

D'Ailly was successful in his prosecution, and Blanchard was forced to leave his post. Millet suggests that not only did Plaoul lose his post, but he also felt that it was best to leave Paris for awhile.17 For this reason, she surmises, we next find him in Avignon from 1386-1387 under the auspices of Cardinal Pierre Ameih. Millet further tells us that Plaoul is most likely still benefiting from the protection of Blanchard, who was an acquaintance of Cardinal Ameih in his youth.18

Plaoul's Commentary on the Sentences

After this brief time away, we find Plaoul active once again at Paris in the 1390's. In the academic year of 92/93 he gave his inaugural lectures on the Sentences of Peter Lombard: a pinnacle achievement for a bachelor in theology, similar to the completion of a dissertation in today's universities. In the following year of 1394, Plaoul is found in the records of the University again, this time listed as a Master of Theology.19 While Plaoul's name only infrequently appears in 20th and 21st century scholarship, where it does, it is often associated with a 1939 article by P. Glorieux, which pertains to these inaugural lectures.20 Glorieux's article is a survey of the historical data that can be gleaned from a unique historical document; BNF lat. 3074 (Ms. P) represents the survival of student's notes, who faithfully attended Plaoul's lecture from the fall of 1392 to the spring of 1393. The student in question is named Richard of Basoches, who provides us with a unique view into the lecture cycle at Paris in the early to mid 1390's. Despite Glorieux's close attention to this document, his interest is only historical. When compared to the other surviving manuscripts, we can see that Richard of Basoches's notes are both the work of a meticulous student and also substantially abbreviated from the more expanded and polished drafts we have.

To this record of Plaoul's lectures, we can identify the existence of six other witnesses. Two manuscripts in the National Library of France exist along with the notes of Richard Bosoches.21 A fourth very nice manuscript, dated to 1412, can be found at Reims, which shows a continued interest in Plaoul's work nearly 20 years after it was originally presented in the classroom.22 Mss. S, SV, and R clearly belong to the same branch of stemma tree. A fifth complete manuscript is contained in the Vatican Latin manuscript collection. What version of Plaoul's commentary this manuscript represents is still unknown. Unlike mss. S, SV, and R, it preserves a collatio. From lectio 1 to 31 it tracks fairly close with S, SV, and R, enough so that its variants can be compiled in apparatus. But beginning at lectio 32, when text turns to consider the notions of 'use' and 'enjoyment', it makes a surprising divergence. It diverges from text it was previously tracking with to the point that its variants cannot be tracked in a simple apparatus. However, the variation is not as great as in the case of ms. P or E. It remains close enough in content to identify identical paragraph units. But the paragraphs appear to be either a first draft or a rewrite. Whether ms. V represents an earlier draft and S, SV, and R represent a rewrite or whether the relationship is the reverse still remains to be decided. A sixth manuscript also exists at the Universitätsbibliothek Erlangen-Nürnberg.23 This manuscript is also currently something of a mystery. It appears to be carefully constructed (its handwriting is careful and the pages are artfully highlighted with red ink). Likewise, it contains clearer lectio divisions than those found in any of the other manuscripts; sometimes these lectio divisions even include helpful subtitles about the content of the lectio. However, while tracking the order of discussion in the other manuscripts, it is also heavily abbreviated. Despite it divergence from S. SV, R, it also diverges significantly from the report of Richard of Basoches (ms. P) and the witness of ms. V. Finally, a seventh manuscript (ms. VP) was identified by A. Maier in 1958, which was not mentioned in Stegmueller's report. Maier states that this manuscript is another Reportatio, however it is distinct from the report given by Richard of Basoches.24

Church and Politics

In an effort to end the Great Schism, King Charles VI called three meetings of the French clergy in the 1390's. The reports from these meetings constitute our primary knowledge of Plaoul's from 1394 to 1398.

However, prior to the first clerical meeting, in February of 1394 the University had endeavored to end an internal controversy over where to place the University's allegiance.25 Records indicate that Plaoul, as a newly minted Master of Theology, was a participant in this discussion.26 A year later, in February of 1395, Charles VI called the first meeting of the French clergy and Plaoul was present as a representative of the University.27 Following this first meeting, in June of the same year, Plaoul was sent on a propaganda mission to the north (primarily Boehemia and Hungary).28 Upon his return, on August 28th, he petitioned to speak at the second clergy council already under way.29 Permission was granted, and the next day, August 29th, he gave a speech defending the need to force the Avignon Pope (now Benedict XIII) to surrender.30 This stands in contrast to the position taken by D'Ailly and Gerson, who as chancellors of the University more closely represented the positions of their bishop than the University. Millet notes that both received some nice ecclesiastical promotions in the mid-90's from their continued allegiance to Benedict XIII. D'Ailly became bishop of Le Puy in 1395 and passed his chancellery to Gerson. (Gerson and D'Ailly only became champions of conciliarism at a later date.)31 Thus, Plaoul, in 1396, acting as a representative of the University, found himself not only politically opposed to D'Ailly for a second time, but now also opposed to the newly appointed chancellor of the University.

On November 11th, 1936 an event is recorded that still remains puzzling to scholars. Plaoul is asked to attend a Royal council and defend a position proscribed by the University. Whether the university wanted him to argue for subtraction of obedience or against remains unclear. It would be odd that Plaoul would argue against subtraction, since this inconsistent with the position he argued for earlier in the same year and with the position he will argue for later in 1398. However, the report from the council in February of 1397 lists Plaoul as someone who argued against subtraction.32 This inconsistency of this position, however, might explain why Plaoul had to be threatened by the university to argue for the proscribed position or face the penalty of losing his University status. Millet, however, suggests that record noting that Plaoul argued against subtraction might be plausible attributed to a scribal error.33. In any event, after being ordered by the University, Plaoul did attend the Royal Council in February 1397.34

In 1398 the King called the third and more famous council of French clergy. At this meeting, Plaoul was one of twelve people appointed to speak.35 He also gave a closing speech on June 7, 1398, in which he again advocated for a withdrawal of obedience from the Avignon Pope.36 This also turned out to be the will of the assembly, which called for a withdrawal of obedience at the conclusion of the meeting.

Between 1398 and 1407, Plaoul’s political prominence rose and fell with the policy of subtraction. In December 1398, a few months after subtraction took effect in France, he was slated to join an embassy to Benedict XIII led by Louis, duke of Orléans, which was later cancelled.37 In 1399 he participated in an embassy to the Low Countries which convinced the bourgeois and clergy of Liège to remove their obedience from the Roman pontiff, Boniface IX38 He was still absent from Paris in January 1400, when his request to participate in the conferral of benefices in absentia through a proctor was denied.39 However, as France moved first toward a restoration of obedience to Benedict (May 1403) and then enjoyed a brief period of friendly relations, Plaoul disappears from the written record – not even submitting a supplication in the University’s massive rotulus of 1403, in which even many of Benedict’s die-hard opponents secured inclusion.40

Nevertheless, when disillusion with Benedict began to set in once more, Plaoul rose to prominence again. In 1405 he headed a secret university embassy to Innocent VII, the newly elected Roman pontiff, with the goal of establishing friendly contacts.41 By 1406 the University openly advocated a policy of renewed subtraction from Benedict, and Plaoul emerged (along with Jean Petit) as an official spokesman for this policy. The two scholars first appeared before the Parliament of Paris in a successful effort to secure first condemnation of an anti-subtractionist letter published by the University of Toulouse (May-June)42 and then support from the Parliament for a renewed policy of subtraction (September).43 When the University pressed for a Fourth Assembly of the French clergy to consider renewal of the subtraction policy (November 1406), Plaoul was one of three spokesmen for the University’s policy, but his argument was different from the others.44 While Jean Petit and Simon de Cramaud advanced the dubious contention that France’s restoration of obedience to Benedict in 1403 had been conditional (and was voided by his bad faith),45 Plaoul simply argued that the Schism was a ‘violent thing’ which required going beyond the ‘order of law,’ a move justified by Benedict’s own schismatic, or even heretical, nature.46 However, rather than providing the immediate and total subtraction of obedience that the University sought, the decision of the Fourth Clerical Assembly established the principle of royal control over beneficial affairs in France while maintaining a renewed subtraction as a future threat rather than present policy.47 This helps to explain Plaoul’s awkward position in a large embassy sent to meet with Benedict in May 1407,48 during which he did not serve as spokesman and was forced to show elaborate respect to the pontiff whom he had attacked so violently a few months before.49 However, as the embassy moved on to the court of the Roman Pope Gregory XII with the goal of arranging a colloquy between the two pontiffs, Plaoul returned to his familiar role as University spokesman, offering a sermon before the new pontiff in favor of the via cessionis. 50 Nevertheless, hopes for the via cessionis dimmed in late 1407 when a planned meeting between the rival pontiffs failed to take place, leading many to the conclusion that a workable solution to the Schism would have to circumvent the papal rivals themselves.

Beginning in 1408, therefore, widespread international support mobilized behind a conciliar solution to the Schism, and Plaoul played an important role in this development. Having remained in Italy along with Simon de Cramaud into 1408, 51 both masters were probably present at the defection of the majority of the Roman college of cardinals from Gregory in May 1408 and definitely served as facilitators and witnesses for the merger of the two colleges of cardinals in June of that year. 52 Nevertheless, according to Monstrelet, Cramaud and Plaoul were able to return to Paris by September 1408 when they appeared in the Fifth Assembly of the French Clergy which dealt with the aftermath of France’s own declaration of neutrality with regard to both popes in May 1408, a move that laid the groundwork for the French support of the Council of Pisa. 53 Plaoul’s own crowning performance came some months later in May 1409 at a meeting of the council, where he delivered a sermon before an audience of more than 100 theologians. We only have scattered reports of the sermon, but his basic message appears to be that both Popes were heretics and schismatics, and therefore they must be removed from their offices.54 The Council’s choice of Alexander V as a new pope at first seemed to offer some hope of achieving a resolution to Schism, and the new pontiff appointed Pierre Plaoul bishop of Senlis in June of that year. 55

It also important to mention that throughout this time, Plaoul appears to be furthering his intellectual life. While at present, we do not know of any other literary works besides his Sentences Commentary and his political speeches, we do know that he was an active patron of the University Library. On June 21, 1405 Plaoul returned 30 books to the library. 56 A month later, July 25, 1405, he returned some books, while keeping others and the library key. 57 On October 5th of the same year he returned all his books as well as the library key.58 But once more in April of 1406, he was once again present in Paris to borrow more books and the library key.59

Final Years

Plaoul remained politically prominent until his death in 1415, even as the Pisan solution fell apart. In May 1410, he delivered to the University of Paris the disappointing news that the new pontiff had died before signing the University's rotulus of beneficial supplications.60 He returned to France as part of a delegation led by Cardinal Adimari, and in December 1410 he entered into his new see.61 He was present at an ecclesiastical assembly in February 1412 where representatives of the University of Paris re-vindicated their access to papal provision.62 He also participated in an embassy aimed at bringing peace between the increasingly violent factions of Bourguignons and Armagnacs.63 Plaoul had been slated to join the university delegation to the Council of Constance, but illness likely prevented his attendance, and he died early in 1415.64 Through these final years, Plaoul continued to be active intellectually and remained in close connection with the University. In 1411 he borrowed 18 books fromt he College of Chollets.65 In August of 1412 the University asked Plaoul to accept the office of protect of the privileges of the University.66 And in 1415, the year of his death, Plaoul bequeathed to the Sorbonne a bible with concordances, and a copy of Albert the Great's Commentary on the Sentences. These gifts earned Plaoul a commemorative portrait in one of the windows of the library of the Sorbonne. Unfortunately, this building no longer exists and Plaoul's physical portrait remains a secret lost to history.67

Plaoul's Legacy

Through close attention to the registry of the library at the College of Sorbonne,68 we can see a continued interest in Plaoul's work well into the late 15th century. In his 1423 Commentary on the Sentences, Lambertus de Monte includes citations from Peter Plaoul in the margin alongside his text in at least 5 places. Close analysis of the passages cited suggest that Lambertus was using mansucript E, now held in the Library at Erlangen-Nuremburg.69 We also know that one version of Plaoul's text (ms. VP), once in the possession of Henricus de Gouda was bequeathed to the Library at the University of Heidelberg on November 11, 1428.70 Much later, on September 10th, 1464, library records at the college of the Sorbonne show that Plaoul's Commentary on the Sentences was in the possession of Henricus de Quesnayo.71 Henricus appears to either have renewed or returned the book nearly two years later on December 28, 1466.72 Approximately 10 years later, Johannes Cordier, who obtained his doctorate in theology in 1480, was a defender of Pico della Mirandola, and was probably arrested with him in 1488, is recorded in the library record has having borrowed the Sentences Commentary of Plaoul on the sixth of January, 1476.73 Likewise, Fabianus Cadrigarii, who appears in the record from 1474 to 1477, is identified as having borrowed and read the commentary of Plaoul.74Sometime in 1479, the same text was checked out by Cornelius Audendick. 75 Johannes Lalier, who was received into the College of the Sorbonne in 1478, checked out Plaoul's text June 9th, 1481.76 Millet has also looked at this registry and observes that between 1464 and 147977Plaoul's commentary had at least five readers. She notes that this puts him on the short list of the most frequently checked out works. It ranks higher than that of Pierre D'Ailly's consideration of the Treatise on the Sphere of Jean de Sacrobosco, which was checked out three times during the same period.78 While 5 readers in 15 years may not seem like a lot, Millet describes this as a kind of resurgence, the cause of which remains a relative mystery as long as the contents of his commentary remain unknown. As a further point of comparison, she notes that Gerson's work does not even appear to be listed in the library's collection.79