The Scaliger Family Papers, when taken together, trace the history of a noble family that was originally from Italy but lived primarily in Agen, France from the mid-1500s through the mid-1800s. Beginning with the patriarch, Julius Caesar Scaliger (1484-1558), a celebrated Italian scholar and physician, the members of the Scaliger family upheld an illustrious reputation over the centuries as scholars, military leaders, and noblemen. Throughout their family’s history, the Scaligers maintained that they were descended from the Della Scallas, Princes of Verona. It is perhaps as a result of the necessity to defend this claim as well as later attempts to prove ties to their noble heritage that this collection of papers has remained so well intact. This, in part, helps to explain why Mademoiselle Victoire de Vérone, the last surviving legitimate heir of the Scaliger family, still possessed the papers of her family dating back as early as the 1530s even though she was living in poverty.
In order to truly understand this collection it is important to first consider the founder of the family, Julius Caesar Scaliger. Over the course of his lifetime, Julius Caesar Scaliger engaged in a wide variety of pursuits. According to his own account, he began as a page in the court of Emperor Maximilian. From there, he became a soldier and was later even knighted for several acts of bravery. But, it was not for his military career that Scaliger was best known. It was rather his work as a scholar and physician that garnered him the most fame. As a young man Scaliger moved from Italy to Agen, a small town in the south of France. It was in Agen that he established a school, built a medical practice, and started a family. Overtime, Scaliger’s medical teachings became well-known as part of a revolt against strict adherence to ancient writings. He also became famous for his poetry as well as an oration he wrote violently denouncing the work of Erasmus. During the last years of his life, Scaliger worked on his most well-known book, Poetics. Published after his death, this book marked the first attempt to develop a philosophical theory of poetry. Julius Caesar Scaliger died on October 28, 1558, leaving behind a powerful legacy for his family to follow.
Despite Julius Caesar Scaliger’s profound accomplishments, his son, Joseph Juste Scaliger (1540-1609), is considered to have eclipsed his father’s fame with his work as a religious leader and scholar known for expanding the commonly held notions of classical history. It was Joseph Juste Scaliger who publically forwarded the claim that his family was descended from the Princes of Verona in his book Epistola de Vetustate et Splendore Gentis Scaligerae et J.C. Scaligeri Vita. He was attacked for this supposition and responded in later books to defend his claims to nobility, a practice his family would continue most notably in the 1660s and 1670s.
Nobility afforded many privileges in France during the seventeenth century and, as a result, many people began to issue false claims of noble birth. Consequently, King Louis XIV issued a declaration in 1666 requiring a verification of noble titles throughout the realm. In response, Joseph de Charrier de Lescale de Vérone (?-1689), head of the Scaliger family at the time, began to collect proof of the nobility of his ancestors and therefore himself. It is this necessity to verify the nobility of his lineage that is perhaps what brought this collection of papers together in the first place. As a result of his extensive compilation of documents as well as a series of numbered letters stating his claims, not only did the king accept Joseph’s petition for nobility, but also he officially recognized the Lescales of Verona as descendants of the Princes of Verona, as Joseph Juste Scaliger had asserted more than fifty years before.
In 1847 the last surviving heir of the Scaliger family legacy, Victoire de Vérone, was living destitute and alone in the same château in Agen that Julius Caesar Scaliger had originally built to house his growing family more than three hundred years before. Resigned to a life of poverty, it came as a shock to Victoire when she received a visit from Monsieur Jean Robert Poizat (1803-1868)who claimed that he was distantly related to her and, as a result, also a descendant of the Scaliger family. It appears that Victoire’s father had left his family in France to look after his wife’s property in Santo Domingo. There, unbeknownst to his wife in France, he had developed a relationship with another woman from which two children were born one being Jean Robert Poizat’s mother making Poizat, albeit distantly and illegitimately, related to Victoire. In return for the promise of money, Jean Robert Poizat requested the papers and documents of the Scaliger family in order to obtain official recognition of his lineage. Victoire, desperate for financial aid, agreed and, following a series of letters, the papers of the Scaliger family, collected since the mid-1500s, changed hands.
From the guide to the Scaliger family papers, fifteenth-nineteenth centuries, 1459-1862 January 25, (American Philosophical Society)
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