Reading Montaigne 1.07: That intention is judge of our actions

This very brief essay makes sense following the earlier essays on our feelings about death and parleys, because it too involves the theme of honor, but this time whether death absolves us of that to which we are honor-bound, or in some other way excuses our actions.

Like many of Montaigne’s anecdotes, I can’t be sure if the first story he tells is apocryphal, but it involves King Henry VII who, as a condition for having him handed over has sworn to kill his enemy the Duke of Suffolk of the White Rose, nevertheless leaves instructions to have the Duke murdered as soon as he himself as died.

Montaigne is having none of it. “It seems to me,” he writes, “that death did not discharge King Henry from his promise…” And he similarly dismisses the claim to correctness to whose who would make restitution to someone as a condition of their will (“Penitence demands a burden,” he writes) or who reveal their hateful feelings as their dying wish. Better to live a life of honor than attempt to redeem oneself at the time of, or after, death, as Montaigne succinctly puts it:

“If I can, I shall keep my death from saying anything that my life has not already said.”

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