Thank The 15th-Century Bureau Brothers For Bureaucracy

(Print of Jean Bureau, from Ambroise Tardieu, Dictionnaire iconographique des Parisiens, Herment, 1885, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)


In the last decades of the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) between France and England, artillery began to play an increasing role in warfare. Around 1424, two brothers, Jean Bureau (1390-1463) and Gaspard Bureau (1393-1469), joined the French army of Charles VII and quickly became the king’s most skilled artillery officers.

King Charles VII had the Bureau brothers develop an organized and centralized department to procure, distribute and deploy the French artillery in an efficient and effective manner. Many scholars believe that the administration and oversight provided by the Bureau brothers for the French cannons inspired the word ‘bureaucracy.’

From 1437 onward, the Bureau brothers used their expertise in artillery to aid in obtaining French victories. In 1437, they helped siege Montereau. The Bureau Brothers were also at Meaux in 1439, Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1440, and Pontaise in 1441. Next, they played a large role in the French campaign against Normandy—their cannons fired upon cities such as Bayeux, Caen, Rouen and Cherbourg. Finally, they turned their artillery against Gascony, where they captured Bordeaux and defended Castillon in 1452.

When the Hundred Years’ War ended in 1453, the Bureau brothers were renowned in France for their skill in artillery management and administration. The name, Bureau, eventually spread to encompass government administration in general, and led to the bureaucracy that so many people love to hate in the modern world.


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