Guillaume-Chrétien de Lamoignon de Malesherbes
|Directeur de la librairie|
|President of the Cour des Aides|
|Political party||Bourbon Crown|
|Profession||Statesman, Politician, Counsel|
Guillaume-Chrétien de Lamoignon de Malesherbes (6 December 1721 – 23 April 1794),often referred to as Malesherbes or Lamoignon-Malesherbes, was a French statesman and minister in the ancien régime, and later counsel for the defense of Louis XVI. He is known for his vigorous criticism of royal abuses as President of the Cour des Aides and his role, as director of censorship, in the publication of the Encyclopédie . Despite his committed monarchism, his writings contributed to the development of liberalism during the French Age of Enlightenment.
The Ancien Régime was the political and social system of the Kingdom of France from the Late Middle Ages until 1789, when hereditary monarchy and the feudal system of French nobility were abolished by the French Revolution. The Ancien Régime was ruled by the late Valois and Bourbon dynasties. The term is occasionally used to refer to the similar feudal systems of the time elsewhere in Europe. The administrative and social structures of the Ancien Régime were the result of years of state-building, legislative acts, internal conflicts, and civil wars, but they remained and the Valois Dynasty's attempts at re-establishing control over the scattered political centres of the country were hindered by the Huguenot Wars. Much of the reigns of Henry IV and Louis XIII and the early years of Louis XIV were focused on administrative centralization. Despite, however, the notion of "absolute monarchy" and the efforts by the kings to create a centralized state, the Kingdom of France retained its irregularities: authority regularly overlapped and nobles struggled to retain autonomy.
Louis XVI, born Louis-Auguste, was the last King of France before the fall of the monarchy during the French Revolution. He was referred to as citizen Louis Capet during the four months before he was guillotined. In 1765, at the death of his father, Louis, son and heir apparent of Louis XV, Louis-Auguste became the new Dauphin of France. Upon his grandfather's death on 10 May 1774, he assumed the title "King of France and Navarre", which he used until 4 September 1791, when he received the title of "King of the French" until the monarchy was abolished on 21 September 1792.
Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, better known as Encyclopédie, was a general encyclopedia published in France between 1751 and 1772, with later supplements, revised editions, and translations. It had many writers, known as the Encyclopédistes. It was edited by Denis Diderot and, until 1759, co-edited by Jean le Rond d'Alembert.
Born in Paris to a famous legal family which belonged to the noblesse de robe , Malesherbes was educated for the legal profession.The young lawyer's career received a boost when his father, Guillaume de Lamoignon de Blancmesnil, was appointed Chancellor in 1750; he appointed his son Malesherbes as both President of the Cour des Aides and Director of the Librairie. This latter office entailed supervision of all French censorship, and in this capacity Malesherbes maintained communication with the literary leaders of Paris, including Diderot and Rousseau. He was instrumental in the publication of the Encyclopédie, to the consternation of the Church and particularly the Jesuits.
Under the Old Regime of France, the Nobles of the Robe or Nobles of the Gown were French aristocrats whose rank came from holding certain judicial or administrative posts. As a rule, the positions did not of themselves give the holder a title of nobility, such as baron, count, or duke, but they were almost always attached to a specific function. The offices were often hereditary, and by 1789, most had inherited their positions. The most influential of them were the 1,100 members of the 13 parlements, or courts of appeal. They were distinct from the "Nobles of the Sword", whose nobility was based on their families' traditional function as the knightly class and whose titles were usually attached to a particular feudal fiefdom, a landed estate held in return for military service. Together with the older nobility, the Nobles of the Robe made up the Second Estate in pre-revolutionary France.
Guillaume II de Lamoignon, seigneur de Blancmesnil et de Malesherbes was a French magistrate.
France has a long history of governmental censorship, particularly in the 16th to 18th centuries, but today freedom of press is guaranteed by the French Constitution and instances of governmental censorship are limited.
In 1771, the Cour des Aides was dissolved by order of Cardinal Richelieu for its opposition to a new method of administering justice devised by Maupeou, who planned to greatly diminish its powers and those of the parlements in general.Malesherbes, as President of the cour des aides, criticized the proposal for over-centralizing the justice system and abolishing the hereditary "nobility of the robe," which he believed had been a defender of the people and a check on royal power due to its independence. He published a strong remonstrance against the new system, and was banished to his country seat at Malesherbes. For the next three years, Malesherbes dedicated himself primarily to travel and gardening. Indeed, he had always been an enthusiastic botanist; his avenue at Malesherbes was world-famous; he had written against Buffon and in favor of Carl Linnaeus' system of botanical classification; and he had been a member of the Académie des sciences since 1750.
Cardinal Armand Jean du Plessis, Duke of Richelieu, commonly referred to as Cardinal Richelieu, was a French clergyman and statesman. He was consecrated as a bishop in 1607 and was appointed Foreign Secretary in 1616. Richelieu soon rose in both the Catholic Church and the French government, becoming a cardinal in 1622, and King Louis XIII's chief minister in 1624. He remained in office until his death in 1642; he was succeeded by Cardinal Mazarin, whose career he had fostered.
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Malesherbes was recalled to Paris with the reconstituted cour des aides on the accession of Louis XVI; it was at this point that he spearheaded the famous 1775 Remontrances of the cour des aides, which detailed the problems facing the regime and envisioned a total overhaul of fiscal policy. Louis XVI was so impressed with the plan -- and fearful for the future of his government -- that Malesherbes was appointed minister of the maison du roi in 1775.During the same year, Malesherbes was also elected to the Académie française. He held office as a royal minister only nine months; the Court proved intransigent in its opposition to his proposals for fiscal restraint and other reforms, including curtailing the arbitrary issuance of lettres de cachet, and he soon found himself bereft of political support.
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The Académie française is the pre-eminent French council for matters pertaining to the French language. The Académie was officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII. Suppressed in 1793 during the French Revolution, it was restored as a division of the Institut de France in 1803 by Napoleon Bonaparte. It is the oldest of the five académies of the institute.
On retiring from the ministry with Turgot in 1776, he again spent some time at his country seat. But the state of pre-Revolutionary France made it impossible for Malesherbes to withdraw from political life. In 1787, he authored an essay on Protestant rights that did much to procure civil recognition for them in France;later that year, his Mémoire to the King detailed what he saw as the catastrophic state of affairs created by the monarchy, which was rapidly making "future calamities" inevitable.
In December 1792, with the King imprisoned and facing trial, Malesherbes volunteered to undertake his legal defense.He argued for the King's life, together with François Tronchet and Raymond Desèze, before the Convention, and it was his painful task to break the news of his condemnation to the king. After this effort he returned once more to the country, but in December 1793 he was arrested with his daughter, his son-in-law M. de Rosanbo, and his grandchildren. The family was imprisoned in the Prison Portes-Libres, and in April 1794 they were guillotined in Paris.
Raymond Romain, Comte de Sèze or Desèze was a French advocate. Together with François Tronchet and Malesherbes, he defended Louis XVI, when the king was brought before the Convention for trial.
The National Convention was the first government of the French Revolution, following the two-year National Constituent Assembly and the one-year Legislative Assembly. Created after the great insurrection of 10 August 1792, it was the first French government organized as a republic, abandoning the monarchy altogether. The Convention sat as a single-chamber assembly from 20 September 1792 to 26 October 1795.
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Although he remained a committed royalist until his death, Malesherbes was hardly untouched by the radical Enlightenment currents that transformed France.He was influenced by his reading of Fenelon and Montesquieu and his friendships with Rousseau and Turgot. On multiple occasions throughout his career, he recognized the grievances later cited by revolutionaries when he criticized the monarchy for its unfair and arbitrary taxation policies and profligate spending. Although he believed hierarchy was natural and desirable, he was concerned about its distortionary effects on administration and justice; indeed, he argued that the privileges of the nobility should be earned through service to France, not granted by birth. Malesherbes also stressed the importance of communication in governing, believing the King should be more engaged with public opinion and grievances.
Malesherbes' moderate and reformist tendencies were on full display during his tenure at the Librairie. When he retired from his post, Voltaire wrote that “M. de Malesherbes tirelessly served the human spirit by giving to the press more liberty than it has ever had.”Indeed, censorship at the time was not perceived as automatically inimical to the Enlightenment; several leading philosophes were employed as censors, including Diderot and d'Alembert. Although he believed that books attacking governmental authority and religion should be suppressed, Malesherbes also frequently overruled censors to permit the publication of philosophical works that had been flagged as dangerous. In one notable case, Malesherbes granted royal privilege, meaning official sanction and exclusive publication rights, to a radical work by Helvétius that caused a public scandal upon its release. The Court eventually revoked the royal privilege and the Parliament ordered the book to be burned. On another occasion, when he was impressed with Rousseau's Emile, or On Education , Malesherbes worked around his own agency to coordinate the clandestine publication of the book.
Malesherbes applied his broader criticisms of government inefficiency and privilege to the practice of censorship, as well. He defended his more permissive censorship regime by arguing that banning too many books would stifle the book trade and make enforcement unfeasible.Furthermore, he broke with Librairie tradition by refusing to grant favors to nobles who requested that a particular book be either published or blocked.
Decades after his retirement from the Librairie, in 1788, Malesherbes published his Mémoires sur la Liberté de la Presse, where he critiqued the system of censorship he had been charged with enforcing. On the eve of the French Revolution, he defended freedom of the press on the grounds of encouraging public debate: under a censorship regime, only the most extreme authors would take the risk of publishing on sensitive topics, and the public would be deprived of the views of the "modest and reasonable Authors" who "would be the most useful to the public."Indeed, Malesherbes now adopted the Revolutionary language of the "nation," and argued that the nation can only come to know the truth through free discussion, which is more effective than censorship at preventing the spread of "error." He had not discarded the concept of censorship, however; instead, he envisaged a voluntary censorship scheme, which would guarantee authors immunity from subsequent judicial prosecution for their ideas if they obtained official approval before publishing.
Starting only a few years after his death, biographers portrayed Malesherbes as a romantic figure, one of the innocent victims of the Terror.For example, the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica writes of him:
|“||Malesherbes is one of the sweetest characters of the 18th century; though no man of action, hardly a man of the world, by his charity and unfeigned goodness he became one of the most popular men in France, and it was an act of truest self-devotion in him to sacrifice himself for a king who had done little or nothing for him.||”|
More recently, the French scholar François Moureau has critiqued this "hagiographic" tradition, emphasizing instead the contradictions in Malesherbes' career: he was shaped both by an openness to new Enlightenment ideas and by his commitment to fulfilling his role as a public servant within the ancien regime.Other modern commentaries on Malesherbes have advanced similar arguments; George Kelly, for example, describes him as "Janus-faced."
Malesherbes was also remembered with reverence by his great-grandson Alexis de Tocqueville; the historian Roger Williams has pointed to this connection as a "legacy of liberalism."
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