Louis Auguste Le Tonnelier de Breteuil

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Louis Auguste Le Tonnelier
Louis Auguste Le Tonnelier de Breteuil.PNG
Chief Minister of the French Monarch
In office
11 July 1789 16 July 1789
Monarch Louis XVI
Preceded by Jacques Necker
Succeeded by Jacques Necker
Secretary of State of the Maison du Roi
In office
1784 24 July 1788
Monarch Louis XVI
Preceded by Antoine-Jean Amelot de Chaillou
Succeeded by Pierre-Charles Laurent de Villedeuil
Personal details
Born(1730-03-07)7 March 1730
Azay-le-Ferron, France
Died2 November 1807(1807-11-02) (aged 77)
Paris, France

Louis Charles Auguste Le Tonnelier, Baron de Breteuil, Baron de Preuilly (7 March 1730 2 November 1807) was a French aristocrat, diplomat and statesman. He was the last Prime Minister of the Bourbon Monarchy, appointed by King Louis XVI only one hundred hours before the storming of the Bastille.

French nobility privileged social class in France during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period to the revolution in 1790

The French nobility was a privileged social class in France during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period to the revolution in 1790. The nobility was revived in 1805 with limited rights as a titled elite class from the First Empire to the fall of the July Monarchy in 1848, when all privileges were abolished for good. Hereditary titles, without privileges, continued to be granted until the Second Empire fell in 1870. They survive among their descendants as a social convention and as part of the legal name of the corresponding individuals.

Prime Minister of France head of government and of the Council of Ministers of France

The Prime Minister of the French Republic in the Fifth Republic is the head of government. During the Third and Fourth Republics, the head of government was formally called President of the Council of Ministers, generally shortened to President of the Council. Most non-French sources referred to the post as "prime minister" or "premier." The title "Prime Minister" became official with the founding of the Fifth Republic.

House of Bourbon European royal house of French origin

The House of Bourbon is a European royal house of French origin, a branch of the Capetian dynasty, the royal House of France. Bourbon kings first ruled France and Navarre in the 16th century. By the 18th century, members of the Spanish Bourbon dynasty held thrones in Spain, Naples, Sicily, and Parma. Spain and Luxembourg currently have monarchs of the House of Bourbon.


Soldier and ambassador

Breteuil was born in 1730 at the chateau of Azay-le-Ferron (Indre) into a well-connected aristocratic family: one of his relations was confessor to the king's cousin and another was the famed mathematician and linguist Émilie, marquise du Châtelet-Laumont. He received an excellent education in Paris and later joined the army, where he fought in the Seven Years' War. In 1758 he left the army and joined the French Foreign Ministry. He was quickly appointed French ambassador to the elector of Cologne, where he proved to have valuable diplomatic skills. Two years later in 1760 he was sent to St Petersburg as the French ambassador to Imperial Russia, where he arranged to be temporarily absent from his post at the time of the palace revolution by which Catherine II was placed on the throne. In 1769 he was sent to Stockholm (Sweden), and subsequently represented his government at Vienna in 1770 (Habsburg Monarchy), in 1773 Naples (Kingdom of Naples), and again at Vienna until 1783.

Azay-le-Ferron Commune in Centre-Val de Loire, France

Azay-le-Ferron is a commune in the Indre department in central France.

Indre Department of France

Indre is a department in central France named after the river Indre. The inhabitants of the department are called Indriens. Indre is part of the current region of Centre-Val de Loire and is surrounded by the departments of Indre-et-Loire, Loir-et-Cher, Cher, Creuse, Vienne, and Haute-Vienne. The préfecture (capital) is Châteauroux and there are three subpréfectures at Le Blanc, La Châtre and Issoudun.

Émilie du Châtelet French mathematician, physicist, and author

Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, Marquise du Châtelet was a French natural philosopher, mathematician, physicist, and author during the early 1730s until her untimely death due to childbirth in 1749. Her most recognized achievement is her translation of and commentary on Isaac Newton's book Principia containing basic laws of physics. The translation, published posthumously in 1759, is still considered the standard French translation today. Her commentary includes a profound contribution to Newtonian mechanics—the postulate of an additional conservation law for total energy, of which kinetic energy of motion is one element. This led to her conceptualization of energy as such, and to derive its quantitative relationships to the mass and velocity of an object.

In Sweden, he became a favourite friend of the young King Gustavus III, but Catherine the Great of Russia disliked him. Others saw Breteuil as a loud and impulsive fool, Joseph II and several high-ranking Austrian politicians sneered at the "fool" behind closed doors.

Favourite intimate companion of a ruler or other important person

A favourite or favorite was the intimate companion of a ruler or other important person. In post-classical and early-modern Europe, among other times and places, the term was used of individuals delegated significant political power by a ruler. It was especially a phenomenon of the 16th and 17th centuries, when government had become too complex for many hereditary rulers with no great interest in or talent for it, and political institutions were still evolving. From 1600 to 1660 there were particular successions of all-powerful minister-favourites in much of Europe, particularly in Spain, England, France and Sweden.

Gustav III of Sweden King of Sweden from 1771 to 1792

Gustav III was King of Sweden from 1771 until his assassination in 1792. He was the eldest son of Adolf Frederick, King of Sweden and Queen Louise Ulrika, and a first cousin of Empress Catherine the Great of Russia by reason of their common descent from Christian August of Holstein-Gottorp, Prince of Eutin, and his wife Albertina Frederica of Baden-Durlach.

Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor Holy Roman Emperor

Joseph II was Holy Roman Emperor from August 1765 and sole ruler of the Habsburg lands from November 1780 until his death. He was the eldest son of Empress Maria Theresa and her husband, Emperor Francis I, and the brother of Marie Antoinette. He was thus the first ruler in the Austrian dominions of the House of Lorraine, styled Habsburg-Lorraine. Joseph was a proponent of enlightened absolutism; however, his commitment to modernizing reforms subsequently engendered significant opposition, which resulted in failure to fully implement his programs. Meanwhile, despite making some territorial gains, his reckless foreign policy badly isolated Austria. He has been ranked, with Catherine the Great of Russia and Frederick the Great of Prussia, as one of the three great Enlightenment monarchs. His policies are now known as Josephinism. He was a supporter of the arts, and most importantly, of composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri. He died with no sons and was succeeded by his younger brother, Leopold II.

Household Minister

After he returned to France, Breteuil was appointed Minister of the King's Household. In this capacity he introduced considerable reforms in prison administration. He was a liberal and humanitarian minister, and succeeded in moderating the censorship laws. He believed passionately that the monarchy should encourage intellectuals, and not view them as enemies. In 1784 he was named to a position in the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres.

The Secretary of State of the Maison du Roi was the secretary of state in France during the "Ancien Régime" and Bourbon Restoration in charge of the Département de la Maison du Roi. The exact composition of the ministry and the secretary's duties changed several times over the Early Modern period, but in general, the Département de la Maison du Roi oversaw four main areas: the "Maison du Roi", the "Bâtiments du Roi", the General Affairs of the Clergy, Affairs of the RPR, and the administration of the capital city of Paris and the provinces. The post later reappeared as the Minister for the Maison du Roi.

Liberalism is a political and moral philosophy based on liberty, consent of the governed, and equality before the law. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but they generally support limited government, individual rights, capitalism, democracy, secularism, gender equality, racial equality, internationalism, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion. Yellow is the political colour most commonly associated with liberalism.

Humanitarianism relief activities to aid and assist humanity; philanthropic philosophy of active humanism

Humanitarianism is an active belief in the value of human life, whereby humans practice benevolent treatment and provide assistance to other humans, in order to better humanity for moral, altruistic and logical reasons. It is the philosophical belief in movement toward the improvement of the human race in a variety of areas, used to describe a wide number of activities relating specifically to human welfare. A practitioner is known as a humanitarian.

Breteuil's time as Household Minister corresponded with the infamous Affair of the Necklace, which pitted him against his enemy, the Cardinal de Rohan. Breteuil's loyalty to Queen Marie Antoinette earned him her gratitude and trust at this difficult time. Unfortunately, Breteuil underestimated the strength of public sympathy for those responsible, and his direct attack on Rohan left the Queen open to public humiliation. He presently came into collision with Charles Alexandre de Calonne, who demanded his dismissal in 1787.

Marie Antoinette Last Queen of France prior to the French Revolution

Marie Antoinette was the last Queen of France before the French Revolution. She was born an Archduchess of Austria and was the penultimate child and youngest daughter of Empress Maria Theresa and Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor. She became Dauphine of France in May 1770 at age 14 upon her marriage to Louis-Auguste, heir apparent to the French throne. On 10 May 1774, her husband ascended the throne as Louis XVI and she assumed the title Queen of France and Navarre, which she held until September 1791, when she became Queen of the French as the French Revolution proceeded, a title that she held until 21 September 1792.

Charles Alexandre de Calonne French statesman

Charles Alexandre de Calonne, titled Count of Hannonville in 1759, was a French statesman, best known for his involvement in the French Revolution.

On 24 July 1788, Breteuil resigned, exhausted by the struggle for power in the King's Council. He then asked to be allowed to say farewell to the queen. Marie-Antoinette did not resent him for his handling of the affair, and even promised to help him in future if she could.

Appointment as Prime Minister

As France became increasingly unstable, Breteuil retired to his château in Dangu. Though Breteuil was disgusted with French politics at the time, he remained absolutely loyal to the Monarchy, despite his liberal views on social culture. He complained that "anybody who dares to stand up for the old ways is despised" and claimed that "we are rushing like madmen to our destruction".

Château French term for a manor house

A château is a manor house or residence of the lord of the manor or a country house of nobility or gentry, with or without fortifications, originally—and still most frequently—in French-speaking regions.

Dangu, Eure Commune in Normandy, France

Dangu is a commune on the Epte River in the Eure department in the Normandy region in northern France.

Breteuil was contacted by conservative members of the queen's circle in 1789. He agreed to become Prime Minister once they had ousted Jacques Necker from the post. Necker was popular, but royalists saw him as a dangerous publicity-seeker and a radical. A carefully orchestrated plan was drawn-up by Breteuil, the duchesse de Polignac, the King's brother the comte d'Artois and with the support of Marie-Antoinette. However, unable to restrain his hatred for Necker, the comte d'Artois rushed ahead with the plan too early. Necker was dismissed weeks before Breteuil believed he should be. Breteuil was appointed Prime Minister on 12 July 1789. Partly as a result of Necker's dismissal, the Bastille was stormed on 14 July.

Government in exile

In such dangerous times, many prominent Royalists were forced to flee France. The duchesse de Polignac escaped to Switzerland, and Louis XVI sent the comte d'Artois abroad to save him from assassination. Breteuil went first to a spa town in Imperial territory before journeying to Switzerland with the first party of émigrés .

The French royal family were placed under house arrest in October. The hatred and violence surrounding them gave the Queen reason to fear for her family's life. To Marie Antoinete's horror and disgust, Artois (living in Turin) then appointed Calonne to his council. Marie Antoinette despised Calonne, and his appointment was the end of her friendship with her brother-in-law. She was convinced that he could no longer be trusted to preserve the monarchy's best interests. It was Marie Antoinette's decision, therefore, that Breteuil be appointed Prime Minister-in-exile. Louis XVI supported her in this move, but it was Marie Antoinette who took the initiative and formalised Breteuil's appointment. In effect, he was now the Royal Family's chief diplomat abroad. At Soleure, in November 1790, he received from Louis XVI exclusive powers to negotiate with the European courts, and in his efforts to check the ill-advised diplomacy of the émigré princes, he soon brought himself into opposition with his old rival Calonne, who held a chief place in their councils.


In coordination with Marie Antoinette's favourite, the Swedish count Axel von Fersen, Breteuil organised the royal family's escape from Paris in 1791, garnering support from King Gustavus III of Sweden. The attempt almost succeeded, but was foiled at the last minute by Jean-Baptiste Drouet, the Republican son of a local postmaster. It was also Breteuil who negotiated with the monarchies of Europe to persuade them to fight the French Revolution. After the failure of the flight to Varennes, Breteuil received instructions from Louis XVI, designed to restore amicable relations with the princes. His distrust of the king's brothers and his defence of Louis XVI's prerogative were to some extent justified, but his intransigent attitude towards these princes emphasized the dissensions of the royal family in the eyes of foreign sovereigns, who looked on the comte de Provence as the natural representative of his brother and found a pretext for non-interference on Louis's behalf in the contradictory statements of the negotiators.

His attempts were ultimately in vain. The Bourbon monarchy in France was overthrown in 1792, followed by massacres of many Royalists in Paris. In January 1793, Louis XVI was executed. In October, Marie Antoinette met a similar fate. In 1795, their son, Louis XVII died in prison.

Later life

Breteuil himself was the object of violent attacks from the party of the princes, who asserted that he persisted in exercising powers which had been revoked by Louis XVI. After the execution of Marie Antoinette he retired into private life near Hamburg. Breteuil spent the next decade in exile. His loyalty to the House of Bourbon had ended with the death of the little boy-king in 1795. He was hated by Louis XVI's two surviving brothers, particularly by the comte d'Artois.

Breteuil was allowed to return to France in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, having made his peace with the First French Empire. He tried to urge other Royalists to join him, but he was largely unsuccessful. Most preferred to stay loyal to the exiled Bourbons.

Breteuil died in France in 1807. A Bourbon Restoration occurred in 1814, but was deposed again by the 1830 July Revolution.


Breteuil's secret correspondence with Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette was recently discovered in an Austrian castle by British historian Professor Munro Price. His findings were presented in The Fall of the French Monarchy: Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and the baron de Breteuil, (sometimes titled The Road from Versailles). To date, it is the most comprehensive book on Breteuil's career and his fight to save the French Monarchy.

The Pavillon de Breteuil, in Sèvres, France, home of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, is named after the baron. [1]


  1. "The Baron de Breteuil and the Pavillon de Breteuil" Archived 21 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine discusses his advanced social and humanitarian views and efforts.


Political offices
Preceded by
Philippe Henri, marquis de Ségur
Secretary of State for War
Succeeded by
Athanase Louis Marie de Loménie, comte de Brienne

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