Charles-François Lebrun, duc de Plaisance
Born in Saint-Sauveur-Lendelin (Manche), after studies of Philosophy at the Collège de Navarre, he started his career during the Ancien Régime, making his first appearance as a lawyer in Paris in 1762. He filled the posts of censeur du Roi (1766) and then Inspector General of the Domains of the Crown (1768).
During the early 1760s, Lebrun became a disciple of Montesquieu and an admirer of the British Constitution, travelling through Southern Netherlands, the Dutch Republic, and finally to the Kingdom of Great Britain (where he witnessed the debates in the London Parliament).
He became one of Chancellor René Nicolas de Maupéou's chief advisers, taking part in his struggle against the parlements and sharing his downfall in 1774. Lebrun then devoted himself to literature, translating Torquato Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered (1774) and the Iliad (1776). He retreated from public life to his property in Grillon, attempting to live a life as envisaged by the philosophe Jean-Jacques Rousseau. During the cabinet of Jacques Necker, he was consulted on several occasions, but never appointed to high office.
Constituent Assembly and provincial politics
At the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, he foresaw its importance in his volume La voix du Citoyen, published the same year, and predicted the course which events would take. In the Estates-General and (after he took the Tennis Court Oath) in the National Constituent Assembly, where he sat as deputy for the Third Estate in the bailiwick of Dourdan, he professed Liberalism and proposed various financial laws, without affiliating to any particular faction. A partisan of constitutional monarchy even after King Louis XVI's flight to Varennes (June 1791), he became the target for the suspicions of the Jacobin Club.
After the voting of the 1791 Constitution, he was ineligible for the Legislative Assembly (like all former members of the Constituent Assembly), and became instead president of the directory of Seine-et-Oise département.
Lebrun retired from this position on 7 August 1792, and again retired to Dourdan. Three days later, the storming of the Tuileries Palace signalled the move towards the establishment of the French Republic by the creation of the National Convention. Lebrun further aroused the indignation of republicans when he accepted to represent Dourdan in the electoral college of Seine-et-Oise which nominated deputies to the Convention.
Terror, Thermidor, and Directory
A suspect during the Reign of Terror, he was twice arrested: the first time in September 1793, liberated after the intervention of Joseph Augustin Crassous (representative on mission to Seine-et-Oise); the second time in June 1794 (paradoxically, on orders from the same Crassous) - threatened with the guillotine, he was saved by a relative of his who stole his record of prosecution, thus causing a delay long enough for Lebrun to be saved by the Thermidorian Reaction.
In 1795, Lebrun was elected as a deputy to the French Directory's Council of Ancients and, although a supporter of the House of Bourbon, he voted against prosecutions of Jacobins, and showed himself in favor of national reconciliation.
Consulate, Empire, and Restoration
Lebrun was made Third Consul following Napoleon Bonaparte's 18 Brumaire coup in the Year VIII (9–10 November 1799; see French Consulate). In this capacity he took an active part in Napoleon's reorganization of the national finances and in the administration of France's départements. He was made a member of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres in 1803; and in 1804, he was appointed arch-treasurer of the French Empire. From 1805 to 1806 he was governor-general of Liguria, during which time he completed its annexation by France.
He opposed Napoleon's restoration of the noblesse, and, in 1808, only reluctantly accepted the title duc de Plaisance (Piacenza), a rare, nominal, but hereditary duché grand-fief, extinguished in 1927. From 1811 to 1813 he served as governor-general of Holland, reorganizing its départements - Zuyderzée and Bouches-de-la-Meuse. He was assisted by Antoine de Celles and Goswin de Stassart.
Although to a certain extent opposed to the autocracy of the Emperor, he was not in favor of his deposition, although he accepted the fait accompli of the Bourbon Restoration in April 1814. Louis XVIII made him a Peer of France, but during the subsequent Hundred Days he accepted from Napoleon the post of grand maître de l'Université. As a consequence, he was suspended from peerage when the Bourbons returned again in 1815, but was recalled in 1819. He died five years later in Sainte-Mesme (then in Seine-et-Oise, now in Yvelines).
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. In turn, it cites as references:
College of 3 Provisional Consuls
Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès
|Head of State of France
(Third Consul along with:)
(12 December 1799 – 18 May 1804)
(Emperor of the French)