Charles Forbes René de Montalembert
He belonged to a family of Angoumois, which could trace its descent back to the 13th century. Charters carry the history of the house two centuries further. For some generations before the historian the family had been distinguished, both in the army and in the field of science. Montalembert's father, Marc René, had fought under Condé, and subsequently served in the English army. He married Elise Rosee Forbes, and his eldest son, Charles, was born in London. At the Restoration of 1814, Marc René returned to France, was raised to the peerage in 1820, and became ambassador to Sweden (where Charles completed his education) in 1826. He died in 1831, a year after the overthrow of the monarchy.
Charles de Montalembert was under twenty-five at his father's death and therefore too young to take his seat as a peer, but he retained other rights. Combined with his literary and intellectual activity, this made him a person of some importance. He was a Liberal, in the English sense, and disagreed with the new regime on only the religious question. He would have approved of the policy of the golden mean represented by Louis Philippe. He wished to see the Church free from state control and attacked the monopoly of public instruction by which the monarchy fortified its position. This latter scheme first brought Montalembert to public attention when he was formally charged with unlicensed teaching. He claimed the right of trial by his peers and made a notable defense with a deliberate intention of protest in 1832.
On the other hand, he thought that the Church should not obstinately oppose new ideas. He had eagerly entered into the plans of his friends, Lamennais and Lacordaire, and he collaborated with them in the newspaper, L'Avenir (“The Future”). The ultramontane party was roused by their boldness, and Montalembert and his two friends then left for Rome. They failed to win any mitigation of the measures which the Roman curia took against L'Avenir. Its doctrines were condemned in two encyclicals, Mirari vos in 1832 and Singulari vobis in 1834, and Montalembert submitted. In 1835 he took his seat in the Chamber of Peers, and his ability soon made him famous. He clung to his early liberalism, and in 1848 saw the end of a government towards which he had always been hostile. In 1848 he was elected to the Chamber of Deputies. He was at first inclined to support Napoleon III, but was soon alienated by his policy. Montalembert remained in the Chamber until 1857, when he was obliged to retire to private life. He was still recognized as a formidable opponent of the empire. Meanwhile his Liberal ideas had made him some irreconcilable enemies among the Ultramontanes. Louis Veuillot, in his paper, L'Unitiers, opposed him. Montalembert answered by reviving in 1855 a review which had for some time ceased publication, Le Correspondant, which he used to fight the party of Veuillot and the far-left Liberals of the Revue des deux mondes.
He took great interest in the débuts of the Liberal empire, while trying to parry the blow which the Ultramontanes were preparing to deal to Liberal ideas by proclaiming in the First Vatican Council the dogma of papal infallibility. But once again he would not allow himself to be seduced from obedience to the pope. He severed his connection with Père Hyacinthe Loyson as he had with Lamennais and made the submission expected of him to the council. It was his last fall. Broken down by the trial of these continued fights against people of his own religion, he died prematurely.
Montalembert's grandfather Marc René, marquis de Montalembert, was a noted expert in fortification. Montalembert married Mlle de Merode, daughter of Félix de Mérode. His daughter married the vicomte de Meaux, a Roman Catholic statesman and distinguished writer.
In addition to being an eloquent orator, Montalembert wrote in a style at once picturesque, fiery and polished. He was an ardent student of the Middle Ages, but his medieval enthusiasm was strongly tinctured with religious sentiments. His first historical work, La Vie de Ste Elisabeth de Hongrie (1836), is not so much a history as a religious manifesto, which did much to restore the position of hagiography. It met with great success, but Montalembert was not elected a member of the Académie française until 1851, after the fall of the July monarchy.
From this time he gave much of his attention to a great work on monasticism in the West. He was at first attracted by the figure of St. Bernard and devoted one volume to him. He later withdrew it on the advice of his friend Dupanloup, and the entire printing was destroyed. He then enlarged his original plan and published the first volumes of his Moines d'occident (1860), an eloquent work which was received with much admiration in those circles where language was more appreciated than learning. The work, unfinished at the time of the author's death, was completed later from some long fragments found among his papers. Volumes VI and VII appeared in 1877.
- Défense de l'école libre devant la Chambre des Pairs (1831)
- Histoire de sainte Élisabeth, reine de Hongrie (1836)
- Monuments de l'histoire de sainte Élisabeth (1838)
- Du vandalisme et du catholicisme dans l'art (1839)
- The Obligation of Catholics in the Matter of Freedom of Teaching (1843)
- Catholic Interests in the Nineteenth Century (1852)
- Political Future of England (1855)
- Pius IX and France in 1849 and 1859 (1860)
- Les moines d'Occident depuis saint Benoît jusqu'à saint Bernard (“The Monks of the West from St. Benedict to St. Bernard,” Paris: J. Lecoffre Fils et Cie., 1877)
- Emmanuel Mounier, ed., Montalembert (Paris, 1945), an anthology of his writing
- Thomas Bokenkotter, Church and Revolution: Catholics and the Struggle for Democracy and Social Justice (New York: Doubleday, 1998)
- E.E.Y. Hales, Pio Nono: A Study of European Politics and Religion in the Nineteenth Century (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1954)
- R.P. Lecanuet, Montalembert d'après son journal et sa correspondence, 3 vols. (Paris, 1895)
- Jean Maurain, La politique ecclésiastique du Second Empire de 1852 à 1869 (Paris, 1930)
- George Weill, Histoire du Catholicisme libéral en France (1828–1908) (Paris, 1909)
- Roger L. Williams, Gaslight and Shadow: The World of Napoleon III (New York: Macmillan, 1957), Ch. 3: "Montalembert and Liberal Catholicism"
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Montalembert, Charles Forbes René de". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.