Monday 29 July 2013

The Influential Career of René de Maupeou

René Nicolas Charles Augustin de Maupeou (Montpelier, France, 25th February 1714 – Le Thuit, Eure, France, 29th July 1792) 

Portrait of René Nicolas Charles Augustin de Maupeou

Here at the Guide we have had a bit of a French flavour of late, with stories of Corday and Robespierre to set our revolutionary fires burning. Today is another chap from over the Channel though he is, perhaps, a little less notorious than our previous subjects.

Maupeou was born into privilege and married into money; as assistant to his father, the young Maupeou was involved in parliamentary business from an early age and when Maupeou the elder retired from the office of Chancellor, Maupeau the younger was more than ready to step into his shoes.

Portrait of Louis XV by Louis-Michel van Loo
Louis XV by Louis-Michel van Loo

He rose through the ranks of office quickly, ingratiating himself at court and installing allies in key roles to further solidify his position. In 1770, Maupeou reformed the make-up of the French judiciary to ensure that those who were magistrates by right of succession could no longer make unilateral decisions, a move that alarmed the nobles of France. In fact, these magistrates would now be controlled by the King himself, as both monarch and Maupeou manoeuvred in an effort to secure the sovereign absolute power. This growing hostility flared even more when Maupeou introduced policies to tax the richest members of society, most of whom were exempt from levies. In another wildly unpopular move he introduced a bill by which Parlement could no longer veto royal edicts, essentially establishing Louis XV as an absolute monarch and giving Maupeou and his associates unparalleled control over tax and judiciary.

Portrait of Louis XVI by Antoine-François Callet
Louis XVI by Antoine-François Callet, 1789

However, where Maupeou had found support in Louis XV, when the King died, Louis XVI did not share his appreciation of the minister, preferring a new broom approach to his reign. In 1774, Maupeou was removed from office and went into seclusion.

Although he still held the title of Chancellor, he never entered the political arena again though his stringent, absolute policies were held up as model practice by the revolutionary government. One can only imagine that Maupeou might have appreciated the irony of this given his determined loyalty to the King he served and when he died in 1792, Maupeou had seen the old monarchy swept away on a tide of revolution.

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