1730: The Last French Prime Minister before the Revolution

1730: The Last French Prime Minister before the Revolution

Story Highlights

  • Historical event:
  • 7. March 1730
  • Baron de Breteuil did a great service to Queen Marie Antoinette in the infamous Affair of the Necklace (a Hollywood movie was made about this incident, starring Hilary Swank). The Queen remained eternally grateful for his help, since he had saved her from a great embarrassment.

The man who became the last Prime Minister of France before the Revolution of 1789 was born on this day. His name was Charles Auguste le Tonnelier, and he bore the aristocratic titles of Baron de Breteuil and Baron de Preuilly. Today he is best known simply as Baron de Breteuil.

The Baron was born in a wealthy noble family, in the beautiful chateau Azay-le-Ferron in central France. He became a distinguished diplomat, and later even the French ambassador in the Russian Empire. He later served as an ambassador in the Habsburg captial in Vienna, precisely at the time when young Mozart arrived there in the hope of making an independent musical career.

Baron de Breteuil achieved an even greater prestige when he was appointed the Minister for the Maison du Roi (the king’s household). At this high function, he was in contact with Marie Antoinette, wife of the ruling King Louis XVI. Breteuil did a great service to Queen Marie Antoinette in the infamous Affair of the Necklace (a Hollywood movie was made about this incident, starring Hilary Swank). The Queen remained eternally grateful for his help, since he had saved her from a great embarrassment.

Breteuil also served as the French Minister of War for a short while, and in 1789 he became the Prime Minister. This occurred just on the eve of the fateful Storming of the Bastille, which marked the beginning of the French Revolution. In a way, it was precisely Breteuil’s appointment as Prime Minister that fostered the outbreak of the revolution, since it came just after the previous Prime Minister, Jacques Necker, had been dismissed. Namely, Necker was trying to implement reforms in an attempt to save the rapidly-sinking France. However, this brought him into conflict with conservatives, who considered him too radical, and also detested him for his Protestant faith and foreign origin (he was Swiss).

After the outbreak of the French Revolution, Breteuil fled abroad. Queen Marie Antoinette, who remained in France with Louis XVI, arranged for him to be appointed the Prime Minister of the government in exile. At that function Breteuil served as a negotiator at many European courts, where he tried to convince other rulers to make a military intervention in France. He also participated in the attempt to smuggle the king and queen out of France, but this plan fell through near Varnnes. He was marginalized after the king and queen were executed.

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