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Louis de Rouvroy, duc de Saint-Simon


Louis de Rouvroy, duc de Saint-Simon

Louis de Rouvroy
Duke of Saint-Simon
Spouse(s) Marie-Gabrielle de Durfort,
duchesse de Saint-Simon
Charlotte, Princess of Chimay
Jacques-Louis, Duke of Saint-Simon
Armand-Jean, Marquis of Ruffec
Full name
Louis de Rouvroy
Father Claude de Rouvroy
Mother Charlotte de L'Aubespine
Born 16 January 1675
Died 2 March 1755(1755-03-02) (aged 80)

Louis de Rouvroy (16 January 1675 – 2 March 1755) styled duc de Saint-Simon was a French soldier, diplomat and a noted diarist;[1] he was born in Paris (Hôtel Selvois, 6 rue Taranne, today at 175 Bvd. Saint-Germain).[2][3]

His family's ducal peerage (duché-pairie) was granted to his father, Claude de Rouvroy (1608–1693), a constant thought in Saint-Simon's life and writings.

Armes du duc de Saint-Simon


  • Peerage of France 1
  • Life 2
  • Fame as a writer 3
  • Family 4
  • Bibliography 5
    • English-language translations of the Mémoires 5.1
    • Studies of the Mémoirs (in English) 5.2
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Peerage of France

Men of the noblest blood (in Saint-Simon's view) might not be, and in most cases were not, peers in France. Derived at least traditionally and imaginatively from the douze pairs (twelve peers) of Charlemagne, the peerage of France was supposed to be, literally, the chosen of the noblesse, deemed thereafter to incarnate the French nobility par excellence. Their legal pre-eminence derived from hereditary membership of the Parlement of Paris, the highest of France's quasi-legislative and directly judicial assemblies. Strictly speaking, a French peerage (more often than not attached to a dukedom) was granted in favour of a designated fiefdom (rather than upon peer in person); such fiefs in law were corporeal hereditaments allowing their owner(s) to bear its title, rank, rights and privileges (i.e. fees). Had Saint-Simon succeeded in his lifelong ideal and ambition of conversion of France's peers into a Great Council of the Nation, history no doubt would have followed a different course.[1]

His family's principal seat, where Saint-Simon's Mémoires were written, was at La Ferté-Vidame, bought by his father shortly after being elevated as a duke. The castle brought with it the ancient, entailed title of Vidame de Chartres, to be borne as a courtesy style by the duke's heir apparent until reaching the age of eighteen.

The title had become notorious through the elderly character in the court novel La Princesse de Clèves, published in 1678, just three years after Saint-Simon's birth, so when the new Vidame de Chartres was received at court he met with a certain amount of jocularity.


His father, Claude, the 1st Duke, was a tall and taciturn man who was keen on hunting. Louis de Saint-Simon was the opposite; garrulous, much shorter, and preferring life indoors. His father had been a favorite hunting companion of Louis XIII. King Louis had appointed his father as Master of Wolfhounds before granting him a dukedom in 1635 at a relatively young age; he was 68 when Louis was born.[4] Saint-Simon ranked thirteenth in the order of precedence among France's eighteen dukes.[5]

His mother, Charlotte de L'Aubespine, daughter of François, marquis de Hauterive by his wife, Eléonore de Volvire, marquise de Ruffec, descended from a distinguished noble family, since at least the time of Francis I;[4] she was a formidable woman whose word was "law" in the family, and became more so in extreme old age. Her son Louis was well educated, largely by her, for whom Louis XIV and Queen Marie-Thérèse stood sponsor.[4] After further tuition from the Jesuits, he joined the Mousquetaires gris in 1692, serving at the Siege of Namur and at the Battle of Neerwinden.[4] Then he embarked upon his life's mission by pronouncing upon peerage precedence matters, much against the orders of François-Henri de Montmorency, duc de Luxembourg, his victorious general.[1]

Saint-Simon fought in a couple more military campaigns (although not under Luxembourg!), and in 1695 married Marie-Gabrielle de Durfort (styled Mademoiselle de Lorges), daughter of marshal of France, later serving under the Duke's command.[4] He seems to have regarded her with a respect and affection unusual between husband and wife in that era; and she sometimes succeeded in suppressing his pompous ideals.[1]

As he did not receive further promotion in the army, he resigned his commission in 1702, thereby incurring Louis XIV's displeasure. He kept his position at court but only with difficulty, and then immersed himself in all court goings-on at Versailles, keeping a collection of intrigue informed by the likes of dukes as well as from servants, which later gave him the benefit of an extraordinary amount of privileged information.[1]

Saint-Simon for his own part appears to have played only a junior role in court life. Having previously served in London, he was nominated as ambassador to Rome in 1705, but the appointment was cancelled before he started. At last he attached himself to Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, Louis XIV's nephew and the future regent. Though this was hardly likely to ingratiatiate himself with Louis, it at least gave him the status of belonging to a definite party and it eventually placed him in the position of friend to the acting chief of state. He also allied himself with Louis, Duke of Burgundy, the Dauphin's son and next heir to the French throne.[1]

Saint-Simon hated "the bastards," the illegitimate children of Louis XIV, although seemingly not just because they were accorded by royal decree higher ceremonial precedence than French peers.[1] The Saint-Simon that is revealed through his Mémoires had many enemies, and a hatred reciprocated by many courtiers. However, it should be remembered that these Mémoires were written 30 years after events, by a disappointed man, and that Saint-Simon as a courtier had remained on the most congenial and courteous terms with the vast majority.[6]

The death of Louis XIV seemed to have given Saint-Simon a chance of realizing his hopes. The Duke of Orleans became regent and Saint-Simon was appointed to his Regency Council. But no steps were taken to carry out his "preferred vision" of a France ruled by the noble élite, exposing how little real influence he had with the Regent. He was somewhat gratified by the degradation of "the bastards" in 1718 and, in 1721, he was appointed ambassador extraordinary to Spain so as to facilitate the marriage of Louis XV and Infanta Mariana Victoria of Spain (but this didn't happen).[1] Whilst in Spain, he did however secure being created a grandee[1] (which later devolved upon his second son) and, despite having caught smallpox, he was quite satisfied with his efforts there:[1] two ducal lineages (grandees were recognised in France as dukes). Saint-Simon was not eager, unlike most other nobility, to acquire profitable functions, and he did not use his influence to repair his finances, which were even further diminished by the extravagance of his embassy.

After his return to France he had little to do with public affairs. His own account of the cessation of his intimacy with Orléans and Guillaume Dubois, the latter having never been his friend, is, like other accounts of his life, rather vague and obscure. But there can be little doubt that he was eclipsed, and even expelled from the château de Meudon by Cardinal Dubois. He survived for more than thirty years; but little is known of the rest of his life. His wife died in 1743, his eldest son a little later; he had other family troubles, and he was loaded with debt; the dukedom in which he took such pride became extinct upon his death and his only granddaughter was childless.[1]

He died in Paris on 2 March 1755, having almost entirely outlived his own generation and exhausted his family's wealth, though not its notoriety. Later and utterly bizarrely, the family name was revived by a distant relative born five years after his own death, Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon[1] – a founder of socialism.

All his possessions, including his writings, were seized by the Crown on his death, and it is thought a large part of his Mémoires disappeared.

Fame as a writer

It can be said that the actual events of Saint-Simon's life, long as it was and exalted as was his position, are neither numerous nor noteworthy. Yet he posthumously acquired great literary fame. He was an indefatigable writer, and he began very early to record all the gossip he collected, all his interminable legal disputes over precedence, and a vast mass of unclassified material. Most of his manuscripts were retrieved by the Crown and it was long before their contents were fully published: partly in the form of notes in the marquis de Dangeau's Journal, partly in both original and independent memoirs, partly in scattered and multifarious extracts, he had committed to paper an immense amount of material.[1]

Saint-Simon's Mémoires strike a most realistic note. On the one hand, he is petty, unjust to private enemies and to those who espoused public views contrary to his as well as being an incessant gossip. Yet he shows a great skill for narrative and for character-drawing; he has been compared to Tacitus, and to historians such as Livy. He is at the same time not a writer who can be "sampled" easily,[1] inasmuch as his most characteristic passages sometimes occur in the midst of long stretches of quite uninteresting diatribe. His vocabulary was extreme and inventive; he is deemed to have first used the word "intellectual" as a noun, and "patriot" and "publicity" are also accredited as being introduced by him in their current usage.[1]

A few critical studies of him, especially those of Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve, are the basis of much that has been written about him. His most famous passages, such as the account of the death of the Dauphin, or of the Bed of Justice where his enemy, Louis-Auguste de Bourbon, duc du Maine, was degraded, do not give a fair idea of his talent. These are his celebrated pieces, his great "engines," as French art slang calls them. Much more noteworthy as well as more frequent are the sudden touches which he gives. The bishops are "cuistres violets" (purple pedants); "(M. de Caumartin) porte sous son manteau toute la faculté que M. de Villeroy étale sur son baudrier" (Caumartin holds under his cloak all the power that Villeroy displays on his scabbard); another politician has a "mine de chat fâché" (appearance of a disgruntled cat). In short, the interest of his Mémoirs is in the novel and adroit use of word and phrase.[1]

He had a profound influence on writers like Tolstoy, Barbey d' Aurevilly, Flaubert, Valle-Inclán, Proust, Mujica Láinez, and many others.


Saint-Simon married Marie-Gabrielle

External links

  •  Goyau, Georges (1912). "Louis de Rouvroy, Duc de Saint-Simon".  


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Saintsbury 1911, p. 47.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Anselme, Père. Histoire de la Maison Royale de France’’, tome 4. Editions du Palais-Royal, 1967, Paris. pp. 389-391, 410-412. (French).
  5. ^ Memoirs of Duc de Saint-Simon: presented to the king, trans. Lucy Norton, 48.
  6. ^ Goyau 1912.
  7. ^ [2] (2012)
  8. ^
  9. ^


  • Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953. (Chapter 16, "The Interrupted Supper")
  • Cioran, Emil Michel. "Drawn and Quartered". New York: Arcade Publishing, 1998. (Section II)
  • Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel. Saint-Simon and the Court of Louis XIV. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001. ISBN 0-226-47320-1
  • De Ley, Herbert. Saint-Simon Memorialist. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975.
  • Ruas, Charles. The Intellectual Development of the Duc de Saint Simon. Princeton University, 1970.

Studies of the Mémoirs (in English)

  • Memoirs on the Reign of Louis XIV, and the Regency. Abridged by Bayle St. John. London: Chapman, 1857.
  • The Memoirs of the Duke of Saint-Simon on the reign of Louis XIV, and the Regency. 2nd edition. 3 volumes. Translated by Bayle St. John. London: Swan, Sonnenschein, Lowrey, 1888.
  • Memoirs of the Duc de Saint-Simon on the Times of Louis XIV, and the Regency. Translated and abridged by Katharine Prescott Wormeley. Boston: Hardy, Pratt, 1902.
  • Louis XIV at Versailles: A Selection from the Memoirs of the Duc de Saint-Simon. Translated and edited by Desmond Flower. London: Cassell, 1954.
  • The Age of Magnificence: The Memoirs of the Duke de Saint-Simon. Edited and translated by Sanche de Gramont aka Ted Morgan. New York: Putnam, 1963.
  • Memoirs of the Duc de Saint-Simon. Edited by W.H. Lewis. Translated by Bayle St. John. London: B.T. Batsford, 1964.
  • Historical Memoirs of the Duc de Saint-Simon, volume 1 1691-1709. Edited and translated by Lucy Norton. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1967.
  • Historical Memoirs of the Duc de Saint-Simon, volume 2 1710-1715. Edited and translated by Lucy Norton. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1968.
  • Historical Memoirs of the Duc de Saint-Simon, volume 3 1715-1723. Edited and translated by Lucy Norton. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1972.
  • Saint-Simon at Versailles. Edited and translated by Lucy Norton. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1980. Includes selections omitted from the three longer volumes, which together include about 40% of the whole work.

There are a number of English-language translations of Selections of the Mémoires:

English-language translations of the Mémoires

Extensive publication of Saint-Simon's Mémoires did not proceed until the 1820s. The first and greatest critical edition was produced in the Grands écrivains de la France series.[8] The most accessible modern editions consist of nine volumes in the Bibliothèque de la Pléïade and the eleven volumes in Carrefour du Net edition, prefaced by Didier Hallépée.[9]


  1. Charlotte de Rouvroy (8 September 1696 – 29 September 1763) married Charles-Louis de Henin-Liétard d'Alsace, prince de Chimay, they had no children;[4]
  2. Jacques-Louis de Rouvroy, duc de Ruffec (29 July 1698 – 15 July 1746) married, in 1727, Cathérine-Charlotte-Thérèse (died 1755), daughter of Antoine, 4th Duc de Gramont (widow of Philippe-Alexandre, duc de Bournonville), leaving no children;[4][7]
  3. Armand-Jean de Rouvroy (12 April 1699 – 20 May 1754) married Marie-Jeanne-Louise, daughter of Nicolas Prosper Bauyn d'Angervilliers; they had one daughter.


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