1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Brézé

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BRÉZÉ the name of a noble Angevin family, the most famous member of which was Pierre de Brézé (c. 1410–1465), one of the trusted soldiers and statesmen of Charles VII. He had made his name as a soldier in the English wars when in 1433 he joined with Yolande, queen of Sicily, the constable Richmond and others, in chasing from power Charles VII.’s minister La Trémoille. He was knighted by Charles of Anjou in 1434, and presently entered the royal council. In 1437 he became seneschal of Anjou, and in 1440 of Poitou. During the Praguerie he rendered great service to the royal cause against the dauphin Louis and the revolted nobles, a service which was remembered against him after Louis’s accession to the throne. He fought against the English in Normandy in 1440–1441, and in Guienne in 1442. In the next year he became chamberlain to Charles VII., and gained the chief power in the state through the influence of Agnes Sorel, superseding his early allies Richmond and Charles of Anjou. The six years (1444–1450) of his ascendancy were the most prosperous period of the reign of Charles VII. His most dangerous opponent was the dauphin Louis, who in 1448 brought against him accusations which led to a formal trial resulting in a complete exoneration of Brézé and his restoration to favour. He fought in Normandy in 1450–1451, and became seneschal of the province after the death of Agnes Sorel and the consequent decline of his influence at court. He made an ineffective descent on the English coast at Sandwich in 1457, and was preparing an expedition in favour of Margaret of Anjou when the accession of Louis XI. brought him disgrace and a short imprisonment. In 1462, however, his son Jacques married Louis’s half-sister, Charlotte de Valois, daughter of Agnes Sorel. In 1462 he accompanied Margaret to Scotland with a force of 2000 men, and after the battle of Hexham he brought her back to Flanders. On his return he was reappointed seneschal of Normandy, and fell in the battle of Montlhéry on the 16th of July 1465. He was succeeded as seneschal of Normandy by his eldest son Jacques de Brézé (c. 1440–1490), count of Maulevrier; and by his grandson, husband of the famous Diane de Poitiers, Louis de Brézé (d. 1531), whose tomb in Rouen cathedral, attributed to Jean Goujon and Jean Cousin, is a splendid example of French Renaissance work.

The lordship of Brézé passed eventually to Claire Clémence de Maillé, princess of Condé, by whom it was sold to Thomas Dreux, who took the name of Dreux Brézé, when it was erected into a marquisate. Henri Evrard, marquis de Dreux-Brézé (1762–1829), succeeded his father as master of the ceremonies to Louis XVI. in 1781. On the meeting of the states-general in 1789 it fell to him to regulate the questions of etiquette and precedence between the three estates. That as the immediate representative of the crown he should wound the susceptibilities of the deputies was perhaps inevitable, but little attempt was made to adapt traditional etiquette to changed circumstances. Brézé did not formally intimate to President Bailly the proclamation of the royal séance until the 20th of June, when the carpenters were about to enter the hall to prepare for the event, thus provoking the session in the tennis court. After the royal séance Brézé was sent to reiterate Louis’s orders that the estates should meet separately, when Mirabeau replied that the hall could not be cleared except by force. After the fall of the Tuileries Brézé emigrated for a short time, but though he returned to France he was spared during the Terror. At the Restoration he was made a peer of France, and resumed his functions as guardian of an antiquated ceremonial. He died on the 27th of January 1829, when he was succeeded in the peerage and at court by his son Scipion (1793–1845).

The best contemporary account of Pierre de Brézé is given in the Chroniques of the Burgundian chronicler, Georges Chastellain, who had been his secretary. Chastellain addressed a Déprécation to Louis XI. on his behalf at the time of his disgrace.