1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Choiseul, Étienne François
CHOISEUL, ÉTIENNE FRANÇOIS, Duc de (1719–1785), French statesman, was the eldest son of François Joseph de Choiseul, marquis de Stainville (1700–1770), and bore in early life the title of comte de Stainville. Born on the 28th of June 1719, he entered the army, and during the War of the Austrian Succession served in Bohemia in 1741 and in Italy, where he distinguished himself at the battle of Coni, in 1744. From 1745 until 1748 he was with the army in the Low Countries, being present at the sieges of Mons, Charleroi and Maestricht. He attained the rank of lieutenant-general, and in 1750 married Louise Honorine, daughter of Louis François Crozat, marquis du Châtel (d. 1750), who brought her husband a large fortune and proved a most devoted wife.
Choiseul gained the favour of Madame de Pompadour by procuring for her some letters which Louis XV. had written to his cousin Madame de Choiseul, with whom the king had formerly had an intrigue; and after a short time as bailli of the Vosges he was given the appointment of ambassador to Rome in 1753, where he was entrusted with the negotiations concerning the disturbances called forth by the bull Unigenitus. He acquitted himself skilfully in this task, and in 1757 his patroness obtained his transfer to Vienna, where he was instructed to cement the new alliance between France and Austria. His success at Vienna opened the way to a larger career, when in 1758 he supplanted Antoine Louis Rouillé (1689–1761) as minister for foreign affairs and so had the direction of French foreign policy during the Seven Years’ War. At this time he was made a peer of France and created duc de Choiseul. Although from 1761 until 1766 his cousin César, duc de Choiseul-Praslin (1712–1785), was minister for foreign affairs, yet Choiseul continued to control the policy of France until 1770, and during this period held most of the other important offices of state. As the author of the “Family Compact” he sought to retrieve by an alliance with the Bourbon house of Spain the disastrous results of the alliance with Austria; but his action came too late. His vigorous policy in other departments of state was not, however, fruitless. Coming to power in the midst of the demoralization consequent upon the defeats of Rossbach and Crefeld, by boldness and energy he reformed and strengthened both army and navy, and although too late to prevent the loss of Canada and India, he developed French colonies in the Antilles and San Domingo, and added Corsica and Lorraine to the crown of France. His management of home affairs in general satisfied the philosophes. He allowed the Encyclopédie to be published, and brought about the banishment of the Jesuits and the temporary abolition of the order by Pope Clement IV.
Choiseul’s fall was caused by his action towards the Jesuits, and by his support of their opponent La Chalotais, and of the provincial parlements. After the death of Madame de Pompadour in 1764, his enemies, led by Madame Du Barry and the chancellor Maupeou, were too strong for him, and in 1770 he was ordered to retire to his estate at Chanteloupe. The intrigues against him had, however, increased his popularity, which was already great, and during his retirement, which lasted until 1774, he lived in the greatest affluence and was visited by many eminent personages. Greatly to his disappointment Louis XVI. did not restore him to his former position, although the king recalled him to Paris in 1774, when he died on the 8th of May 1785, leaving behind him a huge accumulation of debt which was scrupulously discharged by his widow.
Choiseul possessed both ability and diligence, and though lacking in tenacity he showed foresight and liberality in his direction of affairs. In appearance he was a short, ill-featured man, with a ruddy countenance and a sturdy frame. His Mémoires were written during his exile from Paris, and are merely detached notes upon different questions. Horace Walpole, in his Memoirs, gives a very vivid description of the duke’s character, accuses him of exciting the war between Russia and Turkey in 1768 in order to be revenged upon the tsarina Catherine II., and says of his foreign policy, “he would project and determine the ruin of a country, but could not meditate a little mischief or a narrow benefit.” “He dissipated the nation’s wealth and his own; but did not repair the latter by plunder of the former,” says the same writer, who in reference to Choiseul’s private life asserts that “gallantry without delicacy was his constant pursuit.” Choiseul’s widow, a woman “in whom industrious malice could not find an imperfection,” lived in retirement until her death on the 3rd of December 1808.
See Mémoires du duc de Choiseul, edited by F. Calmettes (Paris, 1904); P. Boutaric, L’Ambassade de Choiseul à Vienne en 1757–1758 (Paris, 1872); Duc de Cars, Mémoires (Paris, 1890); F. J. de P., Cardinal de Bernis, Mémoires et lettres (Paris, 1878); Madame de Pompadour, Correspondance (Paris, 1878); Revue historique, tomes 82 and 87 (Paris, 1903–1905); Horace Walpole, Memoirs of the Reign of George III., edited by G. F. R. Barker (London, 1894); G. Mangros, Le duc et la duchesse de Choiseul (Paris, 1903); and La Disgrace du duc et de la duchesse de Choiseul (Paris, 1903); E. Calmettes, Choiseul et Voltaire (Paris, 1902); A. Bourguet, Études sur la politique étrangère du duc de Choiseul (Paris, 1907); and Le Duc de Choiseul et l’alliance espagnole (Paris, 1906). See also the Edinburgh Review for July 1908.