1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Dubois, Guillaume
DUBOIS, GUILLAUME (1656-1723), French cardinal and statesman, was born at Brive, in Limousin, on the 6th of September 1656. He was, according to his enemies, the son of an apothecary, his father being in fact a doctor of medicine of respectable family, who kept a small drug store as part of the necessary outfit of a country practitioner. He was educated at the school of the Brothers of the Christian Doctrine at Brive, where he received the tonsure at the age of thirteen. In 1672, having finished his philosophy course, he was given a scholarship at the college of St Michel at Paris by Jean, marquis de Pompadour, lieutenant-general of the Limousin. The head of the college, the abbé Antoine Faure, who was from the same part of the country as himself, befriended the lad, and continued to do so for many years after he had finished his course, finding him pupils and ultimately obtaining for him the post of tutor to the young duke of Chartres, afterwards the regent duke of Orleans. Astute, ambitious and unrestrained by conscience, Dubois ingratiated himself with his pupil, and, while he gave him formal school lessons, at the same time pandered to his evil passions and encouraged him in their indulgence. He gained the favour of Louis XIV. by bringing about the marriage of his pupil with Mademoiselle de Blois, a natural but legitimated daughter of the king; and for this service he was rewarded with the gift of the abbey of St Just in Picardy. He was present with his pupil at the battle of Steinkirk, and “faced fire,” says Marshal Luxembourg, “like a grenadier.” Sent to join the French embassy in London, he made himself so active that he was recalled by the request of the ambassador, who feared his intrigues. This, however, tended to raise his credit with the king. When the duke of Orleans became regent (1715) Dubois, who had for some years acted as his secretary, was made councillor of state, and the chief power passed gradually into his hands.
His policy was steadily directed towards maintaining the peace of Utrecht, and this made him the main opponent of the schemes of Cardinal Alberoni for the aggrandizement of Spain. To counteract Alberoni’s intrigues, he suggested an alliance with England, and in the face of great difficulties succeeded in negotiating the Triple Alliance (1717). In 1719 he sent an army into Spain, and forced Philip V. to dismiss Alberoni. Otherwise his policy remained that of peace. Dubois’s success strengthened him against the bitter opposition of a large section of the court. Political honours did not satisfy him, however. The church offered the richest field for exploitation, and in spite of his dissolute life he impudently prayed the regent to give him the archbishopric of Cambray, the richest in France. His demand was supported by George I., and the regent yielded. In one day all the usual orders were conferred on him, and even the great preacher Massillon consented to take part in the ceremonies. His next aim was the cardinalate, and, after long and most profitable negotiations on the part of Pope Clement XI., the red hat was given to him by Innocent XIII. (1721), whose election was largely due to the bribes of Dubois. It is estimated that this cardinalate cost France about eight million francs. In the following year he was named first minister of France (August). He was soon after received at the French Academy; and, to the disgrace of the French clergy, he was named president of their assembly.
When Louis XV. attained his majority in 1723 Dubois remained chief minister. He had accumulated an immense private fortune, possessing in addition to his see the revenues of seven abbeys. He was, however, a prey to the most terrible pains of body and agony of mind. His health was ruined by his debaucheries, and a surgical operation became necessary. This was almost immediately followed by his death, at Versailles, on the 10th of August 1723. His portrait was thus drawn by the duc de St Simon:—“He was a little, pitiful, wizened, herring-gutted man, in a flaxen wig, with a weasel’s face, brightened by some intellect. All the vices—perfidy, avarice, debauchery, ambition, flattery—fought within him for the mastery. He was so consummate a liar that, when taken in the fact, he could brazenly deny it. Even his wit and knowledge of the world were spoiled, and his affected gaiety was touched with sadness, by the odour of falsehood which escaped through every pore of his body.” This famous picture is certainly biassed. Dubois was unscrupulous, but so were his contemporaries, and whatever vices he had, he gave France peace after the disastrous wars of Louis XIV.
In 1789 appeared Vie privée du Cardinal Dubois, attributed to one of his secretaries, Mongez; and in 1815 his Mémoires secrets et correspondance inédite, edited by L. de Sevelinges. See also A. Cheruel, Saint-Simon et l’abbé Dubois; L. Wiesener, Le Régent, l’abbé Dubois et les Anglais (1891); and memoirs of the time.