CHARLES MONTESQUIEU 1689 -
xxxxxThe French political philosopher and jurist Charles Montesquieu first gained prominence with his Persian Letters of 1721, a satire which severely criticised French institutions, political, legal, social and religious. The work made him famous, earning him membership of the French Academy, and marking him out as one of the earliest and most influential representatives of the Enlightenment. On returning from a tour of Europe in 1732 -
xxxxxThe French political philosopher and jurist Charles Montesquieu was born into a wealthy family, at the Chateau of la Brède, near Bordeaux. He was educated at the Oratorian school at Juilly, near Paris, and then returned to his region to study law at the University of Bordeaux. In 1716, following the death of an uncle, he inherited a large fortune and a title (Baron de Montesquieu), together with the deputy presidency of the Parlement of Bordeaux. He held this office for ten years, during which time he developed an interest in philosophy, the natural sciences, and political history.
xxxxxMontesquieu first gained prominence as a writer with his Persian Letters, published in 1721. This work was made up of a series of letters supposedly written by two Persian aristocrats during a visit to Europe. Their comments provided a convenient and satirical means of criticising the French contemporary scene, its political set-
xxxxxIn April 1728 he began a somewhat belated "Grand Tour" of Europe, lasting some four years. He travelled to Austria and Hungary before visiting Italy, Germany and Holland. He finished up in England and, during a stay of 18 months, was presented at court, elected a fellow of the Royal Society, and took a more than casual interest in the British parliamentary system. He then retired to his estate near Bordeaux, the wine-
xxxxxContained in two volumes of no less than 31 books, and written in a clear, firm style, this impressive undertaking was influenced, in part at least, by the theories of the English philosopher John Locke. It covered in depth the social political and legal influences at work within a state, and it examined in detail the three broad types of government -
xxxxxThis concept of a separation of power between the legislature (which drew up the laws), the executive (which put the laws into practice), and the judiciary (which resolved disputes in accordance with the laws), was based on the British constitution as Montesquieu saw it during his visit to England -
Montesquieu: 1728, artist unknown – National Museum of Versailles, France. La Brède: engraving, date and artist unknown.