François-René de Chateaubriand 

François-René de Chateaubriand was a French writer, politician, diplomat and historian. He was born on 4th September 1768 in Saint-Malo, Brittany, France and died on 4th July 1848 in Paris France aged 79.

Major Works

“Essai sur les Revolutions” (1797)
“Atala, ou Les Amours de Deux Sauvages dans le Desert” (1801)
“Genie du Christianisme” (1802)
“Rene” (1805)
“Les Natchez” (1826)
“Memoires d’Outre-Tombe” (1848)

Biography Timeline

François-Auguste-René, vicomte de Chateaubriand was born on 4th September 1768 in Saint-Malo, Brittany in France. He was the last born of ten children to a minor aristocratic family and spent his summers on the family estate at Combourg which contained a semi ruined medieval castle. His father was René de Chateaubriand a sea captain turned ship owner not known for his friendliness and the young lad’s early years were punctuated by solitude, except for friendship of his sister Lucille. He tried an attempt at suicide but his rifle failed to go off. He was educated in Dol, Rennes and Dinan and wanted to become a priest or go to sea.

1785: He decides on a military career aged seventeen and gets a commission as a second lieutenant in the French Army based in Navarre.

1788: He is promoted to the rank of Captain and visits Paris where he meets, and is impressed by, many of the important writers of the time.

1791: During the French Revolution he had refused to join the Royalists but when violence breaks out he sails to the United States in April. He arrives in Philadelphia on 10th July and visits New York and Boston before sailing up river to the region around the Niagara Falls where he said he communed with the native Indians and fur traders. He then goes back to Philadelphia via the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and Florida. Hearing of the flight of King Louis the Sixteenth in Paris he decides to return home. He boards the ship “Molly” bound for France in November.  

1792: Back in France and finding Paris too expensive to live in he joins the Royalist Army of emigres in Koblenz, Germany led by Louis Joseph de Bourbon, Prince of Conde. He marries the seventeen-year-old heiress Céleste Buisson de la Vigne from St Malo. He is wounded at the Siege of Thionville in August and is taken to the Island of Jersey to recover. 

1793: He goes into exile in England in May leaving his new wife behind. He supports himself by teaching and translating in London but still living in poverty. Whilst staying in Bridge Street he falls in love with the English woman Charlotte Ives, the daughter of the family, but this ends when he is forced to admit he is married already. He takes a great interest in English Literature in particular John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”.

1797: He begins writing “Essai sir les Revolutions” (Essay on Revolutions) in London which discusses revolutions throughout history in an attempt to explain what has happened in France.

1798: His mother dies and he has a crisis of faith but returns to the Catholic church.

1800: He returns to Paris in May due to an amnesty issued to émigrés and works as a freelance journalist and writer. He edits the literary magazine “Mercure de France”.

1801: He publishes the novel “Atala, Ou Les Amours des Deux Sauvages dans le Desert” (The Loves of Two Indian Savages in the Desert) which is an immediate success. It tells of a Christian girl who falls in love with a Natchez Indian but ends up poisoning herself to keep her vow of virginity.

1802: He writes “Le Genie du Christianisme” (The Genius of Christianity) which finds favour with both the Royalists and Napoleon Bonaparte, who is eager to win over the Catholic church. The work defends Christianity against the scientific attacks of the earlier Enlightenment. 

1803: He is rewarded by Napoleon when he is appointed first secretary to the French Embassy to the Holy See in Rome. He is accompanied by Cardinal Fesch to Rome but the two men soon quarrel and he is appointed minister to the Republic of Valais in Switzerland in November instead.

1804: He is outraged and resigns his post in disgust when Napoleon holds the unfair trial and execution of the Duke d’Enghien (Louis Sixteenth’s cousin) on a pretext of conspiracy. Dependent now on earnings from his writings alone he is amazed to receive a large sum from the Russian Tsarina, Elizabeth Alexeievna, who sees him as a defender of Christianity.

1805: He publishes the semi-autobiographical short novel “Rene” which becomes influential in the Romantic movement, telling the story of a sister who enters a convent rather than surrender to her love for her brother. 

1806: Now with some money he visits Greece, the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, Tunisia, and Spain and is invested as a Knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. At the end of the year he compares Napoleon with the Roman Emperor Nero and the French Emperor threatens to sabre him on the steps of the Tuileries but instead banishes him from Paris.

1807: He retires to the estate of Vallée-aux-Loups (Wolf Valley) in Chatenay-Malabry near Paris. He writes “Les Martyrs” which is published in 1809.

1811: He is elected to the Academie Francaise because of “Les Martyrs” about early Christian martyrs in Rome. However, he does not take up his position until the Bourbon Kings are restored due to his planned acceptance speech criticising the Revolution. He also writes “Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem” about his recent travels and is friendly with the leading literary people of the day including Madame de Stael.

1814: On 30th March he writes a pamphlet against Napoleon, entitled “De Buonaparte et des Bourbons”. Thousands of copies are circulated but then he has to follow King Louis the Eighteenth in exile in Ghent, Belgium during the Hundred Days when Napoleon escapes from Elba. He publishes “Travels in Greece, Palestine, Egypt and Barbary during the years 1806-07”.

1815: After the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo he becomes a Peer of France and State Minister and has a liaison with Madame Recamier. In December he votes for Marshall Ney’s execution but also criticises the new King and is dismissed as a Minister. He joins the opposition who support the Royalist future King Charles the Tenth and writes for its publication “Le Conservateur”.

1816: He is elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society. 

1820: After the murder of the Duc de Berry he again sides with the King and writes “Mémoires sur la Vie et la Mort du Duc de Berry”.

1821: He is appointed Ambassador to Berlin for six months.

1822: He becomes ambassador to Great Britain in London. He serves as Minister of Foreign Affairs and represents France at the Congress of Vienna and the Congress of Verona. .

1823: His efforts bring France into the war with Spain, to restore the Bourbon King Ferdinand the Seventh. Although the campaign is a success the high cost loses him prestige.

1824: He is removed from office by Prime Minister Joseph de Villele over his objections to a law which would increase the electorate. He is then appointed Ambassador to Genoa in Italy.

1826: He publishes the novel “Les Natchez” which he had written earlier and the novella “Les Aventures du Dernier Abencérage” (The Adventures of the Last Abencerragebased in Granada, Spain.

1827: He publishes “Voyage en Amérique”.

1828: He is appointed Ambassador to the Holy See in Rome by King Charles the Tenth but resigns in November on the appointment of the Prince de Polignac as Prime Minister. Thereafter he spends the rest of his life as a private citizen.

1830: He donates a memorial to the painter Nicolas Poussin to the church of San Lorenzo in Lucina in Rome. 

1831: He publishes “Etudes Historiques” (Historical Studies).

1833: He publishes “Memoires sur le Captivite de Madame la Duchesse de Berry” (History of the imprisonment of the Duchess de Berry).

1844: He is now virtually a recluse in his Paris apartment leaving only to visit Madame Juliette Recamier. He works on the biography of Armand Jean le Bouthillier de Rance the seventeenth century aristocrat who founded the Trappist monks entitled “La Vie de Rance”.

1848: He begins compiling “Memoires d’Outre-Tombe” (Memoirs from Beyond the Tomb) which he began writing notes for in 1810 and is intended for posthumous publication.

François-Auguste-René, Vicomte de Chateaubriand died in the arms of Juliette Récamier, on 4th July 1848 in Paris, France during the 1848 Revolution. He was buried on the tidal island of Grand Be, near St Malo, which is accessible only when the tide is out.

Further Information

List of works by Chateaubriand.