La Chalotais, symbol of the fight against ministerial despotism under Louis XV

La Chalotais, symbol of the fight against ministerial despotism under Louis XV

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  • Portrait of Louis René de Caradeuc de La Chalotais.


  • Louis René de Caradeuc de La Chalotais.

    HUBERT Jean-Jacques (1760)

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Title: Portrait of Louis René de Caradeuc de La Chalotais.

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 82.9 - Width 64.3

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: Rennes Museum of Fine Arts website

Contact copyright: © Museum of Fine Arts of Rennes, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Jean-Manuel Salinguewebsite

Picture reference: 13-587767 / INV1908-6-1

Portrait of Louis René de Caradeuc de La Chalotais.

© Museum of Fine Arts of Rennes, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Jean-Manuel Salingue

Louis René de Caradeuc de La Chalotais.

© Palace of Versailles, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Image Palace of Versailles

Publication date: February 2014

Professor of modern history at the University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis.

Historical context

The resignation of the Parliament of Brittany and the arrest of the Attorney General La Chalotais (1765)

Following the disastrous Seven Years' War (1756-1763), the financial situation of the Kingdom of France was catastrophic and required a major fiscal reorganization. Brittany, very attached to its freedoms and known for its rebellious temperament, refused the new taxes that the Duke of Aiguillon, commander-in-chief of the province, demanded in the name of Versailles.

The tension mounts between the magistrates of the Parliament and the Duke of Aiguillon who pushes the ministry to the firmness in the summer of 1764: “I do not want to make the laws nor to judge the lawsuits but I do not want that the Parliament gets involved in the administration […] and I ask that, when he slanders the head of this administration, he is silenced with the tone necessary to be obeyed. Attempts at mediation fail, and the entire parliament of Brittany is summoned to Versailles. The escalation continued with the resignation of eighty-five presidents and advisers of parliament who, on May 22, 1765, considered that they could do nothing "other than to hand over to His Majesty the titles of the offices of which they could not fulfill the functions. without the greatest inconvenience for the king and the subjects, and without establishing a dangerous conflict between legal authority and arbitrary authority ”.

The twelve magistrates who have not resigned are threatened. An investigation soon implicates the attorney general of the parliament, La Chalotais, then aged sixty-four, who would have been betrayed by his writing. On the night of November 10 to 11, 1765, five magistrates of the Parliament of Brittany were arrested, including the attorneys general Louis René de Caradeuc de La Chalotais and his son Anne-Jacques-Raoul de Caradeuc. For his defenders, La Chalotais became the victim of ministerial arbitrariness and monarchical despotism.

Image Analysis

From the "perfect magistrate" to the victim of arbitrariness

Born in 1701, attorney general at the age of twenty-nine, Louis René de Caradeuc de La Chalotais is represented in the office of attorney general which he has held in the Parliament of Rennes since 1752. In the painted portrait, very classic in style, he displays the assurance of the magistrate imbued with the dignity of the office he exercises and the importance of his state duty. Influenced like many of his peers by Montesquieu's political thought, parliament is for him an intermediary body between the people and the king, a protective screen against the possible abuses of the monarchy. He thus takes on the appearance of the "perfect magistrate", according to the expression of the time. But, with the affair that bears his name, La Chalotais has also become a symbol of resistance to ministerial oppression. This is illustrated by the engraving which, much more widely distributed than a painted portrait, is not satisfied with the classic and interchangeable presentation of a profile with discreet allusions to the culture of the enlightened magistrate (books) and in Brittany (the ermines). It bears a legend which makes all its value and distinguishes it from other engraved profiles of La Chalotais: for example the one engraved by Baron after the drawing by Cochin. Here, the image clearly manifests a commitment to the innocence of La Chalotais, a virtuous magistrate unwavering in adversity: “Without changing him, they persecuted him; Envy and Misfortune increased his glory. Everything was taken from him, his virtue remained. May lasting peace ensure its victory. "

By publicly siding with La Chalotais, this engraving does more than inform public opinion. Like the factums (memoirs) of lawyers which are debited by thousands of copies during major legal cases, it participates in the construction of the symbol of the struggle of the magistrate defender of Breton freedoms against arbitrariness and allows the public to identify with a cause from a man.


An icon of the opposition to monarchical despotism

Imprisoned in 1765 before being exiled to Saintes, La Chalotais became the symbol of freedoms scorned by ministerial despotism. He owes this to the combination of the power of the image and the committed writing that pose him as a victim.

The first of the memoirs he wrote in detention ended as follows: "But if, in a temperate monarchy, two attorneys general of the most intact reputation, one for thirty-five years [himself], the other for ten years of magistracy [his son, Caradeuc], […] are exposed to such treatment, and delivered to the discretion of their enemies, having only the resource of justice and the laws, and even not having it. not, since they cannot write to the king, nor justify themselves, what would our judges themselves not have to fear? Done at the Château de Saint-Malo, January 15, 1766, barely able to have a few books, having been taken from me concerning the criminal procedure. Written with a quill made from a toothpick, and ink made with chimney soot, vinegar and sugar, on sugar and chocolate wrapper papers. The engraved profile therefore perfectly echoes it, and the blow hits. Voltaire wrote to d'Alembert on this subject: "You can imagine, my true philosopher, that my blood boiled when I read this memoir written with a toothpick, this toothpick engraved for immortality. Woe to whom reading this writing does not give feverishness! "

In 1774, at the change of reign, Louis XVI recalled La Chalotais of exile and in December 1776 decided by letters patent to erect the land of Caradeuc as a marquisate. The Chalotais has therefore become in ten years a genuine political symbol. The defenders of Breton freedoms will extol him throughout the XIXe century.

  • education
  • Lights
  • Louis XV
  • Brittany
  • Reindeer
  • Louis XVI
  • freedoms
  • tax
  • Montesquieu (Charles Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède and)
  • Seven Years' War (1756-1763)


Pierre-Yves BEAUREPAIRE, The France of the Enlightenment. 1715-1789, Paris, Belin, coll. “History of France”, 2011.

Luc DAIREAUX, The Fire of Rebellion? The prints of the Brittany affair (1764-1769), Paris, H. Champion, coll. “The eighteenth centuries”, 2011, available at hal.

Jean EGRET, Louis XV and the parliamentary opposition. 1715-1774, Paris, Armand Colin, 1970.

· Alain Jacques LEMAÎTRE, “La Chalotais, Attorney General of the King: an intellectual biography” in Alain Jacques LEMAÎTRE and Odile KAMMERER (eds.), Regulatory power: doctrinal dimension, practices and sources, 15th and 18th centuries, proceedings of the Mulhouse colloquium, 11 and 12 October 2002, Rennes, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2005.

· Julian SWANN, "Defending La Chalotais: The Brittany Affair, 1764-66" in Politics and the Parlement of Paris under Louis XV, 1754-1774, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1995.

To cite this article

Pierre-Yves BEAUREPAIRE, "La Chalotais, symbol of the fight against ministerial despotism under Louis XV"

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