Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes (20 December 1717 – 13 February 1787) was a French statesman and diplomat. He served as Foreign Minister from 1774 during the reign of Louis XVI, notably during the American War of Independence. Vergennes hoped that by giving French aid to the American rebels, he would be able to weaken Britain's dominance of the international stage in the wake of their victory in the Seven Years War. This produced mixed results as in spite of securing American independence France was able to extract little material gain from the war, while the costs of fighting damaged French national finances in the run up to the Revolution.



Early life

Vergennes was born in Dijon, France in 1719.

Diplomatic service

He was introduced to the profession of diplomacy by his uncle, Théodore Chevignard de Chavigny, under whom he obtained his first appointment, to Portugal in 1739. His successful advocacy of French interests as envoy to the Electorate of Trier, in 1750, and the following years led to his being sent to the Ottoman Empire in 1755, first as minister plenipotentiary, then as ambassador (see French Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire). In 1768, he was recalled, ostensibly because he married the widow Anne Duvivier, (1730-1798), but more probably because the Duc de Choiseul thought him not competent to provoke a war between Imperial Russia and the Ottomans. After Choiseul's dismissal, he was sent to Sweden with instructions to help the pro-French party of The Hats with advice and money. The coup by which King Gustav III secured power (19 August 1772) was a major diplomatic triumph for France.

Foreign minister

With the accession of King Louis XVI, Vergennes became foreign minister. His policy was guided by the conviction that the power of the states on the periphery of Europe, namely Great Britain and Russia, was increasing, and ought to be diminished. When he was appointed to the job, he had spent almost the entirety of the previous thirty five years abroad in diplomatic service. He readily admitted that he had lost touch with developments in France, and was mocked by some political opponents as a "foreigner". Despite this he was able to view France's foreign affairs with a more abstract nature, taking in the wider European context.

American War of Independence

Vergennes rivalry with the British, and his desire to avenge the disasters of the Seven Years' War, led to his support of the Thirteen Colonies in the American War of Independence, a step which would help, ultimately, bring about the French Revolution of 1789. As early as 1765 he had predicted that the loss of the French threat in North America would lead ultimately to the Americans "striking off their chains".

Vergennes sought by a series of negotiations to secure the armed neutrality of the Northern European states, eventually carried out by Catherine II of Russia; at the same time, Vergennes approved of the Pierre Beaumarchais's support for secret French assistance, as arms and volunteers supplied to the Americans. In 1777, he informed the Thirteen Colonies' commissioners that France acknowledged the United States, and was willing to form an offensive and defensive alliance with the new state. Vergennes also encouraged King Louis to sponsor expeditions to Indochina, which laid the building blocks of the French conquest during the next century (see French Indochina).

He acted as an intermediatry in the War of the Bavarian Sucesscion, which he feared could trigger a major European war, wrecking his strategy of sending French and Spanish forces to the Americas to fight the British there.

Domestic politics

In domestic affairs, Vergennes remained a conservative, carrying out intrigues to have Jacques Necker removed - he regarded Necker as a dangerous innovator, a republican, a foreigner and a Protestant. In 1781, he became chief of the council of finance, and, in 1783, he supported the nomination of Charles Alexandre de Calonne as Controller-General. Vergennes died just before the meeting of the Assembly of Notables which he is said to have suggested to Louis XVI.

Legacy and popular culture

He has often been portrayed by Americans as a visionary, because of his support for American independence. However this support for a republican insurrection, and the enormous cost France incurred in the war, are generally considered the cause of the French Revolution, which brought down the French monarchy, and the system he served.

He was played by Guillaume Gallienne in the 2006 film Marie Antoinette.


See also


  • Harvey, Robert. A Few Bloody Noses: The American Revolutionary War. Robinson, 2004.
  • Murphy, Orville T. Charles Gravier, Comte De Vergennes: French Diplomacy in the Age of Revolution, 1719-1787. State University of New York Press, 1982.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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