Guillaume de Malesherbes


malesherbesGuillaume de Malesherbes (1721-1794) was a lawyer and politician, best known for providing defence counsel to Louis XVI in January 1793. Born in Paris to an esteemed legal family, in 1750 Malesherbes followed in his father’s footsteps and entered the city’s parlement. In 1775 he was appointed briefly to the royal court of the newly crowned Louis XVI, before going into retirement the following year. Malesherbes’ reputation as a moderate reformer saw him recalled to the ministry in 1787, at the height of the fiscal crisis – however his attempts to clear a path for the king’s reforms by reorganising the parlements met with strong opposition and failed. Malesherbes retired again, only to return to Paris in late 1792 to defend the king before the National Convention, a mission Malesherbes accepted voluntarily and without equivocation. Driven by professionalism rather than any loyalty to Louis XVI, Malesherbes delivered a rousing defence – but it not only failed to save the king, it also left Malesherbes himself a marked man, stained by his connections with royalty. The radicals came for him a year later and he was guillotined in April 1794, shortly after the Dantonists.


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