Marquis de Sade

sadeThe world knows the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) for his lurid writing and his liberal sexual practices, however Sade also played a minor role in the French Revolution. Sade was born in Paris to an aristocrat family and received a Jesuit education. As was customary for the younger sons of aristocrats, Sade entered the military and saw service against England during the Seven Years’ War. Sade married in 1763 and inherited his father’s noble title four years later. Between 1768 and 1789 Sade was subject to numerous lettres de cachet and spent 11 years in prison or asylums for sexual debauchery. Among his excesses were acts of bondage, sodomy, sexual violence, frequenting brothels, administering aphrodisiacs and making numerous unwanted advances to servants. While in prison Sade wrote prolifically, his manuscripts proving as lurid and controversial as his personal activities. Sade spent five years detained in the Bastille and was transferred to an asylum only a few days before it was stormed on July 14th 1789. In April 1790 the National Constituent Assembly nullified all lettres de cachet and Sade was released. He immediately became a supporter of the revolution, joining Paris’ radical Piques section and gaining election to the National Convention in 1792. While Sade spoke and wrote like a democrat, backing universal voting and price controls, his aristocratic background and chequered history made him a frequent target for radicals in the Convention. In December 1793 he was expelled from the Convention, probably on the orders of Robespierre, and thrown into prison. Sade was released at the end of the Terror and found himself virtually bankrupted by the revolution. He returned to writing but was arrested again and remained in prisons asylums until his death.

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