His son, Jean Antoine, grandfather of Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, served with distinction through all the later campaigns of the reign of Louis XIV. At the Battle of Cassano (1705), he suffered a neck wound so severe he thereafter had to wear a silver stock. Because he tended to be blunt and tactless, he never rose above the rank of colonel. On retiring from the service, he married Françoise de Castellane with whom he had three sons: Victor (marquis de Mirabeau), Jean Antoine (bailli de Mirabeau) and Louis Alexandre (Comte de Mirabeau). Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau was the son of Victor.
Mirabeau's love affairs are well-known, owing to the celebrity of the letters to "Sophie". In spite of his ugliness, he won the heart of the lady to whom his colonel was attached; this led to such scandal that his father obtained a lettre de cachet, and Mirabeau was imprisoned in the Ile de Ré. On being released, the young count obtained leave to accompany the French expedition to Corsica as a volunteer. During the Corsican expedition, Mirabeau contracted several more gambling debts and engaged in another scandalous love affair. However, he proved his military genius in the Corsican expedition, and also conducted a thorough study of the island during his stay. The study was most likely very factually incorrect, but his desire to learn of a country that had been previously unstudied emphasizes Mirabeau’s endless curiosity and inquisitiveness, particularly into the traditions and customs of society. This aspect of Mirabeau’s personality contributed to his popular success in the later years of the Revolution. After his return, he tried to keep on good terms with his father, and in 1772 he married a rich heiress, Marie-Marquerite-Emilie de Covet, daughter of the marquess de Marignane. Emilie, who was 18 years old, was apparently engaged to a much older nobleman, the Comte the Valbelle. Nonetheless, Mirabeau pursued her for several months expecting that his marriage to her would benefit him from the allowance that the couple would received from their parents. After several months of failed attempts at being introduced to the heiress, Mirabeau bribed one of the marquess's maids to let him into their residence, where he pretended to have had a sexual encounter with Emilie. To avoid losing face, her father saw that they got married just a couple of days after that incident. Mirabeau received a small allowance of 6000 livres from his father and never received the expected 3000 livres allowance from the marquess.
Mirabeau, who was already facing financial trouble and increasing debt, could not keep up with the expensive lifestyle his wife was used to and their extravagances forced his father to send him into semi-exile in the country, where he wrote his earliest extant work, the Essai sur le despotisme. The couple had a son who died early, mostly due to the poor living conditions they experienced during that time.
His violent disposition led him to quarrel with a country gentleman who had insulted his sister, and his exile was changed by lettre de cachet into imprisonment in the Château d'If in 1774. In 1775 he was transferred to the castle of Joux, where he was not closely confined, having full leave to enter the town of Pontarlier. In a house of a friend he met Marie Thérèse de Monnier, his "Sophie", and the two fell in love. He escaped to Switzerland, where Sophie joined him; they then went to the United Provinces, where he lived by hack work for the booksellers; meanwhile Mirabeau had been condemned to death at Pontarlier for seduction and abduction, and in May 1777 he was seized by the French police, and imprisoned by a lettre de cachet in the castle of Vincennes.
The early part of his confinement is marked by the indecent letters to Sophie (first published in 1793), and the obscene Erotica biblion and Ma conversion. In Vincennes, he met the Marquis de Sade, who was also writing erotic works; however the two disliked each other intensely. Later during his confinement, he wrote Des Lettres de Cachet et des prisons d'état, published after his liberation (1782). It exhibits an accurate knowledge of French constitutional history skillfully applied in an attempt to show that the system of lettres de cachet was not only philosophically unjust but also constitutionally illegal. It shows, though in a rather diffuse and declamatory form, the application of wide historical knowledge, keen philosophical perception, and genuine eloquence to a practical purpose which was the great characteristic of Mirabeau, both as a political thinker and as a statesman.
About this time he met Mme de Nehra, the daughter of Zwier van Haren, a Dutch statesman and political writer. She was an educated, refined woman, capable of appreciating Mirabeau's good points. His life was strengthened by the love of Mme de Nehra, his adopted son, Lucas de Montigny, and his little dog Chico. After a time in Holland he went to England, where his treatise on lettres de cachet had been much admired, being translated into English in 1787, and where he was soon admitted into the best Whig literary and political society of London, through his old school friend Gilbert Elliot, who had become a leading Whig member of parliament. Of all his English friends none seem to have been as close as Lord Shelburne and Sir Samuel Romilly. Romilly was introduced to Mirabeau by Sir Francis D'Ivernois (1757-1842), and undertook the translation of Mirabeu's the Considérations sur l'ordre de Cincinnatus into English.
It was the only important work Mirabeau wrote in the year 1785, and it is a good specimen of his method. He had read a pamphlet published in America attacking the proposed order, which sought to form a bond of association between the officers who had fought in the American Revolutionary War against England; the arguments struck him as true and valuable, so he re-arranged them in his own fashion, and rewrote them in his own oratorical style.
He soon found such work did not pay enough to keep his retinue, and sought employment from the French foreign office, either as a writer or a diplomat. He first sent Mme de Nehra to Paris to make peace with the authorities, and then returned himself, hoping to get a job through an old literary collaborateur of his, Durival, at this time director of finance at the department of foreign affairs. One of this official's functions was to subsidize political pamphleteers, and Mirabeau hoped to be so employed. However, he ruined his chances by a series of writings on financial questions.
On his return to Paris he had become acquainted with Étienne Clavière, the Genevese exile, and a banker named Panchaud. From them he learnt about the abuse of stock-jobbing, and seizing their ideas he began to regard stock-jobbing, or agiotage, as the source of all evil, and to attack in his usual vehement style the Banque de St-Charles and the Compagnie des Eaux. This pamphlet brought him into controversy with Caron de Beaumarchais, who certainly did not get the best of it, but it lost him any chance of employment with the government.
However, his ability was too great to be overlooked by the foreign minister, Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes. After a preliminary trip to Berlin at the beginning of 1786 he was despatched in July 1786 on a secret mission to the court of Prussia, from which he returned in January 1787, and of which he gave a full account in his Histoire secrete de la cour de Berlin (1789). The result, upon Mirabeau’s return, was his heightened fame with the Parisian populace at the cost of extreme embarrassment on part of the French government. In 1787, a public outcry ensued after Mirabeau published his observations of the Prussian court, entitled “The Secret History of the Court of Berlin, or Correspondence of a French Traveler”. This account denounced the Prussian court as scandalous and corrupt, described the King of Prussia as weak and over-emotional, and labeled Prince Henry of Prussia, brother of Frederick the Great and a guest of the French court, as narrow-minded and incompetent. Furthermore, Mirabeau cleverly classified the publication of the account as posthumous, suggesting that the book was published without the express consent or knowledge of the author. Therefore, Mirabeau appeared blameless and denied ever writing the account. After hastily apologizing to the Prussian government, Versailles censored the book. However, this caused even more people to read it, and ultimately increased Mirabeau’s fame. Mirabeau’s study of Prussian absolutism provided the impetus to write pamphlets upon his return to Paris that denounced the French monarchy as absolutist and despotic. The circulation of these pamphlets caused the revolutionaries to latch on to Mirabeau as a leader of the revolution and a carrier of democratic ideals that would lead eventually lead to a politically stable government. The months he spent in Berlin were significant in Prussian history, for while he was there Frederick the Great died. The letters just mentioned show clearly what Mirabeau did and what he saw, and equally clearly how unfit he was to be a diplomat. He failed to conciliate the new king Frederick William II, and thus ended Mirabeau's one attempt at diplomacy.
During his journey he had made the acquaintance of Jakob Mauvillon, an expert on Prussia; Mirabeau made use of his expertise in his De la monarchie prussienne sous Frédéric le Grand (London, 1788). While this book gave him a good reputation as a historian, in the same year he lost a chance of political employment. He had offered himself as a candidate for secretary to the Assembly of Notables which the King Louis XVI had just convened. To bring his name before the public, he published another financial work, the Dénonciation de l'agiotage, which contained such violent diatribes that he not only lost his election but also was obliged to retire to Tongeren. He further injured his prospects by publishing the reports he had sent in during his secret mission at Berlin. But 1789 was at hand; the Estates-General was summoned; Mirabeau's period of probation was over.
On hearing of the king's decision to summon the Estates-General, Mirabeau went to Provence, and offered to assist at the preliminary conference of the nobility of his district, but was rejected. He appealed to the Third Estate and was elected to the Estates in both Aix and Marseille. He chose to accept the seat for the former city, and was present at the opening of the Estates-General on May 4, 1789. From this time the record of Mirabeau's life forms the best history of the first two years of the National Constituent Assembly. At every important crisis his voice was heard, though his advice was not always followed. He possessed both logical acuteness and passionate enthusiasm. From the beginning he recognized that government exists in order for the population to pursue its daily work in peace, and that for a government to be successful it must be strong.
At the same time he thoroughly understood that for a government to be strong, it must be in harmony with the wishes of the majority of the people. He had studied the British system of government, and he hoped to establish in France a system similar in principle but without slavish imitation. In the first stage of the Estates-General, Mirabeau was very important. He was soon recognized as a leader, to the chagrin of Jean Joseph Mounier, because he always knew his own mind, and was prompt in emergencies. He is attributed with the successful consolidation of the National Assembly.
After the storming of the Bastille, he warned the Assembly of the futility of passing fine-sounding decrees and urged the necessity of action. He declared that the night of August 4 was but an orgy, giving the people immense theoretical liberty while not assisting them to practical freedom, overthrowing the old régime before a new one could be constituted. His failure to control the theorizers showed Mirabeau, after the removal of the king and the Assembly to Paris, that his eloquence would not enable him to guide the Assembly by himself, and that he must get additional support. He wished to establish a strong ministry, which should be responsible like an English ministry, but to an assembly chosen to represent the people of France better than the British House of Commons at that time represented Great Britain.
He first thought of becoming a minister at a very early date, if we may believe a story contained in the Mémoires of the duchesse d'Abrantes, to the effect that in May 1789 Queen Marie Antoinette tried to bribe him, but that he refused this and expressed his wish to be a minister. The indignation with which the queen repelled the idea may have made him think of the Duke of Orléans as a possible constitutional king, because his title would of necessity be parliamentary. But the weakness of the Duke of Orléans was too palpable, and in a famous remark Mirabeau expressed his utter contempt for him. He also attempted to form an alliance with Lafayette, but the two could not agree on a personal level , and Lafayette had his own theories about a new French constitution. Mirabeau tried for a time to act with Necker, and obtained the sanction of the Assembly to Necker's financial scheme, not because it was good, but because, as he said, "no other plan was before them, and something must be done."
The Comte de la Marck was a close friend of the queen, and had been elected a member of the Estates-General. His acquaintance with Mirabeau, begun in 1788, ripened during the following year into a friendship, which La Marck hoped to turn to the advantage of the court. After the march on Versailles he consulted Mirabeau as to what measures the king ought to take, and Mirabeau, delighted at the opportunity, drew up an admirable state paper, which was presented to the king by Monsieur, afterwards Louis XVIII.
This Mémoire gives insight into Mirabeau's genius for politics: The main position was that the king is not free in Paris; he must therefore leave Paris towards the interior of France to a provincial capital, best of all to Rouen, and there he must appeal to the people and summon a great convention. It would be ruin to appeal to the nobility, as the queen advised. When this great convention met the king must show himself ready to recognize that great changes have taken place, that feudalism and absolutism have for ever disappeared, and that a new relationship between king and people has arisen, which must be loyally observed on both sides for the future. To establish this new constitutional position between king and people would not be difficult, because the indivisibility of the monarch and his people is anchored in the heart of the French people.
This was Mirabeau's programme, from which he never diverged, but which was far too statesmanlike to be understood by the king, and far too positive regarding the altered condition of the monarchy to be palatable to the queen. Mirabeau followed up his Mémoire by a scheme of a great ministry to contain all men of mark; Necker as prime minister, "to render him as powerless as he is incapable, and yet preserve his popularity for the king", the duc de Liancourt, the Duc de la Rochefoucauld, La Marck, Talleyrand, Bishop of Autun, Mirabeau without portfolio, Target, mayor of Paris, Lafayette generalissimo of the army, Louis Philippe, comte de Ségur as foreign minister, Mounier and le Chapelier.
This scheme got noised abroad, and was ruined by a decree of the Assembly of November 7, 1789, that no member of the Assembly could become a minister; this decree destroyed any chance of harmony between ministers and parliament which existed in England, and so at once overthrew Mirabeau's hopes. The queen utterly refused to take Mirabeau's counsel, and La Marck left Paris. However, in April 1790 he was suddenly recalled by the comte de Mercy-Argenteau, the Austrian ambassador to Paris and the queen's most trusted political adviser. From this time to Mirabeau's death he became the bearer of almost daily communications between Mirabeau and the queen. Mirabeau at first attempted to make an alliance with Lafayette, but it was useless, for Lafayette was not a strong man himself. From May 1790 to his death in April 1791 Mirabeau remained in close connection with the court, and drew up many state papers for it. In return the court paid his debts; but it ought never to be said that he was bribed, for the court's gold never made him swerve from his political principles; never, for instance, was he a royalist. He regarded himself as a minister, though an unavowed one, and believed himself worthy of his hire.
Mirabeau focused his efforts on two main issues: changing the ministry and dealing with impending civil war. His attempts to form political alliances with Lafayette and Necker failed and resulted in open hostility. Necker disappeared from the French court and no longer posed a threat. Lafayette, however, was very powerful due to the fact that he held a monopoly on the military and the national guard. At first, Mirabeau attempted to undermine Lafayette’s power, but decided to solve the problem of the ministry, and maintain stability, by removing all ministers and placing the ministry entirely under Lafayette. In effect, Mirabeau suggested that the king distance himself from politics and let the revolution run its course, because it would inevitably destroy itself through its contradictory nature. Furthermore, Mirabeau proposed that, if his plan should fail, Paris should no longer be the capital of France, showing a conservative line of thinking: the only way to end the revolution would be to destroy its place of birth. Mirabeau’s prospects with the crown were good until 1790, when the Chatelet presented to the National Assembly that the inciters of the October days were the duc d’Orleans and Mirabeau himself. The charges were later removed, but for Mirabeau, the accusation had brought the realization that his strategy of working closely with both the Assembly and the court was beginning to backfire. In a later meeting with the king and queen, Mirabeau maintained that not only was civil war inevitable, it was necessary for the survival of the monarchy. Mirabeau maintained the belief that the decision to go to war, even civil war, should come only from the king. In a letter of confidence to Mirabeau, Louis wrote that as a Christian king, he could not declare war on his subjects. However, that wouldn’t stop him from reciprocating if his subjects declared war first. In order to avoid provoking a civil war, the king refrained from confronting the Constituent Assembly, and waited instead for a constitution that he could submit to. Once the civil constitution of the clergy destroyed this hope, Louis adopted a strategy of strengthening royal authority and the church’s position, and accepted the use of force, through civil war, to accomplish this. Mirabeau's involvement with the court is interesting for the insights it provides into the mind of Louis XIV as it is for the effects it produced in the Revolution.
On the question of the veto he took a practical view, and seeing that the royal power was already sufficiently weakened, declared for the king's absolute veto and against the suspensive veto. He knew from his British experience that such a veto would be rarely used unless the king felt the people were on his side, and that if it were used unjustifiably the power of the purse possessed by the representatives of the people would bring about a bloodless revolution, as in England in 1688. He saw that much of the Assembly's inefficiency arose from the members' inexperience and their incurable verbosity; so, to establish some system of rules, he got his friend Romilly to draw up a detailed account of the rules and customs of the British House of Commons, which he translated into French, but which the Assembly, puffed up by a belief in its own merits, refused to use. On the subject of peace and war he supported the king's authority, with some success. Again Mirabeau almost alone of the Assembly held that the soldier ceased to be a citizen when he became a soldier; he must submit to the deprivation of his liberty to think and act, and must recognize that a soldier's first duty is obedience. With such sentiments, it is no wonder that he approved of the vigorous conduct of the marquis de Bouillé at Nancy, which was to his credit as Bouillé was opposed to him. Lastly, in matters of finance he showed his wisdom: he attacked Necker's "caisse d'escompte," which was to have the whole control of the taxes, as absorbing the Assembly's power of the purse; and he heartily approved of the system of assignats, but with the reservation that the issue should be limited to no more than one-half the value of the lands to be sold.
In foreign affairs, he held that the French people should conduct their Revolution as they would, and that no foreign nation had any right to interfere with the country's internal affairs. But he knew that neighbouring nations were disturbed by the progress of the Revolution and feared its influence on their own peoples; and that foreign monarchs were being importuned by French emigres to interfere on behalf of the French monarchy. To prevent this interference, or rather to give no pretext for it, was his guiding principle in foreign policy. He was elected a member of the comité diplomatique of the Assembly in July 1790, and in this capacity he was able to prevent the Assembly from doing much harm in regard to foreign affairs. He had long known Armand Marc, comte de Montmorin, the foreign secretary, and, as matters became more strained, he entered into daily communication with the minister, advising him on every point, and, while dictating his policy, defended it in the Assembly. Mirabeau's exertions in this respect show him as a statesman; and his influence is best shown by the confusion in this department after his death.
He received a grand burial, and it was for him that The Panthéon in Paris was created as a burial place for great Frenchmen. In 1792, his secret dealings with the king were uncovered, and his remains were removed from the Pantheon in 1794.
At the time of his death, Mirabeau greatly feared for the future of any constitutional Monarchy in France, as he recognized that many powerful and radically inclined interests would not give such arrangements their support.
During the Revolution he received yet more help; men were proud to labour for him, and did not murmur because he absorbed all the credit and fame. Étienne Dumont, Clavière, Antoine Adrien Lamourette and Étienne Salonion Reybaz were but a few of the most distinguished of his collaborators. Dumont was a Genevese exile, and an old friend of Romilly's, who willingly prepared for him those famous addresses which Mirabeau used to make the Assembly, pass by sudden bursts of eloquent declamation; Clavière helped him in finance and not only worked out his figures but also even wrote his financial discourses; Lamourette wrote the speeches, on the Civil Constitution of the Clergy; Reybaz not only wrote for him his famous speeches on the assignats, the organization of the national guard, and others, which Mirabeau read word for word at the tribune, but also even the posthumous speech on succession to the estates of intestates, which Talleyrand read in the Assembly as the last work of his dead friend.
As an orator his eloquence has been likened to that of both Bossuet and Vergniaud, but it had neither the polish of the old 17th century bishop nor the flashes of genius of the young Girondin. It was rather parliamentary oratory in which he excelled, and his true compeers are Edmund Burke and Charles James Fox rather than any French speakers. Personally he had that which is the truest mark of nobility of mind, a power of attracting love and winning faithful friends- quote by Thomas Carlyle.