Roger de Rabutin, Comte de Bussy

Roger de Rabutin, Comte de Bussy (April 13, 1618 - April 9, 1693), commonly known as Bussy-Rabutin, was a French memoir-writer. He was the cousin and frequent correspondent of Madame de Sévigné.

Born at Epiry, near Autun, he represented a family of distinction in Burgundy, and his father, Léonor de Rabutin, was lieutenant general of the province of Nivernais.

Roger was the third son, but by the death of his elder brothers became the representative of the family. He entered the army when he was only sixteen and fought through several campaigns, succeeding his father in the office of mestre de camp. He tells us himself that his two ambitions were to become "honnête homme" and to distinguish himself in arms, but the luck was against him. In 1641 he was sent to the Bastille by Richelieu for some months as a punishment for neglect of his duties in his pursuit of gallantry.

In 1643 he married a cousin, Gabrielle de Toulongeon, and for a short time be left the army. But in 1645 he succeeded to his father's position in the Nivernais, and served under Condé in Catalonia. His wife died in 1646, and he became more notorious than ever by an attempt to abduct Madame de Miramion, a rich widow. This affair was with some difficulty settled by a considerable payment on Bussy's part, and he afterwards married Louise de Rouville.

When Condé joined the party of the Fronde, Bussy joined him, but a fancied slight on the part of the prince finally decided him for the royal side. He fought with some distinction both in the civil war and on foreign service, and buying the commission of mestre de camp in 1655, he went to serve under Turenne in Flanders. He served there for several campaigns and distinguished himself at the Battle of the Dunes (1658) and elsewhere; but he did not get on well with his general, and his quarrelsome disposition, his overweening vanity and his habit of composing libellous chansons made him eventually the enemy of most persons of position both in the army and at court.

In the year 1659 he fell into disgrace for having taken part in an orgy at Roissy near Paris during Holy Week, which caused great scandal. Bussy was ordered to retire to his estates, and beguiled his enforced leisure by composing, for the amusement of his sick mistress, Madame de Montglas, his famous Histoire amoureuse des Gaules (written in 1660). This book, a series of portraits and accounts of the intrigues of the chief ladies of the court, witty enough, but still more ill-natured, circulated freely in manuscript and had numerous spurious sequels. Although Bussy denied the charges (blaming Madame de la Baume), it was said that he had not spared the reputations of members of the royal family, including Madame and the Queen Mother. Bussy claimed in a letter of apology and explanation to the king that a false friend who had asked to borrow it briefly (Madame de la Baume) had copied it and altered it without his knowledge. The king, angry at the report, was momentarily appeased when Bussy showed him the original manuscript to disprove the scandal, but a closed-door meeting (most likely with Madame de la Baume) sealed Bussy's fate.

He was sent to the Bastille on April 17 1665, where he remained for more than a year, and he was only liberated on condition of retiring to his estates, where he lived in exile for seventeen years. Bussy felt the disgrace keenly, but still more bitter was the enforced close of his military career. In 1682 he was allowed to revisit the court, but the coldness of his reception there made his provincial exile seem preferable, and he returned to Burgundy, where he died.

The Histoire amoureuse is in its most striking passages adapted from Petronius, and its attractions include its famously critical portraits of Madame de Se'vinge' and the Prince de Conde' and its unique style. His Mémoires, published after his death, are likewise lively and characteristic and have all the charm of a historical romance of the adventurous type. His voluminous correspondence yields in variety and interest to few collections of the kind, except that of Madame de Sévigné, who indeed is represented in it to a great extent, and whose letters first appeared in it. The literary and historical student, therefore, owes Bussy some thanks.

Bussy wrote other things, of which the most important, his Genealogy of the Rabutin Family, remained in manuscript till 1867, while his Considerations sur la guerre was first published in Dresden in 1746. He also wrote, for the use of his children, a series of biographies, in which his own life serves a moral purpose.

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