The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church

Biographical Dictionary
Pope Pius VI (1775-1799)
Consistory of December 15, 1788 (XVII)


(52) 1. LOMÉNIE DE BRIENNE, Étienne-Charles de (1727-1794)

Birth. October 9, 1727, Paris, France. From a noble family which included ministers of state since the time of King Henri III. Second of the three sons of Nicolas-Louis de Loménie, count of Brienne, and Anne-Gabrielle Chamillart. The other brothers were François (marquis of Brienne, colonel of the regiment of Artois, who died in war in 1747); and Louis-Marie-Athanase (count of Brienne, minister of State for War, who was executed on the guillotine on May 10, 1794, together with two sons and a daughter).

Education. He was destined by his parents to the ecclesiastical state. Studied at Collège d'Harcourt, Paris, where he studied humanities; and later, at La Sorbonne University, Paris, where he obtained a doctorate in theology on March 8, 1752.

Priesthood. Ordained, March 8, 1752. Vicar general of Rouen, 1752. Member of the Académie des Sciences and of the Académie des Inscriptions. In 1758, he went to Rome as conclavist to Cardinal Paul d'Albert de Luynes, archbishop of Sens. Abbot commendatario of the Premonstratensian abbey of Bassefontaine, diocese of Troyes, 1759. Nominated to the see of Condom by King Louis XV of France on August 15, 1760.

Episcopate. Elected bishop of Condom by the pope, December 19, 1760. Consecrated, January 11, 1761, Dominican novitiate of Saint-Germain, Paris, by Cardinal Paul d'Albert de Luynes, archbishop of Sens. Resigned the government of the diocese of Condom, March 21, 1763. Nominated to the see of Toulouse by King Louis XV of France on January 30, 1763. Promoted to the metropolitan see of Toulouse by the pope on March 21, 1763; received the pallium on that same day. In 1766, he was charged by the king to remedy the decandence of the monastic orders. Abbot commendatario of Mont St. Michel from 1766. Elected member of the Académie Française, June 25, 1770; reception, September 6, 1770. Abbot commendatario of Mossaic, 1775. Abbot commendatario of the abbey of Moreilles, diocese of La Rochelle; of the abbey of Saint-Wandrille; and of the abbey of Saint-Ouen, archdiocese of Rouen. He celebrated a diocesan synod in 1782. Resigned government of the archdiocese of Toulouse, March 8, 1788. Nominated to the see of Sens by King Louis XVI of France on January 23, 1788. Transferred by the pope, at his request, to the metropolitan see of Sens on March 10, 1788; received the pallium on that same day. Among his friends were philosophers Jean Le Ronde d'Alembert and André Morellet, and politicians such as Robert Turgot. Their influence made him enter into politics, oppose and replace Charles-Alexandre Calonne in the ministry of Finance. Contrôleur general of Finances in May 1787; and prime minister in 1788; the failure of his performance forced the convocation on July 15, 1788 of the États Généraux; resigned on August 25, 1788. Abbot commendatario of the abbey of Corbie, diocese of Amiens, 1788. King Louis XVI requested his promotion to the cardinalate.

Cardinalate. Created cardinal priest in the consistory of December 15, 1788; the pope sent him the red biretta with an apostolic brief dated December 16, 1788; although he was in Italy at the time of his promotion, he never went to Rome to receive the red hat and the title; he returned to France in mid-1790. Member of the Assembly of Notables. Accepted the Civil Constitution of the Clergy on January 30, 1791 and was named by the French government constitutional bishop of the department of Yonne; he wrote to the pope several letters trying to justify his conduct. In a brief of February 23, 1791, Pope Pius VI severely rebuked him for his disloyalty; he replied by resigning from the cardinalate on March 26, 1791; he was formally deposed by the pope in the consistory of September 26, 1791. In 1793, he sold a copy of the Gutenberg Bible to the Bodleian Library for £100. On November 9, 1793, when the Convention was at its fiercest, he was arrested in Sens and locked in the local jail; he was in great danger and apostatized for his own safety; he was then released. He was re-arrested on February 18, 1794; those who were going to take him to prison the next day spent the night in his house drinking; they wanted him to join them and when he refused, they hit him and subjected him to all kinds of abuse and obliged him to submit. An apoplexy ended the sad episode (1).

Death. February 19, 1794, Sens. His body, carried by four men, was buried, without any ceremony, in a wooden coffin, in front of the main door, against the outer sill and along the axis of the of Saint-Savinien basilica (which had escaped the destruction), in the cemetery known as Champs-des-Martyrs, in Sens. Each guarded by a soldier, his nephews were allowed to accompany his remains. At the time, it was forbidden to worship in that church. In the 19th century a small tombstone was laid recalling his presence. In 1943, archaeological excavations allowed the discovery of his skeleton, feet west and head east as it is customary for a bishop. His remains were placed in a box that was re-buried in the same place.

Bibliography. Aston, Nigel. The end of an élite : the French bishops and the coming of the revolution, 1786-1790. Oxford : Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1992. (Oxford historical monographs), p. 67-116; Berton, Charles. Dictionnaire des cardinaux, contenant des notions générales sur le cardinalat, la nomenclature complète ..., des cardinaux de tous les temps et de tous les pays ... les détails biographiques essentiels sur tous les cardinaux ... de longues études sur les cardinaux célèbre .... Paris : J.-P. Migne, 1857 ; Facsimile edition. Farnborough ; Gregg, 1969, col. 1141-1142; Chapeau, O.S.B. André and Fernand Combaluzier, C.M. Épiscopologe français des temps modernes, 1592-1973. Paris : Letouzey et Ané, 1974, p. 393-394; Chevalier, Pierre. Loménie de Brienne et l'ordre monastique (1766-1789). 2 v. Paris : Librairie philosophique J. Vrin, 1959. (Bibliothèque de la Société d'histoire ecclésiastique de la France). (French drama ; 3396). Notes: Thesis (doctoral)--Université de Paris, 1959; Ruffini, Graziano. La chasse aux livres. Bibliografia e collezionismo nel viaggio in Italia di Étienne-Charles de Loménie de Brienne e François-Xavier Laire (1789-1790). Firenze : Firenze University Press, 2007 (Fonti storiche e letterarie - Edizioni cartacee e digitali); Moroni, Gaetano. Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica da S. Pietro sino ai nostri giorni. 103 vols. in 53. Venezia : Tipografia Emiliana, 1840-1861, XXXIX, 136-141; Perrin, Joseph. Le cardinal de Loménie de Brienne, archevéque de Sens; ses dernières annies. Episodes de la révolution. Sens : Impr. de P. Duchemin, 1896. (Société archéologique de Sens. Memoires, t. 1). Responsibility: Par Joseph Perrin ... Publié sous les auspices de la société archéologique de Sens; Ritzler, Remigium, and Pirminum Sefrin. Hierarchia Catholica Medii et Recientoris Aevi. Volumen VI (1730-1799). Patavii : Typis et Sumptibus Domus Editorialis "Il Messaggero di S. Antonio" apud Basilicam S. Antonii, 1968, pp. 36, 178, 376 and 405.

Links. Biography by Joseph Sollier, in English, The Catholic Encyclopedia; biography, in English, Encyclopaedia Brittanica; biography, in English, eNotes; his portrait and biography, in Italian, Wikipedia; his portrait and biography, in French, Wikipedia; his portrait, basilica of Saint-Savinien and biography, in French, Tombes et sepultures dans les cimetieres et autres lieux des personnalites qui ont fait otre monde; biography, in English, Infoplease; his image, bas-reliefs des Ponts-Jumeaux, Capitol of Toulouse; detail of the previous image; his portrait by Jean-François Faure, Musée des Agustins, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Toulouse; his portrait, French School, Château de Versailles, France, Bridgeman Art Library All Art; Brienne-le-Château, in English, Encyclopaedia Britannica 11th Edition; Famille de Loménie, in French, Wikipedia.

(1) The theory of his suicide has been discarded by modern historical scholarship.

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