Testament of Montesquieu

François Cadilhon

1Montesquieu’s handwritten testament was presented for the first time in 1955 in the André Masson edition of the Œuvres complètes; a new publication with a complete analysis has now appeared in the current edition of Œuvres complètes in 2006.

2The baron de la Brède had in mind since at least 1749 to draw up a testament, but the only version we have was written in Paris on 26 November 1750 (he had asked the advice of the Parisian notary Doyen, as is shown by a text preserved in the manuscript of L’Esprit des lois and published in 2006 with the testament); it is preserved at the Minutier central of the Archives Nationales. There is also a copy (from March 1755) in the collection at La Brède.

3Beyond a few rare religious declarations and practical regulations, one of the philosopher’s chief objectives was especially to assure “from male to male” the transmission of the La Brède manor, and not the Montesquieu manor. The opening of the testament took place in Paris on 8 March 1755 by public officials in the presence of the baron’s son, Jean-Baptiste de Secondat, then it was deposited with a notary, Simon Girault, chosen by the sole heir. Jean-Baptiste de Secondat, initially the owner of all his father’s properties, then had to settle with his sisters the contractual engagements already fixed in their preceding marriages. The case was not exceptional, it was even usual; it thus seems indispensable often to connect the two types of document for a global approach. The son then had to conduct complex negotiations with his sister Denise, married according to the paternal wish so as to assure the transmission of the name with her cousin from Agen, Godefroy de Secondat. The philosopher’s testament next served as a reference but also as a rigorous straitjacket for the whole family, in particular at the end of the 19th century, to settle the division of the patrimony.



Montesquieu, Œuvres complètes, André Masson ed., Paris: Nagel, t. III, 1955, p. 1573-1574.

OC, t. IX, 2006, p. 383-394, ed. François Cadilhon and Pierre Rétat.


Michel Figeac, Destins de la noblesse bordelaise, 1770-1830, Bordeaux: Fédération historique du Sud-Ouest, 1996.

Stéphane Minvielle, “Les comportements démographiques des élites bordelaises au XVIIIe siècle”, doctoral thesis, Université de Bordeaux 3, 2003.

François Cadilhon, “Montesquieu ou La Brède”, Les Amis du vieux Nérac 39 (2005), p. 47-57.