Louis de Rouvroy Duc de Saint Simon

The sharp pencil

15 January 1675 - 1755

Early years

Louis de Saint Simon was born the sole child of Claude de Rouvroy Duke de Saint Simon and Charlotte de l'Aubespine in 1675. His father had been born in 1607 and had been a favourite of Louis XIII. Claude had therefore become a duke and pair and also Vidame de Chartres, making the dukes of Saint Simon some of the more recently created peers of the realm. Louis' father was already old when he was born, and his parents did not have much family, nor friends that could help Louis to get forward in the world. Saint Simon states that this was the reason his mother wanted to educate him so that he could manage himself should his father die early. His mother thus wanted to instill him with courage, wisdom and love for science and letters. Perhaps she succeeded in instilling into Saint Simon some wisdom and a desire to make something of his life. Saint Simon was however attracted most to history, and his education kindled the desire produce his own work.


In 1691 Saint Simon was in one of the Parisian academies for young noblemen. There they learned to ride and followed other courses before entering the army. Saint Simon quickly became bored here and wanted to join the army because the king was besieging Mons that year. Philippe II d'Orleans, whom he knew well, had gone there too (Saint Simon states that they kind of grew up together and were friends). Also, lots of young noblemen his age had already joined the king there and he was afraid that he would miss out on an opportunity to signal himself. Because his mother did not want him to join the army so soon, he contacted his father, who asked Louis XIV for a place in one of the king's two musketeer companies on 28 October 1691.

From serving for one year in the musketeers Saint Simon would then hope to serve in the cavalry or the king's regiment and finally purchase his own regiment. While in the musketeers Saint Simon went on his first campaign in March 1692, and attended the siege of Namur in May - June 1692. After this first year in the musketeers the king asked his father what he would like Louis de Saint Simon to do next. Claude chose the cavalry, and so Louis came on the short-list for the first vacating cavalry company. Thus in April 1693 Saint Simon became captain of a cavalry company in the regiment Royal-Roussillon and went to Mons where it was in garrison. Though Saint Simon saved 12,000 livres by not having to pay for it he had to spend some money to bring his company up to strength.

His own man

On 3 May 1693 Louis Saint Simon's father Claude died when he was only 18. By then Louis was still in good favour to the king, and so he got all the goods and charges of his father. Louis, now duc de Saint Simon became governor of Blaye, Grand Bailli and governor of Senlis, captain of the towns of Pont-Sente-Maxence and Mesnil-lès-Pont, captaine and concierge of the royal castle of Pont-Saint-Maxence, and captain and concierge of the castle of Fécamp. One could think that these functions would constrain Louis to all kinds of work, but that was not the case. These jobs were so called sinecures, meaning that one did not have to do much in exchange for getting a nice reward. The governance of Blaye brought the command of a fortress and all in all some 25,000 livres a year.

Gets his own regiment

After managing his affairs Saint Simon went to Mons to join his company for the 1693 campaign. Saint simon thus went to Flandres with the army and the king. The king however soon tired of the campaign and announced in June that he would go back to Versailles, and that he had ordered part of the army to Germany. Saint Simon and many others got the impression that Louis XIV rather liked to be with de Maintenon than with his army and therefore gave up an excellent opportunity to gain great advantages. Despite this Saint Simon got his first fight when he was in the battle of Neerwinden. Later he was in the force under Luxembourg that covered the siege of Charleroy.

In the aftermath of the campaign Mestre de Camp chevalier du Rozel had a regiment to sell, and offered it Saint Simon for 26,000 livres. This was above the fixed price of 22,500 livres and Saint Simon thus got his own cavalry regiment in November 1693. The advantages were that Saint Simon thus became Mestre de Camp, and because he owned the regiment his trumpetmen wore his arms.

Starts his memoirs

Saint Simon went on campaign again in 1694. Because the part of the army that he was in did not have much to do then, he got the idea to write some contemporal history. He thus started his now famous memoirs in July 1694 while being camped at Gau-Böckelheim. Af first these took the form of a journal of events he himself had witnessed, but soon his ambitions got much grander. When Saint Simon got closer to the court he probably realised that he could make a rather unique work. This because he had first hand access to much information that would never make it into an official history. And so Saint Simon secretly started to collect all kinds of information with an eye to later writing a spectacular set of memoirs.

Saint Simon's marriage

About this time Charlotte de Saint Simon and Louis both thought of marriage and started to search for the candidate that would be most advantageous for Louis to get forward in society. Louis himself tried to negotiate for the oldest daughter of the Duc de Beauvilliers. This failed, primarily because this daughter wanted to become a nun.

All the winter of 1694 his mother Charlotte was then busy trying to find another match for Saint Simon. For Saint Simon it was important that a candidate would bring in relations on which he could build. So, finally negotiations were reopened with the marshall de Lorges for his eldest daughter. Marshal De Lorges was in high favour at the time and was of a numerous family with good connections. Saint Simon describes his future wife as follows: 'She was blonde with a perfect teint and figure, a lovely face, a noble and modest air, and radiated goodness and natural kindness.' The marriage took place on 8 April 1695 in the Hotel de Lorges, and to Saint Simon this would always be the happiest day of his life.

Later campaigns

In 1695 Saint Simon went with the army under Marshal de Lorges to Germany. De Lorges soon fell ill and Saint Simon thus continued under Marshal de Joyeuse. Saint Simon describes the chaotic move back across the Rhine under this new commander. He then moved to Landau where his sick father in law was cared for. Saint Simon also describes the Flanders campaign and the disgraceful role Maine played in it. In 1696 Saint Simon again went to Germany, now under Choiseul. He did not have to do much in this campaign and so he returned early. In 1697 he went to Germany for the fourth time. again under Marshall de Lorges. Again nothing special happened, and the campaign was cut short by the peace of Rijswijk.

From army to court

The peace of Rijswijk (1697) led the king to downsize of the army. One of the victims of this measure was Saint Simon, whose regiment was disbanded. He now found himself without command and like many others was joined to another regiment in order to place him somewhere. When the king announced a great number of promotions in 1702 Saint Simon then had the chagrin to see himself passed by five of his juniors (i.e. men that had only come to command a regiment after he had). To a man of his position, a duke who had commanded for four years this promotion was a clear insult to his standing. Saint Simon therefore asked advice to his father in law Marshal de Lorges, his brother Marshal Duras and four other friends. These all stated that it would be shameful for a man of his standing and service to participate in the war as a kind of ADC in someone else's regiment. Even though Saint SImon did not like this advice (it meant terminating his career) he was convinced of it's justness and he decided to quite the army. After weighing the affair for nearly three months he wrote to the king in this way, feigning bad health as his reason for quitting (10 April 1702).

Beginnings at court

As expected the king was not at all pleased with his resignation and made certain that Saint Simon felt this. The king continued to be mad at Saint Simon for about three years, and Saint Simon does not neglect to explain how Louis XIV acted. Right after his resignation Louis honoured Saint Simon in public for some time. In private he however noticed that the king never looked at him, never spoke to him, and also did not speak a word about his resignation. The king also tried to impress Saint Simon that he was angry at him personally by frequently inviting only madame de Saint Simon to some dinner parties. Inwardly the 'old' cynic Saint Simon of course laughed at this behaviour, and so the Saint Simons stopped asking the king if they could accompany him to Marly.

Aquiantance with Philippe II d'Orleans and Chamillart

After the king's brother had died his son Philippe II d'Orleans got permission to set up his court at Saint Cloud. Philippe's wife invited Madame de Saint Simon to join her court there, and so Philippe invited his old friend Saint Simon to renew their acquiantance. In this way Saint Simon came to know the future regent very well, and established a friendship that would serve him later on. When later on one of Marshall de Lorges' sons married a daughter of Chamillart Saint Simon also befriended Chamillart. Saint Simon himself states that Chamillart brought about his reconciliation with the king in 1704.

The Regency

When Louis XIV died in 1714 Philippe II d'Orleans became regent. Because Saint Simon and his wife were close to Philippe II Saint Simon now came into a position of high favour. This enabled him to spy on all affairs and collect information on a much grander scale.

Finalising his memoirs

Although Saint Simon had already been writing since 1694 he had kept the contents of his work a secret to almost everyone. We assume on good grounds that he had kept up his habit of writing all these years, and we know that parts of the memoirs are certainly contemporary, but we also know that the final text is something quite different from what he wrote during the years the events occured. In 1723 Saint Simon finally quit the court and therefore had time to write the final form of his memoirs. It his however probable that when he sat down to do it he concluded that he missed a framework in which he could place all his fragments.

In 1729 he learned that in the Dampierre castle lay the manuscript of Dangeau's journal. This journal gave an exact day to day account of affairs at Versailles from 1684 to 1720 and was exactly what he needed, and he had a copy made for his personal use. Saint Simon then put all kinds of additions to the journal of Dangeau, and decided to make these public. After that he returned to his original project and, aided by the Dangeau's journal and other sources he started work on the final edition of his memoirs, which he intended to be kept a secret at least during his lifetime.


After Saint SImon's death in 1755 the Duc de Choiseul got his papers and, appreciating that publication was not opportune, he placed them in the archives of the ministry of foreign affairs. Even though some individuals were allowed to look into the memoirs, they would not be published till after the revolution.