François-Joachim de Pierre de Bernis

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Francois-Joachim de Pierres, Cardinal de Bernis, Comte de Lyon

François-Joachim de Pierre de Bernis (22 May 1715 – 3 November 1794) was a French cardinal and statesman. He was the sixth member elected to occupy seat 3 of the Académie française in 1744.

Biography

Born at Saint-Marcel d'Ardèche, de Bernis was of a noble, but impoverished family, and, being a younger son, was intended for the church. He was educated at the Louis-le-Grand college and the seminary of Saint-Sulpice, Paris, but did not take orders till 1755.

De Bernis became known as one of the most expert epigrammatists in the gay society of Louis XV of France's court, and by his verses won the friendship of Madame de Pompadour, the royal mistress, who obtained for him an apartment, furnished at her expense, in the Tuileries, and a yearly pension of 1500 livres. In 1751 de Bernis was appointed to the French embassy at Venice, where he acted, to the satisfaction of both parties, as mediator between the republic and Pope Benedict XIV. During his stay in Venice he received subdeacon's orders, and on his return to France in 1755 was made a papal councillor of state.

De Bernis took an important part in the delicate negotiations between France and Austria which preceded the Seven Years' War. He regarded the alliance purely as a temporary expedient, and did not propose to employ the whole forces of France in a general war. But he was overruled by his colleagues. DeBernis became secretary for foreign affairs on 27 June 1757, but owing to his attempts to counteract the spendthrift policy of the marquise de Pompadour and her creatures, he fell into disgrace and was in December 1758 banished to Soissons by Louis XV, where he remained in retirement for six years. In the previous November he had been created cardinal by Pope Clement XIII.

On the death of the royal mistress in 1764, de Bernis was recalled and once more offered the seals of office, but declined them, and was appointed archbishop of Albi. His occupancy of the see was not of long duration. In 1769 he went to Rome to assist at the conclave which resulted in the election of Pope Clement XIV, and the talent which he displayed on that occasion procured him the appointment of ambassador in Rome, where he spent the remainder of his life. He was partly instrumental in bringing about the suppression of the Jesuits, and acted with greater moderation than is generally allowed. During the French Revolution, he celebrated, in the national church of San Luigi dei Francesi, a solemn funeral for Louis XVI of France, who had been executed on the guillotine in 1793. He resigned the administration of his archdiocese rather than take the constitutional oath.

De Bernis lost his influence under Pius VI, who was friendly to the Jesuits, to which he was hostile, reduced him almost to penury; the court of Spain, however, mindful of the support he had given to their ambassador in obtaining the condemnation of the Jesuits, came to his relief with a handsome pension. De Bernis died at Rome on 3 November 1794, and was buried in the church of S. Luigi de Francesi. In 1803 his remains were transferred to the cathedral at Nîmes. His poems, the longest of which is La Religion vengée (Parma, 1794), have no merit; they were collected and published after his death (Paris, 1797, etc.); his Mémoires et lettres 1715-58 (8 vols.. Paris. 1878) are still interesting to the historian.

After his death Pope Pius VI bestowed on him the epithet "Protector of the Church of France".

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