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His family

His father, Hervé de Tocqueville: His youth or "the experience of misfortune"

Hervé Bonaventure Clérel de Tocqueville

Hervé Bonaventure Clérel de Tocqueville, anonymous
© AD Manche/Poirier

Hervé de Tocqueville was born in 1772 to Bernard-Bonaventure Clérel de Tocqueville and Catherine de Damas-Crux, but he knew very little of his parents, as they died in 1776 and 1785, respectively. The education of the thirteen-year-old orphan was entrusted to his private tutor, the Abbé Lesueur. Originally, de Tocqueville planned on a military career, and was appointed second lieutenant in the Vexin regiment in 1787, at the age of fifteen. However, the outbreak of the French Revolution put him - a child of the Enlightenment and member of the French aristocracy - in a very delicate position.

« At twenty-one I found myself at the head of a family, locked up in a prison with a young man of seventeen and two young women whose health had been changed forever by sorrow. »
(Memoirs, Hervé de Tocqueville)

In reality, the sympathy that he felt for the revolutionary movement diminished as the Terror increasingly took hold. His Mémoires of which only the section dealing with the revolutionary period has been published, faithfully recount his acts and movements during this period: although his entire family urged him to emigrate, Hervé de Tocqueville spent only a single month with them in Brussels, and instead returned swiftly to Paris to join Louis XVI's Constitutional Guard. This decision turned him into a suspect and, forced to find a new hiding place, he took refuge with the Abbé Lesueur in his native Picardy. His arranged marriage to Louise-Madeleine Le Peletier de Rosanbo took place on March 12, 1793 at Malesherbes, after which he rejoined his wife's prestigious family on January 31. At the center of this family circle was Chrétien-Guillaume Lamoignon de Malesherbes the defender of Louis XVI. Hervé de Tocqueville did not hide his admiration for this man, who welcomed him like a son. The arrest, conviction, and decapitation of most of the members of his new family, which is particularly movingly described in his Mémoires, lleft him an orphan for the second time, and the sole head of the family at the age of twenty-six. He and his wife just barely escaped the guillotine themselves, as they were scheduled to be beheaded shortly after 9 Thermidor, the day on which Robespierre fell. They were freed on October 20, 1793, and although the pain and despair had affected his wife's health, he found himself profoundly marked by the experience, and also crushed by the duties that were henceforth his own: after this "experience of misfortune", he now had to reconstruct his family, his career, and his fortune.   play sound extractlire l'extrait sonore  

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Birth certificate of Hervé de Tocqueville

Birth certificate of Hervé de Tocqueville
©  CHAN

Letter from the Count de Damas in support of his nephew

Letter from the Count de Damas in support of his nephew
© Archives de l'armée de terre

Appointment, dated April 1, 1791

Appointment as second lieutenant in the Lauriac Company
© Archives de l'armée de terre

Account of Hervé de Tocqueville's military service at the Ministry of War

Account of Hervé de Tocqueville's military service at the Ministry of War
© Archives de l'armée de terre

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