Jean-Antoine de Mesmes (1640–1709)

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Jean-Antoine de Mesmes
Portrait by Hyacinthe Rigaud
Portrait by Hyacinthe Rigaud (detail).[a]
Died10/11 February 1709
Other namesD'Avaux
D'Avaux signature.jpg

Jean-Antoine de Mesmes, called d'Avaux, (1640–1709) was a French diplomat in the service of Louis XIV. He is probably best known for accompanying James || in his Irish expedition. He also negotiated for France the peace of Nijmegen, which ended the Franco-Dutch War of 1672–1678. D'Avaux was French ambassador in Venice, The Hague, Stockholm, and finally in The Hague again.

Early life and family[edit]

D'Avaux was born as Jean-Antoine de Mesmes in 1640.[b] He was the fourth son of Jean-Antoine de Mesmes, comte d'Avaux, and his wife Anne Courtin. His father had inherited the title of comte d'Avaux in 1650 after the death of his unmarried elder brother, Claude. The seigneury of Avaux had been raised to a comté for Claude and Claude's father in 1638 by Louis XIII, but the creation was only registered in 1648, after the death of Claude's father.[2]

Not much is known about d'Avaux's youth. In 1661 he became Conseiller au Parlement; in 1667 Maître des requêtes, and in 1695 Conseiller d'État ordinaire.[3]

D'Avaux, i.e. Jean-Antoine de Mesmes (d. 1709), the subject of this article, may easily be confused with other members of his family who shared the same name, notably his father Jean-Antoine de Mesmes, comte d'Avaux (d. 1673) and his nephew Jean-Antoine de Mesmes, comte d'Avaux (d. 1723).


Comte d'Avaux[edit]

It seems that d'Avaux never was count, even if he is often called so. The title passed from his father (d. 1673) to d'Avaux's eldest brother Jean-Jacques (d. 1688), and then to Jean-Jacques's eldest son (d. 1723), whereas d'Avaux died in 1709. However, d'Avaux liked to pass himself off as "comte d'Avaux" when abroad on his embassies to enhance his status. Saint Simon remarks upon this habit in his memoirs.[4] He appears as "comte d'Avaux" in many texts, among others his obituary in the Gazette de France,[1] Louis Moréri's historical dictionary,[5] and, besides, a modern academic study.[6] D'Avaux never married.

Order of the Holy Spirit[edit]

In 1684 d'Avaux became Provost and Master of Ceremonies of the Order of the Holy Spirit. The order of the Holy Spirit is the highest order of chivalry in France, but membership and offices could be inherited and bought. D'Avaux obtained his office from his eldest brother Jean-Jacques, probably against payment. In 1703 d'Avaux sold this office to his nephew and homonyme Jean-Antoine but kept the right to wear the cordon bleu.{{sfn|Saint-Simon|[7]

His office at the Order of the Holy Spirit allowed him to wear the attributes of the order: the cordon bleu (blue ribbon), the "plaque" (cross to be worn on the breast) and the smaller cross attached to the cordon bleu. The broad blue ribbon and the breast cross are clearly visible on his portrait by Hyacinthe Rigaud.[a]

Diplomatic career[edit]

D'Avaux's diplomatic career fell entirely into the reign of Louis XIV, who ruled France from the death of Cardinal Mazarin in 1661 to 1715. D'Avaux served under three secretaries of state for foreign affairs: first under Simon Arnauld, marquis de Pomponne until 1679, then under Charles Colbert, marquis de Croissy until 1696, and finally under Charles's son Jean-Baptiste Colbert, marquis de Torcy, until the end of Louis XIV's reign at 1715. Croissy was a younger brother of the great Colbert.

Family tree:
Jean-Antoine de Mesmes with red frame;
comtes d'Avaux with background




d. 1658
d. 1671


1er President
b. 1668


Note his uncle Claude, the other diplomat of the family.

Ambassador in Venice (1672-1674)[edit]

In 1672 Louis XIV appointed d'Avaux as his ambassador to the Republic of Venice. From the 15th to the 18th century Venice repeatedly clashed with the Ottoman Empire in seven Ottoman-Venetian Wars, but d'Avaux's embassy fell into a period of peace between the end of the Cretan War (1669) and the beginning of the Morean War (1684). The French had intervened in the Cretan War during the Siege of Candia to gain favour with the pope for his Most Christian Majesty, but the French expeditions ended in disaster and France pulled out of the war, leading to the fall of Candia. The Venetians felt betrayed and d'Avaux needed to rebuilt trust and understanding. He also encouraged commerce between France and Venice[8] and facilitated the purchase of Italian works of art for the royal collections.[9] He stayed at this post until 1674.

Peace of Nimegue[edit]

1675 to 1678 d'Avaux negotiated the treaty that ended the Franco-Dutch War (1672-1678). During these negotiations d'Avaux befriended Charles Colbert, marquis de Croissy, a senior French diplomat and brother of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Minister of Finance from 1661 to 1683. Colbert de Croissy was to become d'Avaux's boss as secretary of state for foreign affairs after the conclusion of the treaties in 1679.

Portrait by Hardouin Quitter. The text reads: Mr de Mesmes Chevalier Comte d'Avaux Conseiller du conseil d'estat du Roy Tres Chrestien, Ambassadeur extraordinaire et Plenepotre de Sa Majesté pour les Traittez de paix à Nimmegue
Portrait by Hyacinthe Rigaud.[a] Note the cordon bleu and the breast cross of the Order of the Holy Spirit.

Jean-Antoine de Mesmes painted by Nicolas de Largillière engraved by Cornelis Vermeulen 1691
Ambassador at The Hague (1678-1689)

With the Peace of Nimegue in 1678, France resumed diplomatic relations with the Dutch Republic and Louis XIV sent d'Avaux as ambassador in The Hague. Pomponne had been his predecessor before the interruption caused by the Franco-Dutch war.[10] However, in 1683 and 1684 war came again near the Republic as France besieged and took fortresses in the neighbouring Spanish Netherlands during the War of the Reunions. The Dutch did not intervene but felt menaced by the inroads made by the French towards their borders. The war ended with the Truce of Ratisbon, which consisted of several bilateral treaties. The French felt that appeasing the Dutch was as important as to talk to the Spanish. Louis XIV asked d'Avaux, being the French ambassador at The Hague, to negotiate a treaty between France and the Dutch Republic as a preparation for the treaty between France and Spain. In the treaty France abandoned Dixmude and Courtrai but kept Luxembourg.[11] D'Avaux signed it "DE MESMES, comte d'Avaux" on 29 June. The treaty between Louis XIV and Charles II of Spain[12] was signed about 1½ months later on 15 August 1685 in Ratisbon (Regensburg), the seat of the German diet, by Louis de Verjus, the French ambassador to the diet.

In 1685 Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, which had guaranteed freedom of religion to the French Protestants. The ensuing persecution sent waves of refugees, called the Huguenots, all over northern Europe. Thousands of Huguenots arrived in the Netherlands, while d'Avaux was ambassador there.

D'Avaux soon finds out about William's plans to invade England and warns Louis XIV.[13][14] On 9 September 1688 he hands over a letter from Louis XIV that threatens the Dutch Republic with war.[15] On 5/15 November 1688[c] William landed in Brixham. France responded by declaring war on the Dutch Republic on 26 November, thereby breaking the truce of Ratisbon and starting the Nine Years' War. Diplomatic relations between France and the Dutch Republic again were severed. D'Avaux was forced to leave his post in The Hague in 1689 after a stay of more than ten years.

Irish expedition (1689–1690)[edit]

D'Avaux was appointed ambassador extraordinary to James II in 1689 for the Irish expedition. On 2/12 March 1689[c] d'Avaux landed with James in Kinsale on Ireland's south coast. He reported to Louvois, with regard to military aspects but of course to Colbert de Croissy with regard to foreign affairs. D'Avaux sat on James II's council, together with Tyrconnell and Earl of Melfort, the secretary of state. For James and Melfort Ireland was only a springboard to Scotland and England. D'Avaux in contrary insisted on the importance of consolidating their grip on Ireland.[16] Whereas James and Melfort wanted to protect the Irish Protestants in order to not lose possible support in Scotland and England, Tyrconnell and d'Avaux mistrusted the Protestants and wanted to satisfy the demands of the Irish Catholics for land and rights.

D'Avaux was finally dismissed and replaced with comte Lauzun, who was favoured by James and his queen, Mary of Modena. At the very end of his mission, before embarking to return to France in April 1690, d'Avaux explained to his successor that "you are come to be a sacrifice for a poor, spirited and cowardly people whose soldiers will never fight and whose officiers will never obey orders, and therefore they would meet the same fate his Master's [i.e. Louis XIV's] army met with at the Siege of Candia, that is to be wasted and destroyed.",[17] referring to the disastrous French intervention in favour of the Venetian Republic in 1669 at the Siege of Candia in 1669.

Ambassador in Stockholm (1692–1699)[edit]

In 1692 the French ambassador to Sweden, Maximilien Alpin de Béthune, died suddenly while posted in Stockholm.[18] Louis XIV appointed d'Avaux in his place. Sweden enjoyed a period of peace after the Scanian War (1675–1679), which had been mainly fought in southern Sweden. France was allied with Sweden while the Netherlands were allied with Denmark, making this war an extension of the Franco-Dutch war of 1672–1678.

When d'Avaux became ambassador in Sweden, France was fighting England, the Dutch Republic, Spain and the Empire in the Nine Years' War, which was exhausting its finances. King Charles XI of Sweden (ruled 1675-1697) had wisely stayed neutral. France wanted to use Sweden, her former ally, to mediate between France and the Empire in the peace talks. The war eventually ended with the Treaty of Ryswick, concluded in September and November 1697 in the Netherlands. The Swedish diplomat Niels Baron of Lilliënrot [sv] mediated in the negotiations, while France was represented by Marshal Boufflers.

Colbert de Croissy, d'Avaux's boss, died in 1696 and was replaced by his son Colbert de Torcy. Charles XI died in April 1697 and was replaced by the young Charles XII.

D'Avaux recruited Beata Elisabet von Königsmarck as an agent for France in order to create an alliance between Sweden and Denmark through a marriage of Charles XII to princess Sophia Hedwig of Denmark. The purpose was to prevent a repetition of the alliances in the Franco-Dutch and Scanian wars where Denmark was allied with the Dutch Republic against France and Sweden. However, Charles XII never married. D'Avaux stayed until summer 1699. In 1700 the Great Northern War broke out in which Denmark, Poland and Russia attacked Sweden.

According to Saint-Simon the Swedes were disappointed when they discovered that the new French ambassador was only a nobleman of the robe and not of the sword.[19]

Standing in for Briord in the Hague (1701)[edit]

In 1701 Louis XIV sends d'Avaux to the Dutch Republic for the second time, to stand in for Ambassador Gabriel de Briord [pl], who had fallen sick. [20] In August Ambassador Briord's health was better and allowed him to resume his duties. D'Avaux therefore returned to Paris. This was to be his last diplomatic mission.

Later years[edit]

In 1688 at his father's death, d'Avaux inherited the seigneury of Roissy. In 1704, at the age of 64, he decided to build himself a country residence at Roissy. He demolished the old manor and started to build a new chateau.[21][22]

D'Avaux died in Paris on 10 February 1709 at the age of 69 years.[23] He bequeathed the chateau de Roissy to his niece Marie-Therèse, marquise de Fontenilles, daughter of his brother Jean-Jacques.[24] The castle was then bought by la marquise de la Carte in 1713 and by John Law in 1719.[25] Later it came into the possession of the Riquet de Caraman family, after which it was then called the Château des Caramans [fr]. It was demolished after a fire in 1794.

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b c This portrait has been identified and documented at the occasion of its sale at Galartis in Lausanne in 2016 by Ariane James-Sarazin and Stéphan Perreau.[26][27]
  2. ^ D'Avaux's birth year (i.e. 1640) is based on his obituary[1], which states that he died on 10 February 1709 at the age of 69 years. He could of course have been born any time between 10 February 1639 and 9 February 1640.
  3. ^ a b During the period covered in this article, England, Scotland and Ireland still used the Julian Calendar (i.e. Old Style), whereas France and the Netherlands had already adopted the Gregorian calendar (i.e. New Style). The difference was 10 days at the given time.
  1. ^ a b "De Paris le 16 Fevrier 1709", Gazette de France (in French) (52), p. 66, 5 January 1709, Mre Jean-Antoine de Mesmes Comte d'Avaux, Conseiller d'État Ordinaire, cy-devant Prevost & Maistre des Ceremonies de l'Ordre du S Esprit, mourut icy le 11 du mois, âgé de soixante-neuf ans.
  2. ^ La Chesnaye des Bois 1770, p. 478: "AVAUX, en Champagne, diocèse de Reims, Terre & seigneurie érigée en comté par Lettres du mois de Janvier 1638, registrées le 4 Août 1648 en faveur de Jacques de Mesmes, Seigneur de Roissi, Conseiller d'état, et de son second fils Claude de Mesmes, Greffier des ordres du Roi, Plénipotentiaire à la paix de Munster, & Sur-Intendant des Finances, mort sans alliance, le 19 Novembre 1650."
  3. ^ "De Paris le 20 Aoust 1695". Gazette de France (in French) (35). 20 August 1695. p. 395. Le comte d'Avaux Ambassadeur en Suede a esté fait Conseiller dÉstat Ordinaire ...
  4. ^ Saint-Simon 1873c, p. 53: "Il était, comme on l'a dit de robe, et avait passé les différents magistratures jusqu'à être conseiller d'état de robe aussi. Mais accoutumé à porter l'épée et à être le comte d'Avaux en pays étranger, où ses ambassades l'avaient tenu bien des années à reprises, il ne put se réssoudre à se défaire, en ses retours ci, ni de son épée, ni de sa qualité de comte, ni à reprendre l'habit de son état."
  5. ^ Moréri 1759, p. 497, left column, middle: "MESMES (Jean-Antoine de) quatrième fils de Jean-Antoine de Mesmes et d'Anne Courtin, comte d'Avaux ..."
  6. ^ Joannon, Pierre (1993), "Jacques II et l'expédition d'Irlande d'après les dépêches du Comte d'Avaux, ambassadeur extraordinaire de Louis XIV", Études irlandaises (in French), 18 (2): 93–108
  7. ^ Saint-Simon 1873b, p. 438: "M. d'Avaux vendit en ce temps-ci au président de Mesmes son neveu, sa charge de prévôt et grand-maitre des cérémonies de l'ordre, avec permission de continuer à porter le cordon bleu. D'Avaux l'avait eue, en 1684, du président de Mesmes son frère, qui lui-même avait obtenu la même permission de continuer à porter l'ordre, et ce président de Mesmes l'avait eue en 1671 lors de la déroute de la Bazinière, son beau-père ..."
  8. ^ Clément 1867, p. 660: "... la proposition qui vous a esté faite par un marchand de miroirs, qui prétend avoir le secret de faire des glaces plus grandes ... "
  9. ^ Depping 1855, p. 588: "Il y a dans un couvent de religieux qui se nomme Santa Maria di Serravalle ... un tableau de Titien qui est à vendre ..."
  10. ^ French Embassy in the Netherlands [fr]
  11. ^ Dumont 1731, p. 79.
  12. ^ Dumont 1731, p. 83.
  13. ^ Saint-Simon 1857, p. 253: "D'Avaux was one of the first to hear of the project of William of Orange upon England, when that project was still only in embryo, and kept profoundly secret. He apprised the King (Louis XIV.) of it, but was laughed at."
  14. ^ Saint-Simon 1873c, p. 262, line 26: "D'Avaux fut informé dès les premiers temps, du projet de la révolution en Angleterre, quand le projet était encore un grand secret, et en avertit le roi."
  15. ^ Jardine 2008, p. 41: "On 9 September (new style), the French ambassador at The Hague, the comte d'Avaux, delivered a letter from Louis XIV to the States General: the French King knew what the Dutch preparations were for, he warned. If the Dutch attacked England, he would be obliged 'not only to come to James's assistance, but to regard the first hostile act committed by your troops, or your ships, against His Britannic Majesty as an open infraction of the peace and an act of war against his own crown."
  16. ^ Wauchope 2004, p. 939: "Avaux saw French interests would be better served by establishing Ireland as a French satellite."
  17. ^ Childs 2007, p. 197, line 12.
  18. ^ Wijnne 1882, p. 1: "La mort du Marquis de Bethune cy-devant ambr. extraordre de sa Majesté en Suède ..."
  19. ^ Saint-Simon 1873b, p. 455: "Quelque temps après ils surent que c'était un conseiller d'état de robe qui avait une charge de l'ordre ... "
  20. ^ Saint-Simon 1873a, p. 431: "Briord, ambassadeur en Hollande, était tombé dangereusement malade; les affaires y étaient en grand mouvement: il demandait par plusieurs courriers un successeur, et d'Avaux y fut envoyé."
  21. ^ Lebeuf 1883, p. 284: "Le comte d'Avaux devenu maître de cette terre, le fit abattre en 1704, et fit commencer un fort beau château qui a été continué jusqu'à sa mort ..."
  22. ^ Piganiol de La Force 1765, p. 343: "ROISSY, Rossiacum, étoit un vieux château... Le comte d'Avaux si connu dans toute l'Europe pour ses négotiations, le fit abattre en 1704 & fit jeter les fondements d'un château dont il a fait continuer les ouvrages jusqu'à sa mort; il en avait élevé trois beaux corps de bâtiments des plus réguliers, & il ne restoit qu'un pavillon à achever."
  23. ^ Saint-Simon 1829c, p. 47: "En même temps mourut M. d'Avaux. Son grand-père, son père, son frère aîné et le fils de ce frère, furent tous quatre succéssivement présidens à mortier, et le dernier est mort premier président. M. de Mesmes, frère d'Avaux, avait eu de la Bazinière, son beau-père, la charge de prévôt et grand-maître des cérémonies de l'ordre. D'Avaux eut la survivance pendant sa première ambassade d'Hollande, et son neveu l'eut ensuite. D'Avaux et son frère étaient neveux paternels du président de Mesmes et de M. d'Avaux surintendant des finances, célèbre par sa capacité et par le nombre de ses importantes ambassades."
  24. ^ Pattou, Etienne. "Famille de Mesmes" (PDF) (in French). Retrieved 22 March 2019.
  25. ^ Piganiol de La Force 1765, p. 344: "Ce château est sorti de la Maison de Mesmes en 1713, & a été acheté par la Marquise de la Carte, qui, en 1719, la vendit au sieur Law, &."
  26. ^ James-Sarazin, Ariane (25 March 2017), Le portrait de Jean Antoine II de Mesmes, comte d'Avaux (in French), Dijon: Faton - This is an on-line supplement to the book James-Sarazin (2016) "Hyacinthe Rigaud (1659-1743). L'homme et son art - Le catalogue raisonné"
  27. ^ Perreau, Stéphan (26 March 2017), D'Avaux contre d'Avaux le portrait retrouvé de Jean-Antoine II de Mesmes par Hyacinthe Rigaud (in French)

Further reading[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
François de Neufville, duc de Villeroy
List of French ambassadors in Venice [fr]
Succeeded by
Jean-François d'Estrades
Preceded by
Simon Arnauld, marquis de Pomponne
French Embassy in the Netherlands [fr]
Succeeded by
François d'Usson, marquis de Bonrepaus [fr]
Preceded by
Maximilien Alpin de Béthune
List of French ambassadors in Sweden [fr]
Succeeded by
Louis de Guiscard