Jean-Sifrein Maury

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Jean-Sifrein Maury

Jean-Sifrein Maury (June 26, 1746 - 1817), was a French cardinal and archbishop of Paris.

The son of a poor cobbler, he was born on at Valras in the Comtat-Venaissin, the district in France which belonged to the pope. His acuteness was observed by the priests of the seminary at Avignon, where he was educated and took orders. He tried his fortune by writing éloges of famous persons, then a favorite practice; and in 1771 his Éloge on Fénelon was pronounced next best to La Harpe's by the Academy.

The real foundation of his fortunes was the success of a panegyric on Saint Louis delivered before the Académie Française in 1772, which caused him to be recommended for an abbacy. In 1777 he published under the title of Discours choisis his panegyrics on Saint Louis, Saint Augustine and Fénelon, his remarks on Bossuet and his Essai sur l'éloquence de la chaire, a volume which contains much good criticism, and remains a French classic. The book was often reprinted as Principes de l'éloquence. He became a favorite preacher in Paris, and was Lent preacher at court in 1781, when King Louis XVI said of his sermon: "If the abbé had only said a few words on religion he would have discussed every possible subject."

In 1781 he obtained the rich priory of Lyons, near Pronne, and in 1785 he was elected to the Academy, as successor of Lefranc de Pompignan. His morals were as loose as those of his great rival Mirabeau, but he was famed in Paris for his wit and gaiety. In 1789 he was elected a member of the Estates-General of 1789 by the clergy of the bailliage of Péronne, and from the first proved to be the most able and persevering defender of the ancien régime, although he had drawn up the greater part of the cahier of the clergy of Péronne which contained a considerable programme of reform. It is said that he attempted to emigrate both in July and in October 1789; but after that time he held firmly to his place, when almost universally deserted by his friends.

In the Constituent Assembly he took an active part in every important debate, combating with especial vigour the alienation of the property of the clergy. His life was often in danger, but his ready wit always saved it and it was said that one bon mot would preserve him for a month. When he did emigrate in 1792 he found himself regarded as a martyr to the church and the king, and was at once named archbishop in partibus, and extra nuncio to the diet at Frankfort, and in 1794 cardinal. He was finally made bishop of Montefiascone in Italy, where he settled down briefly, but in 1798 the French drove him from his retreat, and he sought refuge in Venice and St Petersburg.

Next year he returned to Rome as ambassador of the exiled Louis XVIII at the papal court. In 1804 he began to prepare his return to France by a well-turned letter to Napoleon, congratulating him on restoring religion to France once more. In 1806 he did return; in 1807 he was again received into the Academy; and in 1810, on the refusal of Cardinal Fesch, was made archbishop of Paris. He was presently ordered by the pope to surrender his functions, as archbishop of Paris. This he refused to do. On the restoration of the Bourbons he was summarily expelled from the Academy and from the archiepiscopal palace.

He retired to Rome, where he was imprisoned in the castle of St Angelo for six months for his disobedience to the papal orders, and died in 1817, a year or two after his release, of disease contracted in prison and of chagrin. As a critic he was a very able writer, and Sainte-Beuve gives him the credit of discovering Father Jacques Bridayne, and of giving Bossuet his rightful place as a preacher above Massillon; as a politician, his wit and eloquence make him a worthy rival of Mirabeau. He sacrificed too much to personal ambition, yet it would have been a graceful act if Louis XVIII had remembered the courageous supporter of Louis XVI, and the pope the one intrepid defender of the Church in the states-general.

The Œuvres choisies du Cardinal Maury (5 vols., 1827) contain what is worth preserving. Mgr Ricard has published Maury's Correspondance diplomatique (2 vols., Lille, 1891). For his life and character see Vie du Cardinal Maury, by Louis-Siffrein Maury, his nephew (1828); JJF Poujoulat, Cardinal Maury, sa vie et ses œuvres (1855); Sainte-Beuve, Causeries du lundi (vol. iv.); Mgr Ricard, L'Abbé Maury (1746-1791), L'Abbé Maury avant 1789, L'Abbé Maury et Mirabeau (1887); G Bonet-Maury, Le Cardinal Maury d'après ses mémoires et sa correspondance inédits (Paris, 1892); A Aulard, Les Orateurs de La constituante (Paris, 1882). Of the many libels written against him during the Revolution the most noteworthy are the Petit carême de l'abbé Maury, with a supplement called the Seconde année (1790), and the Vie privée de l'abbé Maury (1790), claimed by JR Hébert, but attributed by some writers to Rétif de la Bretonne. For further bibliographical details see JM Quérard, La France littéraire, vol. v. (1833).


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Preceded by:
Jean-Jacques Lefranc, marquis de Pompignan
Seat 8
Académie française
Succeeded by:
Michel-Louis-Étienne Regnaud de Saint-Jean d'Angély
Preceded by:
Gui-Jean-Baptiste Target
Seat 15
Académie française
Succeeded by:
François-Xavier-Marc-Antoine de Montesquiou-Fézensac

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