BÉTHUNE (Family). The seigneurs of Béthune, avoués (advocati) of the great abbey of Saint-Vaast at Arras from the 11th century, were the ancestors of a great French house whence sprang the dukes of Sully, Charost, Orval, and Ancenis; the marquises of Rosny, Courville and Chabris; the counts of Selles and the princes of Boisbelle and Henrichemont. Conon de Béthune (q.v.), the crusader and poet, was an early forebear. The most illustrious member of the Béthune family was Maximilien, baron of Rosny, and afterwards duke of Sully (q.v.), minister of Henry IV. His brother Philip, count of Selles and of Charost, was ambassador to Scotland, Rome, Savoy and Germany, and died in 1649. Hippolyte de Béthune, count of Selles and marquis of Chabris, who died in 1665, bequeathed to the king a magnificent collection of historical documents and works of art. The Charost branch of the family gave France a number of generals during the 17th and 18th centuries.
The last duke of Charost, Armand Joseph de Béthune (1738–1800), French economist and philanthropist, served in the army during the Seven Years’ War, after which he retired to his estates in Berry, where, and also in Brittany and Picardy, he sought to ameliorate the lot of his peasants by abolishing feudal dues, and introducing reforms in agriculture. During the Terror he was arrested, but was liberated after the 9th Thermidor. He was mayor of the 10th arrondissement of Paris under the Consulate, and died at Paris on the 20th of October 1800, of small-pox, contracted during a visit to a workshop for the blind which he had founded. He published essays on the way to destroy mendicancy and to improve the condition of the labourers, and also on the establishment of a fund for rural relief and the organization of rural education. His life throws light on some phases of the ancien régime which are often overlooked by historians. Louis XV. said of Charost, “Look at this man, his appearance is insignificant, but he has put new life into three of my provinces.” His only son, Armand Louis de Béthune, marquis de Charost, was beheaded on the 28th of April 1794.