1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bernis, François Joachim de Pierre de
BERNIS, FRANÇOIS JOACHIM DE PIERRE DE (1715–1794), French cardinal and statesman, was born at St Marcel-d’Ardèche on the 22nd of May 1715. He 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. He became known as one of the most expert epigrammatists in the gay society of Louis XV.’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 (about £60). In 1751 he 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. He 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. He became secretary for foreign affairs on the 27th of 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 Clement XIII. On the death of the royal mistress in 1764, 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 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. He lost his influence under Pius VI., who was friendly to the Jesuits, and the French Revolution, 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. He died at Rome on the 3rd of 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, &c.); his Mémoires et lettres 1715–58 (2 vols., Paris, 1878) are still interesting to the historian.
See Frédéric Masson’s prefaces to the Mémoires et lettres, and Le Cardinal de Bernis depuis son ministère (Paris, 1884); E. et J. de Goncourt, Mme de Pompadour (Paris, 1888), and Sainte-Beuve, Causeries du lundi, t. viii.