1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Fleury, André Hercule de
FLEURY, ANDRÉ HERCULE DE (1653–1743), French cardinal and statesman, was born at Lodève (Hérault) on the 22nd of June 1653, the son of a collector of taxes. Educated by the Jesuits in Paris, he entered the priesthood, and became in 1679, through the influence of Cardinal Bonzi, almoner to Maria Theresa, queen of Louis XIV., and in 1698 bishop of Fréjus. Seventeen years of a country bishopric determined him to seek a position at court. He became tutor to the king’s great-grandson and heir, and in spite of an apparent lack of ambition, he acquired over the child’s mind an influence which proved to be indestructible. On the death of the regent Orleans in 1723 Fleury, although already seventy years of age, deferred his own supremacy by suggesting the appointment of Louis Henri, duke of Bourbon, as first minister. Fleury was present at all interviews between Louis XV. and his first minister, and on Bourbon’s attempt to break through this rule Fleury retired from court. Louis made Bourbon recall the tutor, who on the 11th of July 1726 took affairs into his own hands, and secured the exile from court of Bourbon and of his mistress Madame de Prie. He refused the title of first minister, but his elevation to the cardinalate in that year secured his precedence over the other ministers. He was naturally frugal and prudent, and carried these qualities into the administration, with the result that in 1738–1739 there was a surplus of 15,000,000 livres instead of the usual deficit. In 1726 he fixed the standard of the currency and secured the credit of the government by the regular payment thenceforward of the interest on the debt. By exacting forced labour from the peasants he gave France admirable roads, though at the cost of rousing angry discontent. During the seventeen years of his orderly government the country found time to recuperate its forces after the exhaustion caused by the extravagances of Louis XIV. and of the regent, and the general prosperity increased. Internal peace was only seriously disturbed by the severities which Fleury saw fit to exercise against the Jansenists. He imprisoned priests who refused to accept the bull Unigenitus, and he met the opposition of the parlement of Paris by exiling forty of its members.
In foreign affairs his chief preoccupation was the maintenance of peace, which was shared by Sir Robert Walpole, and therefore led to a continuance of the good understanding between France and England. It was only with reluctance that he supported the ambitious projects of Elizabeth Farnese, queen of Spain, in Italy by guaranteeing in 1729 the succession of Don Carlos to the duchies of Parma and Tuscany. Fleury had economized in the army and navy, as elsewhere, and when in 1733 war was forced upon him he was hardly prepared. He was compelled by public opinion to support the claims of Louis XV.’s father-in-law Stanislaus Leszczynski, ex-king of Poland, to the Polish crown on the death of Frederick Augustus I., against the Russo-Austrian candidate; but the despatch of a French expedition of 1500 men to Danzig only served to humiliate France. Fleury was driven by Chauvelin to more energetic measures; he concluded a close alliance with the Spanish Bourbons and sent two armies against the Austrians. Military successes on the Rhine and in Italy secured the favourable terms of the treaty of Vienna (1735–1738). France had joined with the other powers in guaranteeing the succession of Maria Theresa under the Pragmatic sanction, but on the death of Charles VI. in 1740 Fleury by a diplomatic quibble found an excuse for repudiating his engagements, when he found the party of war supreme in the king’s counsels. After the disasters of the Bohemian campaign he wrote in confidence a humble letter to the Austrian general Königsegg, who immediately published it. Fleury disavowed his own letter, and died a few days after the French evacuation of Prague on the 29th of January 1743. He had enriched the royal library by many valuable oriental MSS., and was a member of the French Academy, of the Academy of Science, and the Academy of Inscriptions.
Bibliography.—F. J. Bataille, Éloge historique de M. le Cardinal A. H. de Fleury (Strassburg, 1737); C. Frey de Neuville, Oraison funèbre de S. E. Mgr. le Cardinal A. H. Fleury (Paris, 1743); P. Vicaire, Oraison funèbre du Cardinal A. H. de Fleury (Caen, 1743); M. van Hoey, Lettres et négotiations pour servir à l’histoire de la vie du Cardinal de Fleury (London, 1743); Leben des Cardinals A. H. Fleury (Freiburg, 1743); F. Morénas, Parallèle du ministère du Cardinal Richelieu et du Cardinal de Fleury (Avignon, 1743); Nachrichten von dem Leben und der Verwaltung des Cardinals Fleury (Hamburg, 1744).