Why Was Voltaire Exiled From France?

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The French writer Voltaire (1694–1778) was exiled (forcibly sent away) from France because he wrote a controversial critique of the French church and monarchy (government headed by a king or queen). Born Francois-Marie Arouet, he adopted the name Voltaire when he was imprisoned for the first time in the Bastille, the famous French prison.

Voltaire attended College Louis-le-Grand (1704–1711) and then began associating with a group of aristocrats who enjoyed his wit. He started writing verses that criticized a local regent (government official), the Duke d'Orleans, which landed him in the Bastille in 1717. Taking the name Voltaire, he began working on The Henriade, a controversial critique of French king Henry IV (1553–1610) that attacked religious fanaticism (extreme beliefs) and praised toleration. After he was released from prison his unpopular ideas led to an argument with the chevalier de Rohan, a member of one of France's most powerful families. Voltaire was sent to the Bastille for the second time. He was released in 1726 on the condition that he would leave France and go to London, England.

Voltaire remained in London until 1729. After returning to France, he wrote Letters Concerning the English Nation (1734), a series of controversial observations on English society and politics. His exaltation of English liberalism (a political view based on support of reforms) was seen as a direct attack on French conservatism (political support of existing traditions). Voltaire went into seclusion in the French region of Lorraine until 1749, when he finally settled in Switzerland. Shortly before his death in 1769 he wrote: "I die adoring God, loving my friends, not hating my enemies, and detesting persecution." In order to obtain a Christian burial he was forced to sign a partial retraction of his writings, but it was still rejected by the church. An abbot (head of a monastery) secretly smuggled Voltaire's corpse to an abbey (church connected to a monastery), where it was given a proper burial. In 1791 Voltaire's remains were taken to Paris and laid to rest in the Pantheon, a mausoleum (an above-ground burial vault) for famous Frenchmen.

Further Information: Bottiglia, William F. Voltaire: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1968; Redman, Ben Ray. The Portable Voltaire. New York: Viking Press, 1949; Voltaire. [Online] Available http://www.lucidcafe.com/library/95nov/voltaire.html, October 23, 2000; Voltaire. [Online] Available http://www.geocities.com/Athens/7308/, October 23, 2000; Voltaire. [Online] Available http://wondersmith.com/scifi/voltaire.htm, October 23, 2000.

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