Moisant de Brieux

[ Foundation | Development | Revival | The Present Day | Major events ]

Foundation :

The literary Society was the creation of Jacques Moisant de Brieux, a wealthy citizen who was to be admitted into the nobility by Louis XIV for the following reasons: "for the high regard and reputation in which he is held among scholars and Men of Letters ; Moisant owns the most beautiful mansion.-house in Caen : l'Hôtel d'Escoville, in which he receives the Society founded in 1652 and which was to be described, later on, by Pierre Daniel HUET as a company made up"of such accomplished members in the realm of letters that it would have been difficult to find as many eminent scholars in any other Academy of the kingdom or in Italy"

. Let us mention a few of them :

Moisant de Brieux himself who, being a member of the Reformed Church managed to keep up emulation in the Society in the most perfect harmony between Catholics and Protestants.

Antoine Halley, a Professor in Canon Law and Rhetoric, Rector of the University who trained generations of students.

  • Doctor de Vicquemard who was also a nember of theAcademy of Physics.
  • le Pasteur Samuel Bochart, a Minister of the Ref'ormed Church who spoke 17 languages beside French, and whose vast scholarship was unanimously acknowledged.
  • Bishop Pierre-Daniel Huet, a brilliant encyclopedic mind, the founder of the Academy of Physics and assistant-tutor to the Dauphin.
  • Regnault de Segrais, a poet and member of the Académie Française who took over Moisant de Brieux's headship a few years after the latter's death.

T'hese personalities and a few others greatly enhanced the réputation of the "Académie Moisant de Brieux."

The weekly meetings were held, under the patronage of Moisant de Brieux, at the"Hôtel d'Escoville from 1652 to 1674.

The Society counted about thirty members co-opted over the years. As a rule, a dozen attended each sitting. Some of them were forced to leave France owing to the religions troubles of the time.

Moisant de Brieux
 Louis XIV, Patron of the Arts and Letters visiting the King's garden in Paris
"Jardin des Plantes"

Development :

After its foundation until the Revolution the activity of the Academy was marked by a steady increase with some ups and downs, nevertheless, and even an interruption of 14 years. It achieved permanence, however, and phoenix-like always rose anew from its ashes.

1674-1685- After Moisant's death in 1674 the de Matignons (father and son), assistants to the Governor, took over the Academy but, on the death of Henri de Matignon in 1682, the members had to leave the" Hôtel d'Escoville"; (there were only about ten left owing to lack of enrolment). Then, the Intendants(Méliand, Morangis),having taken charge of the Society ,received the Acadeny in the premises at their disposal.

1685-1701 - Régnault de Segrais collected together the last six Academicians, enrolled new nembers and acommodated the Society in his Caen Mansion-house especially altered for the occasion. The conpany, then, numbered about 35 people, the most famous of whom, outside Caen, may have been Antoine Galland for his translation of The Arabian Nights .

 1701-1714 - On Segrais' death (1701), his brother-in-law Croisilles offered his own abode as a meeting-place.
The Intendant Foucault was chosen as the Patron and in 1705 he obtained from the King
Lettres Patentes, which stated (section l2 ) that " the purity of the language must be the main object of the Academy." The Academy of Caen is the only Society which received that specific mission from the King.

The Statutes provided for the appointment of 30 Permanent members and 6 clerics as supernumeraries.

After Foucault's departure, Croisilles wished to be appointed Permanent Director. The majority of the company having expressed their opposition Croisilles purely and simply closed his door to them on the pretext of a long journey.

 1714-1731 - The meetings of the Society were discontinued but the Academicians did not lose heart and finally turned to the religious power. They offered the Patronage to the Cardinal de Lorraine who hesitated, voiced his doubts and .... died in 1728. As for Monseigneur de Luynes he readily accepted to become the new Patron as soon as he took over the See of Bayeux in 1730 and, forthwith invited the Academicians to hold their proceedings in his Palace.

 1731 - 1753 - This marked a new departure. As there were only 14 members left new ones were chosen to fill all the vacancies and up to 1753 they all met weekly in the bishop's Palace. Beside Father Porée, the Rector Crevel, the talented François Richard de la Londe, the Mayor of Caen Blouet de Than, the best-known member of that period was Father André a Professor of mathematics and the author of "Essay on the Beautiful"-

It was a most creative period during which the f'irst Associate members were received: Helvetius and the painter Restout.

Monseigneur de Luynes was then appointed to the See of Sens in 1753.

1753 - 1774 - Thanks to Monsieur Blouet de Than, the Academy returned to the Hôtel d'Escoville which had become the City Hall.

 The next Patron to be chosen by the Academy belonged again to the political sphere i-e. the Intendant Fontette, an active, imaginative man, very much concerned with his own fame and even corrupt. Fontette accepted a great number of Associate members, endowed prizes out of his exchequer and also, for seven years, financed the publication of the Academy's Transactions.

Among the best-known members then admitted, either permanent or associate, one can note: Fréron, Elie de Beaumont, le Chevalier Turgot, the physiocrat Dupont de Nemours.

As evidence of the spreading fame of the Society one can mention King Stanislas' request to link the newly created Academy of Nancy to that of Caen. The latter willingly granted the request with thanks to the King. (translator's note: King Stanislas I Leszczynski, sometime King of Poland, had lost his throne in 1738 but, because of his son-in-law Louis XV of France, received the Duchy of Lorraine and the richt to keep his former title).

On the whole, in spite of some flaws, the result of Fontette's action appears fairly satisfactory.

1774-1792 - When Fontette left the scene, the Academy endeavoured to develop a liking for his successor Esmangart then met with a favourable response from the Duc d'Harcourt, Governor of Normandy. The tone of the papers then presented truly reflects the spirit of the end of the century.

Two more members must be mentioned : l 'Abbé de l'Épée, benefactor of the deaf-and-dumb and Brémontier who stabilized sand-dunes vvith sea-side grasses.

"Renascor et in perpetuum"
(Phoenix-like, the Academy always rose anew from its ashes)


After the Revolution the Academy was revived.

1792-1800 - All the Academies were officially suppressed by the Convention in 1793. The meetings were consequently banned each member attending to more urgent tasks.

As from 1800, the Academy was gradually restored thanks to the Préfet Dugua, first as a 'Lyceum' then, in 1802, resuming its former name, but officially extended to Sciences and Arts. Again, the Statutes provided for 36 seats each numbered, 11 of which going to former, pre-Revolution nembers.

The proceedings were held in the Préfecture then, once more,in the Hôtel d'Escoville or in the premises of the new City Hall, Place de la République.

 Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries the activity of the Society was, fortunately, less disturbed than previously and has not been interrupted, up to now, in spite of all the military or political upheavals."The Transactions" were published fairly regularly, especially after 1811, and every year most of the time.

 The Society was granted the title of "In the Public Interest" by Napoleon III in 1853, a particular charter which makes it possible for Associations to receive gifts or legacies, the latter devoted to the endowment of several prizes (Le Sauvage, Dan de la Vauterie, Lair,Moulin, de la Codre) which were awarded, up to the 1930ies, when they died out owing to monetary devaluation.

Many Permanent or Associate members have made their names in the local or national history. Suffice it to recall, among the Permanent members, the creators of the prizes mentioned above and Father Jamet, the founder of the Bon Sauveur and a school for deaf-and-dumb children, the poet Le Flaguet and the follovving Academics: Charma, Hippeau, Travers, Gasté, Prentout, Lavalley, Morière, Robillard deBeaurepaire and, last but not least, Mayor Bertrand, Mancel the collector and the eminent Arcisse de Caumont.

The Academy also opened its doors to Associates of all specialities among whom one must mention: Desgenettes, Laplace, Lacépède,Octave Feuillet, Camille Flammarion, Léopold Delisle,; also Lamartine,Tocqueville, Boucher de Perthes, Leverrier, or,more recently,Henri Poincaré the mathematician, Guimet founder of the museum and evenPaul Deschanel as a member of the Académie Française.


The Present Day

The latest Statutes ruling the academy, which had been edicted in 1874, have just been revised and approved in 1999 :

- there are 45 permanent members and an unlimited number of associates and correspondents : women have been admitted since the first half of the XIXth century.

Except during the Battle of Caen, the 1939-1945 war did not interrupt the meetings of the academy, which took place at various members' homes. This period saw the unfortunate but probably unavoidable loss of several valuable records and documents, but the academy quickly regained its vitality as soon as normal conditions were re-established. Every member, through his studies and his participation, now strives to perpetuate the high standards of the "Great Academicians".

Once again the Academy has returned to its original residence : the Mansion of Escoville and proudly counts among its ranks several members of the Institute, a great number of academics as well as people of various professions united by a common interest for intellectual exchanges between the most varied disciplines.

Since 1996, the academy has revived its tradition of awarding an annual prize , thanks to a generous  sponsorship.

Ruines de Caen
après la Guerre

Major events in the history of the Academy of Caen
State-approved by imperial decree on the 10th of August 1853.

1652 Literary meetings are held by Moisant de Brieux at the Mansion of the Grand Cheval. These meetings, which will form the basis of the Academy, last until circa 1701, under the direction of Regnault de Segrais.
1662 First meetings of the Academy of Physics of Caen, under the patronage of André Graindorge and Daniel Huet.
1667 Official Statutes are granted to the Academy of Physics, which will nonetheless disband in 1676.
1705 Letters of Patent from Louis XIV officially establish the Royal Academy of Belles Lettres of Caen, which became dormant around 1714.
1731 Monseigneur de Luynes became Patron of the Academy.
1753 The Academy resumed its sessions at the Mansion of the Grand Cheval, under the direction of the Intendant Fontette.
1754 The first volume of the Transactions of the Academy was published.
1793 The Convention suppressed all the Academies.
1800 The prefect DUGUA resurrected the Academy under the name "Lyceum".
1802 The Academy took its definitive title of Academy of Sciences, Fine Arts and Belles Lettres of Caen. Its activity has remained uninterrupted ever since.
1811 The Transactions are reinstituted.
1853 The Academy was approved by the state as an institution" in the public interest" (imperial decree of the 10th of August).
1874 The Academy was given its current Statutes.
1955 The Academy held a solemn public session celebrating MALHERBE's fourth centenary.
1970 The Academy settled again in the Hôtel d'Escoville, former property of its founder, MOISANT de BRIEUX.


[ Foundation | Development | Revival | The Present Day | Major events ]