Napoleon's letters to Bigot de Préameneu [1800-1815]
   Félix-Julien-Jean Bigot de Préameneu [1747-1825]
Portrait de Bigot de Prémeneu, collection Fondation Napoleon

The life and career of Félix-Julien-Jean Bigot de Préameneu, a jurist of great ability and religious conviction, were already foreshadowed in his education and training.

Born 26 March, 1747, in Rennes, he was the son of a lawyer at the city's High Judicial Court. Destined for an ecclesiastical career, Napoleon's future Ministre des Cultes began his studies at the seminary in Rennes before taking up a career in law on the death of his father (1762). A lawyer at the High Judicial Court of Rennes (1767), Doctor of Laws (1768), the man who was to become one of the fathers of the Code of civil law obtained his doctorate (1768) and then bought a legal counsellor's practice (1778).
At the same time, he "went up" to Paris, as agent of the Etats de Bretagne. In the capital he represented the interests of the main towns of his province and of its protectors, the Rohan family.

 Bigot under the Revolution: the path of a moderate
Bigot de Préameneu was in favour of the changes brought about in the early days of the Revolution. He went along with the new institutions set up by the Constituante and was elected judge at the court of the fourth arrondissement of the Seine (5 December, 1790), at the same time as Roederer. A few months later he accepted the post of Commissaire du Roi in the Gard region where disturbances had broken out.
On 5 September, 1791, he was elected representative for the Seine to the Législative, where he had no hesitation in aligning himself with the moderates, and was very active on the Comité de Législation, voting against the abolition of the royal assent (7 January, 1792), against the prosecution of non-juror priests (29 February, 1792), against the proposed measures regarding émigrés (22 March, 1792). He presided over the Législative from 15 to 28 April, 1792. On 21 June, he had a measure passed to prohibit the presentation of petitions by armed men. Finally, on 10 August, he championed the cause of the royal family.
It is clear that such a background would make him suspect to the more radical members of the Convention. He withdrew to Brittany in an attempt to withdraw from the public eye. Arrested on 4 June 1794, he was brought back to Paris and imprisoned at Sainte-Pélagie. It was no doubt the fall of Robespierre that saved him from the guillotine. He was released on 26 August and was able to return to Rennes.

He then lived outside active politics, lending his support to the organisation of the city's primary schools, reflecting on the usefulness of paper money or agreeing to become a non-resident associate member in the Moral and Political Science section of the Institut (1).
He returned to Paris in Germinal, An V (March 1797) and became president of one of the four chambers of the Civil Court of the Seine. He supported the Brumaire conspiracy and took part in the final meetings that prepared the coup d'Etat. When the Consulate was created, he was appointed government commissioner to the Tribunal de Cassation (8 February, 1800).

 Post-Brumaire: a remarkable career
Then in the service of the Napoleonic regime, Bigot de Préameneu performed many roles, notably as: member of the committee entrusted with preparing the Code civil (1800) (2); member of the board of governors of the almshouses of Paris (1800); conseiller d'Etat in the section de Législation (1802); organiser of the system of law in Liguria following the annexation of this former sister-republic (1805); and of course, Ministre des Cultes (from 4 January, 1808 to 6 April, 1814, amounting to 6 years and 3 months) (3).
The regime showered him with honours, making him a resident member of the Institut (1799) then member of the "Académie française", in the class of French Language and Literature (1803), member of the Légion d'Honneur (Chevalier, then Grand-officier in June 1804), president of the electoral college of Ille-et-Vilaine (1806), Comte de l'Empire with an emolument of 10,000 francs over the domains of Lilienthal and Ottersberg (1808), Grand-croix of the order of La Réunion, and Chevalier of the Couronne de Fer.
Remaining loyal to Napoleon, he accompanied Marie-Louise to Blois in April 1814. The First Restoration considered him to have resigned de facto from all his posts. During the Cent-Jours, he was appointed Directeur Général des Cultes (since the ministry had not been restored), Ministre d'Etat in March and Pair de France in June.
Following Waterloo he stood down, but was not excluded from the Institut and was even made a member of the advisory committee of the Légion d'Honneur (1820), of the general council of prisons and the Mont de Piété of the city of Paris (1824). He died in Paris on 31 July, 1825 (4).

Thierry Lentz


  • Kerviller (R.), La Bretagne à l’Académie française : Bigot de Préameneu, Revue de Bretagne, 1904, 1er semestre, pp. 13, 148, 225 ;

  • Lentz (T.), Dictionnaire des ministres de Napoléon, Paris, Christian-Jas, 1999, 209 pages.

  • Nougarède du Fayet (A.), Notice sur la vie et les travaux de M. le comte Bigot de Préameneu, Paris, imp. De Crapelet, 1843, 71 pages.

  • Pépin (J.), Bigot de Préameneu, jurisconsulte (1747-1825), Bulletin de la Société d’Archéologie de Bretagne, 1986, pp. 169-173 ;

  • Pinaud (F.), L’administration des Cultes, de 1800 à 1815, Revue de l’Institut Napoléon, 1976, pp. 28-36.

In this respect, the sales catalogue of Bigot's library (held in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France) is a particularly interesting document. On it there are two unpublished items, namely:
- A receipt from the 2nd half of 1811 for 2450 ff for the reasons listed above as Grand Officier of the Légion d'Honneur; issued in Paris on 24 January 1812.
- A handwritten letter from Bigot de Préameneu on his appointment as associate member of the Institut.
Rennes, 10 Germinal, An IV
Citizen Bigot-Préameneu, non-resident associate to the president of the Institut national des sciences et arts. Your letter of the 2nd inst. informs me that the Institut national has appointed me as one of its non-resident associates in the class of moral and political sciences, social science and legislation section.
Please bear witness to the members of the Institut that I fully appreciate the selection with which they have honoured me and that I will respond to this with unreserved devotion to the progress of the sciences and arts. They may count upon the exactitude of my correspondence and upon my attentiveness in sending them all the relevant information that it is possible for me to acquire.
Salut et fraternité
Bigot Préameneu, Man of law, associate of the Institut national des sciences et arts, Maison du Crosu, près la Motte à Rennes. [back]
On the committee preparing the Code Civil, he worked particularly on paternity and filiation, donations inter vivos, exchanges, imprisonment for debt in civil matters and contracts.[back]
The Ministère des Cultes had been set up on 10 July, 1804, by converting a department of the section de l'Intérieure into a ministry. The first to hold the portfolio had been Portalis, who died while still in office. It was the responsibility of the Ministère des Cultes to ensure the proper application of the Concordat and the laws that followed it. It prepared Napoleon's rulings on the various appointments and authorisations that required State intervention (meeting of synods, opening of chapters, places of worship, creation of parishes, etc). It supervised the practice of worship and was responsible for ensuring that religious practices did not run contrary to public order and peace. Finally, it administered the State-supervised clergy, particularly by paying their salaries. The ministry had jurisdiction over both Catholic affairs and those relating to other religions. [back]
Bigot de Préameneu is buried in the Père-Lachaise cemetery. He had two daughters from his marriage to Eulalie-Marie Barbier: Eulalie-Jean and Eugénie.[back]