Richard A. Brooks
Charles-Louis de Secondat de Montesquieu was born at La Brède near Bordeaux; his early education was conducted by priests of the Oratory at the College de Juilly, near Paris. He received his law degree at the Faculty of Law at Bordeaux at the age of nineteen and immediately became a lawyer in the Parlement of Bordeaux. In 1715 he married Jeanne de Lartigue, a wealthy Protestant, and a year later his uncle, Jean-Baptiste de Montesquieu, died, leaving him his estates, the barony of Montesquieu, and the position of president of the Parlement of Bordeaux. Montesquieu was already studying Roman law and, as a member of the recently established Academy of Bordeaux, devoting himself to broader interests such as the sciences of physics, biology, and geology.
In the 1720s in Paris he frequented the scintillating court of the due d'Orléans and there met the British politician, Viscount Bolingbroke, exiled in France, whose views on the English constitution were later reflected in Montesquieu's De l'esprit des lois (1748). Selling his position at the Parlement of Bordeaux, Montesquieu, through contacts in Paris, particularly through the salon of Madame de Lambert, was successful in getting himself elected to the Académie française (1728). He continued to broaden his horizons through foreign travel, setting off for Vienna with a British companion, Lord Waldegrave, former British ambassador in Paris, and continuing on to Hungary, Italy, Germany, and Holland. Subsequently, accompanied by Lord Chesterfield, he went to England in 1729, was presented at court, and became acquainted with such Englishmen as the dukes of Richmond and Montagu and the Prince of Wales. He became a fellow of the Royal Society and studied the British political system as a spectator at some of the parliamentary debates and through contemporary journals. It is generally agreed that his stay in England was one of the most important periods in his career as a source for much of his future work in political theory.