Home >> Encyclopedia-britannica-volume-9-part-1-extraction-gambrinus >> James David Forbes to Millard Fillmore >> Joseph Fesch

Joseph Fesch


FESCH, JOSEPH (1763-1839), cardinal, was born at Ajac cio, Corsica, on Jan. 3, 1763. He was connected with the Bona parte family by his father's second marriage with Laetitia, Bona parte's widowed mother. At the outbreak of the French Revolu tion, he was archdeacon of Ajaccio; he protested against the application to Corsica of the act known as the "civil constitution of the clergy" (July 1790). On the suppression of religious orders and corporations, he had to retire into private life.

He was drawn by the Bonaparte family into espousing the French cause against Paoli and the Anglophiles, and accompanied Laetitia and her son to Toulon, in the early part of the autumn of 1793. His fortunes rose rapidly when Napoleon became First Consul (Nov. 1799). He resumed his clerical vocation, and took an active part in the complex negotiations which led to the sign ing of the Concordat with the Holy See on July 15, 1801. He was then made archbishop of Lyons (18o21, and cardinal (1803).

In 1804 he succeeded Cacault as French ambassador at Rome. He was assisted by Chateaubriand, but soon sharply differed with him on many questions. His tact in overcoming the reluctance of the pope to be present at the coronation of Napoleon in Notre Dame, Paris (it was only eight months after the execution of the duc d'Enghien) was rewarded with further honours. Finally, in 1806 Karl von Dalberg, then prince bishop of Regensburg, chose him as coadjutor and designated him as his successor. Before the succession fell vacant, however, Regensburg had been incor porated in Bavaria.

By this time Napoleon was in sharp collision with the pope on various matters both political and religious. Fesch, who was still ambassador in Rome, went as far as possible in counselling the submission of the spiritual to the civil power. For a time he was not on speaking terms with the pope; but Napoleon was dissatisfied, and recalled him.

Affairs came to a crisis when Napoleon decreed (May 17, 1809) the annexation of the papal states to the French empire. In that year Napoleon conferred on Fesch the archbishopric of Paris, but he refused the honour. In r 8 r i Fesch presided over a Gallican church council convened by the emperor, but failed to satisfy ' Napoleon, and was dismissed to his diocese. Next year Napoleon intercepted a letter from Fesch to Pius VII., who was then de tained at Fontainebleau, and there was a serious breach. The tension between Fesch and the emperor was less in 1812-13. During the Hundred Days Fesch resumed his archiepiscopal duties at Lyons and became a member of the senate. On the second abdication Fesch retired to Rome. He left many works of art to the city of Lyons. He died at Rome on May 13, 1839. See Ricard, Le Cardinal Fesch (1893) ; H. Welschinger, Le Pape et l'empereur (1905) ; F. Masson, Napoleon et sa famille (4 vols., 1897 1900), this correspondence with Napoleon was edited by Ducasse (1855).

napoleon, french, rome, cardinal and lyons