He was gentleman-in-waiting to Louis XVI when dauphin, and was subsequently appointed ambassador at Madrid. From Madrid he was suddenly summoned to the governorship of Brittany, and in 1787 was appointed by the king to succeed Vergennes in the ministry of foreign affairs. Montmorin was a devoted admirer of Necker, whose influence at the court he was mainly instrumental in maintaining. He retired when Necker was dismissed on July 12 1789, but on Necker's recall after the taking of the Bastille again resumed his office, which he continued to hold till October 1791. Mirabeau had approached him so early as December 1788, with a plan for the policy to be pursued by the court towards the new states general; but Montmorin, offended by Mirabeau's attacks on Necker and by his Histoire secrete de la cour de Berlin, refused to see him.
With the progress of the Revolution, however, this attitude was changed. The comte de la Marck was exerting himself to bring Mirabeau into touch with the court, and for this purpose it was important to secure the assistance of Montmorin. The convenience of an understanding between the two men was obvious; and they were soon on the closest terms. While Montmorin continued minister in name, Mirabeau became so in fact. Montmorin did not dare to come to a decision without consulting his masterful friend, but on the other hand neither Mirabeau nor La Marck were under any illusions as to the broken character of the reed on which they had perforce to lean. Mirabeau complained bitterly that Montmorin was "slack" (flasque) and a "poltroon" (gavache). On the other hand, La Marck thought that Montmorin's feebleness was occasionally useful in restraining Mirabeau's impetuosity.
The death of Mirabeau in April 1791 was a severe blow to Montmorin, the difficulty of whose position was enormously increased after the flight of the royal family to Varennes, to which he was not privy. He was forced to resign office, but still continued to advise Louis, and was one of the inner circle of the king's friends, called by the revolutionists "the Austrian Committee." In June 1792 his papers were seized at the foreign office, without anything incriminating being discovered; in July he was denounced, and after the 10th of August was proscribed. He took refuge in the house of a washerwoman, but was discovered, haled before the Legislative Assembly, and imprisoned in the Abbaye, where he perished in the September massacres. His relative, Louis Victor Henri, marquis de Montmorin de Saint Herem, head of the elder branch, also perished in the massacre.
See A Bardoux, Pauline de Montmorin, comtesse de Beaumont: Etudes sur la fin du XVIIIieme siècle (Paris, 1884), for a defence of Montmorin's policy; F Masson, Le Département des affaires etrangeres pendant la revolution, 1787-1804, ch. ii. (Paris, 1877); A de Bacourt, Correspondance entre Mirabeau et le comte de La Marck, 1789-1791 (3 vols., Paris, 1851), contains many letters of Montmorin; "Correspondence of the Comte de Moustier with the Comte de Montmorin," in the Amer. Hist. Rev., vol. viii. (1902-1903).
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.