Charles-Étienne Coquebert de Montbret

Born 1755
Died 1831
Place of Birth Paris
Place of Death Paris
Gender Male
Biographical Notes It is usual to remark that Charles-Étienne Coquebert de Montbret was a member of the minor provincial nobility. However, since the family had moved to Paris in the seventeenth century, and had for more than a century occupied positions in the service of the state, it is more accurate to think of his intellectual horizons as being those of the late eighteenth-century Parisian noblesse de robe rather than the petite noblesse provinciale. His early education at the Collège du Plessis concentrated on languages and the the natural sciences, and was followed by professional training at the Bureau des consulats in Versailles. He took up his first consular post in Hamburg in 1774, at the very young age of nineteen. Over his lifetime, he combined several careers: diplomat, teacher and populariser of scientific research, and senior state administrator.

Coquebert de Montbret’s observations of Ireland date mainly from 1790 to 1791, during his appointment as the French agent for commerce and the marine in Dublin. He chose to explore the country, visiting some of the less travelled regions and inquiring into many aspects of Irish life. A large part of his information gathering related to his professional duties, focussing on trade and production, transport, natural resources and potential for development, but he was also keenly interested in language, culture, folk life and history. He made efforts to learn Irish, collected copies of Irish manuscripts, and, it is said, regretted his inability to converse directly in Irish with the people.

On returning to France, Coquebert de Montbret survived the difficult years of the mid 1790s by taking up teaching posts and becoming the first editor of the Journal des Mines. He later held major diplomatic appointments, and was for a time Director of the Bureau de la Statistique created by Napoleon. He was made chevalier of the Légion d'honneur in 1803 and baron d’Empire in 1809. His career ended after the Cent Jours, with the second restoration of the monarchy. During his retirement he undertook further travel in Europe. In 1817 he engaged in an extensive tour of France, recording a wide range of geographical, climatic, socio-economic and ethnographical information.

Coquebert de Montbret is acknowledged as one of the pioneers of statistical enquiry and founders of modern geography in France. He is known, too, for the sociolinguistic enquiry he initiated throughout France. He produced no books, but a number of learned articles and official papers. He died in 1831. His son Eugène, who was an equally enthusiastic book collector, donated both their libraries, including manuscript material of Irish interest, to the Bibliothèque municipale in Rouen. Other papers relating to Charles Coquebert de Montbret’s life are held in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the Archives des Affaires étrangères and the Archives nationales. He is the subject of an extensive biography by Isabelle Laboulais-Lesage.

Jane Conroy, 'Time and the traveller: the case of Coquebert de Montbret', in E. Maher and C. Maignant (eds), Franco-Irish connections in space and time: Peregrinations and ruminations (Bern: Peter Lang, 2012), pp. 29-52.
Jane Conroy and Barbara Wright, ‘France and Ireland in the late eighteenth century: the correspondence of Charles Coquebert de Montbret and Andrew Caldwell’, Analecta hibernica (forthcoming, 2018).
Isabelle Laboulais-Lesage, Lectures et pratiques de l’espace: l’itinéraire de Coquebert de Montbret, savant et grand commis d’État, 1755–1831 (Paris: H. Champion, 1999).


Travel Account(s)


Vue de Belvidere (Draughtsman, Author of travel text)

Obélisque de Carton. Comté de Kildare. (Draughtsman, Author of travel text)

Dunsandle castle (Draughtsman, Author of travel text)

Plan d'une garenne (Draughtsman, Author of travel text)

Champ de bataille à Aughrim (Draughtsman, Author of travel text)

Cromlech et plan, Ballyhattan (Draughtsman, Author of travel text)