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MONTGELAS, Count von

(1759-1838), Bavarian politician

Maximilian Joseph Garnerin, count von Montgelas (Munich, 1759-1838) was a Bavarian politician of a noble Savoyard famille. His upbringing and sensibilities were heavily influenced by France, and at the end of his life, he spoke French as fluently as he did German.
Thanks to the support of the Prince Elector Charles Theodore, he entered the office of censorship in 1779, but his relations with the anti-clerical Illuminati movement cost him his post, and he was forced to seek refuge at Zweibrücken. He became personal secretary to the brother of the grand duke of Zweibrücken, and then minister when his protector himself became grand duke. Montgelas thus took part in the second Congress of Rastatt in 1798. His political career took on a new importance when the grand duke of Zweibrücken became an elector in the Holy Roman Empire in 1799, to replace the elector of Bavaria. As he still enjoyed the grand duke's favour, Montgelas advised him to side with the Emperor Napoleon I, so much so and so well, that the Grand Duchy of Bavaria became a kingdom in 1806 and saw her territory considerably expanded, on the creation of the Confederation of the Rhine. However, his francophile policy attracted the hostility of a large part of the population, that accused him of not being a patriot. A man of the XVIIIth century, Montgelas was only preoccupied by the position of Bavaria under the domination of the house of Habsburg and the ambiguous support of Prussia. And even on becoming aware of the internal weakness of the Empire, he was to remain convinced that Bavaria still needed France. However, in 1814, the king of Bavaria, influenced by his son and Marshal Werde, abandoned Napoleon I, and defected to the coalition powers.
Montgelas pursued an internal policy of secularisation and administrative centralisation, in the tradition of the ideas of the Enlightenment. He raised the taxes paid by the clergy and the nobility, a reform supported by a detailed economic study of the country and a new cadastral survey. The first Bavarian constitution was promulgated in 1808, and abolished (for example) the last vestiges of serfdom. The constitution also created a two-chambered assembly, although Montgelas would have preferred a regime in which the head of state could follow his policy largely independent of parliament. The war was, in any case, to prevent the parliament from  being convoked for several years. Education and military service were made compulsory, and a vast national plan for vaccination was launched. Commerce was encouraged by the suppression of many internal customs taxes. The political and administrative organisation of the kingdom was considerably modernised, and administrative posts were no longer reserved for a social elite. Thanks to a Montgelas, a policy of tolerance allowed a deeply catholic (since the XVIth century) Bavaria to properly integrate the members of the protestant and Jewish communities. Promulgated in 1812, the Penal Code, inspired by its French equivalent, was saturated with humanist principles, and thus forbade the use of torture.
However, Montgelas had many enemies in the entourage of the king, who dismissed him in 1817. Montgelas thus ended his career in the Kammer der Reichsräte, (a form of House of Lords). He had become a count in 1809, and had eight children by his wife, the countess Von Arco, whom he had married in 1803.
- Eberhard Weis, Montgelas – Zwischen Revolution und Reform 1759-1799, Munich, Beck Verlag, 2nd edition, 1988
- Eberhard Weis, Montgelas- Der Architekt des modernen bayerischen Staates 1799-1838, Munich, Beck Verlag 2005
Irène Delage, tr. Paul-Napoléon Calland, ed. P.H.


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 Special Dossier: The Creation of the Confederation of the Rhine, 12 July, 1806, on the website


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