Charles-Louis de Secondat, born on January 18 1689 at La Brède, from the union of Jacques de Secondat (1654 – 1713), a younger brother of the family, and Marie-Françoise de Pesnel (1665-1696), who transmits to him the castle of La Brède. Like most children of noble issue, Montesquieu is entrusted to a nursemaid until the age of three.
He attended the village school until the age of eleven. In 1700 he studies at the Oratorien College at Juilly, near Paris. In 1705, he returns to Bordeaux where he studies law. Receiving his diploma in 1708, he becomes a lawyer for the Parliament of Bordeaux and then stays in Paris to complete his training and frequents literary and intellectual circles.
In 1713, his father dies; Montesquieu becomes Baron of La Brède and inherits numerous family properties. In 1715, he marries Jeanne de Lartigue, a Protestant from a rich family, with whom he will have 3 children: Jean-Baptiste in 1716, Marie in 1717 and Denise in 1727.
In 1716, upon the death of his uncle Jean-Baptiste, Montesquieu inherits his full fortune, including the Barony of Montesquieu and the responsibility of ‘President à Mortier’ (High function in the Parliament) of the Parliament of Bordeaux. During his lifetime, Montesquieu remains faithful to his roots as a landholder and devotes himself to the running of his domains, specifically to those of his winegrowing properties.
Montesquieu is passionate about the sciences; he is elected to the recently formed Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Literature of Bordeaux, and writes numerous scientific essays that reveal the quality and diversity of his talents and interests.
Montesquieu directed his curiosity towards humanity through literature and philosophy. In the "Lettres Persanes" (Persian Letters), which he published anonymously in 1721 in Amsterdam, he depicts in a humoristic and satirical tone, French society through the eyes of Persian visitors. The immense success of this novel opened the doors of the Parisian salons, notably that of the influential Marquise de Lambert and perhaps the Entresol Club. These salons and the libertines who frequented them inspired in turn "Le Temple de Gnide" (The Temple of Gnide), novel (or poetic prose) judged licentious at the time. In Paris, Montesquieu resided at the Hotel de Flandre (Rue Dauphine) and at Rue de la Verrerie, and then from 1734 to his death in 1755, his Parisian address was on Rue Saint-Dominique.
After his election in 1728 to the “Academie Française”, Montesquieu travelled Europe to explore political and economic systems, behaviours, religion, culture, the geography of the countries he crossed, but also, and perhaps most importantly, to become a diplomat. This last ambition was not met, but enriched by his observations, he returned to Bordeaux in 1731, where he successively resided at the Rue Sainte-Catherine, Rue des Lauries, Rue Margaux, Rue du Mirail and Porte-Dijeaux. Montesquieu alternated between Parisian and provincial stays. In 1734, he published the "Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur decadence" (Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and Their Decline), but it is the "l'Esprit de Lois" (The Spirit of the Laws) that will above all ensure his notoriety in the entire world. In this work, published in Geneva in 1748, Montesquieu establishes the fundamental principles and the logic of different political institutions via the study of their laws. This work was a great success, but also was criticised, notably by religious authorities, which led Montesquieu to publish in 1750 the "Defense de L'Esprit des Lois" (Defence of the Spirit of the Laws). The whole of Europe praised this innovative work that allowed the understanding of societies through their political analysis.
Montesquieu spent the last years of his life reading, as well as correcting and adding to L'Esprit des Lois. He died suddenly of a lung infection on February 10 1755 in Paris.
Intellectual, sociologist and philosopher, Montesquieu ranked among the greatest thinkers of the Enlightenment.