Blackmail, Scandal and Revolution: London's French Libellistes, 1758-1792

This important study, new in paperback, examines the activities, adventures, publications, and influence of the most venomous critics of the late Bourbon monarchy. These were the French exile libellistes who flocked to London to publish scandalous or sexually salacious pamphlets in the hope of extorting lavish suppression fees. These 'smut-mongering' pamphleteers have become prominent figures in the recent historiography of the French revolution, with many historians contending that their 'desacralizing' and frequently pornographic publications sapped the foundations of the monarchy. Simon Burrows here offers a 'root and branch' refutation of this 'pornographic interpretation' and re-contextualizes 'Grub Street' pamphleteers within the political life of the ancien regime. In the course of his dissection of the libellistes' life histories, social networks, business activities, literary output, political affiliations and blackmail negotiations, he demonstrates that their attacks on living monarchs and their consorts (most notably Marie-Antoinette) were in fact almost unobtainable prior to 1789. He concludes that the libellistes' primary importance lies in their contribution to factional politics and in the public disquiet aroused by desperate and heavy-handed attempts to kidnap or silence them. This revealing book is essential reading for students of eighteenth-century political culture and the French revolution.