This Is How Many Times Voltaire Was Really Imprisoned In The Bastille

Before his death in 1778, Voltaire made himself out to be one of the most influential writers of not only Paris but all of Europe (via Biography). His Enlightenment-era work helped further the ideals of secular governance and the securing of rights and liberties that are today commonly associated with free society. While commonplace now, such rhetoric was a precarious thing to espouse in many of Europe’s kingdoms and empires, let alone the absolute monarchy of 18th century France. 

In 1717, Voltaire did himself few favors by insulting members of the royal family, leveling public satirical accusations of incest against them. Immediately and without trial, he was sent to the Bastille, where he served almost a year in the massive stone fortress (via VisitVoltaire). While a trip to the imposing Bastille might change the tune of many people (especially as Voltaire bore witness to the Man in the Iron Mask during his sentence), Voltaire’s further contempt for the Parisian social order actually saw him imprisoned there again just a few years later.

Being thrown into the Bastille twice was enough

The conditions that a prisoner faced inside the Bastille were usually dependent upon both their place in society and the crime they were accused of. For Voltaire, his first experience was far from brutalizing and more akin to a stay in a hotel. He even had the freedom and time to write a play during his confinement, in between meals with the Bastille’s military governor no less (via History). 

After his release, Voltaire continued his career as a writer until 1726, when an insulted nobleman had him severely beaten. Voltaire’s attempt to settle the matter with a duel was rewarded with a second imprisonment in the Bastille. Unlike his first experience there, Voltaire took this sentence far more seriously. After narrowly escaping a permanent stay by vowing to leave France, Voltaire continued his work on Enlightenment ideals from a new residence in Britain (via Oxford). While Voltaire did eventually return to France, he lived under the potential threat of renewed persecution (via Britannica).

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