French Politician. He was the main executive leader of the French Directory, the government that ruled France from November 1795 until it was disbanded by Napoleon Bonaparte in November 1799. Born Paul François Jean Nicolas, vicomte de Barras, he came from a noble family. At age 16 he entered the military regiment of Languedoc as a "gentleman cadet" and in 1776, he embarked for French India. He was involved in the defense of Pondicherry during the Second Anglo-Mysore War, a siege which ended in its surrender to England in October 1778. He returned to France after the release of the garrison and following a second expedition to the region in 1782 to 1783, he left the French Army. At the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 he advocated the democratic cause, and became one of the administrators of the Var, a department in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur region in Provence in southeastern France. In June 1792 he took his seat in the high national court at Orleans, France and later in that year, on the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars, he became commissioner to the French Army, which was facing the forces of Sardinia in the Italian Peninsula, and entered the National Convention as a deputy for the Var. In January 1793 he voted with the majority for the execution of King Louis XVI but was mostly absent from Paris on missions to the regions of the southeast of France. During this period, he made the acquaintance of Napoleon Bonaparte at the siege of Toulon. In 1794 he sided with the men who sought to overthrow Maximilien de Robespierre's faction. The Thermidorian Reaction of July 27, 1794, a revolt within the French Revolution against the leadership of the Jacobin Club over the Committee of Public Safety, brought his rise to prominence. The following year, when the Convention felt threatened by the malcontent National Guards of Paris, it appointed Barras to command the troops engaged in its defense. His nomination of Napoleon Bonaparte led to the adoption of violent measures, ensuring the dispersion of royalists and other malcontents in the streets near the Tuileries Palace, remembered as the 13 Vendemiaire (October 5, 1795). Subsequently, he became one of the five Directors who controlled the executive of the French Republic. He helped to facilitate the marriage between Josephine de Beauharnais (with whom he had an intimate relationship) and Napoleon Bonaparte. His alleged immorality in public and private life is often cited as a major contribution to the fall of the Directory, and the creation of the Consulate. In any case, Bonaparte met little resistance during his 18 Brumaire coup of November 1799. Since he had amassed a large fortune, he spent his later years in luxury. Napoleon had him confined to his residence at the Château de Grosbois, then exiled to Brussels, Belgium and Rome, Italy and ultimately at Montpellier, France in 1810. He was set free following the fall of the Napoleonic Empire in 1814. Although a partisan of the Second Restoration (Also called the Bourbon Restoration), the period of French history following the fall of Napoleon in 1814 until the July Revolution of 1830, he was kept in check during the reigns of French Kings Louis XVIII and Charles X. He died at the age of 73.
Bio by: William Bjornstad