A libertine is a person questioning and challenging most moral principles, such as responsibility or sexual restraints, and will often declare these traits as unnecessary or undesirable. A libertine is especially someone who ignores or even spurns accepted morals and forms of behaviour observed by the larger society.[1][2] The values and practices of libertines are known collectively as libertinism or libertinage and are described as an extreme form of hedonism.[3] Libertines put value on physical pleasures, meaning those experienced through the senses. As a philosophy, libertinism gained new-found adherents in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, particularly in France and Great Britain. Notable among these were John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, and the Marquis de Sade.

History of the term


The word libertine was originally coined by John Calvin to negatively describe opponents of his policies in Geneva, Switzerland.[4] The group, led by Ami Perrin, argued against Calvin's "insistence that church discipline should be enforced uniformly against all members of Genevan society".[5] Perrin and his allies were elected to the town council in 1548, and "broadened their support base in Geneva by stirring up resentment among the older inhabitants against the increasing number of religious refugees who were fleeing France in even greater numbers".[5] By 1555, Calvinists were firmly in place on the Genevan town council, so the Libertines, led by Perrin, responded with an "attempted coup against the government and called for the massacre of the French. This was the last great political challenge Calvin had to face in Geneva".[5] In England, a few Lollards held libertine views such as that adultery and fornication were not sin, or that "whoever died in faith would be saved irrespective of his way of life".[6]

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the term became more associated with debauchery.[7] Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand wrote that Joseph Bonaparte "sought only life's pleasures and easy access to libertinism" while on the throne of Naples.[8]



Les Liaisons dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons, 1782), an epistolary novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, is a trenchant description of sexual libertinism. Wayland Young argues: "... the mere analysis of libertinism ... carried out by a novelist with such a prodigious command of his medium ... was enough to condemn it and play a large part in its destruction."[9]

John Wilmot by Jacob Huysmans

Agreeable to Calvin's emphasis on the need for uniformity of discipline in Geneva, Samuel Rutherford (Professor of Divinity in the University of St. Andrews, and Christian minister in 17th-century Scotland) offered a rigorous treatment of "Libertinism" in his polemical work "A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience" (1649).

A Satyr Against Reason and Mankind is a poem by John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester which addresses the question of the proper use of reason, and is generally assumed to be a Hobbesian critique of rationalism.[10] The narrator subordinates reason to sense.[11] It is based to some extent on Boileau's version of Juvenal's eighth or fifteenth satire, and is also indebted to Hobbes, Montaigne, Lucretius, and Epicurus, as well as the general libertine tradition.[12] Confusion has arisen in its interpretation as it is ambiguous as to whether the speaker is Rochester himself, or a satirised persona.[13] It criticises the vanities and corruptions of the statesmen and politicians of the court of Charles II.[12]

The libertine novel was a primarily 18th-century literary genre of which the roots lay in the European but mainly French libertine tradition. The genre effectively ended with the French Revolution. Themes of libertine novels were anti-clericalism, anti-establishment and eroticism.

Marquis de Sade by Charles-Amédée-Philippe van Loo

Authors include Claude Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon (Les Égarements du cœur et de l'esprit, 1736; Le Sopha, conte moral, 1742), Denis Diderot (Les bijoux indiscrets, 1748), Marquis de Sade (L'Histoire de Juliette, 1797–1801), Choderlos de Laclos (Les Liaisons dangereuses, 1782), and John Wilmot (Sodom, or the Quintessence of Debauchery, 1684).

Other famous titles are Histoire de Dom Bougre, Portier des Chartreux (1741) and Thérèse Philosophe (1748).

Precursors to the libertine writers were Théophile de Viau (1590–1626) and Charles de Saint-Evremond (1610–1703), who were inspired by Epicurus and the publication of Petronius.

Robert Darnton is a cultural historian who has covered this genre extensively.[14] A three-part essay in The Book Collector by David Foxen explores libertine literature in England, 1660-1745.[15]

Critics have been divided as to the literary merits of William Hazlitt's Liber Amoris, a deeply personal account of frustrated love that is quite unlike anything else Hazlitt ever wrote. Wardle suggests that it was compelling but marred by sickly sentimentality, and also proposes that Hazlitt might even have been anticipating some of the experiments in chronology made by later novelists.[16]

One or two positive reviews appeared, such as the one in the Globe, 7 June 1823: "The Liber Amoris is unique in the English language; and as, possibly, the first book in its fervour, its vehemency, and its careless exposure of passion and weakness—of sentiments and sensations which the common race of mankind seek most studiously to mystify or conceal—that exhibits a portion of the most distinguishing characteristics of Rousseau, it ought to be generally praised".[17] Dan Cruickshank in his book London's Sinful Secret summarized Hazlitt's infatuation stating: "Decades after her death Batsy (Careless) still haunted the imagination of the essayist William Hazlitt, a man who lodged near Covent Garden during the 1820s, where he became unpleasantly intimate with the social consequences of unconventional sexual obsession that he revealed in his Liber Amoris of 1823, in which he candidly confessed to his infatuation with his landlord's young daughter."[18]



During the Baroque era in France, there existed a freethinking circle of philosophers and intellectuals who were collectively known as libertinage érudit and which included Gabriel Naudé, Élie Diodati and François de La Mothe Le Vayer.[19][20] The critic Vivian de Sola Pinto linked John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester's libertinism to Hobbesian materialism.[21]

Notable libertines


Some notable libertines include:

Rulers and political figures


Religious leaders










See also



  1. ^ "libertine" – via The Free Dictionary.
  2. ^ "libertine" at WordNet
  3. ^ Feiner, Shmuel (June 6, 2011). The Origins of Jewish Secularization in Eighteenth-Century Europe. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0812201895 – via Google Books.
  4. ^ Gordon, Alexander (1911). "Libertines" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 16 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 543.
  5. ^ a b c Zophy, Johnathan W. (2003). A Short History of Renaissance and Reformation Europe: Dances Over Fire and Water (Third ed.). Prentice Hall. p. 226. ISBN 978-0-13-097764-9.
  6. ^ Russell, J.B. (1972). Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Cornell paperbacks. Cornell University Press. p. 244. ISBN 978-0-8014-9289-1. Retrieved 2023-05-06.
  7. ^ Michel Delon, ed. (2013). Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment. Routledge. pp. 2362–2363. ISBN 978-1-135-96005-6.
  8. ^ Talleyrand, Charles-Maurice de (2008). "Napoleon's European Legacy, 1853". In Blaufarb, Rafe (ed.). Napoleon: Symbol for an Age, A Brief History with Documents. New York: Bedford/St. Martin's. p. 151. ISBN 978-0-312-43110-5.
  9. ^ Young, Wayland (1966). Eros Denied. New York: Grove.
  10. ^ Fisher, Nicholas (2006). "The Contemporary Reception of Rochester's A Satyr Against Mankind". The Review of English Studies. 57 (229): 185–220. doi:10.1093/res/hgl035.
  11. ^ Jenkinson, Matthew (2010). Culture and Politics at the Court of Charles II, 1660–1685. Boydell & Brewer. p. 101. ISBN 978-1-84383-590-5.
  12. ^ a b Jenkinson, Matthew (2010). Culture and Politics at the Court of Charles II: 1660–1685. Boydell & Brewer. p. 99. ISBN 978-1-84383-590-5. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
  13. ^ Thormählen, Marianne (25 June 1993). Rochester. Cambridge University Press. p. 191. ISBN 978-0-521-44042-4. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
  14. ^ Darnton, Robert.The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France. New York: Norton. 1996. ISBN 978-0-393-31442-7.
  15. ^ Foxen, David (1963). “Libertine Literature in England, 1660-1745," The Book Collector 12 no. 1: 21-35 (spring); 12 no 2: 159-177 (summer); 12 no 3: 294-307 (autumn).
  16. ^ Wardle, pp. 363–65.[incomplete short citation] Wardle was writing in 1971; twenty-first-century critics continue to be sharply divided. David Armitage has assessed the book disparagingly as "the result of a tormented mind grasping literary motifs in a desperate and increasingly unsuccessful (and self indulgent) attempt to communicate its descent into incoherence...", while Gregory Dart has acclaimed it "the most powerful account of unrequited love in English literature". To James Ley, "It is ... an unsparing account of the psychology of obsession, the way a mind in the grip of an all-consuming passion can distort reality to its own detriment". Armitage, p. 223; Dart 2012, p. 85; Ley p. 38.[incomplete short citation]
  17. ^ Quoted by Jones, p. 338.[incomplete short citation]
  18. ^ Dan Cruickshank, London's Sinful Secret, p.92. St. Martin's Press, New York (2009).
  19. ^ René Pintard (2000). Le Libertinage érudit dans la première moitié du XVIIe siècle. Slatkine. p. 11. ISBN 978-2-05-101818-0. Retrieved 24 July 2012.
  20. ^ Fideism. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. 2017. ((cite book)): |website= ignored (help)
  21. ^ "A Martyr to Sin". The New York Times. September 15, 1974.
  22. ^ Méndez, Jerónimo (2012). "Humour and Sexuality: Twelfth-Century Troubadours and Medieval Arabic Poetry". In Hathaway, Stephanie L.; Kim, David W. (eds.). Intercultural Transmission in the Medieval Mediterranean. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 120. ISBN 978-1-4411-3318-2.
  23. ^ Jesse, John Heneage (1889). Memoirs of the Court of England During the Reign of the Stuarts: Including the Protectorate. G. Bell & Sons. p. 331.
  24. ^ Carvajal, Doreen; Baume, Maïa de la (October 13, 2012). "Dominique Strauss-Kahn Says Lust Is Not a Crime". The New York Times.
  25. ^ Rousseau, George Sebastian (1991). Perilous Enlightenment: Pre- and Post-modern Discourses : Sexual, Historical. Manchester University Press. p. 187. ISBN 978-0-7190-3301-8.
  26. ^ Kaczynski, Richard (2012). Perdurabo, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Life of Aleister Crowley. North Atlantic Books. p. 65. ISBN 978-1-58394-576-6.
  27. ^ Fritscher, Jack; Vey, Anton Szandor La (2004). Popular Witchcraft: Straight from the Witch's Mouth. Popular Press. p. 181. ISBN 978-0-299-20304-7.
  28. ^ Jellinek, George (2000). History Through the Opera Glass: From the Rise of Caesar to the Fall of Napoleon. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 139. ISBN 9780879102845.
  29. ^ Haskell, Molly (2016). From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies, Third Edition. University of Chicago Press. p. 78. ISBN 978-0-226-41292-4.
  30. ^ Gensler, Howard (17 November 2015). "Charlie Sheen to tell Matt Lauer he's HIV+". The Philadelphia Inquirer.
  31. ^ "Charlie Sheen's dubious comeback: His new "philanthropic approach" doesn't erase his abusive past". Salon. November 17, 2015.
  32. ^ Fikfak, Jurij; Barna, Gábor (1 January 2007). Senses and Religion. Založba ZRC. p. 145. ISBN 978-961-254-093-7.
  33. ^ Gilmore, Mikal (4 April 1991). "The Legacy of Jim Morrison and the Doors". Rolling Stone.
  34. ^ Arbuthnot, F. F. (1890). Arabic Authors: A Manual of Arabian History and Literature. London: W. Heinemann.
  35. ^ Kahn, Andrew; Lipovetsky, Mark; Reyfman, Irina; Sandler, Stephanie (2018). A History of Russian Literature. Oxford University Press. p. 356. ISBN 978-0-19-254953-2.
  36. ^ Gautier, Théophile (2012). Charles Baudelaire. BoD – Books on Demand. p. 53. ISBN 978-3-95507-830-0.
  37. ^ Owen, Susan J. (2004-11-25). "Behn's dramatic response to Restoration politics". In Hughes, Derek; Todd, Janet (eds.). The Cambridge Companion to Aphra Behn. Cambridge University Press. p. 78. ISBN 978-0-521-52720-0.
  38. ^ Clinton, George (1825). Memoirs of the life and writings of lord Byron. p. 33. libertine.
  39. ^ Warner, Simon; Sampas, Jim (2018). Kerouac on Record: A Literary Soundtrack. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. p. 194. ISBN 978-1-5013-2334-8.
  40. ^ "Giacomo Casanova". The Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved 1 February 2020.
  41. ^ "Don Juan". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 19 January 2020.