Père Lachaise Cemetery, 16 Rue du Repos, 75020 Paris, Francia
Jean-Jacques-Régis de Cambacérès, duc de Parme (18 October 1753 – 8 March 1824), was a French nobleman, lawyer and statesman during the French Revolution and the First Empire. He is best remembered as one of the authors of the Napoleonic Code, which still forms the basis of French civil law and French-inspired civil law in many countries.
Before the French Revolution, sodomy had been a capital crime under royal legislation. The penalty was burning at the stake. Very few men, however, were ever actually prosecuted and executed for consensual sodomy (no more than five in the entire eighteenth century). Sodomites arrested by the police were more usually released with a warning or held in prison for, at most, a few weeks or months. The National Constituent Assembly revised French criminal law in 1791 and got rid of a variety of offenses inspired by religion, including blasphemy. Sodomy was not specifically mentioned but was covered under the umbrella of 'religious crimes'. Since there was no public debate, its motives remain unknown (a similar state of affairs occurred during the early years of the Russian Revolution).
Cambacérès was a homosexual, his sexual orientation was well-known, and he does not seem to have made any effort to conceal it. He remained unmarried, and kept to the company of other bachelors. Napoleon is recorded as making a number of jokes on the subject. Upon hearing that Cambacérès had recruited a woman for a mission, Napoleon responded with, "my compliments, so you have come closer to women?". Robert Badinter once mentioned in a speech to the French National Assembly, during debates on reforming the homosexual age of consent, that Cambacérès was known in the gardens of the Palais-Royal as "Tante Urlurette".
In fact, however, Cambacérès was not responsible for ending the legal prosecution of homosexuals. He did play a key role in drafting the Code Napoléon, but this was a civil law code. He had nothing to do with the Penal Code of 1810, which covered sexual crimes.
The authors of the Penal Code of 1810 had the option of reintroducing a law against male homosexuality (as was eventually done in the Soviet Union), but there is no evidence that they even considered doing so. This had nothing to do with the influence of Cambacérès, as recent research has shown. However, Napoleonic officials could and did repress public expressions of homosexuality using other laws, such as "offenses against public decency". Nevertheless, despite police surveillance and harassment, the Revolutionary and Napoleonic era was a time of relative freedom for homosexuals and opened the modern era of legal toleration for homosexuality in Europe. Napoleonic conquests imposed the principles of Napoleon's Penal Code (including the decriminalization of homosexuality) on many other parts of Europe, including Belgium, the Netherlands, the Rhineland, and Italy. Other states freely followed the French example, including Bavaria in 1813 and Spain in 1822.
Cambacérès' colleagues also didn't fail to poke fun at his gluttony. When he met with the Council while Napoleon was away, everyone knew that the meeting would be over before lunch. He was known for having the best dinners in France and for his extravagant lifestyle. According to him, "a country is governed by good dinner parties". His estate was worth around 7.3 million francs (around €50 million in 2015 euros) upon his death in 1824. His body now lies in the cemetery of Père Lachaise where he was buried with military honors.
BACK TO HOME PAGE