He was an inventor; he was a spy; he created one of the most beloved characters of opera; and he was an enthusiastic champion of liberty. His name was Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais
He was born Pierre-Augustin Caron in France on January 24, 1732. He was apprenticed to his father, a watchmaker, at the age of 13, and in 1753 at the age of 21 invented an escape mechanism for watches, increasing accuracy and allowing watches to be made much smaller and more compact. He constructed a watch mounted on a ring for Madame de Pompadour, a mistress of Louis XV, an amazing feat of miniaturization for the time.
He became friends with a wealthy entrepreneur named Joseph Pâris-Duverney, who helped him gain access to the nobility. Shortly after his marriage in 1756-1757, he adopted the name "de Beaumarchais". When his patron Pâris-Duverney died in 1770, Beaumarchais found himself sued by Pâris-Duverney's heir, who contested the will. The lawsuits went back and forth for several years. To gain public support for his side, he published a four-part pamphlet recounting his experiences with the French legal system that gave him a reputation as champion for social justice.
The courts stripped him of his civil rights, but he still had favor from the crown. Beaumarchais undertook a series of secret missions for Louis XV and Louis XVI. He served as a liason between the French Government and the American rebels during the American Revolution. Before France was officially allied with the Americans, Beaumarchais arranged to funnel arms and supplies to them through a dummy corporation. Beaumarchais became an enthusiastic supporter of the Americans. For his services to the crown, Louis XVI reinstated his civil rights.
During this period, he also published a comedy, Le Barbier de Seville ("The Barber of Seville"), featuring the character of Figaro, which was produced in 1775. He completed a sequel, Le Mariage de Figaro ("The Marriage of Figaro") a few years later, but it was not produced until 1784 because the King distrusted its revolutionary attitudes towards the aristocracy. Both plays were later made into operas.
After the death of Voltaire in 1778, Beaumarchais arranged to publish his works; many of which had been banned in France. The project took many years. Seventy volumes comprising Voltaire's complete works were published between 1783 and 1790. Although the books were financially unsuccessful, Beumarchais managed to preserve many works of Voltaire which might otherwise have been lost.
By this time, Beaumarchais had achieved a fair amount of wealth, much of it from supplying Paris with drinking water; as well as a title of nobility. But another round of lawsuits, this time involving accusations of adultery, tarnished his reputation. And when the French Revolution broke out in 1789, his noble title proved no advantage. Despite his populist writings, he found himself imprisoned in 1792 and narrowly avoided death. He pledged his services to the new Republic, but a mission to buy arms from Holland ended in failure and he was accused of being an enemy of the state. He spent two and a half years in exile, before having his citizenship again restored in 1796.
Game and Story Use
- In a campaign set during the American Revolution, he could be an interesting NPC contact.
- PCs might meet him during one of his espionage missions for the King or for the French Republic.
- Or, he might employ the PCs to help him gain evidence in one of his court battles.
- During his exile, he might need the PCs to protect him from his enemies.
- Ideal for clockpunk campaigns as a leading light in enhancement technology. Especially given his political leanings as well.
- As with other spies-turned-artists, there might be coded secrets in some of his work.