The Life and Times of the Marquis de Sade – Soldier, Author, Libertine – Sadist,,,

  • Marquis De Sade: The Father Of Sadism…


Poet, playwright, rebel, and seeker of erotic pleasure through all of its nuanced and varied means, the Marquis de Sade literally embodied sadism.

This libidinous French aristocrat spent nearly half of his life in various prisons and insane asylums for committing heinous acts of sexual torture, but whilst imprisoned, wrote some of his most famous work – (and even put on plays with the rest of the inmates).

When he wasn't popularizing the concept of sadism and erotica in the Western world, De Sade had also played a very minor part in the French Revolution.

As with just about everything about this controversial figure, however, even his place in the great upending of France and his critical work on sexuality aren't what they seem to the naked eye.


  • Le Marquis Gâté…

Born in the Hôtel de Condé in Paris on June 2, 1740, Donatien Alphonse François – (or the Marquis de Sade, as he came to be known) – was the only surviving child of the Comte and Comtesse de Sade.

Like many children of his day derived from wealthy backgrounds, he was raised by servants who doted on his every whim, molding him into becoming a petulantly spoiled brat.

He attended the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris, where he studied under priests who were just as content to mete out violent punishments as they were to educate and – as a result of his disobedience – De Sade had been routinely flogged: a ritual of pain that came to shape his psyche forever after so that he then spent the rest of his life chasing the pain.


  • Soldat, Mari et Père…

Following his time at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, De Sade was sent to a military academy where – by all accounts – he actually turned-out to be very good soldier.

Graduating to the rank of sub-lieutenant at just 15 years old, he eventually rose to the rank of colonel, and led a regiment of Dragoons fighting during the Seven Years' War.

Returning from the war aged a mere 23, he had proceeded to court the daughter of a wealthy magistrate – only to be rejected and to be offered her older sister instead. So, in 1763, De Sade married Renée-Pélagie de Montreuil – with whom he fathered two sons and a daughter.


  • De Sade – Le deviant…

Much of De Sade's early life remains in the realm of the murky and it is still unclear when he began experimenting with his sexuality.

However, Neil Schaeffer's biography notes that following his time in the military, De Sade often resorted to frequenting brothels in search of women with whom he could carry out some of his most depraved fantasies.

… Which didn’t cease once he had become married: on the contrary, matrimony seemed only to further sharpen the Marquis’ tastes for the freaky and dissolute.

Indeed, following his wedding, De Sade threw himself into his fantasies with an even greater vigour – kidnapping various women from brothels, whether they had been prostitutes or not – in order to imprison, drug, and rape them.

He was so out of control in his early twenties that French police actually had to warn brothels about allowing women to leave the premises in his company.


  • Pris dans l’acte mais pas châtié…

Following multiple complaints about De Sade's behaviour, in 1763 the Paris police were finally obliged to arrest him and have the Marquis interned within the Château de Saumur.

Whilst he and his family appealed to the judiciary, claims surfaced about De Sade's "magic salves" and a plethora of bodies supposedly buried in his garden at Arcueil – which led to not much and following a five-year of back-and-forth, he was released from detention in 1768 under a strict injunction to remain quarantined in his château in Lacoste under “house arrest”.

Whilst there, De Sade procured the services of a woman who believed she was being hired as a maid and he wasted little time before he had tied her up, whipped her and allegedly poured hot oil into her wounds – (though he had claimed it was a healing ointment).

If the courts were hoping house arrest would rein-in the marquis from his various violent rampages, they were clearly mistaken.

Still, not satisfied with even this lenient sentence, De Sade's mother secured a royal order protecting him from the jurisdiction of the courts, leaving him free to commit even more horrific acts.


  • Pas même une condamnation à mort a pû lui brider…

Perhaps emboldened by his ability to avoid prosecution, De Sade's violent libido then went into overdrive.

In 1772, he and his manservant, Latour, were sentenced to death in absentia in Marseilles for poisoning and sodomizing four prostitutes.

However, both of them were caught and subsequently imprisoned at the Fortress of Miolans later that year – though they somehow engineered an escape from the prison only four months later.

De Sade then returned to his home at Lacoste, where he hid out with his wife until 1774 – at which time the couple kidnapped and abused six children.

Stories about the Marquis de Sade spread throughout the country – perhaps exacerbated by stories spread through the couple’s servants who seemingly regularly fled the house complaining of their ill-treatment.

In 1777, the Parisian police finally devised a plan to catch him once and for all.

They surreptitiously sent word to Lacoste that De Sade's mother was deathly ill – although in reality, she had passed months earlier.

Note that as news travelled considerably slower in the days of pre-Revolutionary France their subterfuge bore fruit as the Marquis travelled to Paris, where he was immediately arrested and imprisoned in the Château de Vincennes.

  • Les Bastilles et les ces livres

After Vincennes was eventually closed down in 1784, the De Sade was then moved into the Bastille – just five years before the beginning of the French Revolution.

He must have realized that he wasn't going anywhere, so he began to write the clandestine manuscript for Les 120 Journées De Sodome – or The 120 Days Of Sodom.

Written in tiny, painful-looking handwriting on one continuous scroll of paper, the novel tells the story of four libertine noblemen who agree to experience sexual pleasure to the fullest.

It's theme is “kind-of” like American Pie but French – and only slightly more criminal.

The entire manuscript was penned over approximately 40 days and hidden in the walls of the Bastille before De Sade was moved then to an insane asylum at Charenton, near Paris on July 4, 1789 – after he had shouted to a crowd of people below the prison that people in the Bastille were being murdered by the guards.

Ten days later and after he had already been moved-out, the Bastille was stormed by the populace,, its guards and Commander murdered and the building all but completely destroyed – with De Sade rightfully assuming that his magnum opus was lost forever.

However, by a strange twist of fate, a man named Arnoux de Saint-Maximin had removed the manuscript two days before the Bastille fell – saving it from complete destruction.


  • Mort à l'asile

Thanks to the French Revolution, De Sade was soon again released from prison and able to revert back to his life.

He convinced members of the new political regime that he was an empathetic “comrade” and in consequence held several official positions within the new order – even though he was exactly the kind of person the Commité had been in the habit of sending to the Guillotine.

At the same time, De Sade had been anonymously writing erotic novels – such as Justine and Juliette.

The two novels were so horrifying to the French people that in 1801, Napoleon ordered the arrest of their author and It really hadn’t taken too long to figure out who that had been..!

It's nevertheless not entirely clear how these officials had deduced that it had been De Sade who had written the books, but he was nevertheless arrested at the offices of his publisher and again found himself bound-up in the Sainte-Pélagie Prison – without trial.

In 1803, he was moved back to the Charenton Asylum, where he was allowed to stage plays for the public featuring many of his fellow inmates whilst at the same time managing to carry on a relationship with the 14-year-old daughter of an employee of the facility.

However, all good things have their time and in 1814 he died at the asylum where – and despite his wish that his body be left alone for 48 hours before burial on his property in Malmaison, near Épernon – after his skull had been removed to be studied, he was instead interred at Charenton.


  • Les lecteurs de ces oeuvres sont toujours aussi choqués longtemps après ca mort…

After his death, De Sade's children destroyed all of his unfinished manuscripts in an attempt to wipe his name and rather gruesome ideas from the existence: however, they were too late…

Arnoux de Saint-Maximin had held onto the manuscript for The 120 Days Of Sodom and it had remained hidden-away within a collection of manuscripts owned by a wealthy French family throughout the 19th century.

That said, somehow, the early 1900s, it had nevertheless fallen into the hands of a German collector, who published it in 1904.

Since this small initial run, the Marquis De Sade's erotic magnum opus novel has been translated into multiple languages ... and also banned by many different governments all over the world.


Sources: Various. Adapted and collated.

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