French Calvinist executed for the murder of his son in the controversial "Calas case"; b. Claparède, near Castres (Dept. of Tarn), March 19, 1698; d. Toulouse, March 10, 1762. From his marriage in 1731 to Rose Anne Cicibel, an Englishwoman of French Protestant origin, he had four sons and three daughters. Calas became a successful cloth merchant of Toulouse and reared his family in the Calvinist faith. Sometime in 1760 Louis, his second son, was converted to Catholicism and left his home because of his father's hostility. When Louis complained to the magistrate, Saint-Florentin, that he had been abandoned without support because of his religious views, Calas was obliged to pay the debt of 603 livres incurred by his son (Feb. 7, 1761). Then his eldest son, Marc Antoine, 28, announced his intention of renouncing Calvinism and on Oct. 13, 1761, was found hanged in his father's storehouse. The funeral became an occasion for explosive anti-Calvinist feeling. Penitents marched in procession, and the Dominicans placed a skeleton on the catafalque with a martyr's palm in one hand and the document of abjuration in the other. Jean Calas was arrested for murder, and the members of his family were accused as possible accomplices. In the interrogations (October 1761 to February 1762) Calas was often silent or involved himself in contradictions, alleging that Marc Antoine had committed suicide or was strangled by an assassin. He was found guilty by the votes of seven of the eight town councilors and 11 of the 13 members of the parlement of Toulouse, and on March 9 was sentenced to be tortured on the rack and burned. Calas suffered with courage and to the last protested his innocence. The family property was confiscated. The young girls were sent to a convent of the Visitation; the widow and her sons sought refuge in Geneva.
Opposition to the sentence grew, and when Voltaire heard of the case, he used his influence to have the judgment reversed and the family reinstated. He wrote his friend Charles Argental to acquaint the Duke Étienne de Choiseul, then powerful at court, of this horrible aventure. He also began a pamphlet campaign, wrote the Sur la tolérance à cause de la mort de Jean Calas (1763), and called Calas's widow to Paris to plead for justice. By June he had the support of Jean d'Alembert, Aimar Nicholaï, Chancellor Jérome Maurepas, and Mme. de Pompadour. On June 4, 1764, the Royal Council annulled the sentence passed by the tribunal at Toulouse and on March 9, 1765, declared Jean Calas innocent. The property was restored and gifts of money were sent to Rose Anne Calas by Louis XV. David Baudigné, one of the magistrates at the trial at Toulouse, became demented and committed suicide. The Calas case became celebrated not only through the writings of Voltaire, but through dramas, such as T. Lemierre's Calas ou fanatisme (1790) and F. L. Laya's Jean Calas (1790), and through more than 100 books. During the french revolution the Convention voted to erect a commemorative pillar to Calas in Toulouse (25 Brumaire II). Historians have weighed the evidence, examined the qualifications of the judges, and arrived at opposing verdicts. Some are convinced that Marc Antoine committed suicide; some that if Calas were innocent, his contradictions and behavior at the trial led inevitably to condemnation; others that a solution escapes the judgment of history.
Bibliography: d. d. bien, The Calas Affair (Princeton 1960). m. chassaigne, L'Affaire Calas (4th ed. Paris 1929). l. labat, Le Drame de la rue des Filatiers (1761); Jean Calas (Toulouse 1910). a. lefranc, La Grande Encyclopédie, 31 v. (Paris 1886–1902) 8:853–854. j. dedieu, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques 11:340–344.
[e. d. mcshane]