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L’héritier De Brutelle, Charles Louis

(b. Paris, France, 15 June 1746; d. Paris, 16 August 1800),


L’Héritier was the son of a relatively well-to-do Roman Catholic family belonging to the court circles in Paris. Few details are known of his youth and upbringing. In 1772 he was appointed to the fairly high position of superintendent of the waters and forests of the Paris region, a sinecure which he took seriously. The agronomic duties connected with this position awakened an interest in botany that he developed by independent study and by seeking contact with the botanists of the Jardin du Roi. In 1775 he was appointed counselor at the Cour des Aides in Paris, a position that made him a member of high society. He was a friend of Malesherbes and the group around the Encyclopédie.

In 1785 L’Héritier started his botanical career with the publication of the sumptuous Stirpes novae, describing many plants that had recently been introduced into Paris gardens from throughout the world. He corresponded with the leading British naturalist Sir Joseph Banks, and worked at his private herbarium in 1786-1787, in order to learn from the collections made by Joseph Dombey. The right to publish on these South American plants was claimed by the Spanish government, and the French government wished to stop L’Héritier from studying the plants, which he had received from Dombey himself. The trip to England was made in order to be free to continue his botanical work but ultimately resulted in the publication of another folio volume, Sertum anglicum, dealing with plants newly introduced in London and Kew rather than with the Dombey material.

In December 1787 L’Héritier returned to Paris, where he resumed publication of the Stirpes novae and published monographs on Cornus and Geranium (in his Geraniologia). During the Revolution, L’Héritier lost his official position as well as most of his private fortune. Obliged to work in straitened circumstances, he could no longer publish his botanical works at his own expense. On 16 August 1800 he was murdered near his house; the crime was never solved.

L’Héritier married Thérèse Valère Doré in 1775; she bore him five children. He was a member of the Académie des Sciences and retained his seat after its reorganization. L’Héritier discovered the talents of the great botanical artist Pierre-Joseph Redouté whom he employed to make drawings for the Stirpes novae and for subsequent works.


I. Original Works. L’Héritier’s major works are Stirpes navae aut minus cognitae, quae descriptionibus et iconibus illustravit, 9 fascs. (Paris, 1784-1785 [published 1785-1805]); Sertum anglicum, seu plantae rariores quae in hortis juxta Londinimum …, 4 fascs. (Paris, 1788 [published 1789-1792]; 2nd ed., 1788 [published ca, 1805]; facs. repr, of 1st ed., Pittsburgh, 1963, with intros. by W. Blunt, J. S. L. Gilmour et al., and F. A. Stafleu); Cornus. Specimen botanicum sistens descriptiones et icones specierum Corni minus cognitarum (Paris, 1788 [published 1789]); “On the Genus of Calligonum, Comprehending Pterococcus and Pallasia,” in Transactions of the Linnean Society of London, 1 (1791), 177; “On the Genus of Symplocos, Comprehending Hopea, Alstonia, and Ciponiaibid, 174; and Geraniologia, sen Erodii, Pelargonii, Monsoniae et Grieli historia iconibus illustrata (Paris, 1787-1788 [published Apr. 1792), 44 plates—the text, unpublished, is at the Conservatoire Botanique, Geneva.

II. Secondary Literature. See J. Britten and B. B. Woodward, “Bibliographical Notes, XXXV,—L’Héritier’s Botanical Works,” in Journal of Botany, British and Foreign, 43 (1905), 267-273, 325-329; and F. A. Stafleu, “L’Héritier de Brutelle: The Man and His Work,” in G. H. M. Lawrence, ed., Charles Louis L’Héritier de Brutelle, Sertum anglicum 1788, Facsimile With Critical Studies and a Translation (Pittsburgh, 1963), with biography, commentaries, and unpublished sources; and Taxonomic Literature (Utrecht, 1967), pp. 266-268, which lists secondary literature.

Frans A. Stafleu