The son of Jacques de Rapin, an avocat at Castres (Tarn), he was educated at the Protestant Academy of Saumur, and in 1679 became an advocate, but soon afterwards joined the army. The revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, and the death of his father led him to move to England; but, unable to find work there, he went on to the Netherlands where he enlisted in a company of French volunteers at Utrecht, commanded by his cousin, Daniel de Rapin.
He accompanied William III to England in 1688, and during the Williamite war in Ireland he took part in the Siege of Carrickfergus and the Battle of the Boyne, and was wounded at the Siege of Limerick (1690). Soon afterwards he was promoted to captain; but in 1693 he resigned in order to become tutor to the Earl of Portland's son. After travelling with the boy, he settled with his family (he married Marie-Anne Testart in 1699) in Holland, first at the Hague, then, to save money, at Wesel, in 1707.
It was at Wesel that he began his great work:
Histoire d'Angleterre (History of England), par Mr. Rapin de Thoyras, Tome I-X, La Haye: Alexandre de Rogissart, 1724–27.
- Volume I (1724): an account of Britain from the time of the Ancient British down to the Norman Conquest;
- Volume II: from William the Conqueror to Henry III;
- Volume III: from Edward I to Henry V;
- Volume IV: from Henry VI to Henry VII;
- Volume V: Henry VIII;
- Volume VI: from Edward VI to Elizabeth I;
- Volume VII (1725): James I and the beginning of Charles I;
- Volume VIII: Charles I;
- Volume IX (1727): Charles II;
- Volume X: James II and William III and Mary II.
L'Histoire d'Angleterre was published with illustrations and allegorical endpieces designed and engraved by F.M. La Cave, and with a dedicatory epistle to King George I. The written style is lucid and effective.
Therefore, although written in French this work was produced for the endorsement of the British monarchy, and at the time of its publication, for the House of Hanover. For this reason the epistle Dedicatory, printed beneath a very elegant engraving of the Royal Arms, is of interest. The following is a translation of it:
To His Britannic Majesty, GEORGE I:
The liberty which I take in offering this History of England to YOUR MAJESTY, is based uniquely on the nature of this Work, in which I have set myself the task of instructing Foreigners in the origin and the progressions of the English Monarchy. As no-one takes more interest than Your Majesty in the glory of England, I have hoped that He would look with a favourable eye upon the feeble efforts which I have made to execute this design. The simple and faithful recital of the actions of the Kings, Your Predecessors, backed by the courage, the zeal, and the faithfulness of their English Subjects, is a kind of Panegyrique which can only be agreeable to Your Majesty. But He doubtless would not approve my temerity, if I were to undertake to add here that of Your Majesty, however abundant the material for it might be. That is a task which should be reserved for more eloquent pens than mine. I am content, SIRE, to have furnished for my Readers a ready means by which to compare the Reign of Your Majesty with the preceding Reigns, and the opportunity to observe, how attentive Your Majesty is to follow in the tracks of the Kings of England which were most distinguished by their virtues, and by their sincere love for their People - and with what care He distances himself from the false paths in which some have unfortunately gone astray. One will see clearly in this History, that the constant union of the Sovereign with his Parliament, is the most solid foundation for the glory of the Prince and the welfare of the Subjects; and from the little that one may have learnt of what is happening in England since Your Majesty took the Throne, one cannot but be convinced, that that indeed is the invariable principle upon which Your Majesty governs his conduct. I should account myself extremely fortunate, SIRE, if my zeal for Your Majesty should obtain for me a gracious acceptance of my very humble homage, and if Your Majesty were to deign to approve my sincere protestation, that I am, with a very profound respect, SIRE, the very humble and very obedient servant of Your Majesty,
Though de Rapin was of a strong constitution, the seventeen years he spent on the work ruined his health. The original version was almost the only English History available in France in the first half of the 18th century.
All volumes of his work were translated to English in a total of 14 volumes in the early 18th century by the Reverend Nicolas Tindal. Tindal was the nephew and heir of Dr. Matthew Tindal, the eminent deist. Tindal began this great task while a chaplain to the Royal Navy, as attested in his foreword to an early volume. He added large numbers of informative notes throughout the volumes, which were illustrated with engravings, maps and genealogical tables of great quality.
It was in his description of the reign of King Stephen of England that de Rapin made perhaps his most enduring contribution to English history: he was the first historian to describe the reign as an "anarchy": "In the fatal anarchy, the barons acting as sovereigns grievously oppressed the people and were so presumptuous as to coin their own money."
Tindal also added a 'Continuation' to the History, covering the years from the accession of James VI and I to that of George I of Great Britain.
Rapin de Thoyras was also the author of a Dissertation sur les Whigs et les Torys (1717).
- Napoleon Bonaparte, "Paul de Rapin-Thoyras," Napoleon’s Notes on English History made on the Eve of the French Revolution, illustrated from Contemporary Historians and referenced from the findings of Later Research by Henry Foljambe Hall. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1905, xx-xxv.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911) "Rapin, Paul de" Encyclopædia Britannica 22 (11th ed.) Cambridge University Press p. 909
- "Rapin, Paul de". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
- Portraits of Paul de Rapin at the National Portrait Gallery, London.
|This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).|