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"Conspiracy! Intrigue! A rapidly thickening plot! Add some bestiality and a lecherous priest and I'd say you have the beginnings of a beautiful novel."
―The Marquis de Sade, 1791.[src]-[m]

Donatien Alphonse François de Sade (1740 – 1814), more commonly known by his title, Marquis de Sade, was a French aristocrat, revolutionary politician, philosopher, and author famous for his libertine sexuality.


Early life

Born in 1740, de Sade came from a typical French noble family, with relatives among the army and the clergy.[1] His father was a libertine and diplomat, while his mother was a lady-in-waiting to the Princess of Condé and rarely saw him. He grew up cultured and spoiled, having every wish fulfilled, while his own inclinations became visible. By the age of four, de Sade had become an arrogant and spoiled bully, beating the young Prince of Condé. For this, de Sade was sent to live with his uncle, the Abbé de Sade. The Abbé, however, was debauched and reminiscent of the clergymen appearing in de Sade's later works, introducing his six-year-old nephew to his own sexual interests,[2] as well as pornographic literature.[3]

De Sade developed a sexual cruelty and grew fascinated with violence and prostitutes, in addition to defying all authority, rule or standard.[2] Somewhat a black sheep, he was an atheist and fond of the performing arts. Due to his family's influence and wealth, he was able to get away with many crimes[4] and sate practically any desire that crossed his mind.[2]

At the age of fifteen, de Sade joined the cavalry of the French Army and began a brief, but distinguished career. He fought in the Seven Years' War and rose through the ranks to become a colonel, gaining attention for his bravery and womanizing. At that time, his deviant sexual preferences were not known to the public.[5] At the age of 31, de Sade left the army[1] and spent his time living at the Château de Lacoste, beginning a life of libertinism.[3]


In 1763, with the King's blessing,[3] de Sade married the uninteresting, but extremely wealthy noblewoman Renée-Pélagie Cordier de Launay de Montreuil[5] at the Church of Saint-Roch in Paris.[3] Together, they had two sons and one daughter. At the same time, he had an affair with his sister-in-law, Anne-Prospère, and frequently indulged in local prostitutes.[5] By de Sade's twenties, brothels were warned not to let him take prostitutes off the property, and on one occasion, he forced a prostitute to listen to his arguments in favor of atheism for an entire night. The following day, she had him arrested.[2]

In 1768, de Sade became the center of a scandal and was marginalized by society when he hired a woman as a chambermaid, only to tie her up, cutting wounds in her, into which he poured hot wax.[2] As a result, his enraged mother-in-law had him imprisoned. He soon returned to his old ways, however, partying with ill-reputed women and at one point using the aphrodisiac Spanish fly on a group of prostitutes, leading to an accusation of poisoning and a death sentence. Fleeing to Italy, his effigy was executed in his absence.[5]

De Sade's infamy only spread when, in 1776, he hired a group of girls as well as one boy and subjected them to weeks of experimental orgies and deviance. In 1777, the father of one girl later tried to shoot him, but the gun misfired.[5] Later that year, de Sade was tricked into going to Paris to visit his mother, who he believed was ill, unaware of her death. He was imprisoned at the Château de Vincennes, where he met the Comte de Mirabeau; the two came to share a mutual hatred of one another.[2] Throughout his years in prison, de Sade wrote several works, almost all of which were regarded as obscene and were heavily censored.[1] The 120 Days of Sodom was inspired by his orgies,[3] while Justine was described by himself as being capable of "corrupting the devil".[5] Although he successfully appealed his own death sentence in 1778, he remained imprisoned and was transferred to the Bastille when Vincennes closed in 1784.[2] His incarceration there was luxurious, and he brought with him tapestries, perfumes, a full wardrobe, paintings and over a hundred books.[2]

De Sade in the Bastille

When taking walks during his time there, he disturbed the public, and was forbidden from this activity. He then began shouting from his cell window that the prisoners were being killed by the guards,[2] at one occasion being nude while doing so. When Arno Dorian was imprisoned at the Bastille in May 1789, de Sade took note of the young man, keeping his eye on him the following two years.[4] On 4 July, de Sade was transferred to the Charenton asylum, missing the storming of the Bastille and beginning of the French Revolution by ten days. At the time, he had been working on his manuscript of The 120 Days of Sodom, and believed it was lost during the transfer.[2]

Political career and Roi des Thunes

"You can charge in there, cause a great disturbance, and send all the rats scurrying back to their holes. Or you can disappear into the swarm, and follow the rats back to their king. Either way, that man has lost a foot. [...] I've had my eye on you for some time now, Arno. I feel it my sovereign duty to aid all those who suffered in cruelest bondage with me at the Bastille. And I have a vested interest in seeing the King of Rats caught in a trap. As to my name, I have the pleasure of being Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade. Do pay me a visit when you have tired of chasing vermin."
―De Sade upon meeting Arno, 1791.[src]

In 1790, de Sade was released from prison. Sensing the change that had followed the revolution, he renounced his title and was elected to the National Convention,[4] where he represented the far left. He named himself "Citizen de Sade" and later became a supporter of the republic for a time.[2]

By January 1791, de Sade prepared to take over the slum known as the Cour des Miracles by orchestrating the death of its leader, the Roi des Thunes, or King of Beggars. Arno, who had become an Assassin by now, had been sent by the Assassin Council to kill the Roi des Thunes for the latter's role in the murder of François de la Serre. As the Assassin arrived, he witnessed the King's henchman, Aloys la Touche, having a beggar's leg amputated. Before Arno could stop the amputation by attacking la Touche, de Sade told him of how beggars had limbs amputated to make more money for their leader. He then advised him to tail the henchman to the latter's hideout and thus learn the Roi des Thunes' location, before introducing himself to Arno, revealing how he had watched him for a time and had an interest in seeing the Roi des Thunes "caught in a trap".[4]

De Sade in his new "kingdom"

Arno proved successful in killing the Roi des Thunes, and de Sade took over the position immediately. As Arno returned, he criticized de Sade for taking advantage of him to eliminate the King and take power, although the new leader reminded him that they had both accomplished their goals. Arno then told de Sade that he had learned little more about de la Serre's murder, to which the Marquis showed him a Templar pin given to him by one of his new "subjects". The Assassin informed de Sade that such a pin had been used to kill de la Serre, and pressed him for more information. The Marquis relented, and told Arno that the pin was made by François-Thomas Germain, a silversmith based in Les Halles.[4]

Sometime later, de Sade asked Arno to kill a rival of his named Grignon, who owned a string of brothels in the Cour des Miracles and was known to impose horrible working conditions on his girls, but was also well-guarded. Grignon' death would improve the girls' life and increase his influence at the same time. De Sade later was charged with moderatism and prosecuted by Antoine Fouquier-Tinville, but avoided guillotine thanks to Arno stealing the judicial order for his execution. Grignon's death made his allies become more reckless, and de Sade easily took over his businesses through blackmail.[4]

Nicolas de Condorcet's manuscript and later life

Believed to be dead by the French authorities, de Sade resided in Saint-Denis. In 1794, after Nicolas de Condorcet's death, de Sade took an interest in his manuscript and contacted Arno in Saint-Denis to find it, in exchange for a ship that would take Arno to Egypt. Arno later delivered the manuscript, but decided to stay in France.[6] In 1801, de Sade was arrested once again on the orders of Napoleon Bonaparte and sent to prison, where he remained until his death in 1814.[1]

Personality and characteristics

De Sade was a proponent of extreme freedom, unrestrained by morality, religion or law. He was a noticeably flamboyant, eccentric and hedonistic man. As a libertine, de Sade had no moral qualms, and hence embraced a criminal lifestyle. His time in prison did nothing to reform him, and he even made a mockery of it by feigning insanity.

De Sade was also a passionate and gifted writer, philosopher, and spoke very eloquently and metaphorically. Despite his charm and charisma, his personality could be seen as lecherous and obnoxious, particularly to Arno Dorian and Élise de la Serre. His mastery of deception, political thought and gaslighting has gotten him out of being killed by his enemies and even procured blackmail on them for his own usage.