About Emilie du Chatelet

Emilie du Chatelet was born Gabrielle-Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, but her family called her Gabrielle-Émilie. She was born in Paris, France on December 17th, 1706. Emilie’s father, Louis Nicolas Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, was an official in the court of Louis XIV. Her mother, Gabrielle Anne de Froulay had been raised in a convent and was the second wife to de Breteuil, they married in 1697. de Breteuil had a large house in Paris, an apartment with 30 rooms and 17 servants, as well as land in Touraine.

Of Emilie’s childhood Voltaire wrote, “From her most tender childhood, her mind was nourished by reading good authors in more than one language. She started a translation of the Aeneid and I have seen several sections of this filled with the spirit of the author. Later she learnt Italian and English; Tasso and Milton were as familiar to her as Virgil. She made less progress in Spanish, because she was told that there is only one famous book in that language and that this book is frivolous.” (L Morland (ed.), Voltaire, Oeuvres complètes (1879) from O’Connor and Robertson Chatelet Biography, para. 4).

During her formative childhood years, it quickly became clear that Emilie was gifted in academics. She was adept at learning languages, becoming fluent in Latin, Italian and English. In addition she studied Cicero, Tasso, Milton and Virgil, but her true passion was around mathematics.  She poured over the writings of Descartes. Her parents entertained quite frequently in their Paris home, so there was opportunity for her to meet and speak with mathematicians and scientists at length—and she did.

At the age of sixteen, Emilie was introduced to the court at Versailles.  It has been said that she was very fond of the glamour and nobility found at the court. On June 20, 1725 she was married to Marquis Florent-Claude Chastellet. He was a wealthy military man, which meant that he spent much of his time away from his wife.  The change in the spelling of the last name from Chastellet to Chatelet was introduced by Voltaire and had become standard. Emilie had many suitors and she found du Chatelet to be the most acceptable.  They had a daughter, Françoise Gabriel Pauline, born June 30, 1726, then a son, Louis Marie Florent, born November 20, 1727. In April, 1733, Emilie had a second son, but he died in September 1734.

Emilie’s Accomplishments in Science



  1. Marisa said,


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  5. Susan Smith said,

    Hard to imagine that a well written account of an amazingly brilliant woman could attract 4 comments from braincell-challenged trolls.

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