Improbable Patriot

The Secret History of Monsieur de Beaumarchais, the French Playwright Who Saved the American Revolution

Harlow Giles Unger

Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais was an eighteenth-century French inventor, famed playwright, and upstart near-aristocrat in the court of King Louis XVI. In 1776, he conceived an audacious plan to send aid to the American rebels. What’s more, he convinced the king to bankroll the project, and singlehandedly carried it out. By war’s end, he had supplied Washington’s army with most of its weapons and powder, though he was never paid or acknowledged by the United States. To some, he was a dashing hero—a towering intellect who saved the American Revolution. To others, he was pure rogue—a double-dealing adventurer who stopped at nothing to advance his fame and fortune. In fact, he was both, and more: an advisor to kings, an arms dealer, and author of some of the most enduring works of the stage, including The Marriage of Figaro and The Barber of Seville.

Cover Image of Improbable Patriot: The Secret History of Monsieur de Beaumarchais
Cloth: $26.95 | E-book: $9.99
ISBN-13: 9781584659259
Pages: 260 | Size: 6 in. x 9 in.
Date Published: September 13, 2011


  • This delightful rogue of many talents set up a company to front for the French and Spanish regimes secretly supplying weapons, munitions, clothing and food to the struggling rebels.

    American History
  • The author of this book brings the secret life of Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais into vivid relief with this well-written, engaging, and fast-paced tour de force.

    The Historian
  • Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais-perhaps France’s greatest playwright, editor of the works of Voltaire, master of the dramatic farce and father of musical comedy, creator of the immortal Figaro-said ‘the greatest act of my life’ was supplying Americans with the weapons that won their independence. Harlow Unger tells the story of Beaumarchais-playwright and patriot-bringing to life the tumultuous age of revolution.

    Robert J. Allison
    author of The American Revolution: A Concise History
  • With wit and insight, Harlow Unger explores the question of whether Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais was a rogue or a hero by demonstrating he was more than a little of both.

    Thomas Fleming

About the Author

HARLOW GILES UNGER was the 2008 Distinguished Visiting Fellow in American History at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. A veteran journalist, broadcaster, educator, and historian, he is author of sixteen books, including five biographies of America’s Founders.

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