Jean Jacques Rousseau, political theorist, father of the French Revolution, creator of the first autobiography and pioneer conservationist spent time in the Moorlands.
Rousseau was born in Geneva in 1712. His mother died in childbirth and he had a very difficult childhood. He came to writing late and achieved fame in an essay that promoted the notion of the “noble savage”.
A principle target was the Catholic Church, which he accused of supporting tyranny. He particularly criticised the role that religion had in educating the young. These sentiments bought the wrath of the Church down on his head in his adopted country France.
His house was attacked by a mob and he had no choice but to become a refugee. The agent for achieving this rescue was the philosopher David Hume who met Rousseau in Paris. Hume made the arrangements for Rousseau’s move to Britain. The journey was incident packed, foolishly he allowed his mistress the sexually insatiable Madame Levasser to travel later with the philanderer biographer Boswell.
He was offered the use of Wotton Hall, which offered him the rural tranquillity that he sought.
Philosopher, mistress and Sultan the dog all arrived in Staffordshire in late March 1766. He instantly fell in love with the area.
His wandering figure was a strange sight for Moorlanders. William Howitt in “Visits to Remarkable Places” published in 1841 reported him dressed in Armenian cloak, a furred cap and long stripped robe. The locals 80 years on recalled the strange figure that some thought was an exiled potentate.
“ What owd Ross Hall? Ay know him I did, well enough ah’ve seen him monny a tarm, every dee comin and gooin ins hays comical cap and ploddy gown.”
His mistress however was complaining in the manner of a modern day WAG found shops of Ashbourne unworthy of her custom.
Eventually having to endure another cold spring at Wotton, Rousseau whose mental instability had been exacerbated by the sour feelings that his mistress had for the area. They left in May 1767; he distributed his clothes amongst the poor. He continued to correspond with his Staffordshire friends for years after. He died in 1778. In 1794 at the height of the Revolution his body was exhumed and he lies in the Pantheon in Paris, a city he despised in life.