Richard Cantillon

Richard Cantillon (Ballyheigue, Co. Kerry, 1680s – London, 1734 (?)) was a banker, wine merchant and economist who disappeared in mysterious circumstances in London after having made a fortune from financial speculation in Paris.

In the first decade of the 18th century, Cantillon was sent to Paris to join his second cousin, also called Richard. The latter was a banker, whose clientele was largely composed of expatriate Jacobins, including King James III. In 1711-1713, Cantillon worked for the British army paymaster in Barcelona, but by 1714 he was back in Paris, living with his second cousin and namesake ‘at the sign of the Cheval Noir’  in the rue des Mauvaises Paroles in the parish of St. Germain l’Auxerrois in the 1st arrondissement.

 Rue de l'Arbre Sec and...   
 ...Rue de la Bûcherieold street signs
In 1716, Cantillon took over and expanded his cousin’s banking business. He also worked as a wine trader, dealing extensively with wine merchant Thomas Walsh in Bordeaux and a certain Sarsfield in Rouen. In 1722, he married Mary Anne O’Mahony, orphaned daughter of count Daniel O’Mahony, a war hero and fellow Kerryman. In the late 1720s, Cantillon bought his wife a substantial property composed of five sets of buildings at the junction of the rue de la Bûcherie and the rue des Trois Portes, close to the Seine in the 5
th arrondissement, perhaps for her to rent out. By this stage, Cantillon (along with a number of other shadowy Irish speculators based in France) had made an immense fortune speculating on the infamous ‘Mississippi Scheme' concocted by John Law, who later threatened Cantillon with legal proceedings.
 Mary Anne O'Mahony

Proof of Cantillon’s new wealth and importance can be inferred from his renting of the hotel d'Angivilliers (demolished in 1854) in the prestigious rue de la Monnaie (1st arrondissement) at a rent of 3,200 livres per annum from Sept. 1718. Cantillon made a second fortune speculating in South Sea Company shares in 1720 before that bubble also burst. He left France from 1720 to 1727, in part to avoid paying taxes. But in December 1728, Cantillon—by that stage back in the French capital—had to face charges of theft of assets deposited with him and concealment of accounts. He was arrested in the rue de l’Arbre Sec (1st arrondissement) at the corner of rue Bétisy (street no longer exists) and brought to prison for a few hours. Once released, according to biographer Anton Murphy, a livid Cantillon tracked down and abused the archers who had arrested him in Pautrat’s tavern in the rue de l’Arbre Sec.

However, Cantillon’s Paris days were coming to an end. He eventually fled criminal proceedings in 1733, settling in London instead. A year later, he died when his house burned down. An investigation found that he had been murdered by his French cook, who Cantillon had just sacked. But Murphy suggests that the body discovered in the house might not have been that of Cantillon. Murphy surmises that he used the fire as “a cover to depart from European society”, with a mysterious Chevalier de Louvigny turning up in Surinam with a lot of Richard Cantillon’s documents six months after the latter’s supposed demise.
 Rue de l'Arbre Sec in the 19th century

For all his success during his Paris years, Cantillon seems to have lived and operated in a remarkably narrow parameter in the 1st arrondissement, between les Halles and the Louvre. Rue des Mauvaises Paroles (street no longer exists), rue de la Monnaie (or la Monnoie), and Cantillon’s abode after his return in 1727, rue de la Grenelle Saint-Honoré (street partially destroyed, remainder renamed rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau), are/were all within a short walk of each other. Fortunately, Charles Marville managed to photograph many of these streets in the middle of the 19th century before they disappeared under Haussmann.

Plenty of other Cantillons, perhaps related in one way or another to Richard, crop up in French history in the 18th and 19th century. We find one—a former NCO in the Imperial army and convinced Bonapartist—accused of plotting to assassinate the Duke of Wellington at the latter’s house on the Champs Elysées in February 1818. This particular Cantillon was acquitted…and awarded 10,000 francs in Napoleon’s will.

Select Bibliography
Richard Cantillon, Entrepreneur and Economist (1986)
Antoin Murphy