Emer De VattelEmer De Vattel

Born in 1714 in the Prussian Neuchâtel, Emer de Vattel grew up in an old and traditional family. He was schooled by his father, a reverend, who later in life was ennobled by the Prussian king. As a young adult, Vattel moved to Basel in order to attend university and pursue his interests in classical and humanistic studies. In 1733, he moved to Geneva to follow in his father’s footsteps and study theology. However, philosophy and metaphysics seem to have left a big impression on him and prompted a change of heart. A student of Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui (1694 – 1748), he came in contact with the ideas and works of Christian Wolff (1679 – 1754) and Gottfried Leibniz (1646 – 1716), the latter of which inspired Vattel’s first widely read article ‘Défense du système Leibnizien’. In 1742, monetary constraints caused Vattel to travel to Berlin in the hope of entering the services of Frederick II, King of Prussia. However, no suitable position was found for him there. Hence, Vattel, still spurred on by his financial situation, left Berlin in order to try his luck with the rivalling power of King Frederick II. He was warmly welcomed in Dresden, where he accepted a post with Heinrich, Count von Brühl, close advisor and later prime minister of Augustus III, King of Poland, Elector of Saxony and Grand Duke of Lithuania. Shortly after his move to Dresden, Vattel was forced to move back to Switzerland due to personal reasons and was awarded the title of ‘conseiller d’ambassade’ and later on ‘ministre accrédité’ of Augustus III to Berne. Here, he wrote among other works his principal publication ‘The Law of Nations’, published in 1758. One year later, Vattel was appointed Privy Councillor to Augustus III, a position which allowed him to be actively involved in the shaping of foreign policy amidst the turmoil of the Seven Years’ War (1756 – 1763). In 1766, Vattel was forced to give up his diplomatic position due to health reasons; he passed away in Switzerland on 28 December 1767.


  • Good, C., ‘Emer de Vattel (1714 – 1767) – Naturrechtliche Ansätze einer Menschenrechtsidee und des humanitären Völkerrechts im Zeitalter der Aufklärung’ (Zürich and St. Gallen: Dike Verlag, 2011) p. xx.
  • Haggenmacher, P., ‘Le modèle de Vattel et la discipline du droit international’ in V.  Chetail and P. Haggenmacher (eds.), Vattel’s International Law in a XXIst Century Perspective (Leiden NL: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2009) pp. 3-48.

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