Leading lights included the historian/philosopher/writer François-Marie Arouet. When imprisoned in the Bastille he adopted the nom-de-plume of Voltaire. He had a spat with a young French noble and had found himself the victim of a royal lettre de cachet, he was imprisoned without a trial and with no right to defend himself. Naturally, his writing in many genres advocated more freedoms and the separation of the state and religion.
He was in exile in England in the 1720s where he studied the English scene and its thinkers, even attended the funeral of Sir Isaac Newton; who he indicated had shaped some of his thinking. On his return to France he wrote ‘Lettres philosophiques sur les Anglais’, Philosophical Letters on the English, in which he presented the English Monarchy as more advanced than the French, more considerate of human rights. The book was burned and banned, Voltaire had to hurriedly leave Paris.
He spent fifteen years in a relationship with the Marquise du Châtelet, Gabrielle Émilie le Tonnelier de Breteuil, who herself was a thinker/writer, published as Émilie du Châtelet. They collected over 20,000 books and explored history, philosophy, metaphysics…
His thoughts were well aired internationally, meeting many times with Frederic the Great and later living in Geneva greeting many august visitors – James Boswell, Edward Gibbon, Adam Smith… Shortly before his death he was inducted in to Freemasonry, accompanied to the ceremony by Benjamin Franklin.