To reach the rank of Marshal in the French army before the Revolution (q.v.) was the highest achievement for a soldier. After the Revolution however, the rank was dismissed as ‘elitist’, only to be re-installed again in 1804 by Napoleon Bonaparte. It is said Bonaparte did this in an attempt to re-construct a system of honours (which was elitist) in France. The Emperor appointed 26 Marshals between 1804 and 1815. Where two of them are especially of interest to General – History, I have formed brief biographies.
Augereau, Pierre F.C. (1757-1816) appointed May, 1804; became Duc de Castiglione.
Bernadotte, Jean-Baptiste (1763-1844) app. May, 1804; became King of Sweden under the name of Charles XIV.
Berthier, Louis-Alexandre (1753-1815) app. May, 1804; perhaps murdered, or killed himself.
Bessieres, Jean-Baptiste (1763-1813) app. May, 1804; became Duc de d’Istrie, killed in battle.
Brune, Guillaume (1763-1815) app. May, 1804; murdered.
Davout, Louis (1770-1823) app. May, 1804; became Prince de Eckmuhl and Duc d’Auerstadt.
St. Cyr, Laurent (1764-1830) app. August, 1812; became Marquis de St. Cyr: gave his name to France’s military academy.
Grouchy, Emmanuel, Marquis de (1766-1847) app.June, 1815. Stayed alive and a Marquis.
Jourdan, Jean-Baptiste (1762-1833) app. May, 1844; vanished from sight.
Kellerman, François (1735-1820) app.May, 1804; became Duc de Valmy.
Lannes, Jean (1769-1809) app. May, 1804; killed in battle.
Lefebre, François (1755-1820) app. May, 1804; became Duc de Danzig.
Macdonald, Jacques E. J. (1765-1840) app. July, 1809; became Duc de Tarente.
Marmont, Auguste F.V. de (1774-1852) app. July, 1809; became Duc de Raguse.
Massena, André (1758-1817) app. May, 1804; became Prince d’Essling and Duc de Rivoli.
Moncey, Bon Adrien J. de (1754-1842) app. May, 1804; became Duc de Conegliano.
Mortier, Adolphe (1754-1842) app. May, 1804; became Duc de Trevise.
Murat, Joachim (1767-1815) app. May, 1804; became King of Naples and Grand Duke of Berg: (shot by a firing squad after Waterloo).
Ney, Michel (1869-1815) app.May, 1804; became Prince de la Moskowa and Duc d’Elchingen: (shot by firing squad after Waterloo)
Oudinot, Nicolas (1767-1847) app. July, 1809; became Duc de Reggio.
Perignon, Dominique (1754-1818) app.May, 1804; became Marquis de Perignon.
Poniatowski, Josef, Prince de (1763-1813) app.October, 1813; drowned in battle.
Serurier, Jean M. (1742-1819) app. May, 1804; vanished from sight.
Soult, Nicolas (1769-1851) app. May, 1804; became Duc de Dalmatie.
Suchet, Louis G. (1770-1826) app. July, 1811; became Duc de Albufuera.
Victor, Claude (1764-1841) app. July, 1807; became Duc de Bellune.
Bloggers may note that Bonaparte created eighteen marshals in the month of May, 1804, a sinister augury for eight of them. All the marshals were born between 1757 and 1764, but most survived only to middle age: two of the greatest, Murat and Ney, were executed by the French.
Joachim Murat was born in 1767, the son of an innkeeper. He knew Napoleon from the early days, helping to suppress the Vendémiarie Rising of 1795. In the first Italian campaign and subsequent Egyptian campaign he became rightly famous as a cavalry commander. It was Murat who led the soldiers that carried out the coup d’etat which established Napoleon, whose sister he married in 1800. He was promoted Marshal in that year of ill-luck for so many marshals – 1804. In 1808 he established an evil reputation with the Spanish people as a result of his savage repressions in Madrid. Soon afterwards Napoleon made him King of Naples.
As King he continued to serve the French in the Army, leading the cavalry with his customary zest in Russia. He was present at the Battle of Leipzig. He tried to persuade the Allies to let him keep his Neapolitan throne in 1814, but failed. When the ex-Emperor escaped from Elba, it was Murat who tried (and again failed) to rouse the Italians into forming an army to assist Bonaparte to regain his Empire. He was present at Waterloo (1815), fighting for Napoleon, but was captured after the defeat, court-martialled by the French (who were heartily sick of Bonaparte anyway) and shot by a firing squad in October. It was end he did not deserve, as he believed in Napoleon, and always fought for France, as a patriot.
Michel Ney was the son of a man who makes barrels and casks – a cooper. He won distinction as a light cavalry commander before 1800, and became a Marshal in that gloomy year of 1804 (see above). Napoleon made him ‘The Bravest of the Brave’ after the Battle of Friedland.
At Borodino he again exhibited superb courage, and the Emperor made him Prince of the Moskowa, but after the Retreat of Moscow he seemed to lose her verve: in the campaigns at Leipzig it seemed to the French as if he had lost the thread. In 1814 he stayed in the French Army at the request of the installed King Louis XVIII, but as soon as Napoleon left Elba, Ney re-joined him, making himself officially a deserter. He fought like a demon at Waterloo, but the Napoleonic Wars were lost, and he was caught, court-martialled, and (though Louis XVIII objected) shot by a firing squad. Again, this was an ignominious end for a great soldier.