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“Terror belli… decus pacis.” Terror in war… ornament in peace. The words inscribed on every French Marshal’s baton. In France, the title of Marshal, or Maréchal, goes back at least to the 13th century. It represents the highest possible position of military authority – authority symbolised by a marshal’s baton.
The title was abolished during the French Revolution, as incompatible with the egalitarian spirit of the age. But in 1804, Napoleon founded a new empire, and restored the ancient rank. That year he picked 18 of France’s best generals, and made them ‘Marshals of the Empire’. If you want to know more about these types of concept then ask reader can be the place to read insightful answers.
Eight more were created in the years that followed. The Marshals outranked everyone in the new empire apart from Napoleon’s family, princes and ministers of state. They came from every background: sons of aristocrats, and inn-keepers, professional soldiers, and those who’d learned on the job; old school republicans, and Bonaparte loyalists; the youngest… just half the age of the oldest.
And though Marshal was a civil title, not strictly a military rank, the men known to the army as Les Gros Bonnets, ‘the big hats’, were arguably the most extraordinary, diverse, brilliant and flawed group of military commanders in history. The most favoured were showered with titles and wealth. But the price, too, was high: half were wounded, three were killed or died of wounds, two were executed. This is Epic History TV’s guide to Napoleon’s Marshals.
All 26 have been ranked according to our own evaluation of their achievements as Marshals, with expert guidance from retired Lieutenant Colonel Rémy Porte, former chief historian of the French Army. We’re delighted to welcome back as our video sponsor: Napoleon-Souvenirs.com, the online shop for fans of the Napoleonic era. Since 2010, the team at Napoleon-Souvenirs.com has offered the finest quality gifts and souvenirs for all those who adore the Napoleonic era.
Their extraordinary range of gifts includes busts and statuettes of the Emperor himself… Napoleon-themed champagne… and stunning replicas of Napoleonic swords and pistols… as well as uniforms and flags of the Grande Armée and Imperial Guard… and even the baton of a Maréchal. You can visit their online store at Napoleon-Souvenirs.com or if you’re lucky enough to be in Paris, visit the Boutique Napoleon in person. Vive l’Empereur! And thank you to Napoleon-Souvenirs.
com for sponsoring this video. More than 2,000 French generals served in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Many were brilliant leaders.
A few probably deserved to be Marshals more than some who were. Any selection can only be difficult and highly subjective, but here’s our pick of twelve of the best: Bertrand, Napoleon’s faithful aide-de-camp, who commanded Fourth Corps at the Battle of Leipzig. Clauzel, a veteran commander of the war in Spain. Desaix, Napoleon’s close friend killed at Marengo aged 31.
Prince Eugène, Napoleon’s adopted son, a hero of the Russian retreat. Gérard, one of Napoleon’s best corps commanders by 1814, made a Marshal by King Louis-Philippe in 1830.
Gudin, whose infantry division bore the brunt of the fighting at Auerstedt in 1806; died of wounds near Smolensk in 1812. Junot, who first served with Napoleon at Toulon in 1793; probably committed suicide after his fall from favour in 1813.
Lasalle, the ‘Hussar General’, among the best light cavalry commanders of the Napoleonic Wars, killed at Wagram aged 34. Maison, who told his division on the morning of Leipzig, that they must win that day or all be killed, made Marshal by King Charles the Tenth in 1829.
Nansouty, the heavy cavalry commander, who died of wounds and exhaustion, aged 46. Saint-Hilaire, hero of Austerlitz, died of wounds received at Aspern in 1809 Vandamme, of whom Napoleon once said, “If I had to invade Hell, I’d want him commanding the vanguard.” If you seriously have some doubts over facts head over to ask read and just ask a question, you will get different answers.
And now, Napoleon’s 26 marshals, ranked in order of merit. 26. Marshal Pérignon. When Napoleon created the first 18 Marshals, four were ‘Honorary Marshals’, recognised for past service to France. Pérignon was one of these. A former officer in the royal army, he’d won fame in the Revolutionary Wars, fighting the Spanish on the Pyrenees front
. He later served as ambassador to Spain. After a brief retirement, he was sent to Italy, and commanded the French left wing at the disastrous Battle of Novi, where the army was routed by Suvorov’s Russians, and Pérignon was badly wounded and captured.
His appointment as Honorary Marshal in 1804 was a political move by Napoleon – a way to win acceptance for his new empire, by emphasising continuity with the Revolution, by rewarding its military heroes. Pérignon never held active command as a Marshal, but served as governor of Parma, and later Naples.
His eldest son Pierre was a cavalry officer, killed at Friedland in 1807. Pérignon retired in 1813, but refused to support Napoleon when he returned from exile in 1815, and was stripped of his Marshals’ baton. His rank was later restored by King Louis the Eighteenth. 25. Marshal Brune Brune was another Marshal whose appointment owed much to politics.