Napoleon Series Archive 2015

Re: Macdonald's reliability.
In Response To: Re: Macdonald's reliability. ()

Kevin,
I am naturally aware aof all those points. To save myself time, this is an excerpt from my account of this episode.

"The circumstances of Macdonald's appointment need to be looked at closely because there has been considerable controversy over them. It was a natural assumption that due to Eugene's inexperience Macdonald had been sent out to guide him and, as it happened, the army of Italy had been defeated before his arrival which coincided with the improvement in its fortunes. It was also natural that historians writing after Eugene's early death in 1824 should tend to give much of the credit for the campaign to Macdonald who was alive and high in public opinion; in the 1850s the great historian Thiers, in his History of the Consulate and Empire was responsible for confirming this myth for Thiers had had access to Macdonald's unpublished memoirs and had made the mistake of taking them at face value. Eugene had however, left family and friends who resented any slight to his memory and made this clear in print. When Du Casse came to write the memoirs and correspondence of Eugene he made use of the writings of Eugene's supporters and attacked Thiers' version aggressively – while insisting he was not trying to denigrate Macdonald. In 1984 Robert M Epstein published a book 'Prince Eugene at War 1809' which did denigrate Macdonald: Epstein had the advantage of having read the Souvenirs which gave him more material."

"The idea that Macdonald was intended to supervise Eugene was current at the time, as will be seen in later quotes. Macdonald himself did not say this only I learned later that, after reading the despatch, the Emperor had sent for the courier who brought it and asked whether he had met me, and if so, whereabout. “Near Verona,” answered the messenger. “That is all right,” replied the Emperor. I had not seen this courier, but was flattered by the reply, as it showed that the Emperor relied upon me to restore affairs in Italy. The anecdote cannot be corroborated and it should be said that Napoleon's later letters to Eugene told him to send for Murat (then king of Naples) and give him the command. However, when Napoleon had tried to get Joseph to employ Macdonald it was for the reason that 'You have no-one around you who is accustomed to great affairs'; given Eugene's objections to being supervised he may have thought better of writing the same to him but he must have been well aware that, once in place, nothing would stop Macdonald from giving Eugene advice."

"There can be no doubt that Eugene commanded in this campaign independently (apart from the Emperor's instructions) and that he proved himself a competent commander and also that he was to gain great credit for his abilities and character in the campaigns of 1812 and 1813. Macdonald never said otherwise but since his version of events in the Souvenirs tended to play up Eugene's inexperience and his own, rather patronising, good advice It can easily be read as Macdonald trying to take all the credit for himself. I think this is a misreading: Macdonald was not writing campaign history, he was writing his memories of events and these naturally placed him at the centre. Whether what he wrote can always be justified is to be considered but it is quite erroneous to suggest, as Epstein does, that Macdonald wrote 'for the purposes of self-aggrandisement. Naturally he belittled the role of any rival.' In 1840 a historian named Dérode wrote to Macdonald, sending him his latest work and telling him he had been appointed by Eugene's family to write his biography. Macdonald's reply was unequivocal : Courcelles 22.4.40 'I congratulate you on the new success of this writing which has procured you the trust of casting light on the history of a prince as distinguished as valiant, the viceroy of Italy, of whom for my part I have had much to praise, and I hasten to assure you that it will be with as much pleasure as promptness that I will confide to you his letters and my registers that I have carefully preserved.' If Dérode's book was ever published it does not appear to have been a success, I have seen no-one quoting from it, and it seems unlikely that either Thiers or Du Casse would have written as they did had they read it. "

I hope this covers most of the points.

Susan

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Macdonald's reliability.
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Esposito/Elting Atlas
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Epstein's reliability.
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Epstein's conclusions re MacDonald
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Self serving? - Service Record
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Some further referencing required ...
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Refernce for Clarke's recommendation
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MacDonald's service and promotion at Wagram
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Jean-Jacques Germain Pelet-Clozeau
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Reliability of Pelet's conclusions ...
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Horward's views ..
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MacDonald
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