Research Subjects: Biographies

An Economic Discrepancy in the 1809 Austrian Campaign: the Scratched Price of Titled Glory

By: Roberto A. Scattolin, Italy


In the year 1809, Masséna returned to active military service – that was a tormented time period in European history, and opened a new front of military confrontation against the forces of the Fifth Coalition. Austria alone was fighting the mighty threat of quite uninterrupted French hegemony over most part of the Continental countries. When the French vanguard reached the Danube River, it was cut off and almost isolated. Facing untold strategic difficulties, Masséna led the troops of the 4th Army corps at the contest of Aspern-Essling. Because of his dogged determination and extraordinary efforts during this tought-contested clash, and on the field at Wagram (5-6 July), he was rewarded by the honorific title: Prince of Essling.

The Italian historian’s most recent contribution to the field of Napoleonic studies offers a richly detailed research, a vivid picture of the personal experience and mentality of one prominent French general officer during the Danubian campaign (1809). This scholarly paper examines the formative psychological experience of a man, a soldier, and the incident and physical hardships of the lives some civilians endured following in his track at the Battle of Wagram. The acquisition of historical data particularly draws on the Mémoires of a resourceful and talented French officer named Jean-Baptiste-Antoine-Marcellin de Marbot (he was born in the castle of La Rivière, at Altillac, Correze, August 18, 1782- Paris, November 16, 1854), and on his narrative and cultural practices – related to the preservation of the glorious past of the Empire napoléonien.

However, not limited to the aforementioned source, the strict analysis of the exposed facts offers a multi-dimensional perspective and a fuller comprehension on the experience of warfare, which, at the distance of years, is from broader and more familiar historical narratives. The view is accurate; no exaggerated rhetoric nor Napoleonic cult of the personality. Only the experience of the people who themselves participated in the action.

Masséna was not that highly experienced veteran as to inspire benevolence and feelings of acquiescence. A few associates thought him to be brilliant and a supposedly reputed soldier of the French Army. Imbued with a multi-faceted personality, his long-lasting military career was far-reaching and adventurous to an extreme. Views about his military qualities as well as his moral weaknesses were raised: from childish uncritical acceptance and admiration, to animosity and acrimony for a creature full of avarice and lust.

A couple of centuries later, whatever holds true is that two conflicted visions are standing: one conforms to sheer idealization, in the style of a fable, varnished of pseudo-aristocratic sophistry and claims of grandeur; the other, that resonates powerfully in the XXIst Century postmodernity, relies instead on purely historic, on the reported French eye-witnessed accounts, so very upsetting on Masséna’s character and on his real nature, as a man and military professional. This study is not concerned with any kind of judgement (that is God’s realm); it aims to present original pieces of information and the consequential analysis one draws from them, a restitutio in integrum taken from the historical sources.

Therefore, this investigation strives to convey to modern history buffs and scholars what it was really like to have served under Masséna during the momentous period of the Austrian campaign. The narration provides the reader with an account of the highest points of Masséna’s career: the first week of July 1809 – a time of extensive meaning, well beyond the inherent complexities of strategy and military operations.

Memory of a time

Masséna – "Général  d’ un rare courage et d’ une tenacité si remarquable, dont le talent croissait par l’ excès du péril et qui, vaincu, était toujours prêt à recommencer comme s’ il eût été vainqueur. C’ était néanmoins un voleur […] et c’ eût été un grand homme, si ses qualités brillantes n’ eussent été ternies par l’ avarice ".

Napoléon Bonaparte.

In: Las Cases: Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène.

Trsl.: "General of a rare courage and of a tenacity so remarkable, of which the talent grew by the excess of peril and that, won, was always ready to start again as if he had been victorious. He was nonetheless a thief  […] and he would have been a great man, if his brilliant qualities had not been tarnished by avarice".

Documentary piece

"As I have told you, the injury to his leg caused by the fall from his horse at Lobau had compelled Masséna to use a carriage at the battle of Wagram and the subsequent actions".

Comment: This first phrase, a linear sentence counting thirty-five words, apparently makes for easy reading and seems very simple of phase. It is semantically descriptive, very clear and defined in its essential specifications and grammatical construction.

The period begins with a “narrative past” conjugated in the verbal form of Present Perfect – As I have told you –, which conveniently leads to further investigation through the previous narrative passages of Marbot’s extensively compiled Memoir.

Delving deeper in order to enhance the process of intelligibility of this histoire événemetielle (i.e. facts-based history), prompts the reader to page 232[1] thus leading to an adequate analytic understanding of the line.

The subject of the historic action is pointed out: a man, one prominent, distinguished personality of French Army fame, a high-ranking General-officer, more: monsieur le Maréchal d’ Empire Masséna.[2] The event, an impromptu accident, is circumscribed by three essential identification coefficients: the Aristotelian units of time, space, action.

The form of the narration and its unity, are provided by the plait and in the χρόνος [i.e. cronos]-tòpoi; its fluency, corresponding to the function aptly suited to this specific memory – Masséna’s accident at Lobau and his post-trauma behaviour –, continued to be the focus as the cornerstone.

To understand the reality of the present event, the relationship among the afore-cited theoretical rules of unity (determination in time, space, action) are necessary.

In each documentary source of the past communicated and formalized in a mémoire d’ épopée (i.e. memoir of the epoch), the literary representation can be an organic means of transposition, as if the fact was just happening à la nature (i.e. in nature).

Unit of time: July, 1809; unit of space: Austria; unit of action: military campaign of 1809, Lobau Island (Vienna).[3]

This detailed auxiliary information forms the pillars on which the narrative episode is based. It is evident that the sentence contains one singularly presented fact.

The causal motivation of the physical injury of one lower limb suffered by Masséna, which seemed to compromise his role, his executive functions, and his services à l’ armée (i.e. in the army): une chute de cheval (i.e. a fall down from the mount), is marginally mentioned,[4] but neither explained nor given the reasons why it so unexpectedly happened.[5] The consequences it engendered were the seemingly manifested immobility of the Marshal on the military operations against the Imperial forces of the Danubian monarchy.

The resolutions soon taken – by the Marshal –, or most importantly suggested by third parties – however were not better defined.

There is anyhow fairly certain that the decisions were taken within the innermost circle (i.e. circle, a strict figurative meaning for party, group) of the subordinates, consequentially from the entourage militaire (i.e. accompanying military suite) of his Staff. The prevailing solution in place of consultation – both medical, and military – was therefore not to leave the line of duty, but to remain as an exampled devotion in the operative theatre, making himself available, utilizing different means of transport.

This sound decision excluded for Masséna the free mobility of walking on foot, as well as horseback-riding; it consequently led to an expedient way out of this situation – certainly significant, and quickly pondering the necessary and demanding military tasks. To take over all the adversities and Masséna’s psychological state of passivity, the selected vehicle of locomotion was a wooden carriage.[6]  

"In the first instance artillery horses were to be harnessed to the carriage it was found that they were too long for the pole and not easy enough in their action, so four horses from the marshal’s stable were substituted.

Two soldiers from the transport were to drive, and they were just getting into the saddle on the evening of July 4, when the marshal’s own coachman and postilion declared that as he was using his own horses it was their business to drive. No representation of the danger into which they were running could deter them from their purpose; the coachman got on the box and the postilion mounted just as if they were going for a drive  in the Bois de Boulogne".

Comment: To provide a wheeled vehicle for traversing the battlefield did not appear to be an insurmountable obstacle, but a shortage of horses prevented the prompt activation of this mean of transport.

It was dictated by necessity not to fall back on the choice of battle mounts, but on horses pas attelés (i.e. unharnessed) from the services d’ artillerie (i.e. artillery services) of the French army.

Difficulties were soon met at hand by the équipe (i.e. serving-team) which had taken hard-responsibility for this project – to restore the Marshal’s strategic supervising role.

Some observations denote that the coach was a horse-drawn carriage, with four wheels, and front and back passengers seats that faced each other. No mention is provided as to whether there was a roof – an option not to be excluded –, probably in two sections which could either be lowered or detached.

The arrangements to have the wooden vehicle set in motion did not involve major complications or drawbacks of any sort.

In due time, some horses were brought to move the carriage quickly. Because the artillery mounts were unfitted to the length of the flèche (i.e. pole) – it was shorter than requested by the length of the mounts had to be changed.

A couple of tires à deux (i.e. two-in-hand) belonging to the Marshal’s écurie (i.e. stable) and own possessions were to replace them. That was an advantageous alternative, immediately forming a swift and tolerably acceptable attelage à quatre (i.e. four-in-hand).

The conducteurs du service du train (i.e. drivers of the wagons service), just a couple of fellows, were ordered to serve in this new kind of mission and responsibilities which they had been assigned.

On July 4, after a lively-hot entre-nous (i.e. between us), a new assignation was “suggested” as Masséna’s own cocher (i.e. coachman) and postillon (i.e. postilion) came “onto the scene of action”. The maison (i.e. household) of Marshal Masséna most probably was playing at the height of its reputation. In devotion and respect to their master and strictly conforming to the severity of the etiquette, et service (i.e. protocol, and modality of service), there followed an ostentatious display of gentlemanliness and fierceness à la campagne (i.e. in the field).

The reader can be remarkably struck by how well the two-men motivated alliance had chosen the right time and convenience for their disinterested display of talents – or was that a cunning and calculated behaviour to favourably impress the Marshal’s views? Have the postmodern history scholar and casual common reader alike to take any suspicious attitude on examining this textual matter? And when the reply they gave was that  “[…] it was their business to drive the Marshal’s mounts?

Their vigorous élan (i.e. dash) to face death was unparalleled. So the coachman took his siège (i.e. seat), and monsieur le postillon (an unnamed servant) did equally took his position [author: he was mounted on the first couple of horses, especially that on the left].

In addition, worth mentioning is that having a service-team merely composed by two persons was not an attelage à la d’ Aumont (i.e. a harness named à la d’ Aumont) [author: this is meant without the cocher, and with mounted postillons].

The whole choreographic effect was exhilarating, as monsieurs (aka the undaunted companions) had boarded the carriage and assumed postures as if they were in Paris, going for an outdoor drive in the famous Parisian western woods, Bois de Boulogne.

"The two brave servants were in constant danger for eight days, especially at Wagram, where many hundred men were killed close to the carriage, and at Guntersdorf, where the ball which struck the carriage went through the coachman’s overcoat, and another ball killed the horse under the postilion. Nothing seemed to frighten these two faithful attendants, whose devotion was admired by the whole army".

The aplomb (i.e. composure, equilibrium) of the attendants is very strange and rather unusual. Was that a pre-determined choice? What did they gain by recklessly and unnecessarily exposing themselves to the highest degree of danger? Because they did it? Stubbornness, to the detriment of their lives? Trying to imperil their own existences? Was it worth risking life for above and beyond the demands of professional duty and country? What did they propose to gain from this recklessness?

In the very beginning, at Lobau, their consistent spontaneity and consent was a distinct factor to be accounted for in their profession – at a later time, they appeared to have been “blocked” in greater development, a tremendous collision between the stoutly-disputing armies (French, Imperial forces); and the hindrances they came across the theatrum bellicum (i.e. theatre of operations) are not to be omitted from the strategy of the bloodily-fought engagement near Guntersdorf (Lower Austria).

One must take good notice of their deeds, and admit their behaviour was marked by firmness and by unthinking boldness – with a defiant disregard for danger or consequences under mowing enemy fire and the master manoeuvring valiantly carried out by the troops of the Habsburgs monarchy.

On further examination of the literary text, one is better able to comprehend that the civilian attendants could not have recognized the subsequent scale of military dynamics. It would have been incredible to have expected them to be in such a terrible position on the line of fire and performed bravely for survival. They played an integral part, for the art of survival.

If “Nothing seemed to frighten these two faithful attendants, whose devotion was admired by the whole army”, there is another point of observation which has to be considered. More than the conceptual significance of fidelity (indeed a bright mark), another evaluation to be taken into account is that of space – safe space. Considering that the purpose was to accompany Marshal Masséna throughout the contended battlefield, and that the conditions “of engagement” had now changed because of intense enemy attrition, the assignment (because it had really turned into a mission on the line of battle) was implied to safely keep the carriage out of imminent danger and prevent its exposure to the murderous enemy volleys and shots."
Marshal Massena at Wagram

What is not marginal, is in this case the purest probity to preserve human lives – a relevant circumstance which is in the actual state of things well in evidence. Consequentially, it was not a dedication to heroism, to the arms and filtered by the eyes of the military, but conduct strictly conforming to the “gift of intelligence” and saving their lives (Masséna, the coachman, and his unarmed colleague, the postilion; in addition to these two characters, there was one medical doctor named Brisset).

Undeniably, the trio of wonders was graced by a Supreme will. For sure, the attendants considered their formal duty not to vainly brave unexpected dangers, but could not escape their character of visibility; the carriage, being drawn by four white horses, became the optimum target of carefully executed enemy shellings.

All the French army could not restrain from thinking how long it would have taken the Öesterreichische artilleristen (Austrian gunners) to blow up such a visible target, that vehicle that was challenging their professional proficiency. Meanwhile, shots were pouring down into the compact infantry masses, inflicting horrible carnage.

However the conditions were staked against all odds, this represented a challenge against fate, but the time had not come for Masséna to end his days. What makes this fact “singular” is that it indeed represented a “public” event in the geography of Masséna’s destinée (i.e. destiny). This is the truest lesson beyond the facts to be learned.

"Even the Emperor complimented them, and observed once to Massena: “There are 300,000 combatants on the field; now do you know who are the two bravest? Your coachman and your postilion. For all the rest of us are here in pursuance of our duty, while these two men might have excused themselves from being exposed to death. Their merit is therefore greater than that of anyone else”. To the men themselves he called out: “You are two brave fellows!”. Napoleon would have certainly rewarded them, but he could only give them money, and he probably thought that this might offend Massena, in whose service the danger had been incurred, and, indeed, it was the marshal’s business, and all the more so that he had an enormous fortune; 200,000 francs as army leader, another 200,000 as Duke of Rivoli, and 500,000 as Prince of Essling. But for all that he allowed two months to pass without telling the men what he meant to do for them".

Comment: The Emperor Napoleon I had his eagle eye cast on the adventurous and tumultuous speeding of the calèche (i.e. carriage). In time, the mighty autocrat pronounced laudatory words (author: it was effectively an orally presented encomium) and showed his appreciation to the zealous self-abnegation of the civilian attendants.

In the later speech with Marshal Masséna it was interesting to note how Napoleon had unequivocally associated the two intrepid fellows to the military status, something comparable to the service régulier de ligne (i.e. regular service in the Line); further, he had deemed these braves worth of the 300,000 combatants hotly-engaged on the battlefield.

This hastily-thought comparison, palatable “fruit” of the enivrement de la gloire (i.e. exaltation of glory), and of light-thinking, was in complete incongruence; and a dysfunction of Napoleon’s entirely dysfunctional activity for the following motivations: 1. – in primis, Masséna’s civilian attendants had any military status; both of them were civilian employees; 2. – they did not belong to the roles to the armée Française (i.e. French Army), and had no definite assignment in the French Army ranks; 3. – by specification: they did not retain the military position of soldats réguliers (i.e. regular soldiers); 4. – most importantly, they had entered into the field neither on military command, nor to kill any opposing Austrian foe; their own commission was rather a “safety mission” and nothing else exceeding that virtuous accomplishment on Masséna’s security.

Their affirmed task was therefore to preserve Masséna’s life through carefully “manoeuvring” his carriage and handling it amidst the horrors and carnage of the fire-swept line of struggle – and what a compelling challenge that turned out to be! The exhortative address “[…] the two bravest […]” was largely euphemistic and abundantly eloquent. It was certainly a boutade expressive (i.e. expressive joke), an act à dédramatiser par la plaisainterie (i.e. to turn down the heat of the situation by laughing it off) and high flown rhetoric style; in fact, Napoleon could not know in person all the soldiers of the Habsburgs Imperial Army, nor those of the French Army corps.  

The venial construction of this absolute superlative denoted merely eulogistic terms pronounced at the height of his unbounded unreflective joy – but that was a filtered preference accorded by Marbot’s narrative methodology. Words proferred on the “plate of glory”, however deprived of any substantial recognition. An obvious statement of fact is that Napoleon was reciting his part of consumed actor, profusing his role of tempting seducer at the table of a victorious military outcome.

But the empereur was sincere in admiration of exampled duty, even if he did not understand the very chore of the difference: the Line soldiers were keeping to their oath of allegiance (to France, and to their emperor), while the seemingly audacious couple of civilian attendants had executed their stunning performance to protect Marshal Masséna’s life.

In this case, it is significantly a difference of pourpose: a well grounded difference between the action of killing (a war enemy), and saving (a fellow compatriot). The use of each verbal form has an essential character on the dictionary of life: the first verbal form annihilated it, the second preserved the values of peace, blaming any act of continued belligerency.

Napoleon, always ready to reward valour “in action” and outstanding capabilities, definitely wanted to give a bonus to the undaunted couple, but could not exhibit such a spontaneous offer in order not to directly offend Masséna; it was due to Masséna’s sensibility to remunerate the plucky fellows for their chivalrous efforts.

This flagrant incongruence did not make a point, because Masséna was a rich tycoon, the kind of a prosperous Sardanapalus. His financial incomes were fabulous; he got 200,000 francs in his position of Maréchal d’ Empire, 200,000 francs from the princely title of Duc de Rivoli, and further 500,000 francs as Prince d’ Essling. All of these major entries, that made a colossal amount of 900,000 francs – a good deal of revenues, exempt from taxes.

Time unexpectedly passed by: days, followed into weeks, and months (a couple),[7] and the episode which had occurred in the battle at Wagram seemed to have fallen into the fast-flowing waters of oblivion. Under this “strategic” behaviour, Masséna was trying to have the stiff experience which had happened at Wagram soon removed and forgotten. A conscious choice, deliberately thought. Luci ed ombre di una personalità conflittuale (i.e. lights and darknesses of a conflicted personality).

Surely a shrewd move, it was otherwise indicative of Masséna’s overall limitations of character and défauts (i.e. flaws). The fluctuations of his ego were overshadowed by an égoisme remarquable (i.e. remarkable selfishness). To the valour of safety, he had postponed and finally opposed the dysfunctional trinomial of ingratitude (i.e. ingratitude), avarice (i.e. miserliness), and cupidité (i.e. cupidity) – certainly not followed by a generous recompense. Masséna was detrimentally enslaved to the fallen gods, to the money-god – and throughout his lifetime wealth had placed such a heavy-branded chain on him that it could no more be broken on the throne it had forged through his openness to greedy.

"One day when I and several of the aides-de-camp happened to be by Sainte-Croix’s bedside, Masséna came into the room, and as we chatted over the events of the campaign, he said how fortunate it was that he had followed my advice and gone on to the field in a carriage instead of being carried by grenadiers, and thence he naturally went on to speak of the plucky conduct of his coachman and postilion. He ended by saying that he wished to reward them well, and was going to give each of them 400 francs. Then, turning to me, he had the face to ask if the two men would not be pleased? I had better have held my tongue, or merely suggested a rather higher sum; but I made the mistake of speaking too plainly and mischievously into the bargain".

Comment: Weeks indeterminately passed and brought the twenty-seven-years-old Jean-Baptiste-Antoine-Marcellin de Marbot to the marvellous capital city of the Habsburgs Empire: Vienna. The scenario of war had changed to a peaceful environment, and the civilian location was the mansion where General Sainte-Croix[8] was passing his convalescence.[9]

Occasioned by a visit of many aides-de-camp, the lively colloquial meeting was a pleasant rentrée (i.e. comeback) among fellow-compatriots and comrades in arms, when suddenly there appeared the braggadocious Masséna, le Maréchal d’ Empire. His joyful mood resulted from the fact that the suggestion passed onto him by Marbot had allowed the option of carriage locomotion, instead of being presented by lesser alternatives – relying upon the support of grenadiers on foot.

À la majeure (i.e. by superior force), the boasted memories which gave resounding emphasis  (vantardise; i.e. vaunt) to the services rendered to Masséna by his dauntless civilian attendants. All his claims – loudly spread – convinced him that both of them had been well-deserving, and had to be recompensed by a monetary bonus – not exceeding the limitation of 800 francs from his feeling of thankfulness and appreciation.

On further confirmation that his generosity had been adequately profused – and be himself praised for his manifest munificence –, he asked Marbot all about that. Not surprisingly, a rather rhetorical question, confirming that the money was offered open-handed.

Marbot, sort of a free flowing discussion, honestly exposed his view on the “affair”, not to understand that his words would have been a cutting edge on the Marshall’s bargain; and hardly enough to challenge the requirement of a huge outlay from his own purse. 

Another relevant element to point out and to be underlined in the afore-cited passage is the embellished relationship within Masséna’s military household. Iniured to all hardships, his Staff was most devoted in service and shared camaraderie (i.e. comradeship) of the military order throughout all its brave subordinate officers. A great motivating factor, was that these relations amicales (i.e. friendly connections) were distinguished by traits of rampant patriotism amid the hardened veterans, their dedication and courage driving them on.

"I knew perfectly well that Masséna only intended to give them 400 francs down; but I answered that with a pension of 400 francs added to their savings, the coachman and postilion would be secured from want in their old age.

The eyes of a tigress who sees her young attacked by the hunter are not more terrible than were Masséna’s on hearing me speak thus. He leapt from his chair, exclaiming: “Wretch! do you want to ruin me? What! an annuity of 400 francs? No, no, no: 400 francs once for all!”.

Most of my comrades prudently held their peace; but General Sainte-Croix and Major Ligniville declared  plainly that the proposed reward was unworthy of the marshal, and that he ought to make it an annuity.

At this Masséna could restrain himself no longer; he rushed about the room in a rage, upsetting everything in his way, even large furniture, and cried, “You want to ruin me!”. His last words as he left the room were, “I would sooner see you all shot, and get a bullet through my arm, than bind myself to give an annuity of 400 francs to anyone. Go to the devil the lot of you!”. Next day he came among us again, very calm outwardly, for no one could play a part better; but from that day forward General Sainte-Croix lost much of his esteem, and he bore a grudge against Ligniville which he let him see the next year in Portugal. As for me he was most angry with me of all, because I was the first to mention the annuity. The story travelled from mouth to mouth till it reached the Emperor, and one day when Masséna was dining with him, Napoleon kept bantering him above his avarice, and said that he understood he had at any rate given a good pension to the two brave servants who drove his carriage at Wagram. Then the marshal answered that he was going to give them each an annuity of 400 francs; so he did it without having to be shot through the arm. He was all the more angry with us, and often said to us with a sardonic laugh, “Ah! my fine fellows, if I followed your good advice you would soon have me ruined”" [Marbot, 1935, pp. 255-258].

Comment: Masséna had already decided what course of action he would have followed; consequentially, he had prepared his moves well in time. And his lucrative economic speculation did not exceeded a substantial reward of 400 francs per caput (i.e. granted to each civilian attendant). This is meant to signify that the Marshal had planned his finances before the divergence of opinion that ensued among his Staff members.

Marbot was audacious, not to refrain from immediate speaking out. Quite remarkable is the fact that the skilful aide-de-camp bargained an annuity of 400 francs – lifelong. Exactly on the meaning of beneficial gratitude. To discover how two completely different worlds collided, each at the mercy of the other is truly a lesson on extremely opinionated visions.

The spasmodic reaction of Masséna’s enraged, fiery words surpassed the limits of true gentlemanliness. Flying into a fury, his eyes darting nervously, his uncontrolled fit of anger prevailed on his temperament and swept him away.

Masséna understood that his longed for plan had been discovered, and had turned into ultimate failure. A further remark: during this “counteroffensive” his pursue was greatly threatened by “foreign” interference. His economic proficiency was under heavy storm. Additional heads were to support this strenuous “assault”, and Général Sainte-Croix and Major Ligniville’s efforts[10] frontally collided with Masséna’s harsh stinginess. As a consequence, a vehement dislike and counter-action on the part of the French Marshal ensued; and, unworthy expressions were yelled out to the “allied” attacking-party.

From that thunderous batrachomyomachia, Masséna was no more in friendly terms with Sainte-Croix (who had supported the storming-force, and had not defended his superior), with Ligniville (guilty of the same choice; he had assented too easily to collaboration, and to the shared view of frontal assault), and especially with the daring Marbot, la bouche de la verité (i.e. the mouth of the truth).

This trio of mousquetaires (i.e. musketeers), Alexander Dumas style, became detestable – to Cardinal de Richelieu (aka Masséna).

The whole circumstanced episode had taught much, and the towering hot-tempered mood of Masséna rapidly widespread throughout the French army ranks; it made for him an appalling notoriété (i.e. notoriety) for reprehensible acquisitiveness (a synonymic form for avarice). Anyhow, a blameworthy capricious attitude for a Marshal of France.

It made quite a sensation; soon told, during a colloquial meeting and dinner time at Napoleon’s table, His Imperial Majesty decided to have a fresh varnish on the “affair” and to set it. The Emperor said “he” had understood Masséna had given a good enough allowance (pension) to the attendants as a token in admiration of outstanding conduct on the battlefield, at Wagram – and the Emperor did always understand well, and straight to the point.

In no way he could be contradicted, in His Imperial comprehension and wisdom – but only respectfully pleased. The main purpose of the Empereur was to put an end to Masséna’s over gossiped behaviour. Such a superficial attitude was significantly damaging: to the armée Française (i.e. French Army), to the dignity of the French Marshalate, of which Masséna had been appointed a member since May 19, 1804, and to the name and personal reputation of this high-ranking personality.

Therefore, Napoleon had to beat off this detrimental hit, and its three open fronts of “destruction”. He had then to encourage for the final solution, and mitigate the bravery not yet rewarded of the civilian attendants still after quite a time[11] which however would have confirmed the gossip that monsieur M. had largely deviated from virtue.

By inspired words, the mighty French autocrat thought instead to have that ever-growing item of gossip changed into an effective truth, thus averting every suspect. That was the will to be done: the monocratic will of the Emperor, fairly imposing on Masséna, and to not have Napoleon’s own reputation disfigured.

More than a cunning stoke. Out of a moral embarrassement upon the great human values of existence, the history of generosity still continued under the Empire.

Remarks: on Honour and Money

One would be asked the following question: what kind of logic and thinking unveils the choleric behaviour and moves of Marshal Masséna during this particular occasion? Did his behaviour rely on being frugal (to the disadvantage of self-respect) or was it due to the severity of the economy (to the detriment of gratitude)? Undeniably, Masséna was a Maréchal who had distinguished himself on the battlefield in May 1809, at Essling – but who during his lifetime was negligent regarding human feelings. The fact remains: the compensation paid to his civilian attendants did not exceed 800 francs – as a whole. Was this the price of glory, or was it his miserable human fallibility? Did he not understand that human life is priceless? Did it equally signify that to Masséna, his personal safety was unworthy of reward?

From the vividly written narrative two distinguished categories of human behaviour are apparent. Together, they both are strictly denotative of two sides of the same medal: that of valour, and bravery in action – opposed by the ignominious reduction of resolute courage. On the obverse of the “moral coin” Masséna had demonstrated to be l’ enfant tombé de la gloire (i.e. the fallen child of glory); he had too often economized on behalf of personal enrichment and had a voracious appetite for money. On the other side, his Staff members exhibited firm conviction and character, of respect, of dignity – and pure talent of analysis. The two sharply contrasted and quite antithetic ways of life and customs are simply amazing to most observers. The mark of Masséna’s consummate avarice had become too much. It was a stain on his military household.

In this specific case, it is possible to present additional data to enhance one’s reflection upon the affair, and its subtle implications – deduced from the écriture mémoriale (i.e. memorial account). This truth is covered in a masterly fashion in the literary camouflage provided by Marbot’s memoirs. The disproportionate cause between rectitude and avarice is provided by the following: A: Masséna’s entries, as per year 1809: 400,000 francs; B: established reward to the civilian assistants: 800 francs. The newly acquired piece of information is given by the factor C: (400,000 : 800 = 500). Not surprisingly, the above documentary piece presents that the disproportion of M.’s avarice stood 1 to 500, and that final cost would have been corresponding to only 0,20 % of his 1809 yearly income.

Additional knowledge can be gained. By inductive calculation (but not really so, on paper), is it possible to understand how much the civilian attendants were to account for on Masséna’s financial incomes in the six-year period from 1810 to 1815? Definitely, yes: A: Masséna’s incomes after he was granted the title of Price of Essling were (900,000 x 6 =) 5,400,000 francs; B: six-years annuity computed at (800 x 6 = ) 4800 francs. C: Masséna’s total incomes after the outlay (5,400,000 - 4800 = 5,395,200 francs), confirm an objective incidence of 1,125 % on his grand total.

Defective Nobility

Modern history sources support the fact that Masséna was a money-driven, a master kleptomaniac in occupied towns (exempli gratia, for one acute case in Italy: Padua, 1797) and foreign countries,[12] and an unbeatable strategic economist par excellence; his attacks were always “consuming”.

On the axiomatic base of Napoleon’s pithy instructive apophthegm, “It is with baubles that men are led”, this shrewdly-thought mimicry had always one person enacting in the Emperor role, and awarding favours and generous gifts to his military supporters and condescending political servants.  

Throughout the years 1804-1809 there was one-directional “game” to play with; and Napoleon I, the maître comédien (i.e. master actor), always had his men play the power game to consolidate his monocratic régime. Undeniably, the empereur was magnanimous: to his followers – and to the people who supported his ever-increasing military ambitions, for conquest and domination.

Much to one historian’s puzzlement are the motivations of why Masséna was rewarded in 1808 and given the Duke title of Rivoli (coincidentally, one very small country village in the neighbouring of Verona, Northern Italy). That was quite an honor for the intrepid determination he displayed on January 14, 1797, against the Imperial forces led by Feldzeugmeister Joseph Alvinczy, Freiherr von Berberek (February 1, 1735-Buda, September 25, 1810). In this way we better understand that the apparent title of Duc which was bestowed on him, had at first aristocratic implications, which were not at all effective. If it ever was a conferred nobility, it was sealed by the sacrifice of the soldiers who had perished in the clash – both Austrian, and French – therefore a supposed nobility, blood-soaked by that of the unnamed fallen.

This same cliché and methods of reward (a significantly tested modus operandi) were once again staged after the battle at Essling [where French casualties numbered 21,500 killed and wounded as well as 1,500 prisoners; that was a coefficient of 34,84% out the entire armed forces; vide: Rothenberg, Gunther E., The Art of Warfare in the Age of Napoleon, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1980, Appendix I, p. 251]. Later that date (July 1809), followed horrific days of fighting – and for his dauntless efforts and outstanding leadership at the epic clash of arms, the Battle of Wagram [the French lost 19,000 killed and wounded, and 7,000 prisoners; that was a ratio of 16,25 % out the whole active troops; loc. cit.], Masséna was further rewarded (in January, 1810). For his military accomplishments he was awarded the distinctive title of Prince – of Essling.

Was that not another destroyed village under military action? With the same bloody and unnamed fallen – Austrian, and French.

What is disconcerting to note is that the ethos in the French Armed forces no longer shone with the glorious traditions of the past – traditions which were deeply rooted in centuries-old experiences of military campaigns and heroic gestures.

More inspired choices to the Napoleonic regime would have been to stimulate the illustrious examples of their forefathers, and the exploits of knights and commanders of assured valour (just to name a few examples: César, Duke of Choiseul, 1598-1675; Frédéric-Armand, 1st Duke of Schönberg, December 1615, or January 1616-July 11, 1690; Nicolas Catinat, 1 September 1637- 22 February 1712; Sébastien Le Prestre, Seigneur de Vauban, 15 May 1633-30 March 1707; Jean-Baptiste-François Desmarets marquis de Maillebois, 1682-1762; Charles-Louis-Auguste Fouquet, duc de Belle-Isle, 22 September 1684-26 January 1761; Maurice, comte de Saxe, 28 October 1696- 20 November 1750).

This heritage would have probably meant a continuity (historical, and moral), and possibly signified a process of legitimization with the ongoing Napoleonic military traditions – but it never happened, and that was the most colossal failure.

Napoleon was the source of his own autokráteia (i.e. despotism, absolute power) and own mistakes – and quite a number of devoted puppets fell in the trick-game of the master they had chosen to serve. Was not their motivation  meant to serve their home-country, France?

This absorbing study is essentially aimed (but not contained) to stimulate a discerning analysis on a couple of specific concepts: consequential reflections are stressed on the price of glory – in terms of human losses –, and distinctions from the vainglorious cost of “glory”, that is the provided economic proficiency (a huge amount of 900,000 francs) one Maréchal d’ Empire (in this case Masséna) gained after tremendous bloodsheds (Essling) and wasting military collisions (Wagram) – to connive with the régime of French military power.

Further, one in-depth question is left: upon the consideration that Masséna was given a princely title, were these benefits the spoils of glory, of the titled glory of monsieur le Prince to acquiesce with the Napoleonic military despotism?

Time has now passed. To his contemporaries Masséna was never considered the epitome of chivalry, of probity, of true nobility (properly comprehended as of aristocratic descent and family branch); a parvenu (i.e. social climber), he never remained disinterested to his personal aggrandizement, and had a penchant (i.e. tendency) to sordid avarice. Avarice begins where poverty ends, recited a motto.

Admittedly, lacking conduite morale, et dignité de comportement (i.e. moral conduct, and dignity of behaviour) was the hallmark of his persona.

If he had had a model to have lead him along the path of virtue, he would have been quite an heroic figure – but he was not, in accord to his freedom, to think, to choose, to act. And he remained the sacripant de la gloire (i.e. rascal of glory) – a supposedly figurative vainglory.

One more question would thus follow: did he not know that the once famous palladium of the French army was a fighter named Pierre Terrail LeVieux du Bayard (castle of Bayard, 1473-Romagnano Sesia, 1524)? And that this amazing military figure was nicknamed “le chevalier sans peur et sans reproche” (i.e. the knight without fear and without reproach)?

Illiterate soldiers could also exhibit heroism, pity and magnanimity. The point? Was Masséna illiterate or educated?  Was Bayard illiterate?   

During wartime and on the field of battle anyone can become a hero and demonstrate courage and integrity under pressure, regardless of their age, position or class: noble, serf, commoner.

By compared analogy, we are reminded of Audie Leon Murphy (June 20, 1924-May 28, 1971), the Texas farm boy and sharecropper, who joined the U.S. Army at age 16; he was only about 5’5” and weighed about 115 pounds. Yet he became the most decorated U.S. combat soldier of WWII and Medal of Honor (the highest military award for bravery conferred to any individual in the U.S.A.) recipient.


1809, 5 January: Treaty of the Dardanelles (aka Dardanelles Treaty of Peace, Commerce, and Secret Alliance; otherwise mentioned as Treaty of Çanak, or Treaty of Chanak) concluded between Britain and the Ottoman Empire. A ratified clause affirmed that no warships of any power should enter the Straits of the Dardanelles and the Bosporus, and strict observance to this diplomatic principle had to be followed.

12 January: Cayenne (French Guiana) is taken from the French (until 1814) by the British.

16 January: French tactical success attained at the battle of la Coruña, in Galicia (Spain). Napoleon leaves Spain. 

18 January: British forces evacuated northern Spain territories after the clash at Corunna.

1 February: Dutch King Louis Napoleon accepts metric system.

1 February : Napoleon is back in Paris to prepare war operations against Austria.

8 February: H.I. and R.M. The Holy Roman Emperor (Heiliger Römischer Kaiser) Francis I of Austria declared war on France.

20 February: After protracted siege operations and brutal street fighting, the French took the ciudad of  Saragossa (Spain).

25 February: Battle of Valls.

13 March: The King of Sweden, Gustav IV Adolf, was deposed in the royal palace through a conspiracy of army officers led by Carl Johan Adlercreutz. The monarch voluntarily abdicated on March 29; deposed together with his family heirs, he was expelled from the country.

17 March: Battle of Villafranca.

28 March: First Battle of Porto.

28 March: Battle of Medellín.

31 March: Celebrated Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn died in Vienna one month after his 77th birthday.

8 April: Austrian troops attacked Bavaria.

10 April: Fifth Coalition formed: the Austrian Empire, Britain, and rebel Spain, declared against the Napoleonic Empire in a “War of Liberation”.

13 April: Amberg.

15 April: Pordenone (Italian front).

16 April: Sacile (Italian front).

18 April: Teugen-Hausen ridge action.

19 April: Battle of Thann.

20 April: The French gained a signalled martial victory over the Austrian at Abensberg, in Bavaria.

21 April: Victory reported against Hiller’s troops at Landshut.

22 April: Battle of Eckmühl (also known as Eggmühl) and Egglifsheim Napoleon succeeded beating Archduke Charles of Austria.

23 April: attack and conquest of Rastibonne.

24 April: Neumarkt.

26 April: British army forces landed at Lisbon (Portugal) under Arthur Wellesley (later duke of Wellington).

29-30 April: combat of Soave (Italian front).

29-30 April: combats of Cassano di Tramigna, Monte-Bastia, Castel-Cerino, Fittà, Monte Foscarinetto, Monte Foscarino (Italian front).

3 May: Ebersberg.

6 May: Amstetten.

6 May: Siege of Gerona. 

8 May: Piave River (Italian front).

10-11 May: Battle of Grijó.

12 May: Second Battle of Porto.

13 May: The capital-city, Vienna, occupied by the French troops.

13 May: Schwarzenlackenau, and Worgel.

16 May: Malborghetto (Italian front).

17 May: Colle del Tarvisio (Italian front).

17 May: France annexed the Papal States.

21-22 May: Battle at Aspern-Essling: Austrian Archduke Karl defeated Napoleon.

23 May: Battle of Alcañiz.

24 May: H.M. Prison Dartmoor (Devon, England) opened to house French prisoners of war.

25 May: St. Michel.

31 May: The Prussian cavalry officer Ferdinand Baptista von Schill who had rebelled against the French domination was killed in street fighting at Stralsund (he was aged 33).

14 June: Raab.

15 June: Battle of María (Belchite).

5-6 July: Austrian Army forces got a reverse at the battle of Wagram.

12 July: Armistice of Znaïm; ceased hostilities (till August 20) between Austria and France. Austria evacuating Tyrol, Styria, and Carinthia.

27-28 July: Battle of Talavera.

10 August: Ecuador declared independence from Spain (National Day, proclamation of the Republic).

11 August: Battle of Almonacid.

13-14 August: French are defeated by Tyrolian levies at the strenuously fought battle at Berg Isel. By election, Hofer is appointed ruler of Tyrol.

17 September: Peace between Sweden and Russia; Finland, the Åland islands, and a north-eastern strip of Sweden were ceded to the victors. 

25 September: French and Bavarian forces are defeated by Josef Speckbacher at Lofer.

14 October: Treaty of Schönbrunn (known as the Treaty of Vienna) ended the War of the Fifth Coalition: Austria had to cede Trieste, Istria, Dalmatia, and Carinthia, to France; compensative portions of land were added to the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. Bavaria gained instead Tyrol and Salzburg.

19 October: Ratification of the Treaty of Schönbrunn.

19 November: Battle of Ocana.

10 December: Peace treaty signed between Sweden and Denmark.

15 December: Napoleon divorced Joséphine because of her inability to beget him a male hair.

16 December: Napoleon Bonaparte divorced Empress Joséphine by the French Senate.

26 December: English invasion troop left Vlissingen (Netherland).

Bibliography and Further Reading

1. English works:

Chandler, David, G. (Edited by). Napoleon’s Marshals. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, 1987.

Chlapowski, Dezydery. Memoirs of a Polish Lancer. The Emperor’s Press, 1992.

Delderfield, Ronald Frederick. The March of the Twenty-Six; The Story of Napoleon’s Marshals. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1962.

Dunn-Pattison, Richard Phillipson. Napoleon’s Marshals. London, Methuen & Co., 1909; Little, Brown and Company, Boston: 1909.

Headley, Joel Tyler. Napoleon and His Marshals. New York, Hurst & Company, 1850.

Macdonell, Archibald, Gordon. Napoleon and His Marshals. London; New York, The Macmillan Company, 1934.

Marbot (Baron De). The Memoirs of Baron De Marbot, late Lieutenant-General in the French army. Translated from the French by Arthur John Butler late fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. London, Longmans, Green, and Co.; and New York: 1892.

Marbot (Baron de). Adventures of General Marbot. Edited and illustrated by John W. Thomason Jr.. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, London, 1935.

Young, Peter. Napoleon’s Marshals. Reading: Osprey Publishing, 1973.  

2. French works:

Amic, Auguste. Histoire de Masséna. Paris, 1864.

Augustin-Thierry, A.. Masséna. L’ enfant gâté de la Victoire. Paris, Éditions Albin Michel, 1947.

Beauregard (G., de). Les Maréchaux de Napoléon. Tours, Mame et Fils, s.d..

Beauregard (Comte de). Le Maréchal Masséna, Duc de Rivoli, Prince d’ Essling, enfant de Nice. Résumé de sa vie. Nice, Imprimerie Veuve Eugène Gauthier et Cie, 1902.

Bondois, Paul. Masséna. Paris, Picard et Kahn, 1887.

Chardigny, Louis. Les Maréchaux de Napoléon. Paris, Flammarion, 1946.

Chlapowski, D.. Mémoires sur les guerres de Napoléon, 1806-1813. Paris, 1908.

Dictionnaire Napoléon. Sous la direction de Jean Tulard de l’Institut. Librairie Arthème Fayard, 1999.

Dupont, Marcel. Napoléon en campagne. Paris, Hachette, 1950-1952.

Gachot, Édouard. Histoire militaire de Masséna (1795-1799). Paris, Perrin et Cie, 1901-1904.

––––––– Histoire militaire de Masséna (1800-1809). Paris, Plon, 1908-1909.

––––––– Histoire militaire de Masséna. 1809, Napoléon en Allemagne. Paris, Plon, 1913.

––––––– Histoire militaire de Masséna: Le siège de Gênes (1800). Paris, Plon-Nourrit, 1908.

Gavard, Charles. Galerie des Maréchaux de France, 19 Mai 1804. Dédiée  à l’ armée de terre et de mer. Éditeur: Au bureau des galeries historiques de Versailles. Paris, 1839.

Hulot, Frédéric. Le Maréchal Masséna. Paris, Éditions Pygmalion, 2005.

Kirgener (Général de Brigade). Précis du siège de Dantzick fait par l’ armée française en avril et mai 1807. À Paris, De l’Imprimerie de Migneret, 1807.

Lacroix, Désiré. Les Maréchaux de Napoléon. Paris, Garnier frères, 1896. 

Marshall-Cornwall, James, Handyside, (Général). Masséna – L’ enfant chéri de la victoire. Préf. du général Cartroux. Paris, Plon, 1967.

Marbot (Baron de, Général). Mémoires. Paris, Plon, 1891.

Masséna (Maréchal). Mémoire de M. le maréchal Masséna, duc de Rivoli, prince d’ Essling, sur les événements qui ont eu lieu pendant les mois de mars et d’ avril 1815. Paris, 1816.

Masséna. Mémoires d’ André Masséna duc de Rivoli, prince d’ Essling rédigés d’ après les documents qu’ il a laissés et sur ceux du dépôt de la guerre et du dépôt des fortifications, recuillis par le général Koch. Avec un Atlas. Paris, Paulin et le Chevalier, 1849-1850, réedition à: Paris, Jean de Bonnot, 1966-1967.

Paulin, Jules, Antoine, (Général, baron). Les souvenirs (1782-1876). Publiés par le capitaine du génie Pauilin-Ruelle, son petit-neveu. Paris, Plon, 1895.

––––––– Souvenirs. A la librairie des Deux Empires, 2002.

Sabor, Pierre. Masséna et sa famille. Ses origines. Du Royal-Italien à l’ armée d’ Italie. Masséna. Général de la République (1785-1794). Aix-en-Provence, Editions de la revue "Le Feu", 1926.

[Author: a writer with this name never existed; this was the nom de plume of Jean Giraud who in 1927, in Paris, composed a thesis-work entitled Masséna et sa famille – 1758-1794].

Thiry, Jean. Wagram. Éditions Berger-Levrault, 1966.

Toselli, J., B.. Notice biographique sur Masséna. Nice, 1869.

Tranié, J., Carmigniani, J.-C.. Napoléon et l’ Autriche. La campagne de 1809. Paris, Copernic, 1979.

Valentin, René. Le Maréchal Masséna (1758-1817). Paris-Limoges-Nancy, Charles-Lavauzelle & Cie, 1960.

3. Italian works:

Balbo, Cesare. Scritti Militari. Edizioni Roma, Torino 1935.


[1] "The first week in July, the Emperor has 150,000 men at hand. The night of the fourth brings a terrific storm. In the rain and wind, a shock column of grenadiers – St. Croix leading, as a reward for his hard work – rushes across the old bridge that goes to Aspern. Down the river, a little past the Austrian left, they fling the pontoons into position, and toil also at temporary bridges. On the upper end of the Island, a great battery scourges the Austrian centre and right. When daylight comes, the French Army is across the Danube, its weight fairly on the Austrian left. The fifth of July, the two armies spar for position. Archduke Charles manoeuvring to strengthen his compromised flank. On the sixth, they fight, the Austrians trying to drive down and cut the French from their bridges.

Masséna has the attack groups on the French right. He was unable to mount his horse, because of a fall a few days previous, and he leads in his carriage – an elegant affair, drawn by four white horses" [Marbot, 1935, p. 232].

[2] André Masséna (Nice, Alpes-Maritimes, 6 May 1758-Paris, April 4, 1817), 1st Duc de Rivoli, 1st Prince d’ Essling, Maréchal d’ Empire.

His native homeland was at that time part of the Kingdom of Sardinia. He was the son of the shopkeeper Julés Masséna, and his wife Marguerite Fabre, who had married in 1754 (August 1). In 1789, Masséna had a nuptial tie (August 10) with mademoiselle Anne Marie Rosalie Lamare, who was a native of the town of Antibes (September 4, 1765), and would die in Paris on January 3, 1829. The domestic relations of the family were set at Antibes; this locality was accorded the best choice as living-place.

Residing in Antibes, brought a numerous progeny to the Massenas: to shortly name, a child died in childhood; Marie Anne Elisabeth (July 8, 1790-March 18, 1794); Jacques Prosper, 2nd Prince d’Essling (June 25, 1793-May 13, 1821); Victoire Thècle (September 28, 1794-March 28, 1857); François Victor, 2nd Duc de Rivoli, 3rd Prince d’Essling (April 2, 1799-April 16, 1863).

In May 1804, Masséna ascended the ladder of the military hierarchy, and entered the Marshalate of France. There can be no denying the fact that he was motivated by a desire to attain personal valour, and he never truly dissociated himself from the ethos of Napoleonic military conquests and power.

Four years later (August 24, 1808), he was granted a new honour: a ducal victory title (namely 1st Duc de Rivoli). He was further rewarded in 1810 (January 31); for his determinated efforts at the stoutly-disputed Battle of Wagram (July 1809); he gained a second victory title (1st Prince d’Essling).

Military Synopsis.

André Masséna, general-officer and legislator, was the son of Jules Masséna, owner at Levens; his mother named Catherine Fabre.

1771: his early life began as a cabin boy; 1775, 18 August: enlistened as common soldier in the 1er bataillon d’ infanterie légère (régiment Royal-Italien); 1776, 1 September: caporal; 1777, 18 April: sergent; 1783, 14 February: fourrier; 1784, 4 September: adjudant sous-officier; 1789: left the army, and retired to his native town; 1791, 21 September: adjudant-major in the 2e bataillon de volontaires du Var; 1792, 1 February: elected at Vence lieutenant-colonel en 2e of the 2e bataillon de volontaries du Var; 1 August: lieutenant-colonel en premier; September: at the 3e brigade of the armée du Var under the adjudant général Jean-Jacques-Bernardin Colaud de La Salcette; 1793, 17 August: chef de brigade of the 51e d’ infanterie; 22 August: was promoted général de brigade; 20 December: appointed provisional général de division; 22 December: commander of Toulon; campaign of Italy: 1794, 17 April: in command of the French vanguard, took Ormea and Garessio; 29 April: he distinguished himself at Saorgio, where he captured ninety artillery pieces; 8 May: occupied the col de Tende; 29 August: confirmed in the rank of général de division; September: commander of the division of Albenga;  21 September: combat of Cairo; 22 September: occupation of Dego; 22 December: left the command due to wealth issues; 1795, April: took the command of the 1re division of the armée d’ Italie; 25 June: repelled by the Austrian at Melogno; 27 June: failed in the attack at the redoubt of Melogno; 23-24 November: had a great share at Loano, a victory reported by Barthélemy-Louis-Joseph Schérer over the Piedmontese and Austrian troops; the following year: distinguished at the col de Borghetto; 27 March 1796: serving under General Bonaparte at the Armée d’ Italie; after Millesimo he was given the command of the Grenadiers companies formed in operative corps; 10 May: crossed the Adda River at their head; was the first to enter at Milano, the capital town of the Austrian Lombardy; 3 June: occupied Verona; 3 August: won at Lonato; 5 August: served at Castiglione; 6 August: at Peschiera; 8 September: served at Bassano; 14 September: pushed back at Due Castelli; fought at Roveredo; 15 September: served at San Giorgio; 8 November: combat of Fontaniva; 12 November: Caldiero; November 15-17: at the battle of Arcole; 1797, 12 January: combat of San Michele; 14 January: at Rivoli; 16 January: at La Favorita, where he well deserved the nickname of l’ enfant chéri de la victoire; 5 March: commander of the 1re division of the armée d’ Italie; 22 March: combat of Tarvis; 2 April: won at Neumarkt; 2 April: Unzmarkt; 9 May: came back to Italy, bringing to the Directory the ratification of the preliminaries of Leoben; 12 July: came back to Italy with the ratification; 14 June: commander of the 1re division following the reorganization of the armée d’ Italie; 1798, 12 January: appointed at the armée d’ Angleterre; 3 February: commander of the detached troops from the armée d’ Italie which had to occupy the Papal states; 23-25 February: was obliged to leave Rome, and to pass his military command to général Claude Dallemagne; Masséna had many troubles with his military subordinates, and he had to face military sedition; 8 March: called to Genoa, by order of the Directory; 16 August: appointed commander of one division at the armée de Mayence; 9 December: was called back to service, and given the command of the armée d’ Helvétie (a force of 40,000 men which had to fight 100,000 Austrians under the Archduke Charles, and generals Bellegarde and Hotze); 11 December: arrived in Zurich; 1799, 6 March: invaded the Grisons; 7 March: took Coira; 22 March: Feldkirch; 25 September: gave orders to four infantry divisions (37,000 men) to cross the Limurat, under Zurich, and assaulted Korsakov (25,000 soldiers); 26 September: at Zurich, he had a resounded military success over Korsakov’s forces, capturing 200 guns and 5,000 prisoners; 7 October: won at Andelfingen; 23 November: appointed commandant en chef of the armée d’ Italie (35,000 men), at the place of Jean-EtienneVachier, called Championnet; 1800, 17 January: established his Headquarters at Nice; February-4, June: besieged at Genoa by General Ott; 13 August: after the battle of Marengo he kept the command of the armée d’ Italie, but he was soon replaced by Guillaume-Marie-Anne Brune on account of his continued depredations; 23 September: obtained one yearly pension of 30,000 francs; 1801, 6 October: obtained one sabre d ’honneur; 1803, 28 July: took up his functions with the Corps Législatif; 1804: Maréchal d’ Empire; 1805: decorated with the grand aigle, and chef of the 14e cohorte of the Légion d’ honneur; 30 August: sent to the Italian front, to fight the Archduke Charles of Austria; 18 October: took the town of Verona; 30 October: bitter fighting of Caldiero; 11 December: commander of the 8e Corps of the Grande armée; 28 December: commandant en chef of the armée de Naples; 1806, 9 January: took his executive command at Bologna; was ordered to take possession of the kingdom of Naples; 12 February: took Capua; 14 February: entered into Naples with Joseph Bonaparte; 26 February: siege of Gaeta; 19 July: capitulation of Gaeta; August: occupied the Calabrie; 21 December: came back to Naples; 1807, 12 January: left Naples to reach the Grande Armée; to Poland; 24 February: commander of the 5e Corps of the Grande Armée, at the place of Jean Lannes; 6 March: took possession of his command at the place of Savary; 1808, 19 March: was make Duc de Rivoli; 24 April: confirmed in this title by letters patentes; 1809, 23 February: appointed commander of the corps d’ observation of the armée du Rhein; distinguished in the Danubian military campaign; 21 April: distinguished at Landshut; 22 April: Eckmühl; 23 April: took Straubing; 3 May: incurring heavy losses, took the town, the bridge, and the castle of Ebersberg; 22 May: at Aspern-Essling; commander of the left wing of the French Army at the battle of Wagram; 6 July: severely tested near Aspern; 11 July: supported Auguste-Frédéric-Louis Viesse de Marmont near Znaïm; November: obtained the permission to come back to France; 1810, 31 January: created Prince d’ Essling, with majorat, was given the princely castle of Thouars; 17 April: commandant en chef of the armée de Portugal; 10 May: took his executive command in the town of Valladolid; 10 July: took Ciudad Rodrigo by capitulation; 28 August: Almeida; 27 September: lost the battle at Busaco; 1 October: at Coimbra; October 1809-March 1811: blockade of the fortified line of Torrès- Vedras; 1811, 6 March: reached the Spanish border; 3-5 May: battle of Fuentes de Onoro; 7 May: after his failures in Portugal and Spain, he was disgraced by Napoleon and substituted by Maréchal Marmont; 1812: had no military command; 1813, 16 April: gouverneur of the 8e division militaire; 1815, 2 June: appointed peer of France; 22 June-8 July: general-commander of the garde nationale in Paris; 3 July: gouverneur of Paris.

The name of maréchal Masséna is inscribed on the Southern façade of the Arc de Triomphe de l’ Etoile

[3] The Lobau, a vastly extended marshy area located on the northern side of the Danube River (and near Grossenzerdorf), is a Vienna floodplain. Its etymology corresponds to the meaning “wood in the water”.

[4] "The other event nearly deprived the Emperor of the aid of Masséna himself in the coming battle. One day, as he and Napoleon were riding round the island, the marshal’s horse put its foot in a hole and fell, injuring its rider’s leg so that he could not keep his saddle. This was the more annoying that the battle was to take place on the same ground as that of Essling, which Masséna of course knew well. He showed, however, his determination by asserting that in spite of his pain he would be taken on to the field in a litter, like Marshal Saxe at Fontenoy. A litter was got ready; but it struck the marshal; upon a remark which I ventured to make, that this mode of transport was rather pretentious and not so safe as a light carriage, which, with four good horses, could get him about the ground more quickly than men. It was therefore arranged that he should go thus, accompanied by his surgeon, Dr. Brisset, who changed the compresses every hour with perfect coolness under fire during the two days which the battle of Wagram lasted, and in the subsequent fights" [Marbot, 1892, Vol. II, Chapter II].

                                                   *            *            *            *            *           

Early XXth Century historiography works reported that:

"On another occasion, while they were riding round the island – author: Lobau –, the Marshal’s horse put its foot into a hole and fell, and injured the rider’s leg so that he could not mount again. This unfortunate accident happened a few days before the battle of Wagram, so the Duke of Rivoli went into battle lying in a light calèche, drawn by four white horses, with his doctor beside him changing the compresses on his injured leg every two hours" [Dunn-Pattison, Richard Phillipson, 1909, pp. 62-63].

More sustained evidence from the French school:

"Au cours de cet après-midi du 3 juillet 1809, le cheval de Masséna buta sur une racine et tomba. Le maréchal, pris sous sa monture, fut fortement contusionné. "Vite un brancard", commanda l’Empereur qui l’avait vu tomber. Conduit à l’ambulance, Yvan ne releva sur le corps de Masséna que des contusions et deux plaies profondes sur la cuisse. Masséna se désolait d’être blessé à la veille d’une grande bataille. Il décida de se faire porter sur une chaise: "Mon cher Masséna, dit l’Empereur, il faut employer une voiture, pour aller d’une division à l’autre et voir clair devant vous. […]". Il recommanda à Masséna d’être prudent et de ne pas se forcer" [vide: Thiry, 1966, p. 171].

Trslt.: "During this afternoon of 3 July 1809, the horse of Masséna bumped into one root and fell. The Marshal, caught under his mount, was badly injured. "Quickly a stretcher", ordered the emperor who had seen him fall. Taken to the ambulance, Yvan did not notice on the body of Masséna that some bruisings and two deep sores on the thigh. Masséna saddened himself to be wounded on the eve of a great battle. He decided to have himself brought on one chair: "My dear Masséna, told the Emperor, it is needed to use a carriage, to go from one division to the other and to see clear in front of you. […]". He recommended to Masséna to be prudent and not to force himself.

Author: we note that this modern specification diverges from the text written by Marbot.

As the French historian Thiry quotes the work of Marbot [Marbot, Général, baron de, Mémoires, Paris, Plon edit.] in his Bibliography [Thiry, 1966, p. 293], it is almost inexplicable why the credit was given only to Masséna not to have left the active military operations. Another fairly strident literary discrepancy does appear: Thiry wrote that Masséna had said he would have been moved in a chaise (i.e. chair, wooden frame). Further, that a fortiori ratione the Empereur had instead suggested for a voiture (i.e. carriage). This affirmation was substantially correct, but it was not Napoléon who pronounced this advice – as well explicated in Marbot’s narrative. Notwithstanding Masséna’s stoic demeanour, he reached the operative line by means of a calèche découverte (i.e. open carriage).

[5] This matter is more complex than the reported date the accident truly happened.

An eye-witness account, extrapolated from the Pamietniki of Dezydery Clapowski (1992, transl.: Memoirs of a Polish Lancer) – a thoroughly enthralling account of his participation in some of the major campaigns during the Napoleonic wars, makes for captivating reading –, and quotes a significant piece of information about one incident which had happened to Masséna on July 6, 1809. A seasoned veteran, who never lost touch with the grim realities of warfare, the Pole wrote:

"On one occasion I found Massena sitting down behind the wall of a house, resting. I gave him the Emperor’s order and straight away he called for his horse and jumped into the saddle. But he found the right stirrup strap to be too short, and called his orderly to come and lengthen it. While waiting, Massena sat side-saddle, with his right leg resting on the horse’s neck. At this moment a cannon ball struck the orderly stone dead and tore off the stirrup. The horse shied sideways and the Marshal tumbled into my arms" [Chlapowski, 1992, p. 68].

Author: the cited date is probably not correct, or just puzzling. At this date, Masséna was already moving by means of the carriage. It ensues: this war accident happened before July 6. It is obvious the fall from the horse had consequences made worse by the second episode (that recalled by Marbot), and accidental cause.

Adam Desiderius Chlapowski was born on March 29, 1789, at Turew, near Kosten.

A few biographical traits include: 1807: served in the trenches of Danzig; March 3: he was awarded the French Légion d’ honneur (i.e. Legion of Honour); 1808, February: selected to act as one of Napoleon’s orderly officers in the Spanish campaign; 1809: acted in the same role, and fulfilled those duties in the Danube campaign in Austria; 3 April: awarded the Polish Order Virtuti Militari (the highest military decoration for gallantry bestowed to Polish soldiers); August 15, 1810: baron de l’ empire; 13 January, 1811: appointed chef d’ escadron (i.e. squadron commander) of the 1st Regiment of Polish Light-Horse-Lancers of the French Imperial Guard; 1812: served in Russia; 1813: disillusioned by Napoleon’s intrigues, he left his service shortly after the collision at Bautzen. Died in 1879.

[6] Under this precise definition of wheeled transport the reader would be prone to understand that a carrosse (horse-drawn vehicle), a calèche (calash), but not a berline. The correct interpretation leads more properly to the calèche.

On this theme, Paulin, one French officer of the génie and aide-de-camp to Général Henri-Gatien comte Bertrand, presents exhaustive elucidations.

"A midi, rien ne paraissait se décider encore; de grands mouvements s’ opéraient de part et d’ autre. On voyait le maréchal Masséna, rappelant […] Maurice de Saxe à Fontenoy, parcourir les rangs de ses divisions et leur imprimer sa bouillante ardeur, porté dans une calèche que ses chevaux conduisaient partout où le danger réclamait la présence d’un chef".

Trslt.: Wagram - "At midday, nothing seemed yet to be decided; some great movements were carried out from one side and the other. One could see the Marshal Masséna, recalling […] Maurice de Saxe at Fontenoy, traversing the ranks of his divisions and leaving to them the imprint of his hot ardour, brought by a calash that his horses led everywhere where the danger asked for the presence of a leader".

Author: Maurice de Saxe was born in Gotzlar (Saxony) on October 28, 1696. An illegitimate child of Frederick Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland; his mother: the Countess Maria-Aurora von Königsmark. 1745, 11 May: under his authoritative leadership, he led into action 40,000 French troops at Fontenoy (Belgium) – to fight the Austrian-Dutch-Hanoverian troops (50,000 men) under William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland (1721-1765). The Allied attack was beaten off,  to the cost of some thousands casualties [vide: Espagnac, Baron De. Histoire de Maurice, Comte de Saxe, Duc de Courlande et de Sémigalle, Maréchal-Général des Camps et Armées de Sa Majesté Très-Chrétienne. Lausanne et Neuchâtel: Société Typographique, 1774; Néel, Louis, Balthasar. Histoire de Maurice comte de Saxe, Maréchal Général des Camps et Armées de sa Majesté Très Chrétienne, Duc élu de Curlande et de Sémigalle, Chevalier des Ordres de Pologne et de Saxe, […]; […], enrichie des Plans des Batailles de Fontenoy et de Lawfeldt. Dresde, Georges-Conrad Walther, 1755; Saint-Rene Taillandier. Maurice de Saxe. Étude historique d’ après les documents des Archives de Dresde. P. Lévy, 1865; Saxe, Maurice, comte de. Les Rêveries ou Mémoires sur l’ Art de la guerre de Maurice comte de Saxe, duc de Courlande et de Semigalle. Lahaye, Pierre Grosse, 1756; White, J., E., M.. Marshal of France: The Life and Times of Maurice, Comte de Saxe. 1962].

[7] This temporal specification sets the date after September 6, 1809.

[8] Escorches de Sainte-Croix (Charles-Marie-Robert, comte d’).

Synopsis: 1782, 20 November: born at Versailles; 1805: attached to the cabinet of Talleyrand, Minister of foreign relations, partecipated in the Italian campaign as volunteer in Masséna’s état-majeur; 7 December: chef de bataillon in the régiment étranger of la Tour d’Auvergne; 1806, February: came to Paris; arrested after an affair with M. de Mariole, superior officer in the same regiment, who seemed to have been killed after a duel; 31 March: appointed major, while kept in prison; 13 May: set free, and sent back to his regiment by order of the Emperor; served at the armée de Naples; 1807: served in Poland; 24 February: aide-de-camp of Masséna; 6 December: received the order to reach his regiment; 1808: served in the armée de Naples; 1809, 1 March: first aide-de-camp to Masséna; 21 April: at the combat of Landshut; 1 May: took a flag at Neumarkt; 5 May: appointed Colonel; 20 May: was the first to cross from the island of Lobau to the left bank of the Danube; 31 May: officer of the Légion d’ honneur; 8 June: chevalier of the military order of Bade; 4 July: was the first to cross the Danube at Enzersdorff and took possession of the village, 6 July: wounded at Wagram; 11 July: served at Znaïm; 21 July: appointed général de brigade.

[9] "As for Sainte-Croix, who had his skin grazed by a cannon-ball, his wound was not dangerous, at which his friends rejoiced. […]. Although Sainte-Croix had been only two months colonel, and was not yet twenty-seven, the Emperor made him major-general, Count with 25,000 francs pension, Grand Cross of the Order of Hesse, and Commander of that of Baden" [Marbot, 1892, Vol. II, Chapter III].

Masséna headquarters remained at Vienna till November 14, 1809 [Marbot, 1935, p. 255].

Général Sainte-Croix was kept some months in bed by his wound. This talented young officer was comfortably quartered in the von Lobkowitz palace, where Masséna had installed his lodgings as well. Palais Lobwowitz, a huge baroque architectural building near the Augustinerkirche (i.e. Augustinian church), is nowadays still located on the Lobkowitzplatz (address: Lobkowitzplatz 2).

[10] This is a point not to be underestimated; it concerns the developing-system of inner relations traced in this narrative passage. It properly enhances distinct inter-actions: Général Sainte-Croix versus Masséna’s Staff (A, first course of relation), and Masséna’s Staff versus Général Sainte-Croix (B, second pole of relation). The recognized character of these military spheres is fundamental, and the officers’ signalled aptitudes for reciprocal Staff advancement and honour duties as well. Shortly afterwards, Masséna “opened” instead another distinctive line (C, third pole of relation), although he kept the leading-head in the pyramidal structure of command and military hierarchy. A further confirmed line is provided by Masséna (C) versus his subordinates Staff-officers. These are precise inter-actions which easily indicate the “geometries” (a triangle: A, B, formed the base; C, the apex) and functional modalities inside this maison militaire (i.e. military household).

[11] One could also assume that well-known heroes of battles are sometimes given credit for actions that someone less well-known actually accomplished. The salient point is that although Masséna was grateful for their loyalty and courage, he did not remunerate them accordingly or as generously as he should. Was Masséna impervious to adequately rewarding his civilian employees? Perhaps he considered their salary enough compensation especially in view that they volunteered to drive the carriage instead of allowing the military personnel to drive it.

[12] "During 1806 Marshal Masséna received the greatest defeat of his life. After sweeping into Naples at the head of a strong army to place King Joseph Bonaparte upon his new throne, the old smuggler settled down to a life of ease, luxury, and profit. For the blockade against England and English goods, though not in full force until the Berlin Decrees towards the end of the year, was sufficiently strong to make the sale of trading licenses a very profitable business. Masséna threw himself into the trade with zest, and the money came pouring in. But the all seeing eye was watching, and a despatch arrived from the Imperial Headquarters ordering King Joseph of Naples to inform the Marshal that three million francs, which he had secretly hidden in a bank in Livorno, had been confiscated. The King had not the nerve to face the cold, hard eye of Masséna, and he sent a general instead. The general received  his orders at midnight, and, trembling in his shoes, he repaired to the vast, gloomy pile of the Acton Palace and knocked nervously at the Marshal’s door. The Marshal came out after a long delay, wearing a cotton night-cap and a huge dressing-gown of green taffeta, and the perspiring general broke the news. With iron self-control Masséna  restrained his temper, and said coldly, “The Emperor thinks, then, that we are fighting to give a throne to his puppy of a king. I do not want the money for myself. I have been a private for five sous a day. But the Emperor has given us a position and the title of Marshal, and we must maintain them”. Up to the end of his life Masséna mourned the loss of his Livorno millions" [Macdonell, 1934, pp. 133-134].


Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2009

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