Research Subjects: Biographies


The Top Twenty French Cavalry Commanders:
#12 General Claude-Etienne Guyot

By Terry J. Senior

 

General Claude-Etienne Guyot

General Claude-Etienne Guyot

This very talented and capable cavalry commander, who was born in the small town of Villevieux (Jura) on 5 September 1768, was the last of twelve children (including two sets of twins) born to Claude-Etienne Guyot (1725-1801) who was a simple farm labourer and his wife Sebastienne Maillot (1724-1780). Guyot's mother died when he was barely 12 and within 10 weeks his father had remarried. He did not get on with his stepmother, Sebastienne Renard, and that is one reason why he enlisted on 1 November 1790 in the Chasseurs-a-Cheval de Bretagne, which later become the 10e Chasseurs-a-Cheval. The principal explanation for Guyot senior's rather imprudent rush into another marriage is probably due to the fact that his own health was failing and he was rapidly losing his sight

The future General made steady progress through the ranks and by 13 October 1802 was a Capitaine in the Chasseurs-a-Cheval de la Garde Consulaire.He was promoted to Chef d'Escadron in January 1804, and during the period 1805/1807 served in the Grande Armee in Prussia, Poland and Austria and was present at Eylau.

In March of 1808, he was awarded a pension of 10,000 francs drawn on the Kingdom of Westphalia, then two months later he was elevated to the Imperial nobility being created Baron de l'Empire. He went on the Emperor's brief visit to Spain in 1808 and took part in the charge of the Chevaux-legers Polonaise and the Chasseurs-a-Cheval de la Garde. After he return to France Guyot was decorated as Chevalier de la Couronne de Fer.

At Wagram in July 1809, he commanded 12 squadrons comprising the Lanciers Polonaise and the Chasseurs-a-Cheval de la Garde. It was during the preparation for this action that Major Pierre Daumesnil and Major Marie-Louis-Hercule-Hubert Corbineau, both friends of Guyot, suffered similar wounds, each having a leg smashed by a cannon ball and requiring amputation. Resting in adjacent cots in the Esterhazy Palace a few days after Wagram, Daumesnil in a selfless act of chivalry took prompt action, and, ignoring his own very severe wounds summoned help from two floors below for Corbineau who was haemorrhaging badly. Daumesnil's quick thinking saved his colleagues life. Guyot was made General-de-Brigade after the battle and awarded another pension of 20,000 drawn on Swedish Pomerania

In January 1810, he was awarded a third pension of 10,000 francs drawn this time on Galicia, he was also appointed Chambellan de l'Empereur and served another brief period in Spain. During 1811 Guyot was mostly to be found in close proximity to the Emperor who paid an extended visit to Holland at this time. He was made Commandant de la Legion d'Honneur in June and promoted to General-de-Division in December.

Taking part in the Russian campaign of 1812, he commanded 1200 men of the Chasseurs-a-Cheval de la Garde with 1,500 horses and managed to get back with 680 men and 250 horses which was a considerable achievement given the overall losses sustained by the Grande Armee during this disastrous campaign.

During 1813, he saw action at Lutzen, Bautzen, Leipzig and Hanau, and during the campaign for France the following year was present at St Dizier, Brienne, La Rothiere, Montmirail, Champaubert, Montreau, Fimes, Berry-au-Bac, Craonne, Reims, Arcis sur Aube, and Troyes. During much of this time Guyot commanded the escort to the Emperor and rarely left his side. It is strange that many historians claim that Guyot was captured at Kulm in 1813 together with Generals Haxo, Teste, and Vandamme. They are consequently wrong as Baron Fain the originator of the error mistook Guyot for General Joachim-Jerome Quiot de Passarge who was indeed made a prisoner with the other generals mentioned. The error probably resulted from the very similar pronunciation of the two surnames. Guyot became Major-Colonel des Grenadiers-a-Cheval de la Garde following the death through fatigue of the veteran General Frederic-Henri Walther.

Being in garrison in Arras at the beginning of 1815, he rallied to the Emperor and for the Belgian campaign commanded the Grenadiers-a-Cheval, the Dragons de l'Imperatrice (after Letort had been killed on the 16th) and the squadrons of the Gendarmerie d'Elite. He fought at Ligny and Fleurus on the 16th June and at Waterloo on the 18th where he led at least three charges against the English squares. He had two horses killed under him during this battle, took a number of sabre wounds, suffered a musket ball in his left arm as well as a shot in the chest. He left the field and command devolved to General Jean-Baptiste-Auguste-Marie Jamin Marquis de Bermuy who was himself killed minutes later.

The General was married in February 1800 to Francoise Gay who was the daughter of an apothecary. They had six children, five boys and one girl - four of the boys were to die on active service.

Guyot was a very chivalrous, courageous, and knowledgeable commander, tactically aware and went about his job in a quiet manner. He was also fairly sombre in his dress preferring to parade the official uniform rather than make up his own somewhat garish outfits as did so many of the commanders especially of the cavalry including LaSalle, Bruyere, and Murat.

He was 1.75m tall, with brown eyes and dark hair. He wore a typical moustache and was a brilliant equestrian, and a sound and efficient commander. His friends included the previously mentioned Daumesnil as well as the artillery commander General Antoine Drouot. He was respected and admired by those under his command and went to some lengths to take great care of them.

In his Carnets the General wrote the following, in French of course, which translates as follows:

"His (Napoleon's) reliance on me for the safety of his person in his campaigns as well as his voyages within his Empire has been unlimited since 1807 until the day of his departure for the island of Elba. His memory will live and my gratitude will remain until my last day"

From that passage I think we can safely say that Guyot can be very definitely listed among the Bonapartists.

He was a distant cousin of General Etienne Guyot from Mantoche who was killed at Kleinenfeld in June 1807.

Guyot himself was 69 years when he suffered a stroke and died in Paris on the 28th November 1837.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2002

 

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