The Rehabilitation of Marshal Brune

By Dominique Contant

" the scandal is in the crime; it is not in the complaint; it is not in the cry of the wrongfully versed blood "

So began the request sent by Ma�tre Dupin, famous Parisian lawyer, to King Louis XVIII, on 19 March 1819.

" Majesty... a horrible attempt occured under the reign of Your Majesty. One of the grand officers of the crown, a Marshal of France, was meanly murdered and since about four years, this crime so public, if revolting, was not punished... Why, without you knowing it your Majesty, in your own palate, the death of the Marshal received this sort of ratification? " (the picture of this Marshal had been removed from the Marchal's gallery)

" One, apparently, was afraid that this image staying in the gallery could remember the crime, and that while crossing this room going to praise the Lord who protects France, it came in mind of your Magesty to punish the culprits.... I ask for justice, my Lord, justice for the murder of my husband, justice of the insult makes to his corpse, justice of the insult made (done) for his memory by those that dared to accuse him of suicide. This justice, I ask to the King, I ask to your ministers, I ask to the chambers, I ask to the whole nation...."

This letter, was from Angelica Nicole Pierre, widow of the Marshal Guillaume Marie-Anne Brune, who requested from the King the right to lodge a complaint against the assassins of her husband. Brive and the Revolution It is not a question of doing here a biography of the Marshal Brune, but of limiting us to some significant facts of his life and which will lead to this tragic drama.

Born in Brive, in the D�partment of Corr�ze, on March 13, 1763, Guillaume Brume planned on studying law. When he was twenty years old he joined the 'School of Right' and the College of France, in Paris. In 1789, he becomes acquainted with Marat, Fr�ron, Fabre d' Eglantine. He also becomes the friend of Danton and Camille Desmoulins. He will know how to escape from the revolutionary storm. One will accuse him of lack of courage when Danton and his friends were guillotined.But could he have done something to save his Girondist friends?

Marshal Brune

Marshal Brune

The Princess of Lamballe

It is now time to remember one of the saddest episodes of the French revolution. In 1792 the Austrian army approaches Verdun. The people of Paris stir and some will be taken of a true sanguinary madness. They will be part of the infamous 'Massacres of September'. On September 2, 1792, the crowd invades the prison of 'la Force' and lynches the Princess of Lamballe. It is said that her head, on a pike, was shown in the window of her friend, Marie Antoinette, a prisoner in the 'Temple'.

This history, apparently, would have nothing to do with the one we are interested in. But, curiously, the English author Goldsmith was going to write later: 'Some people (without giving names) believed to recognize in the man who carried the head, the General Brune disguised!' We know that this is false: The Duchess of Abrantes, in her memories, remembers to have seen the man who carried the head. She gives even names: 'Charlat carried the head, Grison the heart of the unfortunate.' To avoid the legal proceedings, Charlat joined the army and was massacred by his companions while Grison was condemned to died and was executed in Troyes.

What is significant however, is that, for the Royalists, Brune is the murderer of the Princess of Lamballe and participated in the Massacres of September. We know today that Brune was then in Rodenac close to Thionville, in the north of France.


Having distinguished itself during the 1st Campaign of Italy, Brune, now a general-of-division, was sent by the Directoire for the intervention in Switzerland in 1798. Switzerland was quickly dominated; on March 17, 1798, Brune sent to the Directory a letter informing him about the submission of Switzerland. He tried to maintain discipline and to prevent plunders as proved by his declaration to the army on March 9, 1798. But in order to maintain the campaign of Italy, the Directoire imposed heavy contributions on Switzerland. Brune becomes angry with the French police commissioners who plunder Switzerland. One of them, Rapinat, brother-in-law of the Swiss Director Rewbell, is terribly effective. The French word " rapine " meaning ' Plunder ' one said in Paris " Le pauvre Suisse qu'on ruine Voudrait bien qu'on d�cid�t Si Rapinat vient de rapine, Ou rapine de Rapinat " "The poor Swiss which one ruin Would like it will be established if Rapinat comes from rapine (plunder), Or rapine (plunder) from Rapinat "

Brune received the command of the army of Italy, much to his relief. On 28 March 1798, he left Bern, replaced by the General Schawenbourg. A short time after his departure, the French Army forces the contributions from Einsiedeln on May 4, 1798 - more than one month after the departure of Brune - and from Sion by May 15. Schawenbourg continued the force contributions and plunderings on September 9, 1798 in Stanz. Brune, as we have just seen, was not in Switzerland during the events of Einsiedeln, Sion and Stanz. But the name of Brune was inequitably involved with these plunders. Many authors, like Taine, assumed the information is correct, and Brune gains a reputation for looting. Later, one author accused him of embezzling the famous 'Treasury of Bern'.

In 1819 a judgement of the Court of Auditors will acquit, but too late, the Marshal Brune by verifying that the completeness of the sums had been received by the Directoire. At St H�l�ne, Napoleon himself will say: "Brune was wrongfully accused of having abused his powers in Switzerland; but the history will give him justice."

A Pun? If you say to a French person: " We meet � la brune " he probably will not understand you. This expression was current in the 19th Century and meant at night. A song, which reflects very well the spirit of this time in the French Army of Switzerland said: ' (To steal) don't go during a day, it is too stupid, but go ahead ' � la brune', you will miss never your blow ' Quickly this word of humour was known in all the army and one say that his soldier 'honest during the day, steal � la brune' .

So propagates the calumny on Brune, while two others are ignored: Soult stole a splendid collection of pictures in Spain, while Mass�na, according to Napoleon himself, 'has stolen much from Venice'.

The Disgrace

The act of Swedish capitulation, ackwardly written by Brune on 7 September 1807 will be the occasion of the long disgrace of Brune. From this date, the name of the Marshal Brune will not be pronounced by the Imperial Court any more. He withdraws in disgrace to Saint Just. Precisely it is the oportunity to verify that, in 1808, the fortune of Brune amounted to 600 000 Francs Or (Approximately 1,900,000 Euro). Considering that Brune had his marshal's pay, plus that of Councilor of State and had received many awards from Napoleon, his fortune was nothing extraordinary.

The 100 Days

Returning from the island of Elba, Napoleon had crossed the south of France. In Avignon he had felt the hostility of the population. Then he remembered Brune. The one that had, with ability and without excess, pacified the south of France in 1795 and the western part (the Vend�e included) in 1800. On 16 April 1815, Marshal Davout, in the name of the Emperor, orders Brune to take command of the 8th Military Division in the south of France. After 8 years of exile and silence, Marshal Brune once again becomes a soldier of the Emperor.

On June 24 he receives news of Waterloo. On 4 July he writes 'Long life to the Emperor Napoleon II, the French freedom lives forever!' Twenty days later he must recognize, with pain, the new government and accept the submission. His last message was to the soldiers of the 8th Division:

"For the fatherland, all our sacrifices! He orders that we give up these flags which remind to us so many victories; then that they receive my painful good-byes... "


The situation is very difficult for Brune. He must go to Paris, but cross a region where he is doubly hated: for he was one of the first Revolutionaries and then a representative of Napoleon. His friends advise to him to abandon Toulon by boat. He considers this idea not very worthy of a Marshal of Empire and decides to go up the Rhone. On the road of Paris, at Aix, he is already threatened and insulted by a Royalist group. At the town of Cavaillon, strangely, his escort receives the order to return towards Toulon. It will be proven later that the command came from the town of Avignon. Alone and without escort the Marshal arrives at Avignon on 2 August 1815 at 8 o'clock in the morning.

There he is to change horses at the relay station of the 'Hotel du Palais Royal'. A group formed around his carriage. One named Soulier shouts: 'It is the Marshal Brune who carried the head of the Princess of Lamballe.' The crowd prevents the carriage from continuing down the road. Brune returns to the hotel. He is given room N� 3, on the first floor. The authorities of the town of Avignon are strangly passive. A mob of 4,000 people threaten to destroy the hotel. In his room, the Marshal writes and tears up three letters. Farg�s enters the room with a gun. The Marshal takes his hand to him, and the shot is lost in the window. Roquefort shouts 'Stupid. You missed him, I will not miss him'. He fires his rifle from behind, Brune dies, the carotid split. It is 3 p.m.The mayor of the city said to the crowd ' Return at home, the Marshal committed suicide!' One hour later he gives the command to bury the Marshal.

The Thesis of the Suicide

During his life, the Marshal was much hated by the Royalists. The rumor of his suicide was going to make him odious. In those times, a person who commits suicide did not respect himself and thus one does not respect one committed suicide. The crowd seized the body and threw him from a bridge, into the Rhone river. For a long time afterwards one could see written on the bridge: 'Cemetery of the marshal Brune '. The local press continues spreading the rumor of his suicide. The real question is why was he hated so much? Could it be because he defended and prevented the English from taking Toulon, in spite of the commands of the King 'to open all the cities and to welcome the allies'? Or might it have been his poorly chosen words after hearing of Waterloo: 'That the flags of the Empires receive our painful good-byes '. On this subject, there is in the official archives, an anonymous report of July 1815: 'Order to take the Marshal Brune who persists in maintaining the rosette and the Tricolour flag in Toulon'.

The Return of the Body

For several days the Brune's body floated down the Rhone River. One morning a gardener found an unrecognizable body and buried it in the lands of the Baron de Chartrouse. For two years, the wife of the Marshal led many searches for the body. On 5 December 1817, the Baron de Chartrouse, with the assistance of the gardener found the body and sent it to the Marshal's wife.

The Lawsuit

With an admirable courage, in spite of the white terror which prevailed then, his wife obtained from the King the right to pursue the assassins. In Riom on 25 February 1821, a court recognized that: the Marshal had not carried the head of the Princess of Lamballe; that the Marshal was not guilty of embezzlement ; and that the Marshal had not committed suicide.

The Rehabilitation

Brune had neither the military genius of Davout, the courage of Ney, nor the protection as Marmont. But he had deserved enough to belong in the gallery of portraits of the Marshals of the Empire.


The excellent book Le Mar�chal Brune, la toge et l'�p�e by Maurice Vergne -1996.
(This book is the result of 4 working years of a group of pensioners in the archives of Brive, Tulle, Marne and the ministry of the armies in Paris.)