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The Napoleon Series > Biographies > Biographies

Research Subjects: Biographies

André Masséna D, Duc de Rivoli, Prince of Essling, Marshal (1804)

(Born Nice, 1758 - Died Paris, 1817)


An uneven career for this former warrant officer of the royal army, promoted to general as early as 1793. He won battles and became famous for his plundering of the enemy.

Masséna, son of a shopkeeper, was orphaned at an early age and left to his own wiles. He boarded ship as a cabin boy at age 13. Four years later, he enlisted in the Royal Italian regiment where he served for fourteen years. In 1789, a sergeant for several years, he had risen as far as a commoner could. He left the army, moved to Antibes and got married.

He enlisted in the National Guard and was named general of a brigade on August 22, 1793 and general of a division on December 20 of the same year. His maneuvers enabled the Army of Italy to win at Loano on November 23 and 24, 1793.

When Bonaparte was named general-in-chief of the Army of Italy, he entrusted the advanced guard to Masséna. Present at Montenotte, Dego and Lodi, Masséna was the first to entre Milan. His actions at Rivoli were decisive. He became an important man, and his name was mentioned for some time as a possible Director. The Directory asked him to replace Berthier at the command of the troops occupying the Papal States. Masséna quelled the uprising of discontented, unpaid soldiers with force. The officers informed him that they did not consider him their leader; he was compelled to leave after three days.

He turned to Bonaparte, writing the following, "What am I going to become? I am appealing to your kindness; I expect much of you." Bonaparte did not budge. The Directory recalled him in February 1799, when fighting resumed with Austria. First commander of the Army of Helvetia, then heading the Army of the Rhine and Danube after Bernadotte's and Jourdan's discharges, he maneuvered into position, waiting for the enemy to make a mistake. In September 1799, he defeated the Austrians and the Russians at Zurich.

After the coup d'état of 18-Brumaire, Bonaparte sent Masséna to Italy. The Austrians cut the army in half, and Masséna had to take cover at Genoa in April 1800. After a three month siege, he capitulated on June 4. His resistance enabled the city to be evacuated with the honors of war. Masséna was in disgrace once again, perhaps for not approving the coup d'état.

He retired to Rueil. Made deputy in July 1803, he voted against the consulate for life. He nonetheless received his marshal's baton. The next year, Napoleon recalled him to head the Army of Italy. He took Verona and kept the Archduke's troops busy while Napoleon marched on Vienna.

After the signature of the Treaty of Pressburg in 1805, Masséna received the command of the Army of Naples, the objective of which was to install Joseph on the throne. He then rejoined the Emperor in Poland after the Battle of Eylau (February 8, 1807), where he commanded the right wing of the Grande Armée until the signature of the Treaty of Tilsit. He returned to Rueil with the title of Duc de Rivoli. He lost an eye during a hunting accident.

In March 1809, he organized a corps of 40,000 men and joined the Grande Armée for the Austrian campaign. After the battles of Landshut and Eckmühl (April 21), he managed to take Ebersdorff (May 3), thus opening up the road to Vienna. When Lannes was killed at Essling on May 22, Masséna, heading the troops who had remained on the left bank of the river, had to protect the bridge which would allow the French to entrench themselves on the island of Lobau. At Wagram on July 5 and 6, he contained most of the Austrian attacking forces. At the end of this campaign, he was made prince of Essling.

In 1810, he was given the command of the Army of Portugal. After invading the country and taking Ciudad-Rodrigo on July 10 and Almeida, he came up against Wellington and his fortifications at Torres Vedras on July 27. Once again, he held steady, waiting for reinforcements which never came. He was forced to retreat in 1811. Once again, he was in disgrace with Napoleon. He never returned to the battlefield.

Named military governor at Marseilles, he remained there throughout the first Restoration. During the Hundred Days, he rallied to the Emperor. Commander of the Paris National Guard after Waterloo, he was quickly relieved of the post by Louis XVIII. He died two years later, at age 59.

By Artea


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