Did famed French marshal end his days as NC schoolmaster?

Marshal Ney at Waterloo

As improbable as it seems, in some circles there is still doubt as to whether Michel Ney, one of France’s greatest military minds, was executed for treason in 1815 or instead ended his days as a North Carolina schoolmaster three decades later.

Ney was among the ablest of Napoleon’s military leaders, commanding troops during both the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. He was wounded at least four times during his career, fought in scores of battles and commanded the rearguard of Napoleon’s Grande Armée as it withdrew from Russia during the ill-fated invasion of that country. Ney was said to have been the last Frenchman on Russian soil during the Patriotic War of 1812.

Napoleon himself called Ney “the bravest of the brave.”

It was Ney, however, who in April 1814 led the Marshals’ revolt and demanded Napoleon’s abdication.

Initially, Ney was lauded by the Bourbons when they reclaimed the French crown, but the newly restored monarchy was said to have reacted coolly to Ney’s non-aristocratic beginnings.

Marshal Michel Ney.

Marshal Michel Ney.

When Ney heard of Napoleon’s escape from Elba in early 1815, he organized a force to stop his former leader’s march on Paris in a bid to keep France at peace and show his loyalty to the newly restored regime. But despite Ney’s promise to King Louis XVIII, he found himself unable to resist Napoleon’s siren song and rejoined his former commander on March 18, 1815.

Three months later, Napoleon appointed Ney commander of the left wing of the Army of the North. On June 16, 1815, Napoleon’s forces split up to fight two separate battles simultaneously.

Ney attacked the Duke of Wellington at Quatre Bras while Napoleon attacked Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher’s Prussians at Ligny. The French won the initial battle, but weren’t able to deliver a knockout blow.

At Waterloo two days later Ney again commanded the left wing of the French army. At mid-afternoon, Ney ordered a mass cavalry charge against the Anglo-Allied line. Ney’s cavalry overran the enemy cannon, but found the enemy infantry arrayed in cavalry-proof square formations.

Continue reading

The boy king who died for his father’s sins

On this date in 1795, France’s little-remembered Louis XVII is said to have died in a midievel fortress in Paris, a victim of the French Revolution that had earlier claimed his more famous parents, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

Born in March 1785, the young Louis was orphaned with the execution of his mother in October 1793, at the age of 8. His father, the King of France, had been guillotined nine months earlier.

Following his father’s death, the young Louis became the uncrowned King of France and Navarre in the eyes of the royalists. However, he was imprisoned from August 1792 until his death and was never officially crowned king.

His title is one bestowed by French Legitimists and by the fact that Louis XVIII, who ruled from 1814-1826, adopted the title Louis XVIII rather than Louis XVII.

The young Louis was the second-born son of Louis XVI but became heir-apparent when his older brother died in 1789, about the time the French Revolution erupted amid rising food prices food shortages, crushing national debt and a perceived indifference among the Royal Court to the welfare of the masses.

As conditions worsened, the royal family attempted to flee the turmoil.

Continue reading

The short, unhappy life of a young royal

Today marks the birthday of Louis-Charles, a French royal born into opulence and privilege but who had the misfortune to be the son of two wildly unpopular monarchs.

Life didn’t look so bad for the son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette when he was born in 1785, who went by the name of Louis, but that changed a couple of years later with the French Revolution, which led to the execution of his parents and his own imprisonment from the age of 7 onward. 

After his father’s death,, Royalists designated him as Louis XVII, though he was never officially crowed, nor did he rule.

But after the execution of his father on in January 1793, 8-year-old Louis became a rallying point for Monarchists, a fact not lost on adherents of the Revolution. Schemes were devised to try to free the young monarch, but to no avail. 

The young royal was kept in essential isolation for much of 1794 and nearly half of 1795, in filthy conditions. 

Louis received almost no medical care during his imprisonment and on June 8, 1795, at the age of 10, he died of tuberculosis-related complications. 

Continue reading