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Louis Alexandre Berthier, Marshal of France.
Louis Alexandre Berthier, 1st Duc de Wagrammarker, 1st Duc de Valengin, 1st Sovereign Prince de Neuchâtelmarker (February 20, 1753 VersaillesJune 1, 1815 Bambergmarker), marshal of France, Vice-Constable of France beginning in 1808, and Chief of Staff under Napoleon.

Alexandre was born at Versailles to Lieutenant-Colonel Jean Baptiste Berthier (1721 – 1804), an officer in the Corps of Topographical Engineers, and first wife (married in 1746) Marie Françoise L'Huillier de La Serre. He was the oldest of five children, with the three brothers also serving in the French Army, two becoming generals during the Napoleonic Wars.

As a boy he was instructed in the military art by his father, an officer of the Corps de genie (Engineer Corps), and at the age of seventeen he entered the army, serving successively in the staff, the engineers and the prince de Lambesq's dragoons. In 1780 he went to North America with Rochambeau, and on his return, having attained the rank of colonel, he was employed in various staff posts and in a military mission to Prussia. During the Revolution, as Chief of Staff of the Versailles National Guard, he protected the aunts of Louis XVI from popular violence, and aided their escape (1791).

In the war of 1792 he was at once made Chief of Staff to Marshal Lückner, and he bore a distinguished part in the Argonne campaign of Dumouriez and Kellermann. He served with great credit in the Vendéan War of 1793-95, and was in the next year made a general of division and chief of staff (Major-Général) to the army of Italy, which Bonaparte had recently been appointed to command. His power of work, accuracy and quick comprehension, combined with his long and varied experience and his complete mastery of detail, made him the ideal chief of staff to a great soldier; and in this capacity he was Napoleon's most valued assistant for the rest of his career.

He accompanied Napoleon throughout the brilliant campaign of 1796, and was left in charge of the army after the Treaty of Campo Formio. He was in this post in 1798 when he entered Italy, invaded the Vatican, organized the Roman republic, and took the pope Pius VI as prisoner back to Valence (France) where, after a journey of torturous suffering, the pope, a helpless prisoner under Berthier's supervision, died, dealing a major blow to the Vatican's political power which, however did not prove as ephemeral as that of the First Empire. After this he joined his chief in Egyptmarker, serving there until Napoleon's return. He assisted in the coup d'état of 18th Brumaire, afterwards becoming minister of war for a time. In the campaign of Marengo he was the nominal head of the Army of Reserve, but the first consul accompanied the army and Berthier acted in reality, as always, as Chief of Staff to Napoleon. At the close of the campaign he was employed in civil and diplomatic business. This included a mission to Spain in August, 1800, which resulted in the retrocession of Louisianamarker to France by the Treaty of San Ildefonso, October 1, 1800, and led to the Louisiana Purchase.

Bust of Louis-Alexandre Berthier in the Chateau de Blois
When Napoleon became emperor, Berthier was at once made a marshal of the empire. He took part in the campaigns of Austerlitz, Jena and Friedland, and was created duke of Valengin in 1806, sovereign prince of Neuchâtel in the same year and vice-constable of the empire in 1807. In 1808 he married on March 9 Maria Elisabeth Franziska of Bavaria (Landshutmarker, 5 May 1784Parismarker, 1 June 1849), a distant cousin by a collateral branch of the King of Bavaria, and served in the Peninsula, and in 1809 in the Austrian War, after which he was given the title of prince of Wagram. He was with Napoleon in Russia in 1812, Germany in 1813, and France in 1814, fulfilling, till the fall of the empire, the functions of "major-general" of the Grande Armée.

Following Napoleon's first abdication, Berthier retired to his 600 acre (2.4 km²) estate, and resumed his hobbies of falconry and sculpture. He made peace with Louis XVIII in 1814, and accompanied the king in his solemn entry into Paris. During Napoleon's captivity in Elbamarker, Berthier, whom he informed of his projects, was much perplexed as to his future course, and, being unwilling to commit him, fell under the suspicion both of his old leader and of Louis XVIII. On Napoleon's return he withdrew to Bambergmarker, where he later died.

The manner of his death is uncertain; according to some accounts he was assassinated by members of a secret society, others say that, maddened by the sight of Prussian troops marching to invade France, he threw himself from his window and was killed. Berthier was not a great commander. When he was in temporary command in 1809, the French army in Bavariamarker underwent a series of reverses. Whatever merit as a general he may have possessed was completely overshadowed by the genius of his emperor, be he is nevertheless renowned for being able to understand and carry out the emperor's directions to the minutest detail.

Personal Life

he married on March 9 H. R. H. Maria Elisabeth Franziska, Herzogin in Bayern (Landshutmarker, 5 May 1784Parismarker, 1 June 1849), a distant cousin by a collateral branch of the King of Bavaria, by whom he had one son and two daughters:
  • Napoleon-Alexandre (11 September 1810 – 10 February 1887)
  • Caroline-Josephine (22 August 1812 – 1905)
  • Marie-Anne (19 February 1816 – 23 July 1878)



  • Watson, S.J., By Command of the Emperor: A Life of Marshal Berthier, The Bodley Head, London, 1957

External links

Suggested Reading

  • Bukhari, Emir Napoleon's Marshals Osprey Publishing, 1979, ISBN 0850453054.
  • Chandler, David Napoleon's Marshals Macmillan Pub Co, 1987, ISBN 0029059305.
  • Connelly, Owen, Blundering to Glory: Napoleon's Military Campaigns SR Books, 1999, ISBN 0842027807.
  • Elting, John R. Swords around a Throne: Napoleon's Grande Armee Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1997, ISBN 0029095018.
  • Haythornthwaite, Philip Napoleon's Commanders (2): c.1809-15 Osprey Publishing, 2002, ISBN 1841763454.
  • Hittle, James Donald ‘‘the Military Staff: Its History and Development Military Service Publishing, 1952.
  • Macdonell, A. G. Napoleon and His Marshals Prion, 1997, ISBN 1853752223.
  • Pawly, Ronald Napoleon's Imperial Headquarters (1): Organization and Personnel Osprey Publishing, 2004, ISBN 184176793X.
  • Pawly, Ronald Napoleon's Imperial Headquarters (2): On campaign Osprey Publishing, 2004, ISBN 1841767948.
  • Watson, S.J. By Command of the Emperor: A Life of Marshal Berthier Ken Trotman Ltd, ISBN 094687946X.

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