Sunday, 1 February 2015

General Baron Thiébault (1769-1846)

General Thiébault, in a miniature painted by Sicardi (ca. 1800)

Dieudonné Adrien Paul François Charles Henri Thiébault was born on 14 December 1769 in Berlin. His father Dieudonné (1733-1807) was a French scholar from the Vosges and a friend of Frederick II. Paul and his family moved to Paris in December 1784. His military career began on 14 July 1789, when he joined the National Guard of Paris. He was present at several historical events of the Revolution in Paris, including the Fête de la Fédération on the next year and the storming of the Tuileries on 10 August 1792. However, the increasing radicalisation of the Parisian National Guard was not to his taste, and in September 1792, he left for the northern front lines as a volunteer. His service under Dumouriez's orders led to his arrest in 1793 after the latter's desertion, but he managed to prove his innocence. At the height of the Terror, he was sent back to the North, holding mostly staff posts. In 1795, he was recalled to Paris. There he served under Bonaparte for the first time, during the insurrection of 13 Vendémiaire. However, he missed the chance to join Berthier's staff and had to contend with being an assistant to General Solignac, whom he followed to Italy in 1796. From Piedmont to Naples, he would see much of Italy during his five years of service there, mostly under Masséna's orders.

After a period of semi-inactivity (during which he was promoted to brigade general) at the turn of the century, he was sent to Spain under General Leclerc, then to Tours. He witnessed Napoleon's coronation and, one year later, the battle of Austerlitz, where he was grievously wounded in the shoulder and chest as he defended the heights of Pratzen under Marshal Soult's orders. After his recovery, he was made the governor of Fulda, a position where his thorough knowledge of German language and mentalities helped him greatly. After that, however, most of his service was in the Peninsula, first under General Junot in the first invasion of Portugal, then as the governor of Salamanca and Old Castile. He was recalled to Germany in 1813 and served under Marshal Davout's orders in the blockade of Hamburg. Like many other generals, he swore allegiance to the Bourbons then to Napoleon again during the Hundred Days. Under the second restoration, he participated in the formation of a the French Staff Corps.

He wrote his Mémoires in the 1830s, but the narration itself stops after the death of his second wife in 1820. He was actually a prolific author: other works of his include accounts of the blockade of Genoa and the campaigns of Portugal, a staff manual that remained a reference for decades, but also, more surprisingly, a collection of semi-philosophical thoughts and a pamphlet on singing and composing songs, among other things. The Mémoires were published in 1894 by Fernand Calmettes under the patronage of his last surviving daughter, Claire. Although some modern scholars have stirred up controversy about their authenticity, Calmettes claims that he stuck as closely as possible to Thiébault's original text, and he points out the missing parts of the manuscripts. This editing controversy, as well as Thiébault's messy family life, is developed in Jackson Siegler's thesis, General Thiébault, His Life and his Legacy, which can be freely accessed here

The Mémoires were actually translated by Arthur John Butler in the year they were published in France, but while this translation is of an infinitely higher quality than anything I might churn out, it is regrettably incomplete, which you can easily guess by comparing the size of the two works. Many stories relating to Thiébault's private life are left out, as well as everything that took place after Napoleon's final exile. So while I encourage you to read Butler's translation, which is easily found on, what I will be doing, instead of the systematic translation that peppered my Deviantart gallery, will just be a complement to Butler's work, sharing everything he couldn't include, no doubt due to publishing constraints (I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt here).

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