|Sketch by Mathieu van Bree|
Savary (Anne-Jean-Marie-René, Duke of Rovigo), lieutenant-general, grand-cordon of the Legion of Honour and of the Order of Fidelity of Baden, knight of the Iron Crown, etc., was born on 26 April 1774 in the village of Marc[q], in Champagne, from an honourable and locally famous family. His father, a former soldier, knight of Saint-Louis, had obtained the position of major of the Sedan fortress after his retirement. Young Savary showed the same penchant for a military career, enlisted as a second lieutenant in the Royal-Normandie cavalry regiment, in October 1790, and was called on to serve within the staff of the Army of the Rhine in 1794. At the crossing of this river, he was under General Moreau’s orders; even though he was only a captain, the commander-in-chief entrusted him with the command of a battalion that was to lead a diversion, allowing the rest of the army to cross the bridge of Kehl, in front of Strasbourg. At the battle of Friedberg, near Augsburg, he was given command of the infantry column right of the army, which outflanked the enemy’s left and contributed to the victory on that day. On the following year, Desaix put him at the head of the troops in his division that were to attempt the crossing of the Rhine once more, which they did, by force and during the day. His conduct on that day earned the young captain a promotion to lieutenant-colonel. He then accompanied General Desaix to Egypt as his aide-de-camp, leading the troops from this general’s division that landed in Malta and Alexandria; he returned to Egypt as a colonel and reunited with the Army of Italy along with Desaix, and he was by Desaix’s side when the mortal blow that struck him deprived France of one of her most distinguished generals. Colonel Savary immediately ran to tell General Bonaparte of these dire news, and the latter, who had already seen his bravery and military talents in Egypt, immediately took him in his service and made him one of his aides-de-camp. Moreover, Savary was soon given command of an elite legion of the gendarmerie, comprising the pick of every brigade, and specially destined to guard the First Consul. Soon afterwards, he was made a general, but he nonetheless continued to serve as the head of state’s aide-de-camp. As Emperor, Napoleon still trusted him entirely. In 1805, Savary was sent as an ambassador to the Russian Tsar, before and after the battle of Austerlitz. In 1806, he accompanied Napoleon to Prussia. After the battle of Iéna, General Savary received command of a flanking corps meant to prevent the scattered enemy corps from reuniting; it was then that he obtained General Urdoin’s surrender in a plain, despite the latter’s formidable artillery, and made him his prisoner. Being increasingly satisfied with General Savary’s zeal and competence, the Emperor sent him to command the corps that would besiege Hamelin and Wienbourg; both surrendered to him, and 13,000 more men were made prisoners. After this expedition, he joined the Emperor in Warsaw. In January 1807, while the French army was preparing to move, Napoleon sent General Savary to command the V Corps as a temporary replacement for Marshal Lannes, who was then gravely ill. His orders were to watch the movements of the Austrian troops in Galicia, to protect Warsaw, to maintain the Grand Army’s communications with this city, and finally to prevent the Russian corps, which formed the enemy’s left, from reuniting with this army’s centre, the target of the Emperor’s moves. The battle of Eylau was a blow to the hopes that were thus conceived; victory came at a high price, and the French army could only retain its positions for eight days after the victory, on account of the lack of supplies that forced it to withdraw behind the Passarge. During its march, it was overwhelmed by hordes of Cossacks. The Russian corps, facing the V Corps, received orders to march towards Warsaw and cut the French army’s lines of communications. General Savary marched to encounter the Russians, fought them in Ostrolinka, on 16 February 1807, defeated them completely and forced them to retreat. This earned him the grand-cordon of the Legion of Honour. In the following June, the Emperor replaced him at the head of the V Corps with Marshal Masséna, instead giving him an infantry brigade of the Imperial Guard, at whose head Savary fought in Heilsberg and in the famous battle of Friedland. The Emperor made him the Duke of Rovigo as a reward for his services in this campaign. He also gave him the government of Old Prussia, which was then under French occupation. After the signature of the peace treaty of Tilsitt, on 8 July 1807, the Duke of Rovigo was sent to the court of Tsar Alexander and remained in charge of French affairs in Russia for seven months. Over the course of this mission, he managed to restore all the friendly relationships between the two Empires that had been broken since 1804, and with all the new and intimate political ties then formed between France and Russia, the latter power declared war on Sweden and England. The Duke of Rovigo was recalled from St Petersburg in 1808 and replaced by the Duke of Vicenza; Napoleon sent him to Spain, after the Aranjuez revolution that had forced King Charles IV to abdicate. After the Spanish crown was ceded to the Emperor’s brother, the Duke of Rovigo obtained command of the French troops in the Peninsula; moreover, he presided the Spanish junta in Madrid until the new sovereign arrived. Then he joined Napoleon, whom he accompanied to the Erfurt congress, he went back to Spain with him and followed him all the same in the 1809 campaign against Austria. The Austrian army had started the hostilities with a foray into Bavaria, and upon reaching the Danube, Napoleon found the King and his court sheltered in Dillingen. He immediately marched on Donawerth through Ingolstadt in order to reach Marshal Davout’s corps, for a misinterpretation of his orders had led to him being left in Ratisbon. This corps was surrounded by danger now that the main Austrian army had forced the Bavarian army to withdraw behind Abensberg, thus leaving Ratisbon exposed. The Emperor tasked the Duke of Rovigo with trying to force his way to Marshal Davout at any cost, to inform him of his arrival and to give him orders to rejoin, all the while leaving enough forces in Ratisbon to defend the bridge on the Danube. Success in this risky mission seemed almost impossible, and it looked so unlikely than the one entrusted with it would avoid capture that Marshal Lefebvre, who commanded the Bavarians in Abensberg, was somewhat reluctant to open the gates for the Duke of Rovigo, instead showing him the Austrian sentinels posted on the road he would have to take, not even four hundred paces away from the town. Not to be discouraged by such obstacles, the Duke of Rovigo, fully aware of the importance of his mission, only asked for a detachment of a hundred chosen cavalrymen who were immediately taken from the regiment of the Bavarian Crown Prince. He left Abensberg, send half of his detachment to charge the Austrians in the way, and he took the rest through the woods bordering the Danube, crossing them without a sound and reaching Ratisbon after marching just next to the enemy lines. Marshal Davout had left the town on this very morning to march against the main enemy army, which had taken position between the Bavarians and him. After giving his orders to the commander of Ratisbon, the Duke of Rovigo made haste to join Marshal Davout, who was already facing the enemy, gave him the orders he bore and soon afterwards came back to Ratisbon and reported to the Emperor, who had been told that his aide-de-camp had been captured. After the battle of Eckmühl, during his march on Vienna, Napoleon learned in St Pölten that the Austrians had retained the bridge of Krems, on the Danube, in order to threaten his operating lines. He sent the Duke of Rovigo to destroy that bridge with an infantry regiment, a cuirassier regiment and an artillery battery; but from the second shot, the enemies themselves set fire to the bridge and withdrew. Savary spent the rest of the campaign by the side of the Emperor, who distinguished him in every occasion and honoured him with particular trust. On 3 June 1810, Napoleon gave him the Ministry of the Police, which he directed until March 1814. The Duke of Rovigo’s situation of favour had already made him many enemies. Now the partisans of the dispossessed minister (Fouché) came to add themselves to this number, and his successor was often the target of many a calumnious imputation. Yet of all the rigorous decrees that marked these times, none were quoted as being born from the Duke of Rovigo’s will, and several people, including some of the former privileged class, who had seriously compromised themselves with their imprudences, could thank him for his services to them. However actively he watched over Paris, along with the police prefect Pasquier, none of the many agents of these police forces managed to catch on General Mallet’s bold conspiracy. The plotters had not broken their secret, and there was not a single informer among them, which is quite unique in France. At seven in the morning, the Duke of Rovigo was arrested in his bed by Generals Lahorie and Guidal and taken to the prison of La Force, where he only spent a few hours. The plot failed and its heads were shot. In 1814, the Duke of Rovigo was part of the Council of Regency. After the Emperor’s abdication, he lived in retirement until this prince came back from Elba. Napoleon then made him a Peer of France and the first inspector of the gendarmerie. After the Hundred Days, in 1815, when Napoleon left Paris, the Duke of Rovigo left along with him in his carriage to guard him and embarked on the Bellerophon along with him, but they were separated when the Emperor was sent to Saint-Helena. With utter contempt for human rights, and without anything that could legitimate such mistreatment, the English took the Duke of Rovigo to Malta, where he remained imprisoned for seven months in Fort Lazareth. He finally managed to escape and found shelter in Smyrne, where he learned that a court martial in Paris had sentenced him to death in absentia. He left Smyrne and went to Austria, where he merely asked the French government for permission to go back to living peacefully in Smyrne; but his tranquillity was now compromised in that city, and he left once more, to England this time, arriving in June 1819. He left in December of the same year without having informed anyone of his plans, and after embarking in Dover, he landed in Ostende, where he boldly came to Paris demanding justice. Unanimously acquitted on 27 December 1819 by the first court martial of Paris, he then recovered his ranks and honours. Since then, the Duke of Rovigo has been retired. In 1824, he published a memorandum on the execution of the Duke of Enghien; this gave rise to many writings, none of which has yet managed to lift the thick veil that still covers the deepest causes of this deplorable event. Yet we have cause to believe that the day this veil is torn for good will soon come.
[In December 1831, Savary was sent to Algeria as commander-in-chief of the French troops sent there, and his brutal occupation set the tone for the 130 years to come. His Algerian career did not last long, though; by March 1833, he was too ill to serve any longer and was recalled to France. He died in June of the same year, presumably of larynx cancer.]