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Michel Ney, Duke d’Elchingen


Ney, a French Marshal under Napoleon, was the epitome of the ‘baton in every knapsack’ legend of the Revolutionary armies. He was born in 1769 to a blacksmith and barrel cooper, fled an apprenticeship to a lawyer to join the Hussars, and rose through the ranks throughout the entire revolutionary wars, from Valmy on. By 1800, despite protests that he didn’t want to be promoted, he was a General. His military success, reputation for bravery and social patronage bought him into Napoleon’s circle. He became a Marshall in 1804, and commanded for Napoleon at Austerlitz, Jena, Eylau and Friedland among others.

In 1808 Napoleon sent Ney to Spain, but without the emperor to control them the Marshals quarrelled and failed to co-operate: Ney was particularly prone to disregard orders not from Napoleon himself, and the result was being ordered to France in ignominy in 1811. However, Ney established a timeless reputation in 1812, when he accompanied Napoleon into Russia. Made Prince of Moscow, Ney was given the rearguard, in which he both delayed the Russians and, thanks to skill and great personal bravery, managed to survive. Napoleon called him ‘The Bravest of the Brave’. Ney, perhaps suffering from his experiences, was given a command in 1813, and was wounded at Leipzig. When Napoleon seemed beaten in 1814 Ney led Marshalls in calling for Napoleon to abdicate.

Ney now pledged allegiance to the restored Bourbons, but when Napoleon returned, and Ney went to arrest him, he rejoined his old Emperor, fighting at Quatre Bras (not successfully) and then at Waterloo. He was then arrested, tried as a traitor and executed.

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