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Recollections of Marshall Macdonald, Duke of Tarentum
Chapter XLII


At my interview I carefully avoided everything that could resemble personal reproach, but represented to my healers the situation of France, the loads which were already weighing her down, the necessity of not adding to them, and of not aggravating their own position.

They were moved by my frank and well-intended words: they promised me their hell), and kept their word. The most difficult task was to settle differences between themselves. They reproached themselves with having mutually seduced and tempted each other. I intervened, in order to prevent this leaven of discord being introduced among the men, and added:

'As the faults and errors that have been committed are common to all, it is useless to debate the question; the chief thing is to wipe out the recollection of them.'

There was already enough discontent among the troops, without adding fuel to the flames. The interview had lasted a long time; I saluted them, and they withdrew, all more or less satisfied.

I augured well from it; the first step had been difficult, and the result surpassed my hopes. Conversations at dinner and private audiences did the rest, and thenceforward we worked very well together.

At the end of the day some body-guards in disguise arrived, armed with orders to the heads of the gendarmerie to assist the bearers in arresting the persons named in the ordinances. They showed me their instructions and authority.

'You must on no account show yourselves,' I said; 'for in the present state of the army I cannot answer for your personal safety. Let me quiet them down; I have already made a good beginning. Remain hidden here. I will order you some food, and will have mattresses prepared in a room for you. To-morrow we will see what to do.'

They were far from suspecting my intentions; for greater safety, I had their door locked. I knew not where to find the threatened men, to warn them. The Prince of Eckmuhl had just left me; he was to start next morning for the country, but I did not know where, to await the turn of events. I went straight to him, and gave him warning.

'Send word at once,' I said, 'to all those whose names are - on the lists. Send couriers into the cantonments ; this will give them a start of eight or nine hours.'

I do not know how they managed it, but they all got clear away—even General de Laborde, who was laid up with gout at the time.

The next day I set the officers of the body-guards at liberty.

'Now, gentlemen, I said 'you can execute your mission.'

They withdrew, but discovered, somehow, I know not by what means, the warnings that had been given, and returned a few days later to reproach me with their imprisonment, which had brought about the failure of their mission. They would report it, they said.

'Do so,' I answered with a laugh: 'hut you owe me some thanks, for I saved you from the certain fate which awaited you had your disguise been penetrated.'

'We would have risked it,' said one of them.

'Then pray why did you disguise yourselves?' I retorted. This stinging answer disconcerted them.

'Since your mission has now lost its object,' I continued firmly, 'in your own interests, quit the neighbourhood of the army at once. Go and make your report.'

They withdrew without another word. I never heard what report the)' presented ; the Government maintained silence upon the point, but the late Duc de Berry, who still bore me a grudge for our discussions, wrote to me very bitterly. He ended by saying that, were he commanding in my place, he would have all the recalcitrants thrown out of window; to which I replied that one would not have time to do it, to say nothing of the risk of having to lead the way one's self.

All my care was now given to soothing down irritation. I was laden with work, overwhelmed with complaints from the authorities respecting persons under them. Events had marched so fast that the departments situated beyond the line of the armistice and the junction of the Loire and the Rhone had not been warned; they had no stores, and were living from hand to mouth without any security for the next day's provisions. I rearranged the cantonments and enlarged them, but without gaining any substantial relief. Things had not simply been eaten, they had been wasted, and this is always sure to happen when there is no regular distribution of rations. However, I should never end if I once began entering into all these details. I will go on with my story.

The decision concerning the disbandment came at last. it Submission was fairly general. I softened the bitterness of it as far as lay in my power—consoling some, encouraging others. My whole correspondence with the Government is a standing proof of my efforts, and of the interest I took in each individual case; and when the men who had sided with the army were oppressed and abused by the reactionary Party. I warmly defended them in the Chamber of Peers [See my speeches on the Recruiting Bill, of which I was reporter, on the Bill dealing with the interests of absentees, and especially my opinion expressed in the discussion on the Bill concerning electoral colleges. —Note by Marshal Macdonald.]  all that is in print. I also had to defend myself personally against strenuous opponents in the matter of that unlucky disbandment question. The successful party wished to reward me with the post of Grand Meneur, or by the gift of a fine house or property. They insisted; I sternly refused. My pride rebelled at such a proposal. The idea of accepting a reward, when I was helping to deprive so many brave men of their active pay, that is to say, of part of their livelihood. [t About this time I learned a fact which will create no surprise, as it affords another proof of the chivalrous disinterestedness of Macdonald's character. When in 181 several Marshals claimed from the allied lowers their endowments in foreign countries, Madame Moreau (to whom the King had given the honorary title of Madame la Maréchale, and who was the friend of the Duke of Tarentum), wrote, without Macdonald's knowledge, to M. de Blacas, our ambassador at Naples, begging him to endeavour to preserve for the Marshal the endowment which had been given him in the kingdom of Naples.

As soon as Macdonald was informed of this circumstance he waited upon Madame Moreau, thanked her for her kind intentions, but at the same time informed her that he should disavow all knowledge of her letter, as the request it contained was entirely averse to his principles. The Marshal did, in fact, write the following letter to M. de Blacas: 'I hasten to inform you, sir, that it was not with my consent that Madame Moreao wrote to you, and I beg you will take no step that might expose me to a refusal. The King of Naples owes me no recompense for having beaten his army, revolutionized his kingdom, and forced him to retire to Sicily.' Such conduct was well worthy of the man who was the last to forsake Napoleon in 1814. M. de Blacas, who was himself much surprised at Macdonald's letter, communicated it to the King of Naples, whose answer deserves to be recorded. It was as follows: If I had not imposed a law upon myself to acknowledge none of the French endowments, the conduct of Marshal Macdonald would have induced me to make all in his favour.' It is gratifying to see princes such scrupulous observers of the laws they make for themselves !—Bourrienne's ' Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte,' edition of 1885, vol. iii., P. 400.]

The Royal Guard had just been created. I was one of the four Major-Generals. Officers had been sent out to recruit among the former Imperial Guard, which consisted of the elite of the army. A large number joined the new regiment to finish their term of service and secure their pensions. They were models of steadiness and good conduct.

The battalion which had been formed the previous year, to serve as a guard to the Emperor at Elba, was much distrusted, but was eventually admitted like the others. I had ordered it to come to Bourges, where I had opportunities of talking to many officers, non-commissioned officers, and privates. They all assured me (as I have already mentioned in an earlier chapter) that, believing themselves exiled eternally, they sighed for a chance of returning to France. They were therefore delighted at learning, after their embarkation, that they were about to make a descent upon our Mediterranean coast. As the Emperor was warmly received everywhere, and as they met with no obstacle, they were happy to tread once more the soil of their country.

'But,' I asked them, 'if you had met with resistance, if you had been repulsed, would you have embarked again if possible?'

'Oh no!' they replied. 'The opportunity of quitting that island was too good to be missed.'

'But if you had met with opposition, would you have attacked, fired?'

'No, no! We would have committed no acts of hostility; that would have ruined our cause. We would have laid down our arms and asked leave to retire to our families.'

'And have abandoned the Emperor?'

'We had given him sufficient proof of our devotion. Everyone for himself. Besides, he caused his own misfortunes and ours, and we were not called upon to continue his victims.'

'But it was of your own choice and of your own free will that you sided with him.'

'No doubt; but at that time we thought it was a garrison, and that we should be relieved. When we reached the island, and learned that it was to last for life, and as we were miserable there, we were seized with discouragement and home-sickness. We therefore embarked gladly, not knowing whither we were bound; but at any rate we were changing our place!'

With the exception of the majority of the officers, who, from affection or gratitude, had attached themselves to the fortunes, good or bad, of the Emperor, and who would have been delighted to accompany him to St. Helena, all were overjoyed to find themselves at home again. Such were the constant expressions of these soldiers, whom I frequently questioned until they left me.

The disbandment was carried out nearly everywhere without difficulty; but some regiments of the ex-Guard mutinied, as did the Ghasseurs a cheval and the Grenadiers at Aubusson. Their pretext, whether true or false, was the settlement of their pay, which no doubt was much in arrear, and the Government resources were slender. Power had been given, at my request, to a financial agent to advance a portion of the money. I tried to borrow the remainder, and offered security to the inhabitants of Bourges but despite the respect and esteem in which they held me, J could not raise more than 60,000 francs (£2,400).

Order and submission were re-established in the regiment of Chasseurs by dint of some arrests and a display of authority made by the Lieutenant-General commanding the 20th military division at Périgueux. With the exception of a few men led astray by a subaltern officer, who, with them, was made prisoner a few days later, the Grenadiers returned to duty of their own accord when they discovered that they were being dragged into a criminal enterprise. The officer paid for his mistake with his life.

The disbandment came to an end at last. It was not without a cruel pang that I witnessed the disappearance of this valiant and unfortunate army, so long triumphant. No trace now remained of it. An ill-wind had blown and dispersed it like dust; we were now at the mercy of the foreigners ! The loss in rank and file was but temporary. Departmental legions were to be created. The loss in material was immense, incalculable, including as it did arms, harness, saddlery, cavalry and draught horses, that were handed over to farmers who had not the wherewithal to feed those they already possessed. They were taken into the meadows and woods, and abandoned there. Saddles and harness were heaped pell-mell in convents and damp sheds. Eighty - two thousand infantry were disbanded only thirty thousand muskets found their way hack into the depots; sabres, pistols, musketoons, shoulder-belts, all vanished in the same proportion. I had before pointed out what would happen; the Government turned a deaf ear.

I had now been six months at Bourges; all was finished, and I begged leave to resign. I was kept waiting another two months, as it was considered that my presence served as a moral force in the absence of any physical. At length I returned to Paris, and once more took up the duties of Arch-Chancellor of the Legion of Honour.

There is no personal circumstance connected with my military or political career that deserves mention after this period (February, 1816), except that I believe a suggestion was made of offering me the Ministry of War, thinking that the man who had so well succeeded in reconciling feelings and duty during the important operation of disbandment could alone create anew a good army. Some interviews took place, but resulted in nothing.

In 1819 or 1820 I was sent to preside over the electoral district of Lyons, as I had previously done over Bourges. I went thither against the grain, and not without considerable reluctance. It was considered important. I know not why. The King's intervention was even required, and I yielded.

When the Duc de Richelieu quitted the Ministry, he proposed to the King that I should succeed him in the Presidency of the Council, and take at the same time the Foreign Office. Monsieur Roy, at that time Minister of Finance, who retired with the Duc de Richelieu, confided this to me, but the Duke himself never mentioned it. I would certainly not have accepted the position; my devotion would not have carried me to those lengths.

I remember a conversation that I had on one occasion at St. Cloud with Monsieur, by whom I was sitting at the table of Louis XVIII. During his reign the chief officers, as well as those in waiting, were admitted, by right, to have luncheon with him. Monsieur said to me:

'Before the Revolution, you served in the Irish Brigade?'

'Yes, Monseigneur.'

'Nearly all the officers emigrated?'

'Yes, Monseigneur.'

'Why did you not do the same? What kept you in France?'

'I was in love, Monseigneur.'

'Ha! ha!' he said, laughing; 'so you were in love, sir?'

In the same tone, and with an expressive glance, I replied

'Yes, like other people; I was married, I was about to become a father; and, besides, your Royal Highness knows that people emigrated for many reasons. They were not in all cases compelled by public feeling to leave the country, especially the young officers, like myself at that time, who cared very little about politics. They sometimes went for very bad reasons, debts, etc., and I continued in the same tone: 'I must make a confession to your Royal Highness.'

'What is it?'

'It is that I love the Revolution.'

Monsieur started, and changed colour; I hastened to add:

'I detest its men and its crimes. The army took no part in it. It never looked behind, but always ahead at the enemy, and deplored the excesses that were being committed. How could I fail to love the Revolution? It was that which raised and made me what I am; without it, should I now enjoy the honour of sitting at the King's table next to your Royal Highness?'

Monsieur, who had recovered himself and his good temper, clapped me on the shoulder, exclaiming:

'You are quite right; I like your honesty.'

May, 1826.


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