Berthier, Louis-Alexandre, 1st Prince of Wagram, Sovereign Prince of Neuchatel, Marshal of France


1807 LS from Minister of War Marshal Berthier passing on the Emperor’s request that samples of each French Army uniform be sent to Russia’s Grand Duke Constantine, France’s then ally after the Peace of Tilsit


Type: Letter
Description: (1753-1815) Marshal of the Empire, Minister of War and Napoleon’s chief of staff 1796-1814, a superb operational organizer. Served in the Army and survived suspicion of monarchism in the Reign of Terror, rapidly rose during the Revolutionary wars. He was a key supporter of the 18th Brumaire coup that gave Napoleon supreme power. Berthier opposed the progressive stretching of lines of communication during the Russian campaign. Allowed to retire by the restored Bourbon regime, he died of unnatural causes before Waterloo.

Entering the army at 17, in 1780 went to North America with General Rochambeau, and on his return, as colonel, was in various staff posts and on a military mission to Prussia. During the Revolution, as Versailles National Guard chief of staff, he protected Louis XVI’s aunts, aiding their escape in 1791. In 1792, he was made chief of staff to Marshal Luckner, distinguishing himself in the Argonne campaign of Generals Dumouriez and Kellerman. He served honorably in the 1793-95 Vendean War and in 1796 was made general of division and chief of staff to the Army of Italy under Bonaparte. He had an important role in the Battle of Rivoli, relieving General Joubert when the latter was attacked by Austrian general Alvinczi. Berthier would be Napoleon’s most valued assistant for the rest of his career.

He was with Napoleon throughout the 1796 campaign. In charge of the army after the Treaty of Campo Formio, entered Italy 1798, invaded the Vatican, organized the Roman Republic, and took Pope Pius VI prisoner. Berthier supervised the Pope’s relocation to Valence, where Pius died. Berthier joined his chief in Egypt, serving there until Napoleon’s return. He assisted in the 18 Brumaire coup (9 Nov. 1799), becoming Minister of War for a time. During the Battle of Marengo, he was nominal head of the Army of Reserve, but acted in reality as chief of staff. At Marengo he was wounded. At the end of the campaign, he was sent on an August 1800 mission to Spain which resulted in the retrocession of Louisiana to France by the Treaty of San Ildefonso, which led to the Louisiana Purchase. When Napoleon deposed King Frederick William III of Prussia from the principality of Neuchatel, Berthier was its appointed ruler to 1814, becoming sovereign prince 1806.

When Napoleon became Emperor, Berthier was made a Marshal of the Empire. He took part in the campaigns of Austerlitz, Jena and Friedland, made Duke of Valangin 1806 and Vice-Constable of the Empire 1807. In 1808, he served in the Peninsular War and in 1809, served in the Austrian theatre in the War of the 5th Coalition, after which given the title of Prince of Wagram.

He was with Napoleon in Russia in 1812, and in the council of war on whether to proceed, was one of several who advised against advancing on Moscow which Napoleon rejected. He served in Germany 1813, France 1814, major general of the Grand Army.

After Napoleon’s 1st abdication, Berthier retired to his estate, made peace with Louis XVIII in 1814 and joined the King on his entry into Paris. While in exile on Elba, Napoleon informed Berthier of his plans. Berthier was unwilling to commit to Napoleon, and fell under his and Louis XVIII’s suspicions. On Napoleon’s return to France, Berthier withdrew to Bamberg, dying 1 June 1815 in a fall from an upstairs window, the manner of his death uncertain.

10 x 8 LS Berthier in French as Prince de Neuchatel, Vice-Constable and Major General, Vittoria (Italy),November 7 1808, to the Ministry of War Director of Administration Dejean. The Emperor, having entrusted Berthier to arrange to give Grand Duke Constantine of Russia a model of each of the Army’s uniforms, Berthier has written to the Director of Clothing to make up the uniforms. In an attachment (not here), Dejean can see that the models are done and Berthier asks that they be boxed and sent to the Russian Ambassador at Paris (Pyotr Alexandrovich Tolstoy) who will arrange for them to be sent to the Grand Duke. Dejean’s docket at left side is to the Office of Clothing asking that they have M. Dauzeret inform Dejean what remains to be done to complete the Emperor’s orders sent by the Prince Vice- Constable.

Jean-François Aimé, Count of Dejean (1749–1824) Army officer and minister of state in the 1st French Republic and 1st French Empire. Entered Royal Army as a 2nd lieutenant 1766, at the Revolution he embraced moderate reform principles. His talents in military administration brought rapid advancement through the ranks of army engineers. He commanded the Army of the North Sept. 1796-Sept. 1797, consul to Genoa 1800-02, Minister of War Administration 1802-09. Before his retirement from the Ministry, he was chief inspector-general of fortifications. The Emperor made him a senator and Treasurer of the Legion of Honor. After Napoleon’s 1814 abdication, Dejean joined the Provisional Government as extraordinary commissioner to the Comte d’Artois, future King Charles X. He was a Peer of France, Governor of The Polytechnic School, and Chairman of the Committee for the Liquidation of Arrears. In 1815, having served under Napoleon in the Hundred Days, on the Bourbon Restoration he was removed from all public offices, returning to the Chamber of Peers 1819, supporting the liberal opposition.

Konstantin Pavlovich, Grand Duke of Russia (1779-1831) 2nd son of Tsar Paul I, heir-presumptive for most of elder brother Alexander I’s reign, secretly renounced his claim to the throne in 1823. From Dec. 1-26, 1825 he was known as His Imperial Majesty Konstantin I Emperor and Sovereign of Russia, though he never reigned or acceded to the throne, younger brother Nicholas I became Tsar 1825. Paternal grandmother Catherine the Great named him after Constantine the Great, founder of the Eastern Roman Empire.

His 1st campaign was under Suvorov but the Battle of Bassignana was lost by his fault, but at Novi he distinguished himself by bravery so Tsar Paul gave him the title of tsarevich, heir to the throne, which Konstantin never tried to secure. In command of the Imperial Guards in the campaign of 1805, he bore some responsibility for Russian defeat at Austerlitz. After the July 1807 Peace of Tilsit he became an ardent admirer of Napoleon and upholder of the Russo-French alliance, losing the confidence of Alexander who saw the alliance as a means to an end. In 1812, after the fall of Moscow, Konstantin sought a speedy peace with Napoleon. 

Tsar Alexander installed him in Congress Poland as de facto viceroy to militarize and discipline Poland. He was made commander-in-chief of kingdom forces under which Lithuanian troops were added in 1819 with those from Russian provinces belonging to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Poles pressed for reforms and Alexander, calling their actions an “abuse” of liberty, suspended their parliament for 5 years and authorized Konstantin to maintain order by any means necessary. He strengthened the secret police, suppressed Polish patriotic movements, harassed the liberal opposition, replaced Poles with Russians on important local administration posts and in the army, and often insulted and assaulted his subordinates.

After 19 years of separation, his marriage was annulled and Konstantin married Polish Countess Joanna Grudzinska, renouncing any claim to succession, completed 1822. When Alexander I died 1 December 1825, Grand Duke Nicholas had Konstantin proclaimed tsar in St. Petersburg, and in Warsaw Konstantin abdicated the throne. Under Nicholas I, Konstantin kept his position in Poland.

An assassination attempt on his life precipitated the November 1830 insurrection in Warsaw. Konstantin saw the revolt as a strictly Polish affair and refused to use Russian troops which could be seen as a violation of the kingdom’s independence and an act of war. He refused to send the handful of Polish troops he could gather against the revolutionaries and left the revolt’s suppression to the Polish government. The securing of neutrality from Konstantin led the Polish government to believe Russia would not attack allowing it to defeat the radicals. On 3 December, Konstantin retreated behind Russian lines, but after failure of the uprising expressed admiration for the Polish insurgents’ valor. He died of cholera 27 June 1831 and did not live to see the revolution’s suppression.

Condition: Very Good, normal folds

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