Born into a distinguished Burgundian family in 1770, Louis Nicolas d’Avout began his military career with the French Royal Army but fully embraced the principles of the French Revolution, joining the Republican army as the commander of a battalion of volunteers. He quickly rose to the rank of general of brigade, but was removed from the active list of officers because of his noble birth. Nevertheless, he continued to serve in the Revolutionary army and took part in Bonaparte’s Egyptian campaign. His abilities were recognised by Napoleon and Davout was promoted to general of division and was made a Marshal of the Empire in 1804.
He fought at many of the great battles of the Napoleonic Wars, including Austerlitz, Eylau, Wagram and Borodino. However, he is most famously remembered for the Battle of Auerstedt in 1806 where his single corps encountered and defeated the main Prussian army which was more than twice as numerous. As a consequence, he was granted the title of Duke of Auerstaedt. He was more commonly known as ‘The Iron Marshal’ because of his reputation as a stern disciplinarian.
Regarded as Napoleon’s ablest marshal, he was placed in command of the Hamburg in 1813, which was besieged by the Allies, and only surrendered by Davout after Napoleon had abdicated in 1814. During the Waterloo campaign, Napoleon made Davout Minister of War.
This unique study also touches upon the personal life of a man who, despite commanding unlimited respect, had few social skills. We learn of his successful marriage to the beautiful and well-connected Aimeé and the couple’s struggle with the demands of Parisian social life.
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