Thursday, November 22, 2012

Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, Marshal of France (1763-1844)

Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, Marshal of France (1763-1844)
Bernadotte's parents had hoped that their son would one day become
a lawyer, they lacked the money to bring these aspirations to fruition.
His father died when he was 17, and with no money for further schooling,
 he enlisted in the Regiment Royal-Marine.
Well built (his nickname was 'Pretty Legs') and better educated than most ,
 he made first sergeant by 1788. He had fine moments, as in 1790, when
he faced down a Marseilles mob to save his colonel. But he trusted no
one and was himself untrustworthy - able, but always plotting against
his superiors.  The Revolution made him a lieutenant in late 1791. Three
years later he was a general of division.
In 1797 he commanded the force sent from Sambre-et-Meuse to reinforce Napoleon in Italy.
Bernadotte quickly impressed General Louis Desaix, who described him as 'Young, plenty of fire,
vigorous, of fine passions, very estimable. He is not loved for he is considered a fanatic.' ( Bernadotte
was in fact a rabid Jacobin at the time).  Bernadotte was also an incredibly ambitious man, one prone
to intrigues. And it was no secret that he saw in himself Napoleon's equal in every way, an attitude
he wasn't shy about sharing with others. Bernadotte would eventually marry Desiree Clary, the
woman made famous as Napoleon's first great love interest.
In 1799 he was first ambassador to Austria (and got himself kicked out of Vienna), then as Minister
of War his unrealistic strategic inspirations soon caused the Directors to accept 'the resignation I have
not given.' Tall, dashing, with alert button eyes and a fine beak of a nose, Bernadotte showed
remarkable bravery in action and was a competent tactician. He could outbrag Augereau or be
convincingly charming to people who might be useful to him.
Bernadotte rose from the ranks, served brilliantly under Napoleon in the Italian campaign (1796–97),
was French ambassador at Vienna (1798), and was minister of war (1799). Made a Marshal of France
 in 1804 along with the other thirteen Marshals of the first group appointed after Napoleon’s ascension
to the throne, Bernadotte played had a prominent part in the victory of Austerlitz in 1805 and was
named the Prince of Ponte Corvo the following year.
Bernadotte circa 1792 by Amiel
Bernadott's eventual downfall as a Marshal of France sprang from his strained relationship with
emperor. While commanding a corps in northern Germany, however, he negotiated with the
Swedes who were impressed by his generous conduct. In 1809, Gustavus IV of Sweden abdicated
and was succeeded by his aged and childless uncle, Charles XIII.  In need of both a suitable
successor to Charles and an alliance with Napoleon, Sweden turned to Bernadotte. After receiving
the support of Napoleon, who probably saw in Bernadotte’s success a guarantee of Swedish
neutrality should the Coalition call upon them to fight France (a hope dashed when Bernadotte
joined the allies in 1813), and after having converted to the Lutheran faith of Sweden, Bernadotte
was elected crown prince by the Riksdag and adopted (1810) by Charles XIII as Charles John.
The infirmity of King Charles XIII and dissensions within the council of state put the reins of
government into the hands of the new Crown Prince.  Bernadotte favored the acquisition of Norway
from Denmark rather than the reconquest of Finland from Russia, and threw in his lot with Russia
and England against Napoleon and Denmark.
Bernadotte's Swedish contingent played an important part in the defeat of Napoleon at the battle of
Leipzig (1813) in Napoleon's last campaign in central Europe following the disastrous retreat from
Russia. Needless to say, Bernadotte's appearance on the battlefield whipped his former brothers-in-
arms in Napoleon's Imperial Guard into a frenzied thirst for revenge. Ever cautious, or should I say
prudent, Bernadotte was careful not to directly lock horns with Napoleon, contenting himself with
what was basically a support role.
Bernadotte as King Carl Johann of Sweden
In 1814, having marched his army into Denmark, Bernadotte forced the Danes to cede Norway
in the Treaty of Kiel. Norway, which had declared its independence, was subdued, and by a
majority vote of the Norwegian Storting (1814) the country was united with Sweden under a
single king.  The Congress of Vienna confirmed the union but restored the town of Ponte Corvo
 to the Pope Pius VII.
Bernadotte succeeded to the throne of Sweden in 1818 as King Charles XIV. He maintained peace
throughout a reign which was marked by internal improvements, notably the completion of the
Gota Canal and serious reform of the antiquated school system.  Increasing opposition to liberals,
however, made him unpopular by the end of his reign. The founder of the present Swedish dynasty,
he was succeeded by his son, Oscar I.  On his deathbed, Bernadotte is said to have remarked 'I was
once a Marshal of France, now I am only King of Sweden.'
Vive L’Empereur!

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