Etienne-Jacques-Joseph-Alexandre MacDonald

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Etienne-Jacques-Joseph-Alexandre MacDonald

Etienne-Jacques-Joseph-Alexandre MacDonald (November 17, 1765 - September 7, 1840), duke of Taranto and marshal of France, was born at Sedan, France.

His father came of an old Jacobite family, which had followed James II to France, and was a near relative of the celebrated Flora Macdonald. In 1785 Macdonald joined the legion raised to support the revolutionary party in the Netherlands against the Prussians, and after it was disbanded he received a commission in the regiment of Dillon. On the breaking out of the Revolution, the regiment of Dillon remained eminently loyal, with the exception of Macdonald, who was in love with Mlle Jacob, whose father was enthusiastic for the doctrines of the Revolution. Directly after his marriage he was appointed aide-de-camp to General Dumouriez. He distinguished himself at Jemmapes, and was promoted colonel in 1793.

He refused to desert to the Austrians with Dumouriez, and as a reward was made general of brigade, and appointed to command the leading brigade in Pichegru's invasion of the Netherlands. His knowledge of the country proved most useful, and he was instrumental in the capture of the Dutch fleet by French hussars. In 1797, having been made general of division, he served first in the army of the Rhine and later in that of Italy. When he reached Italy, the treaty of Campo Formio had been signed, and Bonaparte had returned to France; but, under the direction of Berthier, Macdonald first occupied Rome, of which he was made governor, and then in conjunction with Championnet he defeated General Mack, and revolutionized the kingdom of Naples under the title of the Parthenopaean Republic.

When Suvarov invaded northern Italy, and was winning back the conquests of Bonaparte, Macdonald collected all the troops in the peninsula and moved northwards. With only 30,000 men he attacked, at the Trebbia, Suvarov with 50,000, and after three days' fighting, during which he held the Russians at bay and gave time for Moreau to come up, he retired in good order to Genoa. After this gallant behaviour he was made governor of Versailles, and acquiesced, if he did not co-operate, in the events of the 18th Brumaire.

In 1800 he received the command of the army in Switzerland which was to maintain the communications between the armies of Germany and of Italy. He carried out his orders to the letter, and at last, in the winter of 1800-1, he was ordered to march over the Splügen Pass. This achievement is fully described by Mathieu Dumas, who was chief of his staff, and is at least as noteworthy as Bonaparte's famous passage of the St Bernard before Marengo, though followed by no such successful battle. On his return to Paris Macdonald married the widow of General Joubert, and was appointed French plenipotentiary in Denmark. Returning in 1805 he associated himself with Moreau and incurred the dislike of Napoleon, who did not include him in his first creation of marshals.

Till 1809 he remained without employment, but in that year Napoleon gave him the command of a corps and the duties of military adviser to the young prince Eugčne de Beauharnais, viceroy of Italy. He led the army from Italy till its junction. with Napoleon, and at Wagram commanded the celebrated column of attack which broke the Austrian centre and won the victory. Napoleon made him marshal of France on the field of battle, and presently created him duke of Taranto.

In 1810 he served in Spain and in 1812 he commanded the left wing of the grand army for the invasion of Russia. In 1813, after sharing in the battles of Lützen and Bautzen, he was ordered to invade Silesia, where Blucher defeated him with great loss at Katzbach. After the terrible battle of Leipzig, he was ordered with Prince Poniatowski to cover the evacuation of Leipzig; after the blowing up of the bridge, he managed to swim the Elster, while Poniatowksi was drowned. During the defensive campaign of 1814 Macdonald again distinguished himself; he was one of the marshals sent by Napoleon to take his abdication in favour of his son to Paris. When all were deserting their old master, Macdonald remained faithful to him. He was directed by Napoleon to give in his adherence to the new régime, and was presented by him with the sabre of Murad Bey for his fidelity.

At the Restoration he was made a peer of France and knight grand cross of the order of St Louis; he, remained faithful to the new order of things during the Hundred Days. In 1815 he became chancellor of the Legion of Honour (a post he held till 1831), ill 1816 major-general of the royal bodyguard, and he took a great part in the discussions in the House of Peers, voting consistently as a moderate Liberal. In 1823 he married Mlle de Bourgony, by whom he had a son, Alexander, who succeeded on his death in 1840 as duke of Taranto. From 1830 his life was spent in retirement at his country place Courcellesle-Roi (Seine et Oise), where he died.

Macdonald had none of that military genius that distinguished Davout, Masséna and Lannes, nor of that military science conspicuous in Marmont and St Cyr, but nevertheless his campaign in Switzerland gives him a rank far superior to such mere generals of division as Oudinot and Dupont. This capacity for independent command made Napoleon, in spite of his defeats at the Trebbia and the Katzbach, trust him with large commands till the end of his career. As a man, his character cannot be spoken of too highly; no stain of cruelty or faithlessness rests on him.

Macdonald was especially fortunate in the accounts of his military exploits, Mathieu Dumas and Ségur having been on his staff in Switzerland. See Dumas, Evénements militaires; and Ségur's rare tract, Lecture sur la campagne du Général Macdonald dans les Grisons en 1800 et 1801 (1802), and Eloge (1842). His memoirs were published in 1892 (Eng. trans., Recollections of Marshal Macdonald), but are brief and wanting in balance.

de:Jacques MacDonald

fr:Étienne Jacques Joseph Macdonald


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