Napoleon's Marshals...

Jan 2009
Halifax, NS
I've been on quite the Napoleonic War's kick lately, and there's something puzzling that i've noticed that perhaps folks here more informed than myself can shed some light on:

I see many Historians list one of the merit's of Napoleon's regime is that he promoted people(Mostly in the military sense, but on the civil side as well), based solely on merit, not on birth. Yet, it seems that the large majority of his Marshals were of average to little ability in the art of war. There are exceptions of course(Davout, Massena, to an extent Berthier), but the large majority of the rest were mediocre at best(Soult, Bernadotte, Murat, Lannes, Marmout, MacDonald). Ney is kind of an interesting character. He lacked any kind of ability when it came to strategy, but he was so physically brave that at times it made up for it(And it times, most notably at Waterloo, it came back to bite him in the ass). He actually kind of reminds me of a more modern Mark Antony. A charismatic, but extremely hot headed leader who often let his emotions on the battlefield get the best of him.


Ad Honorem
May 2010
Orion arm of the milky way
The marshals were all very interesting personalities, but as you said mediocre commanders, one of the reasons for napoleon's downfall(putting to much faith in his subordinates). But you could easily argue that the marshals were all that was there, and there were no better generals being held back. These officers of the revolution were flung way too far up the military ladder, and may not have had the skills to handle their positions very well. Others were simply close to Napoleon, friends of the court. In the case of Poniatowski, he was made a Marshall to encourage polish troops to help the french. Grouchy is an interesting case, made a marshal only because everyone else retired.


Ad Honorem
Apr 2008
I think that many of his marshals were mediocre, I think your choices as examples may be a bit unfortunate, such as Soult and Lannes. Some marshals were political choices, especially the first establishment, allies he could trust. Also it has to be remembered many mediocre marshals were good divisional commanders, hence the promotion, and marshals were supposed to be subordinates corp commanders not army commanders. Grouchy for example was a superb subordinate, so good in fact he got trusted with an army.


Ad Honoris
Mar 2009
Napoleon's marshals were a fascinating, exciting, brilliant and varied group of men. Easy to get caught up studying their careers and lives.


Forum Staff
Apr 2010
T'Republic of Yorkshire
Bernadotte is one of my favourites, primarily because he endd up as king of Sweden.


Forum Staff
Jan 2007
While not a Marshall, I like Senarmont at Friedland. After killing 4,000 foot in under a half hour, he then turned his guns to break up a Russian cavalry counter-attack.

He knew what artillery was good for, and after Friedland, everybody else did too.

(Berthier was indispensable.)