André Masséna

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André Masséna
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André Masséna (Italian Andrea Massena ), Duke of Rivoli and Prince of Essling (born May 6, 1758 in Nice , † April 4, 1817 in Paris ), was a French military, military leader and Maréchal d'Empire .

Childhood and youth

Masséna came from a family of small farmers who had lived near the city of Nice since the 16th century. His father Jules Masséna was a winemaker and wine merchant, his mother, Cathrine Fabre, came from a middle-class family from the city of Nice. The origin of the name Masséna is unclear; According to one of the explanations, it can be traced back to the Jewish form of the name Manassé . However, this assumption remains controversial in science. The French historian and Napoleon connoisseur Joseph Valynseele assumed that the name Masséna is not of Jewish but Provencal origin and means "an unknown person" ( Maun Souna ). André had two brothers and three sisters. After the early death of his father (December 1764), his mother married a second time and left their children, who were raised by their paternal relatives. At the age of 14, after a violent argument with one of his uncles, Masséna left the Levens area and went to Toulon , where he was hired as a cabin boy on a merchant ship.

Beginnings of the military career

After he had resigned from the navy, Masséna began his military career in 1775, first as a simple soldier and from 1783 as a Caporal in the Italian Regiment of the Royal French Army ( Régiment de Royal-Italy ). During this time he joined the Freemasons' lodge , which was active in his regiment. Since Masséna had no prospect of becoming a sous-lieutenant , following the edict of the French Minister of War Philippe-Henri de Ségur , who forbade all non-aristocratic officers from being promoted to officers , he ended his military service in 1789 and married Anne Marie Rosalie Lamare ( 1765–1829), daughter of a surgeon from Antibes . His wife's dowry had enabled him to open a small shop.

Rise during the Revolutionary Wars

At the beginning of the French Revolution, Massena was an adjutant in the Garde Nationale . With the formation of the new revolutionary French army, he left the guard and joined the new troops, where he had made a steep career within a year: just two years later, on August 22, 1793, he was recognized for his services in the fight against the troops of the King of Sardinia promoted to Général de brigade and in the same year to Général de division . Masséna had particularly distinguished himself in the conquest of the city of Toulon, which was occupied by the royalist troops and an English expeditionary corps, in mid-December 1793, when he and his regiment were the first to take Fort Lartig, thereby enabling the city to be conquered.

In 1795 Masséna was again involved in the French Armée d'Italie as a general in several battles with the Austro-Hungarian and Sardinian troops. As the commander of the right flank of the French Italian Army, he played a significant role in the French victory in the Battle of Loano on 23-24. November 1795, which cleared the way to Lombardy . However, as a result of the violent clashes between the ruling directorate in Paris and the Commander-in-Chief of the Italian Army, General Barthélemy Louis Joseph Schérer , who thought a further advance would be unwise, came to a standstill on the southern flank. To change this situation, the Directory sent General Napoleon Bonaparte to the south, who on March 26, 1796 had replaced General Scherer as commander-in-chief of the Italian army.

As one of the leading commanders, Masséna had a considerable share in the military successes of the Italian campaign . In the battle of Lodi, for example, he commanded the vanguard of the French army, known as the "Hell Troop". But he was also responsible for defeats - in the first battle of Rivoli on July 29, 1796, it was his failure that ruined the victory of the French. Nevertheless, he retained his command and reciprocated at the second battle of Rivoli on 14-15. January 1797; At the crucial moment his division attacked the unprotected flank of the Austrian army and forced them to flee. For his courage and skill he later received the title of duke from Napoleon, who used to refer to him as "L'enfant chéri de la victoire" (the favorite child of victory). Masséna was given the great honor of personally reporting the news of the French successes in Italy and the conclusion of the preliminary peace between Austria and France to the Directory in Paris. In the general euphoria, Paul Barras even suggested electing Masséna to the board of directors, a project that quickly failed.

Wars in Italy and Switzerland

After the Roman Republic was proclaimed in Rome on February 15, 1798 , the Directory appointed André Masséna commander of the new Roman army. However, his tough regiment, combined with the plundering of the local population and the strong personal enrichment of the French officers, very quickly led to expressions of discontent among the Roman population and among the common soldiers. In the end, Masséna was forced to resign by the soldiers who had threatened him with open rebellion if he refused. He was put into temporary retirement by the Board of Directors and left to live with his family in Antibes.

In his story of the French Revolution , Adolphe Thiers condemned Masséna's personal enrichment by means of predatory looting in sharp and detailed form. He particularly lamented that Masséna was giving his senior officers an example of shameless imitation: “The palaces, monasteries and rich collections were plundered. Jews who had followed the army bought the most splendid items brought to them by the looters at ridiculous prices. The robberies were outrageous. [...] that it was not the subordinate officers nor the soldiers, but the higher officers who indulged in this debauchery. "

The rehabilitation of Massénas was in direct connection with the second coalition war against France and the landing of a strong Russian expeditionary corps under the command of the then most famous Russian general Alexander Suvorov in northern Italy. The Russians and Austrians achieved considerable success at the beginning of the war. Thereupon the Directory commissioned Masséna on December 10, 1798 to protect France with the command of the newly formed "Swiss Army", thereby replacing General Balthasar Alexis Henri Antoine von Schauenburg . After the First Battle of Zurich , Masséna was forced to vacate the city on June 4, 1799. But a few weeks later, on September 25 and 26, the Second Battle of Zurich took place, with which he stopped the Allies and achieved a legendary victory.

After Napoleon had seized power in Paris, he appointed Masséna, who supported him immediately, in December 1799 as supreme commander of the Italian army that had fought against the troops of the Austrian general Michael von Melas . The Italian army was numerically inferior to the Austrians and suffered several defeats, so that Masséna was trapped in Genoa and forced to surrender after a siege of several weeks . But with his perseverance he had given Napoleon the time he needed to advance across the Alps to northern Italy with strong forces in order to achieve the decisive victory here in the battle of Marengo .

Marshal of the Empire

André Masséna

On May 19, 1804, Masséna was raised by Napoleon to the rank of Maréchal d'Empire and was thus one of fourteen newly appointed marshals on the so-called First Marshal List. In the Third Coalition War , Masséna was again given command of the French Italian army on August 30, 1805. Thanks to his military skill, the French troops defeated the Austrians (led by Archduke Karl among others ) in several battles, despite their numerical inferiority . The decisive battle of the Italian campaign of 1805 occurred near the town of Caldiero on September 30–1 . October; the Austrian army escaped defeat, but the French managed to bring the province of Verona under their control. The news of Napoleon's victory in the Battle of Austerlitz finally prompted Karl to evacuate Italy.

1806 Masséna was entrusted with the conquest of the Kingdom of Naples , which Napoleon's brother Joseph Bonaparte received as king; In 1807 he led the V Corps in Poland. An accident in 1808 cost him an eye during a hunt organized by Marshal Berthier when Napoleon missed his target and the ricocheting bullet hit Masséna. In 1809 he fought in the battle of Aspern / Essling on the northern bank of the Danube in an apparently lost position against an overwhelming Austrian force, as he was cut off from Napoleon's main army due to the collapsed pontoon bridges . Nevertheless, together with Marshals Lannes (who was fatally wounded) and Bessières, he managed to hold out and bring the troops safely back to the south bank. In recognition of this, he received the title "Prince of Essling" from Napoleon on January 31, 1810. At the battle of Wagram / Vienna he distinguished himself again, although he had to command his IV Corps from a carriage due to a leg injury. His troops covered Napoleon's left flank and prevented a breakthrough in Archduke Charles' reserves.

In 1810, the Marshal , who was meanwhile seriously ill with rheumatism and a lung disease , commanded the 65,000-strong French Portuguese army , with which he pushed Wellington's army back to Lisbon on October 27, 1810, despite the debacle in the Battle of Buçaco . However , he was unable to overcome the " Lines of Torres Vedras " set up by the British , a 40-kilometer-long defense system and finally had to retreat to Spain in February / March 1811 with heavy losses due to a lack of supplies. In this situation, his quarrel, which had been smoldering for quite some time, escalated with Marshal Ney , who was under his command and whom Masséna dismissed without further ado. His attempt to defeat Wellington with a surprising advance failed in the battle of Fuentes de Oñoro (May 3-5, 1811). Shortly afterwards he was relieved of his command and replaced by Marshal Marmont . In the great campaigns of 1812/1813 he received no command due to his ruined health.

The last few years

After the deposition of Napoleon and the takeover of rule by the Bourbon King Louis XVIII. Masséna was allowed to keep his considerable fortune, but they did not want to see him in Paris, so that he was forced to take over the post of governor of the 8th Military District in Marseille . During the reign of the hundred days , he joined Napoleon after some hesitation when he heard of the defeat of the royalist troops in southern France. This hesitation brought him no confidence from the returned Emperor and so he stayed in Paris without receiving any command.

Massénas tomb in the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris

After Napoleon's second abdication, he briefly took command of the Paris National Guard, but withdrew from the public soon after the successful second restoration of the Bourbons . The open mistrust that the Bourbons showed him and his poor health forced him to leave for his castle Val de Rueil in what is now Rueil-Malmaison . With reference to his enmity that had arisen in Portugal, he refused to be a member of the court-martial over Ney as an assessor. On April 4, 1817, André Masséna died of tuberculosis with his family in Paris. He was buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery .

To this day, Masséna is considered to be one of Napoleon's most capable military leaders. This memory is only overshadowed by the Marshal's greed for prey, who systematically plundered the territories he occupied in order to enrich himself. In addition to Marshal Nicolas Jean-de-Dieu Soult, Masséna is therefore one of the greatest looters of the Napoleonic Wars.

Family and offspring

Masséna had four children with his wife Anne Marie Rosalie Lamare (1765–1829):

  • Marie Anne Élisabeth (1790–1794)
  • Prosper (1793-1821)
  • Victoire Thècle (1794-1857)
  • François Victor (1799–1863)

Masséna as a Freemason

André Massena was a longtime member of the Masons and lodges Master of Feldloge amitie Parfaite . The Grand Orient de France Grand Lodge states in its records that this lodge was founded in the Regiment Royal Italy .


His name is entered on the triumphal arch in Paris in the 23rd column.

Individual evidence

  1. Joseph Valynseele. Les Maréchaus de Premier Empire. Paris, 1957, p. 92.
  2. A. Thiers, Gesch. the French Revolution, Vol. VI, p. 151ff.


Web links

Commons : André Masséna  - Collection of images, videos and audio files