Michel Ney (January 10 1769 – December 7 1815) called Le Rougeaud ("the ruddy") and le Brave des Braves ("the bravest of the brave") was a marshal of the French army who fought in the French Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic Wars.
He was born at Saarlouis in Alsace, the son of a master barrel cooper. He was an apprentice cooper until he joined the 5th Hussars in 1787.
An impulsive and courageous soldier, Ney is known for epitomizing the soldierly virtue of "leading from the front". For instance, he led the charge of the French heavy cavalry against British infantry at the Battle of Waterloo.
Despite Ney's humble roots, he was one of the first marshals created by Napoleon, who valued talent above all. In addition to his military rank, Ney was created Duke of Elchingen on June 6, 1808 and Prince de La Moskowa on March 25, 1813. Ney personified a new French elite that Napoleon was creating as a loyal support base for a planned Bonaparte dynasty.
When Paris fell and the Bourbons reclaimed the throne, Ney (who was one of those who had pressured Napoleon to accept his first abdication and exile) was promoted, lauded, and made a peer by the newly enthroned Louis XVIII. Although Ney had pledge his alleigence to the restored monarchy, the Bourbon court reactedly coolly to his common origins. When he was sent to arrest the returning Napoleon, he was convinced to switch sides and fight for his old leader again. During the One Hundred Days campaign, he led the French forces at the Battle of Quatre-Bras and commanded the left wing of Napoleon's army at the Battle of Waterloo.
When Napoleon was defeated, dethroned and exiled for the second time in the summer of 1815, Ney was condemned for treason by the Chamber of Peers and executed by firing squad in Paris near the Luxembourg Garden. He refused to wear a blindfold and was allowed the right to give the order to fire. Ney's execution was an example intended for Napoleon's other marshals and generals, many of whom were eventually exonerated by the Bourbon monarchy.
Marshal Joachim Murat, who also gave the command to fire at his execution in 1815
Last updated: 05-16-2005 14:22:17