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Author photo. Image from <b><i>Napoleon's Marshals</i></b> (1909) by Richard Phillipson Dunn-Pattison

Image from Napoleon's Marshals (1909) by Richard Phillipson Dunn-Pattison

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Michel Ney was born in Saarlouis, a French enclave of the province of Lorraine in what is now Germany. His father was a cooper, and he received only a basic education. After a brief career as a notary, in 1788, at about age 19, he enlisted in a French cavalry regiment. By 1796, after repeatedly distinguishing himself in action, he had risen in the ranks to general of brigade. He fought many successful battles in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, and was noted for his personal heroism and his great vigor and skill as a commander. He become a confidant of the Emperor Napoleon, who made him one of the first 18 marshals of the Empire, prince de la Moskowa, and duc d'Elchingen in honor of his great victory there in 1805. Napoleon also bestowed on him the nickname by which he is still known, "the bravest of the brave." He married Aglaé Auguié, a lady-in-waiting to the Empress Josephine, who arranged the union. At the fall of the Empire, it was he who led the marshals in asking Napoleon to abdicate. He gave his allegiance to the restored King Louis XVIII but was disdained by the returning aristocrats for his plebian birth. On Napoleon's return from exile in 1815, Ney deserted with his troops to join his old leader. He fought at the battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo, but lost to the British and their allies. Ney was arrested by the French king, placed on trial in Paris, and condemned. On December 7, 1815 he was shot by a firing squad in the Luxembourg Gardens. The Mémoires du maréchal Ney (1833), covering the early part of his career, were collected from the papers left at his death.
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