Marquis de La Fayette - Biography

Marquis de La Fayette - Biography

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La Fayette was a French general and politician who rose to prominence in the American Revolutionary War and participated in the early days of the French Revolution. Only twenty years old, he embarked in 1777 on L'Hermione to fight alongside the American colonists. Returning to France in 1779, he helped decide on French support for the insurgents. Deputy of the nobility of Riom to the States General, La Fayette was appointed commander of the National Guard on July 15, 1789. Supporter of the constitutional monarchy, he had to emigrate from 1792 to 1800. He was a liberal deputy under the Restoration and commanded the National Guard in July 1830, but quickly broke away from the government of the July Monarchy.

La Fayette, the American

Marie Joseph Gilbert Motier, Marquis de La Fayette, was born in Chavaniac in Haute-Loire on September 6, 1757. A young orphan and having inherited a comfortable fortune, he was sent to Paris to the Lycée Louis-le-Grand to study there. studies. Embracing a military career, he joined the 2nd company of musketeers in 1771, then the regiment of Noailles, with the rank of second lieutenant. In 1774, La Fayette married Marie Adrienne Françoise de Noailles.

Enthusiastic about the cause of the rebellious American colonists, he went to America in April 1777, despite the king's orders. Arrived in Georgetown on June 15, he put himself at the service of the insurgents. La Fayette takes part in the Battle of Brandywine, during which he is wounded and then receives command of the troops of Virginia. He took part in several successful military engagements before returning to France to plead the American cause with Louis XVI.

La Fayette obtains that a corps of about 6,000 men, commanded by General Rochambeau, is sent across the Atlantic. He led a campaign with this famous general which forced Cornwallis, surrounded in Yorktown, to capitulate on October 17, 1781. This victory was to lead to the independence of the United States. In February 1787, the advanced ideas he expressed earned him some coldness from the royal entourage. He was elected in March 1789 deputy of the nobility of the senechaussee of Riom to the States General.

In the tumult of the French Revolution

Ambitious, this illustrious Freemason, after having created with Brissot the Society of Friends of Blacks, presented on July 11 a draft European Declaration of Human Rights and the Dean. He was appointed the 13th vice-president of the Assembly, and on the 15th, commander of the Paris National Guard. He saved the royal family threatened at Versailles during the days of riots of October 5 and 6, 1789.

La Fayette was at the height of his popularity when he organized the feast of the Federation on July 14, 1790. It was again he who brought the king back prisoner after the flight from Varennes, while pleading for the maintenance of Louis XVI on the throne. . Lieutenant general at the end of June 1791, he severely repressed the demonstration in Champ-de-Mars (July 17), firing on the people. Discredited in the eyes of the revolutionaries, he had to resign (October 8, 1791). Put at the head of the armies charged with repelling the foreign invasion, he achieved some success in the Sambre.

After having taken, with great courage, the defense of the throne, the day after the days of June and August 1792, he crossed the border after having tried in vain to raise his army in favor of Louis XVI. He fell into the hands of the Austrians who, considering him as one of the instigators of the Revolution, imprisoned him in the fortress of Olmütz in Moravia. La Fayette will remain in his prison for five years. It was only through the Treaty of Campo-formio (1797) that he regained his freedom. Three later, he retired to his domain in Seine-et-Marne, from where he witnessed the imperial epic.

The end of La Fayette's career

After having supported Louis XVIII, during the First Restoration, he espoused the Emperor's cause when the return from Elba was announced. Deputy for Seine-et-Marne, on May 10, 1815, he was vice-president of the Assembly. However, he was one of those who contributed to the downfall of the loser of Waterloo on June 22, 1815. This volatile attitude did not prevent him from obtaining from the provisional government the post of commissioner near the allies' headquarters. La Fayette found himself deputy for Sarthe in 1818. A member of the Charbonnerie, he was defeated in the 1824 elections and returned to the United States.

Back in France in 1825, La Fayette was once again elected deputy for Seine-et-Marne in 1827 then, after the Three Glorious Revolution, received command of the National Guard but resigned shortly after, following 'a dispute between him and King Louis-Philippe. La Fayette died in Paris on May 20, 1834, leaving France with mixed memories because of his political ambivalences and his Caesarist temptations. In 1917, grateful Americans joined France in the First World War with the cry of "La Fayette, here we are!" ". In 2002, the Marquis will be posthumously granted American nationality.


- La Fayette, biography of Jean-Pierre Bois. Perrin, 2015.

- Lafayette, herald of freedom, by Laurent Zecchini. Fayard, 2019.

Video: French Contribution to USA Independance


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