Quick Takes: Lafayette

In a word, none.  None, that is, if you mean actual combat experience.  But Marie Jean Paul Joseph Roche Yves Gilbert du Motier was born into a wealthy family which had an historic association with things military.  In fact, his father, Michel Roche Gilbert de Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, had been serving as a colonel of grenadiers in the Seven Years War with Britain when he was killed in battle in 1759, leaving his two-year-old son to inherit the title and, it seems, his military ambitions.  In 1768 his mother took him to Paris and enrolled him in Louis-le-Grand, that famous establishment which had already produced so many important French leaders. His mother’s death in 1770 left him with a fortune and a certain degree of influence, which led to his appointment as a page to Marie Leszczynska, wife of Louis XV.  She influenced his commission to the Royal Musketeers, a group charged with protecting the King’s person.  A bit later, he was commissioned a captain of artillery and stationed at Metz.   It was at a dinner party, probably sometime in the summer of 1775 (the actual date is in dispute) that he first heard of the revolution in America in concrete terms.  Ironically, it was the brother of George III, the Duke of Gloucester, who fired the young man’s enthusiasm at the dinner. By speaking sympathetically of the American cause, using terms such as “rights of man” and “personal liberty,”  the Duke inspired the young Frenchman, who was already enamored of such concepts because of Enlightenment philosophers and authors in France.  The young Lafayette became determined to assist the American cause, partly out of sympathy for such ideas and partly as a way to exact revenge on the British for the death of his father.   Since France was not yet actually involved in the revolution, Lafayette knew his plans would be opposed by his family and by Louis XVI, but he was determined to offer his services to the Americans.  With the connivance of the Comte de Broglie and Baron de Kalb, Lafayette managed to hire a ship, arriving in America in 1777 with a certificate from Silas Deane, one of the American commissioners in France, designating him a Major General.  Although he was greeted with some skepticism, his commission was eventually confirmed and of course he performed with distinction during the war.  After all, even if he lacked practical experience, he could at least offer a good deal of military training, which was more than many of the Americans could claim.   So, even though young and inexperienced, Lafayette proved to be a great asset during the American Revolution.  It is a good thing for us that he disagreed with a remark first uttered by Joseph II but often repeated by Louis XVI, who declared that he would have trouble supporting the American cause whole-heartedly because “I am a royalist by my trade, you know.”  Fortunately for America, Lafayette decided to disagree.   —————————————————————————————————   If you are interested in Lafayette, you might want to read the History Doctor article in the American Revolution series entitled Ask the History Doc: Lafayette and do a search on the site for other articles as well.
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