Marcellin Marbot

Jean-Baptiste Antoine Marcellin Marbot (August 18, 1782 – November 16, 1854) was a French General, famous for his Memoirs depicting the Napoleonic age of warfare. He belongs to a family that has distinguished itself particularly in the career of arms, giving France three Generals in less than 50 years. His elder brother, Antoine Adolphe Marcelin Marbot, was also a military man of some note.

Jean-Baptiste Antoine Marcellin
Marbot as colonel commander of the 7th Hussar Regiment in 1815
Born(1782-08-18)18 August 1782
Altillac, France
Died16 November 1854(1854-11-16) (aged 72)
Paris, France
Allegiance French Republic
French Empire
Kingdom of France
French Empire
Kingdom of France
Kingdom of France
French Republic
Years of service1799–1848
(Divisional general)
Battles/warsFrench Revolutionary Wars
Napoleonic Wars
AwardsOrder of the Legion of Honour
(Grand Officer)
Order of Saint Louis
Order of Leopold
(Grand Officer)
Order of the Oak Crown
(Grand Cross)
RelationsJean-Antoine Marbot, Divisional general
Antoine Adolphe Marcelin Marbot, Brigadier general
François Certain de Canrobert, Marshal of France


Early life

Jean-Baptiste Antoine Marcellin Marbot, known as Marcellin Marbot, was born into a family of military nobility in Altillac, in the ancient province of Quercy in southwestern France. He was the younger son of General Jean-Antoine Marbot, former aide-de-camp to Lieutenant-Général de Schomberg, inspector general of the cavalry within the Military household of the king of France.

After studying at the Sorèze Military College (1793–1798), he joined the 1st Hussards Regiment as a volunteer on 3 September 1799.[1] He served under General Jean-Mathieu Seras, who promoted him to the rank of Sergeant on 1 December 1799. In the same month, he was promoted again to the rank of Second lieutenant in recognition of his courage on 31 December 1799. He fought with the Army of Italy and took part in the Battle of Marengo and the Siege of Genoa, during which his father, General Jean-Antoine Marbot died.[2]

Napoleonic wars

He became aide-de-camp to Marshal Pierre Augereau, commanding the VII corps of the Grande Armée during the war against the Kingdom of Prussia and the Russian Empire, between 1806 and 1807. He was promoted to the rank of Captain on 3 January 1807 and took part in the Battle of Eylau the following month, during the course of which he nearly lost his life. After this he served with great distinction in the Peninsular War under Marshals Jean Lannes and André Masséna, and showed himself to be a dashing leader of light cavalry in the Russian campaign of 1812.

He was promoted to the rank of Colonel on 15 November 1812 and took part in the German campaign of the following year as the commander of a cavalry regiment. On the morning of the first day of the Battle of Leipzig, Marbot nearly changed the course of the entire war when his regiment came close to capturing the Tsar of Russia, Alexander I and the King of Prussia, Frederick William III, as they had strayed from their escort.[3] After a slow recovery from the wounds he had received at the battles of Leipzig and Hanau, he took part in the Battle of Waterloo alongside Emperor Napoleon I during the Hundred Days.

After the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815, he was exiled during the first years of the Bourbon Restoration and only returned to France in 1819.

July Monarchy

During the July Monarchy, his intimacy with King Louis Philippe I and his son, Prince Ferdinand Philippe of Orléans secured him important military positions. He was promoted to the rank of Maréchal de camp (Brigadier general), and in this rank he was present at the Siege of Antwerp in 1832.

From 1835 to 1840 he served in various Algerian expeditions, and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Général (Divisional general) in 1836. In 1845 he was made a member of the Chamber of Peers. Three years later, at the fall of King Louis Philippe I, he retired into private life.


His father, General Jean-Antoine Marbot, had four sons, only two whom survived: Antoine Adolphe Marcelin, the elder, Maréchal de camp (Brigadier general) during the July Monarchy, and Jean-Baptiste Antoine Marcellin, the younger. Through his mother, he was the cousin of François Certain de Canrobert, Marshal of France during the Second French Empire.

On 5 November 1811, he married Angélique Marie Caroline Personne-Desbrières (1790–1873), and by this alliance became the owner of the Château du Rancy in Bonneuil-sur-Marne. They had two sons:

  • Adolphe Charles Alfred, known as Alfred (1812–1865): Master of Requests to the State Council, uniformologist and painter
  • Charles Nicolas Marcellin, known as Charles (1820–1882): Whose daughter Marguerite first published her grandfather's famous Memoirs


He received the following decorations:

French Empire

Kingdom of France

Kingdom of France

Grand Duchy of Luxembourg

Kingdom of Belgium

Wounds and injuries

Marbot received several serious injuries during his long career:

Literary works


In exile after Battle of Waterloo, Marbot returned to France in 1819 and wrote two books:

  • Critical remarks on the work of Lieutenant-Général Rogniat, entitled: Considerations on the art of war (1820) [4]
  • About the necessity to increase the military forces of France; means of achieving this in the most cost-effective way possible (1825) [5]

The first publication was a reply to General Joseph Rogniat’s treatise on war, in which Marbot effectively contrasted the human factor in war with Rogniat’s pure theory. The second presented his recommendations for the future development of the French Armed Forces.

Napoleon read the first publication while in exile on the island of Saint Helena. His aide-de-camp, General Henri-Gatien Bertrand recorded in his diary on 14 March 1821:

In the evening, the Emperor handed me Marbot's book, [...] and said: "That is the best book I have read for four years. It is the one that has given me the greatest amount of pleasure. [...] He has expressed some things better than I did, he was more familiar with them because, on the whole, he was more of a Corps commander than I. [...] Throughout the book he never refers to 'the Emperor'. He wanted the King of France (Louis XVIII) to give him an appointment with the rank of Colonel; that is quite obvious. He uses 'Emperor' once, so as not to look as though he were afraid to do so, or to appear cowardly, and another time he uses 'Napoleon'. He mentions Masséna and Augereau frequently, and he has described the Battle of Essling better than I could have done it myself [...]. I should have liked to show Marbot my appreciation by sending him a ring. If I ever return to active life, I will have him attached to me as an aide-de-camp [...].[6]

This publication earned Marbot the distinction of being remembered in Napoleon's will:

To Colonel Marbot, one hundred thousand francs. I recommend him to continue to write in defense of the glory of the French armies, and to confound their calumniators and apostates.[7]


His fame rests chiefly on the Memoirs of his life and campaigns, the Memoirs of General Baron de Marbot,[8] which were written for his children and published posthumously in Paris, in 1891. An English translation by Arthur John Butler was published in London, in 1892.[9]

Literary references

As with a number of other historical figures, Marbot figures prominently in the Riverworld cycle of science-fiction novels by Philip José Farmer. Marbot is first featured as the commander of Marines on Sam Clemens' riverboat, the Not for Hire. After the destruction of that boat and the death of its captain, Marbot joins the group led by famed English explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton and accompanies him on the journey to the head of the River. Accompanied by his lover, the English author Aphra Behn, Marbot reaches the Tower at the head of the River, only to die in combat when androids based on characters from Alice Through the Looking-Glass attack the guests during a Lewis Carroll-themed party.

Marbot is thought to be one of the models for Brigadier Gerard in the short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

In Virginia Woolf's novel Mrs Dalloway, there are several mentions of Clarissa (Mrs. Dalloway) reading Marbot's Memoirs.

In Ronald Frederick Delderfield's novel To Serve Them All My Days. David, the main protagonist, gets comfort from Marbot's Memoirs during his time in the trenches, and again on the death of his wife and daughter in a road accident.


  1. Marbot, Marcellin. (1905) The Memoirs of Baron de Marbot, late lieutenant-general in the French Army. (Butler, Arthur J. trans.) Chap. 1.
  2. Marbot, Marcellin. (1905) The Memoirs of Baron de Marbot, late lieutenant-general in the French Army. (Butler, Arthur J. trans.) Chap. 11.
  3. Marbot, Marcellin. (1905) The Memoirs of Baron de Marbot, late lieutenant-general in the French Army. (Butler, Arthur J. trans.) 639-641.
  4. "Remarques critiques sur l'ouvrage de M. le lieutenant-général Rogniat, intitulé: Considérations sur l'art de la guerre". Google Books.
  5. "De la nécessité d'augmenter les forces militaires de la France; moyen de le faire au meilleur marché possible". Google Books.
  6. Napoleon at St Helena, Memoirs of General Bertrand, January to May 1821, Translated by Frances Hume, London 1953.
  7. Napoleon's Will and Testamemt, 15 April 1821, Longwood, Island of St. Helena.
  8. "Review of Mémoires du Général Baron de Marbot, 3 vols., 1891". The Quarterly Journal. 174: 95–126. January 1892.
  9. The Memoirs of Baron de Marbot, late lieutenant-general in the French Army, translated from the French by Arthur John Butler. 1892; 2 vols.
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