Tuesday, 13 September 2016

France 2016 - General Francois Fournier-Sarloveze (El Demonio)

The picture of General Fournier-Sarloveze that I took in the Louvre that sparked my curiosity
This year's short holiday to France was designed as a little break before the run in to autumn and Xmas and to celebrate a little family joke that comes from a saying of my Mum that my birthday marks the end of summer.

Given that we only had a week to enjoy the delights of Belle France we planned in some very specific places to go during our stay, one being our favourite French restaurant in Paris, Le Bon Bock which I enjoyed a fantastic dinner on the Wednesday night to celebrate another fun packed year.

One other venue we were keen to include was the Louvre, a place Carolyn and I had not been back to in twenty four years and I particularly wanted to check out the Greco-Roman-Estruscan collection together with the paintings from the Revolutionary-Napoleonic era.

Even though this trip had plenty of pre-planning there always has to be room for a bit of serendipity and the discovery of the painting of General Francois Fournier-Sarloveze by Antoine-Jean Gross in 1812 was one such moment that sparked my curiosity as I was not familiar with the exploits of General Fournier-Sarloveze.

At Fuentes de Onoro, May 5th 1811, Fournier-Sarloveze led his brigade, also known as the 2nd Provisional Light Cavalry Regiment, of  two squadrons of the Seventh, Thirteenth and Twentieth Chasseurs a Cheval.
General Fournier-Sarloveze was quite obviously a talented cavalry commander if a some what insubordinate one, which would see his career progress rapidly from 1791 as a young lieutenant posted to the Ninth Dragoons as part of the Army of the Alps to General de Brigade by 1807 and General de Division in 1812.

He was a superb leader of light cavalry whose bravery and exploits on the battle field were only out-shone by his reputation as a duellist and one who used his position for bettering his personal finances.

His ongoing feud with a fellow officer led to a series of thirty duels over a nineteen year period and inspired the novel 'The Duel' by Joseph Conrad in 1908 that in turn inspired the film, 'The Duellists' directed by Ridley Scott in 1977.

Indeed his propensity for duelling may well have caused the dislike of him by Marshal Ney who regarded him as a bully, probably for his provoking duels he knew he could not lose. On the other hand he was a great friend of General Lasalle getting into many scrapes together in pursuit of women and drinking exploits.

The Duellists from 1977 with Harvey Keitel as Gabriel Feraud (the Fournier-Sarloveze character) left and Keith Carradine as Armand d'Hubert
(the Dupont character) right.
There are several links below giving more information about this fascinating officer and you can see episodes of behaviour that saw him deprived of his rank for incidents of financial dishonesty and illegal absences, together  with imprisonment for involvement in a conspiracy against the First Consul in 1802. In 1809 during his first period of service in Spain he was placed on leave without pay for administering sabre slashes to an ADC under his command.

This bizarre behaviour reached its zenith when following the Battle of Leipzig where he led the 6th Light Cavalry Division in III Cavalry Corps he was appointed Count of the Empire only to have the rank deprived after a verbal dispute with Napoleon that saw him placed under arrest and sent off to Mayence prison for displaying a defeatist attitude, which during the journey to said prison saw him lead a counterattack against cossacks who attacked his prisoner escort, before surrendering himself back to his escort.

During the Russian Campaign General Sarloveze (centre on the white horse) commanded the
31st Light Cavalry Brigade which included the Baden Hussars and the Hessian and Westphalian Cheveau Legers
As well as being the inspiration for one of my favourite films, I was particularly interested in his military career in Spain where he was first sent in the Autumn of 1808 following his inspired performances at the Battles of Eylau and Friedland where he led several key charges.

In 1808/09 he was part of the force in pursuit of General Moore's army to Corunna leading his brigade, the 15th and 25th Dragoons. In May 1809 he occupied and held the town of Lugo with three battalions of infantry, the 15th Dragoons two squadrons of hussars and four artillery pieces against 15,000 Spanish troops under General Mahy. Outnumbered ten to one he managed to hold out for five days until relieved by the arrival of Marshal Soult and his II Corps d'Armee.

Following his period of forced leave in France in December 1809, following the slashed ADC incident, he once again joined the forces in Spain in November 1810, leading the 2nd Provisional Light Cavalry Regiment of six squadrons of Chasseurs a Cheval, joining the Army of Portugal under Marshal Massena.

He led his light cavalry at the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro, 3rd-5th May 1811 and was involved in the running battle with the Light Division on the right of the Anglo-Portuguese line and the cutting down of the British Guards skirmishing light battalion.

Map - BritishBattles.Com shows the attack on the Anglo-Portuguese right flank on the 5th May 1811

Having a horse shot from under him he claimed in his dispatch that his brigade broke two squares of the Light Division and captured their commander General Robert Craufurd together with 1,500 of his men. If this claim happened, then the British casualty reports do not substantiate the loss, and perhaps Craufurd and his men were taken temporarily but escaped back to British lines during the chaos of one of the British cavalry counter-attacks.

General Fournier-Sarloveze would continue to command his brigade until November, but was not given a command under Marshal Marmont who replaced Massena in command of the Army of Portugal and was ordered to join the Army of Aragon, but returned to France instead in the December to take convalescent leave, before his summons to join the Grande Armee for the 1812 campaign in Russia. 

This controversial French cavalry general would earn the titles of 'El Demonio', The Demon from the Spanish and 'The Worst Subject of France' from his compatriots, dying in 1827 at the age of 53.

Sources used in this post:
An Account of the Duel
Charging against Wellington - The French Cavalry in the Peninsular War, Robert Burnham


  1. Brilliant story, sounds like he needs his own special command base? perhaps the AB superior hussar officer would fit the bill?

    1. Cheers Paul, my thoughts exactly. He'll probably need a rule that sees him test for being dismissed on the field for gross insubordination.

  2. Great read as Paul says many painting ideas 😉 . Thanks for posting .
    Regards Gav .

    1. Thanks Gav. I have an idea to produce a model of this chap at some time

  3. Fascinating story, sounds mad as a hatter!
    Best Iain

    1. Thanks Iain. Absolutely bonkers if you ask me, but certainly a great character.