Marie Antoinette Online Forum

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Author:  Lilly [ Wed May 20, 2009 5:38 pm ]
Post subject:  LaFayette

Today is the anniversary of the death of the Marquis de LaFayette (May 20, 1834).
I just finished my first biography on him and was surprised to learn that LaFayette spent many years in an Austrian prison, among other things.
The book was called "LaFayette - A Life" by Andreas Latzko (1936).
Any thoughts on LaFayette? Any books to recommend?

Author:  jimcheval [ Wed May 20, 2009 11:43 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: LaFayette

The saddest thing about Lafayette's years in prison was that his wife, who might more usefully have used her freedom to work for his release, not only insisted on joining him there, but took their children with her. Ultimately, it wrecked her health. (He seems to have loved her well enough, even if he cheated on her mercilessly; she adored him.)

Otherwise, here's a few tidbits I got on him while doing my newsletter "Sundries":

"I am beginning to see that, seduced by a false enthusiasm for glory, I made
a blunder in coming among the Americans. But I feel too that it would be a
greater one to return. The wine is poured, it must be drunk to its dregs; but
already these dregs are evident."

Lafayette, in a letter (quoted January 1779 in Lescure's Correspondance Litteraire)

Robert Darnton's "Mesmerism and the End of the
Enlightenment in France", beyond the fact that Darnton himself is always a
sure value. Mesmerism, until I read this book, did not seem all that
interesting a subject. But Darnton quickly ties it here to a general popular interest
in science and pseudo-science and such ventures as walking across the Seine
in special shoes: "Mesmerism suited the interest in science and "high science"
during the decade before the Revolution, and it did not seem to contradict
the spirit of the Enlightenment.... mesmerism expressed the Enlightenment's
faith in reason taken to an extreme, an Enlightenment run wild, which later was
to provoke a movement toward the opposite extreme in the form of
romanticism." (38-39)

There are also surprising connections, such as the following:

"Lafayette...left little indication of his own mesmerist ideology, as he was
no writer or speaker but the sort of man who made his appearances in history
while mounted on chargers or standing on balconies....The written evidence
that does exist suggests that his experience of the American Revolution and
his friendship with Thomas Jefferson had a strong influence on his political
ideas, and further that he saw some connection between his dedication to the
American republic and mesmerism. Even Louis XVI associated these two interests
when he asked Lafayette, shortly before the young hero's departure for the
United States in June 1784, "What will Washington think when he learns that you
have become Mesmer's chief journeyman apothecary?"

- LAFAYETTE: A challenge to a duel

This amusing exchange is a reminder of how young Lafayette (then just 21)
still was. The Earl of Carlyle's response (which is almost professorial)
appears to be perfectly correct:

"Translation of a challenge sent by the Marquis de la Fayette to the Earl of

TILL now, my Lord, I never thought that I should have matter of contest
except with your Generals; and I expected nor the honour of seeing them, but at
the head of the troops respectively confided to you. Your letter of the 26th
of August, to the Congress of the United States, and the insulting expression
to my country, which you have signed, could alone have given me reason to
quarrel with you. I do not deign to refute the charge, my Lord, but I desire to
punish it. It is from you, as chief of the commission, that I demand a
reparation as publick as hath been the offence, and as will be the lie which
follows it. I should not have delayed this demand so long, if your letter had
reached me sooner. Obliged to absent myself a few days, on my return I hope to
find your answer. M. Gimot, a French officer, will take for me such arrangements
as may suit you. I do not doubt but that, for the honour of his fellow
countryman, General Clinton will attend you to the field.

As to me, my Lord, it is indifferent who attends you, provided that, to the
glorious advantage of being a Frenchman, I join that of proving to a person
of your nature, that no one ever dare attack mine with impunity.
(signed) La FAYETTE.

To the Marquis de la Fayette.
I HAVE received your letter transmitted to me from M. Gimot, and I confess
that I find it difficult to return a serious answer to its contents. The only
one that can be expected from the Kings commissioner, and which you ought to
have known, is, that I do, and ever shall consider myself solely responsible
to my country and King, and not to any individual for my publick conduct and
language. As for any opinion or expressions contained in any publications
issued under the commission, in which I have the honour to be named, unless they
are retracted in publick, you may be assured that I shall never, in any
change of situation, be disposed to give an account of them, much less recal
[sic] them in private.

The injury alluded to in the correspondence of the King's commissioners to
the Congress, I must remind you is not of a private nature, and I conceive all
national disputes will be best decided by the meeting of Admiral Byron and
Count d'Estaing.
New York, Oct. 11, 1778"
Viriginia Gazette, February 26, 1779 (2-3) ... 0011hi.jpg

The fondness between Lafayette and Washington is one of the more touching elements of that part of history. Washington describes their last meeting:

"At the moment of our parting, on the road, during the journey, and since
then, at every hour I have felt deeply all that the course of years, a close
union, and your merit have inspired in me, of affection, respect, and attachment
for you. As our carriages drew apart, I often asked myself if I had seen you
for the last time."

(He had.) George Washington to Lafayette, December 8, 1784

But then had, however sorrowfully, to discourage his friend from a planned visit:


Did Washington ever imagine during the Revolutionary War that he would ask his friend NOT to come to the United States? Or that he would one day write with some bitterness of France? But by 1798, Washington had been president and the Directory was running France. The letter excerpted below is both stern and sorrowful.

"Mount Vernon, December 25, 1798.

My dear Sir:

[Washington begins with explanations of his failure to write and with expressions of affection. Then...]

...No one in the United States would receive you with open arms, or with more ardent affection than I should, after the differences between this Country and France are adjusted and harmony between the nations is again restored. But it would be uncandid and incompatible with that friendship I have always professed for you, to say (and on your own account) that I wish it before...

To give you a Complete View of the politics and Situation of things in this Country would far exceed the limits of a letter; and to trace effects to their Causes would be a work of time. But the sum of them maybe given in a few words, and amounts to this. That a party exists in the United States, formed by a Combination of Causes, which oppose the Government in all its measures, and are determined (as all their Conduct evinces) by Clogging its Wheels indirectly to change the nature of it, and to Subvert the Constitution. To effect this no means which have a tendency to accomplish their purposes are left unessayed. The friends of Government who are anxious to maintain its neutrality, and to preserve the Country in peace, and adopt measures to produce these, are charged by them as being Monarchists, Aristocrats, and infractors of the Constitution; which according to their Interpretation of it would be a mere Cypher; while they arrogated to themselves, (until the eyes of the people began to discover how outrageously they had been treated in their Commercial concerns by the Directory of France, and that, that was a ground on which they could no longer tread). the sole merit of being the friends of France, when in fact they had no more regard for that Nation than for the Grand Turk, further than their own views were promoted by it; denouncing those who differed in Opinion; whose principles are purely American; and whose sole view was to observe a strict neutrality, with acting under British influence, and being directed by her counsels, now with being her Pensioners....

You have expressed a wish, worthy [of] that benevolence of your heart, that I would exert all my endeavors to avert the Calamitous effects of a rupture between our Countries. Believe me my dear friend that no man can deprecate an event of this sort with more horror than I should and that no one, during the whole of my Administration laboured more incessantly and with more sincerity and zeal than I did to avoid this, and to render every justice, nay favor to France, consistently with the neutrality which had been proclaimed to these sanctioned by Congress and approved by the State legislatures, and the people at large in their Town and County meetings. But neutrality was not the point at which France was aiming. for whilst it was crying peace, Peace, and pretending that they did not wish us to be embroiled in their quarrel with great Britain they were pursuing measures in this Country so repugnant to its Sovereignty, and so incompatible with every principle of neutrality, as must inevitably, have produced a war with the latter. And when they found that the Government here was resolved to adhere steadily to its plan of neutrality, their next step was to destroy the confidence of the people in, and to seperate them from it; for which purpose their diplomatic agents were specially instructed; and in the attempt were aided by inimical characters among ourselves not as I observed before because they loved France more than any other nation, but because it was an instrument to Facilitate the destruction of their own Government.

Hence proceeded those charges which I have already enumerated, against the friends to peace and order. No doubt remains on this side of the water, that to the representations of and encouragement given by these people, is to be ascribed in a great measure, the intentions of our Treaty with France; their violation of the Laws of nations, disregard of Justice and even of sound policy. But herein they have not only deceived France, but were deceived themselves, as the event has proved, for no sooner did the yeomanry of this Country come to a right understanding of the nature of the dispute, than they rose as one man with a tender of their Services; their lives and their fortunes, to support the Government of their choice, and to defend their country. This has produced a declaration from them (how sincere let others judge), that, if the French should attempt to invade this Country that they themselves would be amongst the foremost to repel the attack.

You add in another place that the Executive Directory are disposed to accommodation of all differences. If they are Sincere in this declaration, let them evidence it by actions, for words unaccompanied therewith will not be much regarded now...

It has been the policy of France and that of the opposition party among ourselves, to inculcate a belief that all those who have exerted themselves to keep this Country in peace, did it from an overweening attachment to Great Britain. But it is a solemn truth and you may count upon it, that it is void of foundation; and propagated for no other pose, than to excite popular clamour against those whose aim was peace, and whom they wished out of their way.

That there are many among us, who wish to see this Country embroiled on the side of Great Britain, and others who are anxious that we should take part with France against her, admits of no doubt. But it is a fact on which you may entirely and absolutely rely, that the Governing powers of the Country, and a large part of the people are truly Americans in principle, attached to the interest of it; And unwilling under any circumstances whatsoever to participate in the Politics or Contests of Europe: Much less since they have found that France, having forsaken the ground she first took, is interfering in the internal concerns of all nations, Neutral as well as Belligerent, and setting the world in an uproar.
After my valedictory address to the people of the United States you would no doubt be somewhat surprised to hear, that I had again consented to Gird on the Sword. But, having Struggled Eight or nine Years against the invasion of our rights by one power, and to establish an Independence of it, I could not remain an unconcerned spectator of the attempt of another Power to accomplish the same object, though in a different way, with less pretensions indeed without any at all..."
The George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799
George Washington to Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, December 25, 1798
The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799. John C. Fitzpatrick, Editor.

Author:  Lilly [ Thu May 21, 2009 1:08 am ]
Post subject:  Re: LaFayette

Thanks Jim! You are always so thorough and informative! It was real sad how his wife sacrificed her health to be with him in prison. When better conditions were asked for for her, she didn't get any response. They thought that if she had asked to be there with her husband that she had to suffer the same conditions. Also how she stuck up for him even when it was not popular to do so. She barely escaped being guillotined herself and her sister, mother, and grandmother were carted off and guillotined. So sad.

Author:  Anouk [ Fri May 22, 2009 12:38 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: LaFayette

Lilly and I thought this portrait would be very nice here, so I posted again, a bit smaller. What do you think about it? That droll young soldier became a seasoned man with lots of experience by the time this was painted... I could compare this alteration to the king's alteration. Look at Louis XVI's last portrait, and I think you'll see the same features on his face: wisdom and tiredness. I like this portrait very much.

lafayette_thomas _sully.jpeg
lafayette_thomas _sully.jpeg [ 36.91 KiB | Viewed 3911 times ]

Author:  Lilly [ Fri May 22, 2009 4:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: LaFayette

Thanks Anouk - the picture is PERFECT here! I am interested to know what people think of LaFayette. It is interesting that LaFayette was born into a noble family and was actually filthy rich by the time he was a teenager. He married a woman who was a relative of Madame Noailles ("Madame Etiquette") although I am not quite sure if they were great-Aunt and great-neice or exactly what the link was. Anyone know????

Author:  jimcheval [ Fri May 22, 2009 4:45 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: LaFayette

She seems to have been a great aunt by marriage: ... e_Noailles

There's probably more in this work on Adrienne and her family: ... =1#PPR1,M1

Author:  DreamersRose [ Tue Sep 21, 2010 1:40 am ]
Post subject:  Re: LaFayette

I've just read a wonderful biography of Lafayette by Harlow Giles Unger (2002). Lafayette was absolutely amazing. He fell in love with the American ideals of liberty and freedom at the young age of 19, and without the permission of Louis XVI, purchased a ship and staffed it with his friends to come to America and join in the revolution. America would not have won its revolution without him, his soldiers, and ultimately the French navy. Americans loved him, and he loved America.

Lafayette encouraged the French Revolution, hoping that it would bring about a constitutional monarchy, guaranteeing the rights of the common man. But, he remained loyal to the royal family. He was swept up in the women's bread march on Versailles, and it was he who raced ahead to protect the royal family. It was he who insisted they go out on the balcony to calm the rioters. And it was he who escorted the royal family back to Paris when it became clear there was no other option.

There are over 600 places named for him in the US. Fayettevilles and Fayette counties are everwhere. But interestingly, he is largely forgotten in France.

His marriage to Adrienne de Noailles was arranged; they married as teenagers. But they truly loved each other and supported each other completely throughout their lives. Lafayette is buried next to his beloved Adrienne in the Picpus cemetery, covered with earth from Bunker Hill. An American flag flies permanently over his grave.

Author:  baron de batz [ Tue Sep 21, 2010 9:37 am ]
Post subject:  Re: LaFayette

Not sure I share your effusive enthusiasm for Lafayette. The Queen certainly didn't, as she called him "blondinet"...similar to Goldilocks I guess. She reserved for him some of her finest lines, such as "Mr Lafayette protects us, but who will protect us from Mr Lafayette?"

She was no fool and had seen through Lafayette's permanent double dealing. As for being "swept up" by the events of the 5th/6th October, I have to clear my throat. He was in charge of the Republican guards , but at no point managed to control a horde of poorly armed women. As for the night when the rioters stormed the palace, our fine General and hero of the war of Independence was sleeping soundly (or pretending to...) He was nicknamed by some "General Morpheus" from that moment on.... :)

Indeed MA shrewdly pointed out at her return from Varennes, where Lafayette, their Tuileries jailor; was there to "greet" them:

"Mr Lafayette thinks only of his United States....his American Republic. He will see what a French Republic will be like!". Prophetic words!

In her coded letters to Fersen, she called lafayette "dette fatale", almost an anagram in French of his name. Translated into English this would mean "fatal debt". :wink:

As for his famous speech next to MA on the balcony of Versailles on the 6th October, speaking for the poor Queen who has just witnessed the massacre of her guards as if his words were her own, puffed up with self righteousness and self importance, it really makes me cringe, and must have done the same to her too.

Author:  DreamersRose [ Wed Sep 22, 2010 12:10 am ]
Post subject:  Re: LaFayette

No, MA didn't like Lafayette, but that may be in his favor, not hers. He endorsed self-government, and she obviously was threatened by that. There is nothing in this book to indicate Lafayette was involved in any double-dealing or deceptive tactics. He learned to negiotiate very well, but that does not constitute double-dealing. He was also very much involved in the beginnings of the French Revolution, which could not have sat well with the king and queen if a monarchy was not required.

Lafayette took charge of the Bourgeois Guard, a sort of citizens' militia. He promptly renamed it the National Guard of Paris, and gave orders to quell the mobs roaming the streets. After the storming of the Bastille, he had it razed to prevent this symbol of oppression from inflaming the citizenry. The violence of the mobs disgusted him, and some time later he resigned before the Paris Assembly. The assembly was stunned, and appointed him military dictator of Paris.

On October 1, 1789, at 8 p.m., the city hall bell began to ring for unknown reasons, and gangs of men and women mysteriously appeared to loot the city hall. This mob grew into thousands, finally shouting "A Versailles! A Versailles!" Lafayette pledged to end the food crisis, but his troops joined the mob and someone shouted, "It is not for La Fayette to command the people, it is for the people to command La Fayette!" With that, he was virtually a prisoner of his own troops. He agreed to go, but required his men to reaffirm their oaths to the king.

It was after midnight when they reached Versailles. Lafayette went to the king and reaffirmed his loyalty. The king agreed to the mob's demand for food, but not to move his family to Paris. By this time it was 3 a.m., and they were exhausted. Lafayette went across the street to his wife's family's residence to rest. He had not eaten or slept for 20 hours.

Three hours later, an aide awakened him to say that a mob had crashed through to the Cour de Marbre. If this is what you meant by "our fine General. . .was sleeping soundly (or pretending to)" then I think you have a very mean-spirited attitude about the events that took place.

As for speaking on the balcony for the queen, he did no such thing. Initially, he "angrily assailed the crowd" for what they had done in the palace. The crowd demanded MA's head, he encouraged her to go to the balcony, and when he could not get the crowd to quiet down enough to hear him, he kissed her hand. The crowd immediately became silent, then began shouting, "Vive le general! Vive la reine!"

Lafayette also pulled one of her guardsmen onto the balcony and gave him a tricolor cockade for his hat to replace the white Bourbon cockade. The crowd roared its approval. Lafayette was able to support the revolution and the monarchy at the same time.

Is this something to cringe about?

Author:  Délicate fleur [ Wed Sep 22, 2010 8:34 am ]
Post subject:  Re: LaFayette

I find some of your points very interesting, DreamersRose. I suppose some like Baron feel cynical about excellent politicians, of which Lafayette certainly was. Moving with whatever looked to be the winner and not having a definite fundamental "camp". I agree that he was an excellent tactician and PR worker, esp. in the case of the balcony at Versailles.

Author:  baron de batz [ Wed Sep 22, 2010 12:36 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: LaFayette

Dreamers Rose wrote:

Lafayette was able to support the revolution and the monarchy at the same time.


If this is what you meant by "our fine General. . .was sleeping soundly (or pretending to)" then I think you have a very mean-spirited attitude about the events that took place.

Now now let's not get personal..... :wink: or I shall demand "satisfaction"! :lol:

I will get back you to you on all of this....nice to spar again! Its' been a while!

Author:  DreamersRose [ Wed Sep 22, 2010 1:17 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: LaFayette

Thanks, Delicate Fleur. I can't help but wonder if this cynical attitude expressed by the Baron is reflective of the general attitude of the French toward Lafayette. It's surprising to me that the French have all but forgotten him when he was one of the first supporters of the revolution. But supporting a revolution that was ultimately the downfall of the monarchy is a double-edged sword.

Lafayette did indeed drive people to distraction running on about the American Revolution. He falsely believed the same type of revolution could occur in France, but there were major differences in the countries. The United States had 200 years of experience in self-government, and France did not; it was still primarily a feudal country. People in the US were well-educated for the time; most of the common people in France were not. Most were illiterate. This opened the door for rabble-rousers like Marat and Danton.

All of this is covered in the book - it's not my personal opinion. I would recommend this biography to anyone interested in 18th Century France. The book is well-documented and cites many sources, many of them first-person accounts and letters of the principals.

Author:  baron de batz [ Wed Sep 22, 2010 2:19 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: LaFayette

Dreamers Rose wrote:

I can't help but wonder if this cynical attitude expressed by the Baron is reflective of the general attitude of the French toward Lafayette

Mais Monsieur/Madame, je ne suis point français! :lol:

Author:  DreamersRose [ Wed Sep 22, 2010 3:08 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: LaFayette

I didn't think you were, Baron, but the French attitude puzzles me, and I am wondering what causes it. They must have some objection or at least ambivalence to Lafayette's role in the French Revolution. Maybe some of our French readers can help me out.

It's madame, by the way. I used to grow a lot of roses, and that avatar is one of them.

Author:  Délicate fleur [ Wed Sep 22, 2010 9:20 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: LaFayette

I love roses too....

It's ok that we are having this robust exchange of's like the old days of the forum here! It's fantastic!

As long as it's doesn't get nasty and personal but which I do not see it doing as you are both mature and amusing people. :wink:

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