A major biography of the Marquis de Lafayette, French hero of the American Revolution, looks past the storybook general and selfless champion of righteous causes who, at the age of 19, volunteered to fight under George Washington, casting aside fortune and family (from one of France's oldest families; his ancestors served in the Crusades and alongside Joan of Arc) to advance the transcendent aims of liberty and justice.
We see how Lafayette's reputation rose to great heights during the American Revolution, but collapsed more than a decade later during the French Revolution; how when the Bastille fell on July 14, 1789, Parisians hailed Lafayette as the French Washington, appointing him commander of their National Guard in the hope that he would be able to restore order to a city wracked by starvation and violence. As revolutionaries hurtled in radical directions and staunch monarchists dug in their heels, Lafayette lost control, remaining steadfast in his belief that the French monarchy needed to be reformed, but not abolished, and doing everything in his power to prevent an American-style republic from taking root in his native land. Formerly seen as France's heroic figure, he was now a traitor to his nation, forced to flee his country, and today remains a murky figure in French memory.
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A Bit Dry For My Taste
I would recommend this book only to the most die-hard fans of the American or the French Revolution. The Marquis is one of my favorite characters from history. He has a very rich and eventful life. Perhaps too much for one book. Trying to cover it all, as this one does, doesn't allow for any rumination. It clips through his life at such a speed, it more resembles a history book than a biography.
Only on someone who I trust's recommendation. I never felt like I got to know the Marquis. I know his life from beginning to end, but not the man himself -- which is very much the opposite reaction I have when I read a David McCullough book. By the end of JOHN ADAMS, for example, I felt like I had spent time with John, got to know him, what made him tick. I need Mister McCullough to write a book about Lafayette.
The performer did well with what they were given.
Yes. We need books about the Marquis' life. Books that delve into his relationship with Washington. Books exclusively about his time in the American Revolution. And then books exclusively about his time with the French Revolution. The definitive Lafayette book is yet to be written.
- Scott Fogg
Lafayette: A Hit Abroad! & A Miss at Home!
Yes! Because I am a history buff and I like to think what might have been if this or that had changed.
Adrienne Lafayette: She demonstrated remarkable fidelity, loyalty, and courage in the face of adversity.
When Lafayette guided the Queen of France out onto the balcony at Versailles and with a bit of political theater of kissing her hand held out the prospect of a peaceful resolution and avoided a full scale bloodbath.
No extreme reaction. No laughter or crying. I do think that if men had behaved better and allowed Lafayette's conciliation to work a constitutional monarchy rather then a bloodbath could have emerged.
The following are my general impressions of the insights I gained after listening to this book. Obviously there is more of value to harvest then what I can covey in these few fleeting paragraphs. In this impressionistic approach I choose not to cover all the details in the book. I hope to give you an appetite to know more about this complex man by hitting these few highlights. I highly recommend that you give it a good listen or read.
General, Marquis de Lafayette is remembered in the United States with public parks, equestrian statues, and public building / street named after him too numerous to count. He is an interwoven part of our national fabric. However, in France, his birth place and home his honor is a nul, a zero, a rien. There is only one bust hidden away in the dark recesses of the Palace of Versailles to mark his place on French history. This mystery of two different perceptions of a good man’s life work is the motivating force for Ms. Auricchio biography.
As a 19 year old nobleman, Lafayette was considered much too unsophisticated to really fit in at the Royal Court in Versailles. Having his future prospects for advancement at court blighted by a lack in the social graces and connections what is a young ambitious nobleman from a proud old military family to do? Why go where the action is and make his name and fame. The action was in America; so that is where he took himself. He outfitted transportation at his own expense, raised and paid for a military unit, and presented himself and his unit to Congress in Philadelphia asking that he be commissioned a General in the revolutionary army. One thing the folks in Congress knew on sight was a bargain. Plus he also came with fresh news from the continent and back channel connections to the French aristocracy and government. What a bargain! Make him a General, why not?
Congress appointed Lafayette a General and sent him off to General Washington to see if he has any use for this untried warrior. Fortunately, General Washington knew raw talent and made him his aid de camp and member of his staff. Under such tutelage Lafayette’s pent up nascent military talent burst into bloom and bore good fruit. The give and take between these two dynamic personalities evolved into a pseudo father and son relationship; this is evidenced by Lafayette naming his actual son after his beloved benefactor.
His backchannel contacts to the French aristocracy proved valuable to other revolutionaries like Franklin and Madison. These relationships and bonds so closely forged in service to the American revolutionary elite in this country, will eventually help save his bacon when he ends up on the wrong side of the fence of the French revolution.
In France, Lafayette was a moderate conciliator in a time of extremes; he supported a constitutional monarchy; he wanted to serve as a bridge of understanding and enlightenment between the seething masses and out of touch elite like Louis XVI. He might have pulled this role of conciliator off had it not been for the ill-fated decision of Louis XVI to try and escape France when he was technically under guard and the protection of Lafayette at the Tuileries Palace following the march from the fallen Bestial to Versailles. It was there that Lafayette had gained acclaim by persuading the monarchs Louie and Marie to return to Paris under his protection and guard. However, when the King and Queen took a powder it left Lafayette with egg on his face and his credibility with the public in tatters in the metaphorical bag they left him holding. No one believed Lafayette was not in on the failed escape plan. The decision to run eventually cost the monarchs their heads.
The forces tarring France apart, stoked by blind admission of lesser men, were too powerful to contain through moderation and in the end Lafayette satisfied neither side and failed. When the scamming plots of others further damaged his credibility and it was clear he and his families lives were endanger, it was then that he left France one step ahead of the Guillotine. Once he crossed the border into Belgium he was perceived by the counter revolutionary monarchist’s relatives of Louie XVI as a traitor to his class and clapped away safely in prison to languish away and die.
Enter Lafayette’s wife Adrienne onto the stage of history. Until that point her only significant contribution was the barring of Lafayette’s four children. Lafayette’s friends in America and else ware were sufficient to see that he was not outright killed by the monarchist. However, a fragile new American country did not have the pull to spring him free from jail without risking a war. Adrienne after first seeing that her children were placed safely with others for their care, petitioned the Austrian Emperor to join her husband in prison. As she and her beloved languished in prison and she became ill, she also became a cause celeb in the salons of Europe resulting in both his and her release. In this way, with these courageous actions she shamed Lafayette’s friends and contacts into action thus saving her husband’s bacon. The monarchist might have been quite content to allow a man out of favor to languish, sicken, and die in prison but to condemn such a noblewoman to the same fate would have been a scandal and a blot on their honor. Having been weakened by her prison illnesses Adrienne preceded her husband in death at age 48 while he lived on to age 77.