General Baron Nicholas – Philippe Guye

General Baron Nicholas – Philippe Guye.

Having spent almost three decades researching details on General Guye I am now convinced that my Swiss partner is related, albeit indirectly owing to the general himself being without issue, to the Guye family. Her grandfather was a Guye from a village in the Jura not far from where the general himself was born. The Service Des Archives De L’État has informed me that they consider it a very strong possibility that there is a connection, the Guye family name is most prominent in the Jura region (Swiss Jura only became a Canton of the Swiss Federation in 1979), and this would seem to lend weight to my theory.

Portrait of General Guye by Goya, oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia U.S.A.
The back of the canvas is marked:
“Sor Dn Nicolas Guye, Marquis of Rio – Milanos, General Aide de Champ de SM Catholique, Member of the Legion of Honour of the French Empire, Commander of the Order of the Two Sicilies and Commander of the Royal Order of Spain, etc. Born in Lons – le – Saunier (Jura) on 1 May 1773. Given to Vincent Guye, his brother. In Madrid, the 1st October 1810 Pintado por Goya”

General Guye was born in Lons – le – Saunier in the Jura on the 1st May 1773. He entered service in the 35th Line Infantry Regiment on 8th May 1792, posted in Aquitaine and was with the Army of the Alps. He became lieutenant of the 2nd Battalion de la Côte – d Or, 27th May 1793, and then with the Army Pyrénées – Orientales where he was promoted to captain – adjutant – major of the 7th Battalion l’Aude, 7th January 1794. He served with the Army of Italy in 1795 and on 7th May 1798 was wounded in the French attack on the Isle of Saint Marcouf off the coast of Normandy that was being held by the British. Upon recovering from his wound he saw service in Batavia, 1799, and with the Army of the Rhine in 1800.

He was battalion commander in the 4th Line Infantry Regiment, 12th November 1803 and assigned to the 8th Corps of the Grand Army seeing action at the battle of Austerliz in 1805 where he was again wounded. Thereafter he saw service in the Kingdom of Naples, 26th August 1806. He became Major of the Corsican Legion in 1806 and then Officer of the Palace of the King of Naples (Napoleons older brother, Joseph Bonaparte) 1806 and afterwards Colonel Adjutant of the Palace of the King of Naples, 1807, followed by being Aide – de – Camp to the King of Naples, 1807. Guye was made commander of the 1st Regiment of Neapolitan Infantry on 2nd June 1808, and was charged with organising a Neapolitan Corps, having become a Knight Commander of the Order of the Two Sicilies (8th May 1808).

When Joseph was made King of Spain in 1808 Guye became one of his foremost aides. In March 1809 he was commissioned Colonel of the 1st Spanish Line Regiment and later Colonel of voltigures in the Royal Spanish Guards, 20th August 1809, being awarded the Royal Order of Spain. He became Maréchal de Camp in the service of the King of Spain, 12th January 1810, Governor of Seville1810, and then Governor of Guadalajara in 1811. In 1813 he was wounded at Bidassoa, 31st August. Returning to France in 1814 he was promoted to Brigadier General in the Imperial Guard and made a Knight of the Legion of Honour by Imperial Decree, 16th March 1814 and later, Commander of the Legion of Honour, 1st May 1814. During the fighting around Paris in March 1814 he fractured his left leg. He was appointed Knight of St Louis on July 19th by which time he had been retired from the service and went back home to Lons – le – Saunier, it was while there that he heard the news of Napoleons landing back in France in March 1815.

In April 1815 he took command of a brigade in the Young Guard attached to the French Army of the North. He fought with distinction in the defence of the village of Plancenoit during the battle of Waterloo, 18th June 1815, and after the commander of the Young Guard division, General Duhesme, was wounded he defended the village until nightfall, in doing so he was also wounded, falling back gradually with the French rearguard.

Put on the inactive list on 6th October 1815 he retired from the army on 25th January 1825. He became Mayor of the town of Saint – Die in the Vosges, where he had taken up residence, in 1829. In October 1830 he was recalled to duty with the army and took up the post of commander of the military school of La Fléche. He was awarded Commander of the Legion of Honour by decree on 1st May 1831. General Guye died on 5th July 1845 in Saint – Die – des – Vosges, aged 72 years.

French Imperial Young Guard Division at Waterloo, 18th June 1815.

Commander, General of Division Count Philbert – Guillaume Duhesme.
Second in Command, General of Division Count Pierre Barrois.

  • First Brigade. General of Brigade Jean – Hyacinthe – Sebastien.
    • 1st Regiment of Tiralleur (2 battalions) Colonel Baron Jacques – Elisee Trappier de Malcolm
    • 1st Regiment of Voltigeurs (2 battalions) Colonel Baron Antoine – Joseph Secretan.
  • Second Brigade. General of Brigade Baron Nicolas – Philippe Guye.
    • 3rd Regiment of Tiralleurs (2 battalions) Colonel Baron Antoine Pailhes
    • 3rd Regiment of Voltigeurs (2 battalions) Colonel Baron Francois – Alexandre Hurel.
    • 7th Auxiliary Foot Artillery Company, Cre’ Aach 8 guns
    • 8th Auxiliary Foot Artillery Company, Charbonier 8 guns

The fighting in and around the village of Plancenoit was some of the most server that took place during the battle of Waterloo. Although slowed down by the nature of the ground, which had been inundated by torrential rain for over twelve hours, the Prussian commander, Marshal Blücher, being informed that the Duke of Wellington was offering battle, had marched at once to his assistance. At around 4.00 p.m. on the afternoon of 18th June Blücher had reached the rise of ground between the river Lasne and the village of Smohain with the forward units of the Prussian V Corps under General von Bülow. He could see from his vantage point that Wellington’s army was hard pressed and he had been constantly receiving pleas from that commander for assistance.

Having been informed of the Prussian approach, Napoleon had moved this 6th Corps under Count Lobau to cover his exposed right flank and rear. Despite a gallant resistance Lobau’s divisions were gradually forced back by sheer weight of numbers, the Prussians now coming up in strength. Retiring to cover the Charleroi road, which represented the main French line of retreat in the event of their being defeated, Lobau pulled back his forces in the direction of Plancenoit, placing the village within his line of defence. It soon became evident to the French Emperor, as Prussian cannonballs began to fall near his forward observation post at La Belle Alliance, that unless reinforced Lobau would not be able to hold and the French right flank would be turned.

Not many veteran troops were to be found within the ranks of the Young Guard. Like their counterparts who had fought at Craonne in 1814, most units were made up from conscripts and line troops who had seen little action. What they lacked in experience was certainly made up for in their willingness to fight, and they would prove themselves equal to their “Big Brothers” in the Old Guard in both courage and determination during those last few hours of Napoleonic glory. Now, in order to assist Lobau and help stabilise his flank, Napoleon ordered Count Duhesme to send in the four regiments of the Young Guard.

Prussian infantry attacking Plancenoit. Carl Rochling.

Pouring down from the wooded ridge into the low valley in which the village of Plancenoit was situated, the Prussian infantry of Bülow corps were sweeping Lobau’s gallant but depleted battalions before them. As they began to spread out across the village and nearby fields the Young Guard battalions caught them off balance, forcing them to retire in some confusion, but only for a brief period. Soon they were coming on again in reinforced masses and the fighting in the streets soon developed into hand to hand combats as each house was stubbornly fought for. This violent struggle between, on the Prussian side, the 15th Line Regiment and the Silesian Landwehr and the French Young Guard lasted some time, with the French holding the church and its walled cemetery and nearby houses, repulsing every attempt to clear them out.

But the Prussians were not to be denied. Soon fresh columns appeared, clearing the churchyard and driving the defenders from the now burning church. This position was naturally strong; being on raised ground, for as well as a stout low stone wall the cemetery was surrounded on all sides by a steep outer bank. However, Guye and Chartrand, the two brigade commanders of the Young Guard Division, had already prepared for such an eventuality by occupying the surrounding village houses, and from these a concentrated fire was maintained on the cemetery.

It was now 6.30 p.m. and Lobau together with the Young Guard, despite being outnumbered, once more drove the Prussians from Plancenoit, the streets of which had become slippery with the blood of the slain who were covering the ground. Although having sustained heavy losses the Prussians once more came on, the original attacking columns being reinforced by 11th Line Regiment and the 1st Pomeranian Landwehr, this fresh injection of strength once more forcing the French to relinquish their hold on the village.

Seeing that the Prussian had once more occupied Plancenoit Napoleon now ordered General Morand and General Pelet to retake it with the 1st Battalion of the 2nd Old Guard Grenadier Regiment and the 1st Battalion of the Old Guard Chasseur Regiment, and :

With drums beating, these old soldiers marched at the double – quick, in serried columns of companies. They passed the Young Guard, which was being rallied by Duhesme, attacked Plancenoit at two points, penetrated into the village without deigning to fire a shot, overturned, ground to pieces, and drove out the Prussians. The attack was so impetuous that in twenty minutes the village was cleared. The grumbles [ a nick name for the soldiers of the Old Guard], with their bayonets dripping blood, debouched at the backs of the fugitives, pursued them 600 yards, and drove them back upon the opposite hill, even behind the batteries of Hiller, which were, for an instant, abandoned. The Young Guard seconded this movement; it occupied Plancenoit once more, and Lobau, fighting with the divisions of Losthin and Hacke, recovered the ground that he had lost.” ((Houssaye. Henry, 1815: Waterloo. Translation. S.R. Willis. Kansas City: Franklin Hudson Publishing Company, 1905. Quoted in, A Desperate Combat, Stephen Millar for The Napoleon Series.)) 

But even the courage and self sacrifice of these desperate counter attacks could not withstand numbers. With more Prussian units constantly arriving on the field in the form of Ziethen’s I Corps and Pirch I’s II Corp the Young and Old Guard units, plus the skeletal battalions of Lobau’s corps were only just managing to hold on.

At 8:00 p.m., in the gathering dusk, Napoleon ordered his Old Guard to attack and try and breach the Allied line, the last desperate throw of a desperate man. With cries of ‘Vive l’Empereur!’ the Guard marched to its doom and into history. Unable to deploy in time from column into line the “old sweats” were decimated by the massed fire from a line of 1,500 muskets from Maitland’s British Guards and a further 1,200 from Adam’s brigade bringing down 20 officers and over 200 men. There was a wavering in the ranks, then the whole mass slowly began to fall back; Napoleons last gamble had failed.

The Prussians storm into the streets of Plancenoit. Adolph Northen

 

At nightfall the Old and Young Guard battalions were still fighting valiantly among the flaming ruins of Plancenoit. Duhesme had been carried from the field mortally wounded and his second in command, General Barrois, was hit in the thigh by a musket ball causing him leave the village. By the ghostly light of the burning church General Guye, being informed of that the whole French army was in the process of quitting the field in disorder, rallied as many troops as he could and retreated, fighting off the pursuing Prussians with the rearguard.

 

Victor Guye by Goya. Oil on canvas, 1810. National Gallery of Art, Richmond Virginia, U.S.A. On the back of the original fabric (no concealed by the lining) is the inscription: C’de mon Fils a été peint par Goya pour faire le pendant de celui de Frère le General. Vt Guye. (trans: This portrait of my son was painted by pendant to that of my brother the General V[incen]t Guye)
Victor Guye by Goya. Oil on canvas, 1810. National Gallery of Art, Richmond Virginia, U.S.A. On the back of the original fabric (no concealed by the lining) is the inscription: C’de mon Fils a été peint par Goya pour faire le pendant de celui de Frère le General. Vt Guye. (trans: This portrait of my son was painted by pendant to that of my brother the General V[incen]t Guye)

Young Victor Guye was the nephew of General Baron Guye. In the portrait he is wearing the uniform of the Order of Pages to Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother and one time King of Spain. The boy is six or seven years of age. Although probably too young to act as a court page he may have been permitted to wear the prestigious uniform through his uncle’s influence?

 

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