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André Masséna duc de Rivoli, prince d'Essling, maréchal d'Empire.

André Masséna (in Italian Andrea Massena) 1st Duc de Rivoli, 1st Prince d'Essling (May 6, 1758–April 4, 1817) was a French military commander during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. He is considered by military historians as one of the greatest field commanders in history and is often ranked among generals of his generation second only to Napoleon Bonaparte himself[citation needed].

Napoleon said of Masséna: he was "the greatest name of my military Empire." According to Donald D. Horward, "Masséna's military career was equaled by few commanders in European history. In addition to his remarkable battlefield successes, he touched the careers of many who served under his command. Indeed, at one time or another, a majority of French marshals served under his command and saw 'the great Masséna at work.'

Masséna was one of the original eighteen Marshals of France created by Napoleon. His nickname was l'Enfant chéri de la Victoire ("the Dear Child of Victory").[1]


Early life

André Masséna was born in Nice, then part of the Kingdom of Sardinia, the son of a shopkeeper Jules Masséna (Giulio Massena) and wife Marguerite Fabre, married on August 1, 1754. His father died in 1764, and after his mother remarried he was sent to live with relatives.

At the age of thirteen, Masséna became a cabin boy aboard a merchant ship; he sailed with it around the Mediterranean and on two extended voyages to French Guiana. In 1775, after four years at sea, he returned to Nice and enlisted in the French Army as a private in the Royal Italian regiment. He had risen to the rank of warrant officer (the top rank for a non-nobleman) when he left in 1789. In the same year he married on August 10 Anne Marie Rosalie Lamare (Antibes, September 4, 1765 – Paris on January 3, 1829) and they remained living at her birthplace. After a brief stint as a smuggler he rejoined the army in 1791 and was made an officer, rising to the rank of colonel by 1792.

Revolutionary Wars

When the Revolutionary Wars broke out in April 1792, Masséna and his battalion were deployed along the border to Piedmont. Masséna continued training his battalion and prepared it for battle, hoping that it would be incorporated into the regular army. A month after the occupation of Nice, in October 1792, the battalion was one of four volunteer battalions that became part of the French Armée d'Italie.

Masséna distinguished himself in the war, and was quickly promoted, attaining the rank of general of brigade in August 1793, followed by general of division that December. He was prominent in all the campaigns on the Italian Riviera over the next two years, participating in the attack on Saorgio (1794) and the battle of Loano (1795), and was commanding the two divisions of the army's advance guard when Napoleon Bonaparte took command of it in March 1796.

Masséna remained one of Bonaparte's most important subordinates throughout the extraordinary 1796-7 campaign in Italy. He played a significant part in engagements at Montenotte and Dego in the spring. He took a leading role at the battles of Lonato, Castiglione, Bassano, Caldiero and Arcola in the summer and fall, and the Battle of Rivoli and the fall of Mantua that winter. In 1799 Masséna was granted an important command in Switzerland replacing Charles Edward Jennings de Kilmaine. Though defeated by Archduke Charles at the First Battle of Zurich, he triumphed over the Russians under Alexander Korsakov at the Second Battle of Zurich in September. This, and other events led Russia to withdraw from the Second Coalition.

Meanwhile, his wife stayed at Antibes, where she had his children, the first of whom died in childhood: Marie Anne Elisabeth (July 8, 1790-March 18, 1794), Jacques Prosper, 2nd Prince d'Essling July 3, 1818 (June 25, 1793-May 13, 1821), unmarried and without issue, Victoire Thècle (September 28, 1794-March 28, 1857), married on September 12, 1814 Charles, Comte Reille (Antibes, September 1, 1775-March 4, 1860), and François Victor, 2nd Duc de Rivoli, 3rd Prince d'Essling (April 2, 1799-April 16, 1863), married on April 19, 1823 Anne Debelle (1802-January 28, 1887), and had issue.

In 1800, Masséna returned to Italy and led his forces at the Siege of Genoa, one of his greatest military achievements. Long after most generals would have capitulated, he continued to wage a vigorous defense. Masséna finally surrendered on June 4, with the condition that the Austrians provide him and his men a safe passage to French territories. He and the remaining 7,000 men retreated to France with full honors. Despite the fact that he had lost the city, Masséna had given Napoleon valuable time leading up to the Battle of Marengo on June 14. Masséna was then made commander of the French forces in Italy, but was later dismissed by Napoleon.

Napoleonic Wars

Not until 1804 did Masséna regain the trust of Napoleon. That year he was promoted to the rank of Marshal of France in May. He led an independent army that captured Verona and fought the Austrians at Caldiero on October 30, 1805. Masséna was given control of operations against the Kingdom of Naples. He commanded the right wing of the Grand Army in Poland in 1807. He was granted a (first) ducal victory title in chief of Rivoli on August 24, 1808.

Masséna did not serve again until 1809, against the forces of the Fifth Coalition. At the beginning of the campaign, he led the IV Corps at the battles of Eckmuhl and Ebersberg. Later in the war, when Napoleon tried to cross to the north bank of the Danube, at the Battle of Aspern-Essling, Masséna's troops hung onto the village of Aspern in two days of savage fighting. He was rewarded on January 31, 1810 with a second, now princely victory title, Prince d'Essling, for his efforts there and in the Battle of Wagram.

During the Peninsular War, Napoleon appointed Masséna an army commander in the invasion of Portugal in 1810. He started out by capturing Ciudad Rodrigo and Almeida after successful sieges. He suffered a setback at the hands of Wellington's Anglo-Portuguese army at Buçaco on September 27. Pressing on, he forced the allies to retreat into the Lines of Torres Vedras where a stalemate ensued for several months. Finally forced to retreat due to lack of food and supplies, Masséna withdrew to the Spanish frontier. After defeats at the battles of Sabugal and Fuentes de Oñoro, he was replaced by Marshal Auguste Marmont and did not serve again, being made a local commander at Marseille.


Masséna retained his command after the restoration of Louis XVIII. When Napoleon returned from exile the following year, Masséna refused to commit to either side and kept his area quiet. He was disinclined to prove his royalist loyalties after the defeat of Napoleon. For example, he was a member of the court-martial that refused to try Marshal Michel Ney. He died in Paris in 1817 and was buried at Père Lachaise, in a tomb he shares with his son-in-law Reille.[1].

Popular lore

The village of Massena in the state of New York, USA, is named in Masséna's honor. It was settled by French lumbermen in the early 19th century. Massena, Iowa, also in the USA, and which in turn was named for the community in New York, honours Masséna with a portrait of him in its Centennial Park. Place Massena in his birthplace, Nice is named in his honour.


  • Chandler, David (editor). Napoleon's Marshals. London: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1987. ISBN 0-297-79124-9
  • Chandler, David. The Campaigns of Napoleon. New York: Macmillan, 1966.
  • Smith, Digby. The Napoleonic Wars Data Book. London: Greenhill, 1998. ISBN 1-85367-276-9


  1. ^ General Michel Franceschi (Ret.), Austerlitz (Montreal: International Napoleonic Society, 2005), 20.

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