On This Day in Napoleonic History – 18 May 1804

18The Marshalate is created by Senatus-consulte

Four Honourary and fourteen active Marshals of the Empire were created, including Berthier, Murat, Moncey, Jourdan, Masséna, Augereau, Bernadotte, Soult, Brune, Lannes, Mortier, Ney, Davout and Bessières. Between 1807 and 1815, a further eight were appointed. The Marshalate was an honorific rather than military rank that intended to recognise something that Napoleon later called ‘the sacred fire’. The title came with a silver and velvet baton studded with gold eagles in a box of red Moroccan leather. Not everyone was impressed. When his staff congratulated Masséna, he merely shrugged and said, ‘There are fourteen of us.’

Napoleon often said that ‘in every soldier’s knapsack is a marshal’s baton.’ The working class origins of many of his marshals demonstrated how true this was. Ten of them had risen through the ranks and included the son of a barrel-cooper (Ney), tanner (Saint-Cyr), bailiff (Victor), wealthy peasant (Mortier), miller (Lefebvre), inn-keeper (Murat), household servant (Augereau) and stall keeper (Masséna). There were only two aristocrats: Prince Józef Poniatowski and the Marquis de Grouchy.

The marshals were given titles and often received significant cash presents. Of the 26 eventual marshals, 24 received such gifts from the Emperor. By the uneven distribution of these monetary awards we can judge who Napoleon’s favourites were. The top 4 marshals were Berthier with 1 million francs, Masséna with 922 thousand, Davout with 873 thousand and Ney with 729 thousand.

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