Monday, August 20, 2012
Monarchist Profile: Augustin-Joseph de Mailly
When King Louis XVI succeeded to the French throne, he wished to restore French naval power and foreign trade. Toward that end, the Comte de Mailly oversaw the construction of a new port to be a center of trade with far corners of the world and a base for warships to defend against the Barbary pirates. This was Port-Vendres which Mailly wanted to incorporate all of his “Enlightenment” ideas to be what has been described as a model “Masonic” city (as horrible as that sounds) and, of course, it included the first great monument to King Louis XVI. Unfortunately, it was not all great achievements for Comte de Mailly. His feuding with Marshal de Noailles resulted in his command being revoked in 1753 and the following month Jean-Baptiste de Machault Arnouville persuaded the King to have him exiled. Part of this involved his mistress and her husband speaking out against the King and this pair was also expelled.
However, this did not dampen the loyalty or patriotism of the count and when the Seven Years War broke out he rejoined the army to lead French troops in the campaign in Germany. He was badly wounded by a sword blow to the head at the battle of Hastenbeck in 1757 which left him unconscious. He was then captured and held prisoner by his fellow “Enlightenment” enthusiast King Frederick the Great, the two becoming good friends. After two years as a “guest” of the Prussians he was released and returned home something of a war hero. He went on to lead other, more successful campaigns, and the past unpleasantness was forgotten. The end of hostilities brought an end to his military career but he was once again placed in command of Roussillon and in 1771 was given command of the French forces guarding the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean coast. The count received a number of honors for his services, including the Order of the Holy Spirit and in 1783 the King awarded him the supreme rank of Marshal of France. He had reached the pinnacle of military accomplishment and his civilian work was also recognized by his admittance to the Academy of Sciences, Letters and Arts of Amiens.
In many ways, the old Marshal was typical of many of the French aristocracy of his time, a firm believer in the old order but one who liked to dabble in what were, frankly, dangerous ideas. When the Revolution began to come to a boil he was horrified by the very idea of a France where the nobility and clergy were to be effectively kicked off the national stage, and the King as well were he to make any trouble. Because he was so opposed to the new direction France was taking, some advised him to emigrate but this he adamantly refused to do, having shed his blood and shed the blood of others in defense of France, he would never abandon it. Although he was quite advanced in age by this time, good loyal men were hard to find and in 1790 King Louis XVI appointed him to command one of the four new armies organized by the National Assembly. However, when the Assembly demanded that the old Marshal take an oath to defend the principles of their new regime he refused and instead offered his resignation.