The Trial of Marshal Ney: Actions of former comrades in arms




After his statements about bringing Napoleon to Paris in an iron cage and then subsequently joining Napoleon, Marshal Ney became the most prominent target of royalist vengeance after the Hundred Days of 1815. Once Ney was arrested, Marshal Gouvion St. Cyr, the new Minister of War, formed a council of war to try Ney, hoping to staff it with individuals who would be sympathetic to Ney. Initially he selected Marshal Moncey to head the council, but Moncey refused on principle. Moncey was threatened by the king but he held firm and was imprisoned for three months. A new council of war was formed with Marshal Jourdan presiding. The seven judges were:

General Maison refused to take part and was replaced on the court by General Gazan. General Grundler was selected to lead the investigation of evidence regarding Ney's actions in the days between Napoleon's escape from Elba and subsequent arrival in Paris.

Ney insisted that his defense attorneys take the stance that the council of war could not judge Ney for the crime of treason, as stated by the constitution and his status as a Peer of France. After listening to these arguments and not wanting to take action against Ney, the members of the council agreed by a vote of five to two that they could not try Ney. Therefore the council of war declared itself incompetent to judge him.

Ney's trial was moved to the Chamber of Peers based on the constitution of 1814. The Chamber of Peers was a parliamentary body composed mostly of the nobility, both the older families from before the Revolution and the new nobility created by Napoleon. Those who had joined Napoleon in 1815 were struck from the list of Peers.

Royalist officials, in particular the Duke of Richelieu, strongly pressured the Chamber of Peers that a death sentence was desired. During the trial, Ney accused the prosecution's star witness, General Bourmont, of perjury. Despite Ney's lawyers' best efforts, the end result of the trial was a foregone conclusion. At the end of Ney's trial, 161 votes were cast by the Peers present. The vote totals were:

  • 139 voted for death
  • 17 voted for deportation
  • 5 abstained and recommended asking for clemency from the king

A number of the Peers who voted at Ney's trial were fellow military officers, many of whom served with Ney at various points in his career. His fellow military officers voted as follows:

Marshal Ney was executed by firing squad on December 7, 1815, though rumors that his death was faked began to circulate in the following years.


Notes
  1. Welschinger records a Count Maison as voting for death in the Chamber of Peers, and while General Maison was a Count of the Empire, sources indicate it is not the same individual.
  2. Multiple sources seem to indicate that both General Gouvion and Marshal Gouvion St. Cyr were Peers of France and voted at the trial for deportation. However, only one Gouvion is included in Welschinger's record of the votes. Unfortunately the names are recorded by title, not full name, i.e. it is listed as "the Count of Gouvion". In comparison to the other marshals that voted, they are listed specifically as marshals, such as "the Marshal Count Sérurier" or "the Marshal Duke of Valmy". Additionally, Gouvion St. Cyr originally set up the military trial of Ney hoping for leniency, but that plan backfired when the council of war declared itself incompetent. When Welschinger refers to Gouvion St. Cyr's role there, he refers to him as "the Marshal Saint-Cyr". Therefore the Gouvion who voted for deportation at the Chamber of Peers was General Gouvion, and Marshal Gouvion Saint Cyr probably avoided the trial at the Chamber of Peers after his attempt to gain leniency for Ney at the council of war failed.


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Updated June 2017

© Nathan D. Jensen