General Pierre Riel de Beurnonville
Born: May 10, 1752
Place of Birth: Champignolle, Aube, France
Died: April 23, 1821
Place of Death: Paris, France
Arc de Triomphe: BEURNONVILLE on the north pillar
The son of a blacksmith, Pierre Riel de Beurnonville originally intended to join the church, but instead he joined the army as a gendarme in 1766. In 1774 he volunteered to serve at Île de France in the Indian Ocean. Serving in the Indies during the following years, Beurnonville was promoted to lieutenant and by 1779 he was serving with the the militias of Île de Bourbon. By 1788 he had returned to France where he was appointed a colonel of infantry.
After the start of the French Revolution in 1789, Beurnonville was made a Knight of Saint Louis for his many years of service. In 1790 he commanded the National Guard of Longchamp, but his career rose significantly in 1792. In March of 1792 Beurnonville became an aide-de-camp to Marshal Luckner in the Army of the Rhine and two months later he was promoted to maréchal de camp. Serving with the Army of the North, he took part in the actions near Menin and Courtrai and then he took command of the camp of Maulde. That August Beurnonville received a promotion to lieutenant general, and then in September he reunited his troops to Dumouriez's troops and they served at the Battle of Valmy. The next month Beurnonville commanded the left wing of the Army of the Ardennes and then in November he took command of the right wing at the Battle of Jemappes. Serving under Custine's overall command, he fought and won at Arlon but then failed in the expedition against Trèves. Beurnonville was then relieved of command in January of 1793.
Beurnonville's career continued on though, for he was elected by the National Convention to serve as the Minister of War in February of 1793. Beurnonville and four commissioners of the National Convention traveled to the Army of the North to ensure Dumouriez was following orders, only to be betrayed by Dumouriez, who handed them over to the Austrians before defecting. Beurnonville was sent to prison in Olmutz for the next two years until November of 1795 when he was exchanged for the daughter of Louis XVI.
Once back in France, in 1796 Beurnonville served with the staff of the Ministry of War before he was appointed commander of the Army of the North and the troops stationed in Holland. That September he was named commander of the Army of the Sambre and Meuse, but in January of 1797 after repeated attempts to resign from the Army of the Sambre and Meuse he was sent back to the Army of the North.1 After serving under Augereau for a period of time, Beurnonville left his command in January of 1798.
In 1799 Beurnonville supported Napoleon's coup d'état of 18 Brumaire, and therefore he was sent as ambassador to Prussia and ordered to make peace with Russia. His diplomatic career continued for in 1802 he was sent as France's ambassador to Spain where he helped organize the cooperation of the Spanish and French fleets. In 1804 he was named a Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor. Beurnonville went on to join the Senate in 1805 and retire from the military in 1806. In 1808 he became a Count of the Empire, and in 1812 he briefly resumed a military career when he was ordered to organize the National Guard of the 21st military division. Two years later during the defense of France of 1814, he served as a commissary of war to manage supplies for France's eastern frontier.
After Napoleon's abdication, the Bourbons rewarded Beurnonville well, naming him the Minister of State and a Peer of France and then awarding him the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor. When Napoleon resumed power in 1815 for the Hundred Days, Beurnonville followed King Louis XVIII to Ghent and remained loyal to the king. In 1816 he was named a Marshal of France, and he continued a distinguished career under the Bourbons.
- Arthur George Frederick Griffiths, French Revolutionary Generals, (London: Chapman and Hall, 1891), 223-224.
- Divry, Arnauld. Les Noms Gravés sur l'Arc de Triomphe. Paris: L'Harmattan, 2017.
- Haythornthwaite, Philip J. Who Was Who in the Napoleonic Wars. London: Arms & Armour, 1998.
- Six, Georges. Dictionnaire Biographique des Généraux & Amiraux Français de la Révolution et de l'Empire (1792-1814). 2 vols. Paris: Gaston Saffroy, 2003.
Updated May 2019
© Nathan D. Jensen