General Henry-Jacques-Guillaume ClarkeStaff officer and Minister of War from 1807 to 1814
Born: October 17, 1765
Place of Birth: Landrecies, Nord, France
Died: October 28, 1818
Place of Death: Neuwiller la Roche, France
Arc de Triomphe: CLARKE on the east pillar
The son of a former French army officer, Henry-Jacques-Guillaume Clarke followed his father's footsteps by joining the military. In 1781 he entered the military school of Paris as a cadet and the following year he was commissioned as a sous-lieutenant in the regiment of Berwick. In 1784 Clarke was promoted to capitaine, a rank he would hold for a number of years.
As the Revolution got underway in 1790, Clarke left the military to serve with the ambassador to England, however, by July of that year he had returned to the army and joined the 16th Dragoons as a capitaine. In 1792 Clarke was named a lieutenant colonel in the 2nd Cavalry and he served with the Army of the Rhine, distinguishing himself at the action of Spire and then the crossing of the Nahe. Clarke continued to serve with the cavalry, covering the retreat on Worms in March of 1793 and then fighting at Ercheim. In May of 1793 he was promoted to général de brigade and then the next month he was appointed chief of staff to the Army of the Rhine. Clarke's position would not last long though, for that October he was suspended, arrested, and then thrown in prison.
General Clarke was released in February of 1795, however he remained without a job until that November when Carnot used his influence to get Clarke a job in the Topography Bureau. The next month Clarke was promoted to général de division. In November of 1796 Clarke was sent to the Army of Italy to spy discretely on General Bonaparte for the Directory, but after spending time with Bonaparte, Clarke became entirely devoted to him. The next year Clarke was recalled by the Directory and then in 1798 he negotiated a treaty with Sardinia.
1799 saw Clarke assisting Napoleon's coup d'état of 18th Brumaire and he was then made the director of the war depot. The next year Clarke participated in the discussions for peace at Lunéville and then in 1801 he was named ambassador to Etruria. That year he also escorted Russian prisoners of war on their return to Russia.
With the creation of the French Empire in 1804, Clarke became a councilor of state and was then made secretary of Napoleon's cabinet. In 1805 he served on the staff of the Grande Armée and participated in the action of Ulm before being placed as Governor of Austria. The next year Clarke became Governor of Erfurt and then Berlin and Prussia, where he remained until August of 1807. At that time, Clarke replaced Marshal Berthier as Minister of War, a position he would hold until Napoleon's abdication in 1814.
As Minister of War, General Clarke gained a reputation as a foe of looters but also far too eager to promote nobles.1 In the meantime he received numerous awards, including being named the Count of Hunebourg and Duke of Feltre and receiving the Grand Cross of the Order of Fidelity of Baden, the Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Hubert of Bavaria, and the Grand Eagle of the Legion of Honor. In 1812 when the disgraced General Malet escaped from an asylum and temporarily tried to seize control of power, after Malet was stopped and captured Clarke immediately ordered the execution of anyone involved.
After Napoleon's abdication in 1814, Clarke was named a Peer of France by the returning Bourbons and left his position as Minister of War. When Napoleon escaped from Elba for the Hundred Days in 1815, Clarke was named Minister of War by the king and then followed the king to exile. After Napoleon's second abdication, Clarke earned the enmity and ire of some of his former colleagues by pursuing the proscriptions and purges that the Bourbons desired. In 1816, the Bourbons made him a Marshal of France.
Updated February 2015
© Nathan D. Jensen