General Jean-Andoche JunotAide-de-camp to Napoleon who eventually committed suicide
Born: September 25, 1771
Place of Birth: Bussy-le-Grand, Côte-d'Or, France
Legion of Honor: Grand Eagle
Imperial Nobility: Duke
Died: July 29, 1813
Cause of Death: Suicide
Place of Death: Montbard, France
Arc de Triomphe: JUNOT on the west pillar
Nicknamed "the Tempest" for his unpredictable and courageous behavior, Junot was working as a clerk when in 1791 he volunteered and joined the 2nd Battalion of Volunteers of Côte d'Or. The next year he saw battle, being wounded by a saber blow to the head and receiving a promotion to sergeant. Serving with the Army of the Rhine in 1793, Junot was wounded by a shot in May before being sent to the Siege of Toulon later that year.
At Toulon, Junot's clerical skills were being put to good use when he was noticed by the young artillery officer Napoleon Bonaparte. As Junot was writing down orders, shots landed around them, kicking up dirt that rained down onto them. Despite the danger, Junot did not seem to notice and remarked that thanks to the dirt he now had no need of sand to dry the ink.1 Captain Bonaparte was so impressed that he made Junot an aide and got him a promotion to sous-lieutenant.
In 1794, despite being made Bonaparte's aide-de-camp and being promoted to lieutenant, Junot left Bonaparte to serve with the Army of Italy. In early 1795 he was promoted to captain in the 1st Hussars, but later that year he returned to Paris to resume being an aide-de-camp to Bonaparte, now a general. Late that year Junot received a promotion to chef d'escadrons in the 3rd Dragoons, but next year when Napoleon took command of the Army of Italy Junot went with him and was named premier aide-de-camp.
As aide-de-camp, Junot was given the honor taking captured flags to the Directory, promoted to chef de brigade, and escorted Madame Bonaparte to Milan. That August at the combat of Denzanzano Colonel Junot killed six enemy soldiers in combat but also took six saber blows in doing so. Out of action for a while, he did not fight against until the next year at Faenza.
When Napoleon left for the expedition to Egypt, Junot accompanied him and took part in the fighting on Malta. Once in Egypt he served at Rahmanieh, Chebreiss, and the Battle of the Pyramids , and then helped repress the revolt of Cairo. In January of 1799 Junot was promoted to général de brigade, and in March he was attached to Kléber's division. On April 8th, his men fought off sizable Turkish forces at Nazareth, and then on the 11th fought at the bridge of Yacoub and the combat of Ghazarah. On the 16th, he and his men contributed to the victory of Mount Tabor . In July Junot joined Rampon's division and served at Abukir, but he did not accompany Napoleon's return to France, instead departing Alexandria in October and being captured by the British on his way back.
Finally released, General Junot set foot back in France on June 14th, 1800 in Marseille. On October 30th, he married Laure-Adelaide-Constance Permon who would go on to write sensationalist memoirs after his death. Both he and his wife were eager to participate in high society, gaining quite a reputation for spending money and amassing large debts despite Napoleon's generosity.
Promoted to général de division in 1801, Junot was placed in charge of Paris until late 1803, when he took command of the grenadiers in reserve at Arras. The next year he served at the camp of Boulogne, and in 1805 was given a Grand Eagle of the Legion of Honor. When Lannes returned from Portugal, Junot was sent in his place as ambassador to Portugal, but he returned that September to take part in 1805 campaign as an aide-de-camp to the Emperor. After serving at Austerlitz, he was made Governor General of Parma and Piacenza and took charge of repressing the revolt of the Apennines. Later that year he was rewarded as a Commander of the Iron Crown, and then became Governor of Paris.
During this time he was known to have an affair with Napoleon's sister Caroline, and began showing signs of erratic behavior which some suspected resulted from the head wounds he received earlier in his career. One time in Paris, Junot became infuriated for losing while gambling, and so tore apart the room and caused a sensational scene. After that incident, Napoleon was so annoyed that he asked Junot if he had taken an oath to live and die as a fool.2 At other times Junot was seen to threaten to solve disputes with his creditors with his sword.
Regardless of his behavior, he continued to receive commands, being made commander-in-chief of the Corps of Observation of the Gironde during the summer of 1807, and then leading them into Spain in October. When the French invaded Portugal, Junot was named commander-in-chief of the army, and then in February, Governor General of Portugal. During this time Napoleon further rewarded Junot by giving him the title of Duke of Abrantès. In August Junot's army fought Sir Arthur Wellesley's at Vimeiro and was defeated, and he was forced to surrender at the end of the month. However, he was able to negotiate the return of his troops to France.
In October Junot returned to active command, being given a corps of the army before being directed to command the Siege of Saragossa. At Saragossa Junot's behavior became increasingly unstable. When he learned that Marshal Lannes was to replace him as the commanding officer, he planned a suicidal assault in an attempt to win glory and credit for himself before Lannes could arrive. Fortunately, General Lacoste firmly convinced Junot that a rash assault would fail and that Junot would be personally at fault.3
In 1809, Junot initially commanded the III Corps in Spain for a few months before traveling to Nuremberg to command part of the Army of the Reserve in Germany. His men fought with Kienmayer's on July 9th at Gefrees but that was the extent of his combat for that campaign. Around this time he received another reward, the Grand Cross of the Order of Saint-Henri of Saxony.
Sent back to Spain with the VIII Corps, Junot besieged Astorga before finally taking the city in April of 1810. His corps became part of Masséna's Army of Portugal, and they covered the siege of Ciudad-Rodrigo, and later he commanded the center at Busaco. After that defeat, Junot was victorious at Sobral, and then in January of 1811 he was victorious at Rio Mayor but was wounded by a ball to the nose. That May he served during the retreat to Pombal, and fought at Fuentes de Onoro .
Returning to France in June of 1811, Junot was inactive until placed as second in command to Prince Eugene de Beauharnais. As the preparation for war with Russia got underway the next year, their unit became the IV Corps of La Grande Armée. When King Jerome abandoned the campaign, Junot was placed in charge of Jerome's VIII Corps of Westphaliens. They took part in the attack on Smolensk but let the Russians escape the trap. Napoleon was disappointed by his performance and said Junot "gave me great cause of dissatisfaction. He was no longer the same man and committed some gross blunders which cost us dear."4
Junot returned to France in January of 1813, and became increasingly unhinged. Napoleon sent him to become Governor of Venice and Governor General of the Illyrian provinces, but his behavior was so unstable that he was relieved of command and escorted by his father back to his father's estates at Montbard. Legend has it that Junot gave a ball and then still in uniform, leapt from a window to his death. His widow continued her high lifestyle, and went on to publish questionable memoirs full of gossip under her title of the Duchess of Abrantès.
- Philip J. Haythornthwaite, Who Was Who in the Napoleonic Wars, (London: Arms & Armour, 1998), 168.
- John R. Elting, Swords Around a Throne: Napoleon's Grande Armée, (USA: Da Capo Press, 1997), 163.
- Louis Lejeuene, Memoirs of Baron Lejeune, trans. N. D'Anvers, (London, New York, and Bombay: Longmans, Green and Co, 1897), I:128.
- Haythornthwaite, Who Was Who in the Napoleonic Wars, 168.
Updated prior to 2014
© Nathan D. Jensen