Chevert, François de

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François de Chevert

French major-general (1744-48) lieutenant-general (1748-61)

born February 2, 1696, Verdun, France

died January 24, 1769, Paris, France

Description

Chevert belonged to a family of the provincial gentry who owned farms and rooming houses in Verdun, but nothing comparable to the fortunes of princes or of the court. Even though Chevert could not obtain the revenue of an abbey or a remunerative charge, his family was rich enough to buy him a lieutenancy. However for the rest of his career, only his intelligence, his merit and the relations he developed allowed him to progress socially. It is probable that the only obstacle who prevented him from reaching the rank of maréchal was his too humble origins.

His family was ennobled in 1623 by the Duc de Lorraine. Its arms were : silver with three thistles in bloom, feuillés au naturel, a vert mount in base, an azure chief charged with a golden wolf and a star in canton. In 1751, Emperor Charles VII, as a souvenir of the capture of Prague, allowed Chevert to carry new arms: a cavalryman sword in hand climbing a ladder to attack a tower.

Francois de Chevert was born on February 2, 1696 in Verdun. He was the son of Louis Jacques de Chevert and Marguerite Benoiste Vernier. Verdun was an important garrison town. In 1706, Chevert's mother bought him a lieutenancy in M. de Carné's regiment which was garrisoning Verdun, he was only 11 years and a half old. On the occasion, King Louis XIV sent the following answer to M. de Carné:

“Monsieur de Carné having given to Chevert the charge of lieutenant in Dondel's company in the regiment that you command, vacant by the promotion of Thalouet to a company, I write you this letter, to say that you have to receive and to make received, and to make known of the said charge to all those to which it will belong. The present being for no other end, I pray God that he has Monsieur de Carné in his holy guard. Written at Marly, on August 18 1706. Louis.”

During the War of the Spanish Succession, young Chevert remained in the garrison of Verdun from 1706 to 1710 where he made his military instruction with Monsieur de Carné. On December 9 1710, he joined Beauce Infanterie as sub-lieutenant, he was only 15 years old. He then made his first military campaign in Flanders where he was present at the capture of the Castle of Arleux in July 1711.

By a patent dated July 8 1719, Chevert was made major of his regiment. On September 7 1721, he obtained a commission to hold rank as captain. In November 1732, he received the Croix de Chevalier de l'Ordre de Saint Louis. In 1732, Chevert was at the instruction camp of Aimeries on the Sambre; then in 1733, at the camp in the Messin Country where he acted as aide-major-general of the infantry.

During the War of the Polish Succession, Chevert participated with his regiment in the capture of Trier, in the siege and capture of the Castle of Trauerbach and in the siege and capture of Philippsburg. On October 20 1735, he distinguished himself at the Combat of Klausen who marked the end of the war. The preliminary of the peace treaty being already signed in Vienna since October 3.

A commission dated August 1 1739 made Chevert lieutenant-colonel of his regiment.

At the death of Charles VI, the last prince of the House of Austria, the succession at the head of the Holy Roman Empire was disputed between Maria Theresa, eldest daughter of Charles VI, and Charles Albert, Great Elector of Bavaria. France, Prussia, Spain, Sweden and Poland sided with the Elector of Bavaria, dragging Europe into a new war which would be known as the War of the Austrian Succession. France deployed two armies, one led by Maillebois who marched on Hanover, a second under the command of Belle Isle, taking position in Bavaria. On August 15 1741, Chevert and his regiment passed the Rhine at Fort Louis. In November the army under the Elector of Bavaria entered into Bohemia and marched on Prague. It is during this campaign that Chevert became friend with Comte Maurice de Saxe. The siege of Prague began on November 25, the season was well advanced and dispatches informed the French that the Archduke of Tuscany was force marching to relieve Prague. The place had to be taken rapidly or the project abandoned. As soon as November 26, two attacks were launched. They began at 1:00 a.m. by a diversionary attack against the Upper Town with the main body under the Comte de Polastron and much artillery to mobilize the defence of the citadel; a second attack against the Lower Town was led by Maurice de Saxe at the head of three companies of Alsace Infanterie and one company of Beauce Infanterie, followed by 600 dragoons and 800 fusiliers. After having quietly advanced up to the ditch of the ramparts, Maurice de Saxe and Chevert resolved to make an attempt to scramble up the bastion of the New Gate with ladders. The first besiegers were instructed to use only their bayonet and sword to prevent that a firefight would give the alert. The assault of the bastion was a total success and the grenadiers and Chevert, accompanied by the Duc de Broglie's son (Victor François) made themselves master of the guard post and knocked down the door and drawbridge. Then Maurice de Saxe at the head of his dragoons and fusiliers entered into the town and made himself master of a large part of the city. Seeing his desperate situation, the governor rapidly capitulated. The capital of Bohemia had thus be taken during a night attack with minimal losses. Orders were strict and carefully applied, particularly concerning plunder which was not tolerated. The Elector of Bavaria named the Count of Bavaria governor of the city and Chevert commander to organise its occupation. The King of France named Chevert Lieutenant du roi for the old citadel and the suburbs of Prague; and promoted him brigadier of infantry. As early as the Spring of 1742, hostilities which had been slowed by winter, resumed. In June, the Queen of Austria negotiated a separate peace with Saxony and Prussia, ceding Silesia to Frederick II. From then on, Austrian troops could concentrate in Bavaria and Bohemia where they won several successes. The Prince Lobkowitz besieged Prague where provisions were soon in short supply. A first attempt by the Maréchal de Belle Isle to negotiate a honourable capitulation failed. Thus, in the night of December 16 to 17, the French army evacuated Prague, leaving only 2,400 effective men in the city with the sick and wounded and most of the train. This small garrison was placed under the command of Chevert who took every possible measures to convince the Austrians that his force was much larger and that he could oppose a stubborn resistance even if, in fact, his weak garrison could hold a few weeks at most. Meanwhile, Chevert initiated negotiation, conducting them so well that he obtained a capitulation stipulating that, on January 2 1743, he would be allowed to march out of Prague with arms and baggage and the honours of war; that his force would be escorted to Egra at the expense of the Queen of Hungary; and that he could bring with him all the baggage left behind by Belle Isle's Franco-Bavarian Army in its earlier retreat, along with two Bavarian artillery pieces that he had managed to recapture during the siege. Chevert then made a junction with Belle Isle's Army at Armberg.

Within a few months, Chevert had shown his courage and his intelligence and built his reputation. He was also a fine politic as demonstrated by the fact of recuperating two artillery pieces belonging to the Elector of Bavaria. Back in France, he was received by the king at the dinner of the Good Friday on April 12 1743.

In Italy too the death of Charles VI had rekindled old claims. Part of Northern Italy was occupied by the Queen of Hungary, possessions claimed by Spain, supported by France. The conflict soon spread to Italy and, at the end of 1743, Brigadier de Chevert was sent to the Province of Dauphiné to assume the charge of major-general of the 14 battalions destined to support the actions of the Army of Prince dom Philippe. In 1744, the Prince de Conti was sent to the Army of Italy to act jointly with the Spanish Army. French and Spanish troops made their junction in March at the camp of Saint-Laurent. Chevert took part in the passage of the Var River, in the captures of the Castle of Apremont, Utelle, Nice, Castelnuovo, Villefranche and Montauban. Chevert commanded a column of attack at the Combat of Rivarone where the Piemonteses were defeated. He then invested Alessandria where he was charged to lead a diversionary attack. He also served at the Siege of Cazal and at the capture of Montferrat. He took his winter-quarters of 1745 in Italy.

In 1746, Chevert accompanied the relief force sent to support Valence which had to surrender. Chevert then took part in the Siege of Acquy, the Battle of Piacenza, and the Combat of the Tidon, ending the campaign under the command of the Maréchal de Belle Isle.

On June 1 1747, Chevert was once more assigned to the Army of Italy. He then took part in the sieges of Montalban and Vintimille, on July 1. He later sojourned in the neighbouring of Nice before marching to the relief of Vintimille blockaded by the enemy. Chevert remained on the frontier till February 1748.

On May 10 1748, Chevert was promoted lieutenant-general. War had by then exhausted all the belligerents and on October 18 1748, peace was signed at Aix-la-Chapelle.

On July 1 1749, Chevert was sent to Metz as lieutenant-general and served once more under the command of the Maréchal de Belle Isle who was governor of the Trois Evêchés.

During the years of peace, Chevert was charged with the inspection of militia in 1753. He then commanded the instruction camp of Sarre-Louis in September 1753 and September 1754.

On March 28 1754, Chevert was made commander of the Ordre Royal de Saint Louis, the total number of commanders was limited to 28.

In August and September 1755, Chevert successively commanded the instruction camps of Sarre-Louis and Richemont. At the outbreak of the Seven Years' War in 1756, he commanded at Sarre-Louis.

“I have sacrificed my dearest interests to the tranquility of Europe, by ceding Silesia, but if ever war breaks out again between me and the King of Prussia, I shall recover my rights, or I shall perish, me and the last of my House”

...wrote Maria Theresa soon before the outbreak of what should have been another "Silesian War" between Austria and Prussia but who, by the interplay of politic and alliances finally dragged all of Europe and spread to the colonies of America, Africa and India...

In 1757, Chevert was sent to the Army of Germany under the Comte d'Estrées for the planned invasion of Hanover. He joined the army at Düsseldorf in May. He was attached to the corps forming the vanguard of the army where he commanded various detachments. On July 1, he made himself master of Herworden and was then attached to the detachment under the Duc d'Orléans who dislodged the Allies from Winkelsen. On July 26, Chevert distinguished himself in the Battle of Hastenbeck. The positions of the Duke of Cumberland was particularly favourable, entrenched behind the Weser, his right protected by the town of Hameln and impassable gorges, his front covered by a large marsh, and his left anchored to a wood located on a steep hillside intersected by deep gullies. It was decided that Chevert would attack to outflank the Allied left wing. He commanded the Picardie Brigade assisted by the Eu Brigade under the command of the Comte de Lorge (a total of 16 bns, 12 grenadier coys along with the Volontaires de Flandre and the Volontaires du Hainaut as scout as well as 16 guns). After hours of difficult advance, Chevert reached a small plateau from which he dislodged Hanoverian grenadiers and 3 Brunswicker bns sent as reinforcement. To progress rapidly against the rear of the Allies, Chevert left his artillery pieces behind under the guard of the Comte de Lorge. The latter, considering that he was close to the French lines and far from the Hanoverian lines, did not protect his position and was surprised by an attack of Colonel de Breitenbach who had successfully manoeuvered between the columns of the Marquis d'Armentière and those of Chevert. The Comte de Lorge was rapidly defeated. The nearby firefight and the sight of routing French troops coming from his right convinced the Maréchal d'Estrées that Chevert's attack on his right flank had been a failure. Accordingly, he ordered to retire, ignoring that the Duke of Cumberland seeing his left wing turned had also decided to retire. After this battle, the Duke of Cumberland gradually retreated northwards but was later cornered and forced to capitulate at Kloster Zeven on September 9. At about this time, Chevert fell ill and returned to France, retiring at Villemonble. During his sickness, he was promoted Grand Croix de l'Ordre de Saint Louis. The statutes of this order limited the number of Grands Croix to only eight! This speaks quite eloquently of the King's gratitude for Chevert.

Everybody, including the Comte de Clermont regretted his absence from the army. His health gradually improved and, in June 1758, Chevert joined the Army of the Rhine commanded by the Maréchal de Contades. In August, Chevert was detached with a corps of 10,000 men to pass to the right bank of the Rhine at Wesel and to destroy the Allied boats bridge on the Rhine at Rees. Facing him was General Imhof who had been informed of his design. Imhof commanded a numerically superior corps and decided to provoke an engagement in a position of his choice which had not been reconnoitred by the French. On August 5, Chevert was defeated in the Combat of Mehr and forced to retreat in disorder. Thus, Ferdinand of Brunswick kept his vital bridge across the Rhine. Reading Chevert's letters, it appeared that this setback profoundly affected him. In September, Chevert was once more detached from Contades' Army to reinforce the Prince de Soubise. On October 2, Chevert arrived at Büren at the head of the Belzunce and La Dauphine Brigades, the Palatine Brigade, the Légion Royale and the Volontaires de Flandre, along with the Cuirassiers and Royal cavalry brigades (a total of 22 bns and 24 sqns. After a first attempt to engage Oberg's Army, the army of the Prince de Soubise forced it into an open Battle at Lutterberg on October 10. Chevert, reinforced by the Saxon Brigade of the Comte de Lusace, was placed on the right wing and made a wide sweeping movement to turn Oberg's left wing while the Comte de Lusace at the head of his own brigade stormed the Stolberg Mountain and the Allied batteries planted there, thus deciding of the outcome of the battle. Even though this victory should have been attributed to Chevert and to the Comte de Lusace, it is the Prince de Soubise, protégé of Madame de Pompadour who benefited from it, being promoted Maréchal de France. A lampoon published in these days said: "The King has well done to name Soubise marshal instead of Chevert because the staff is more necessary to a blind man than to a sighted man." Of course the staff alluded to the bâton, the symbol of the rank of marshal. However, the King of Poland corrected this injustice by naming Chevert Chevalier de l'ordre de l'Aigle Blanc. After the Battle of Lutterberg, Chevert was instructed to rejoin Contades' Army. Sick and tired, Chevert asked for a leave and returned to France.

During the Seven Years' War, Great Britain was a formidable opponent, threatening the coasts of France and its colonies and supporting the continental struggle with an important contingent. Therefore, between 1756 and 1759, the Maréchal de Belle Isle decided to assemble 3 army corps for raids in England, Scotland and Ireland to strike his enemy in his own territories. Chevert received the command of the corps assembling at Le Havre. However, the defeats of the French Navy at the Battle of Lagos on August 18 1759 and at the Battle of Quiberon on November 20 of the same year, along with the revelation of this secret enterprise conducted to the abandonment of the project.

From May to July 1760, Chevert served on the coasts of Flanders, then until December on the coasts of Normandy.

In February 1761, Chevert returned to Germany where he commanded the Army of the Lower Rhine till April when Soubise arrived to take command for the summer campaign. During this campaign, Chevert commanded various detachments. He then returned to France. In August, Chevert became governor of Clermont and Givet.

After the war, Chevert retired to Paris where he died on February 24 1769.

References

Acknowledgements

Jean-Louis Vial of Nec Pluribus Impar for the initial version of this article.