Charles François Dumouriez

Charles François Dumouriez (January 25, 1739March 14, 1823) was a French general of the French Revolutionary Wars; he shared the victory at Valmy with General Kellermann, and later deserted the Revolutionary Army.


Dumouriez was born in Cambrai. His father served as a commissary of the royal army, and educated his son most carefully and widely. The boy continued his studies at the college of Louis-le-Grand, and in 1757 began his military career as a volunteer in the campaign of Rossbach. He received a commission for good conduct in action, and served in the later German campaigns of the Seven Years' War with distinction; but at the peace he was retired as a captain, with a small pension and the cross of St Louis.

Dumouriez then visited Italy and Corsica, Spain and Portugal, and his memorials to the duc de Choiseul on Corsican affairs led to his re-employment on the staff of the French expeditionary corps sent to the island, for which he gained the rank of lieutenant-colonel. After this he became a member of the Secret du Roi, the secret service under Louis XV, where his fertility of diplomatic resource had full scope. In 1770 he undertook a mission into Poland to the Confederation of Bar, where in addition to his political business he organized a Polish militia. May 23 his Polish formation was smashed by Russian forces of general Alexander Suvorov in battle of Lanckorona. Meanwhile the fall of Choiseul (1770) brought about his recall, and somewhat later he found himself imprisoned in the Bastille, where he spent six months, occupying himself with literary pursuits. He was then removed to Caen, where he remained in detention until the accession of Louis XVI in 1774.

Upon his release Dumouriez married his cousin Mademoiselle de Broissy, but he proved neglectful and unfaithful, and in 1789 the pair separated, Madame Dumouriez taking refuge in a convent. Meanwhile Dumouriez had devoted his attention to the internal state of his own country, and amongst the very numerous memorials which he sent in to the government was one on the defence of Normandy and its ports, which procured him in 1778 the post of commandant of Cherbourg, which he administered with much success for ten years. He became maréchal de camp in 1788; but his ambition was not satisfied, and at the outbreak of the Revolution, seeing the opportunity for carving out a career, he went to Paris, where he joined the Jacobin Club. The death of Mirabeau, to whose fortunes he had attached himself, proved a great blow to him; but, promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general and commandant of Nantes, his opportunity came after the flight to Varennes, when he attracted attention by offering to march to the assistance of the Assembly.

He now attached himself to the Girondist party, and on 15 March 1792 became minister of foreign affairs. The relationship between the Girondists and Dumouriez was not based in ideology, but rather based in the practical benefit to both parties. Dumouriez needed people in the Convention to support him and the Girondists needed a general to give them legitimacy in the army. He played a major part in the declaration of war against Austria (20 April), and he planned the invasion of the Low Countries. His foreign policy was greatly influenced by the Jean-Louis Favier.. Favier had called for France to break its ties with Austria. On the king's dismissal of Roland, Clavière and Servan (13 June 1792), he took Servan’s post of minister of war, but resigned it two days later on account of King Louis's refusal to come to terms with the Assembly, and went to join the army of Marshal Luckner. After the émeute of 10 August 1792 and Lafayette’s flight he gained appointment to the command of the "Army of the Centre", and at the same moment France's enemies assumed the offensive. Dumouriez acted promptly. His subordinate Kellermann repulsed the Prussians at Valmy (20 September 1792), and Dumouriez himself severely defeated the Austrians at Jemappes (6 November 1792). After these military victories, Dumouriez was ready to invade Belgium to spread revolution. He was a true revolutionary in the sense that he believed that nations who had undergone revolution, in this instance France, should give aid to oppressed countries. His plans were largely limited to Belgium and this tunnel vision sometimes prevented him from acting in the most logical fashion as commander.

Returning to Paris, Dumouriez encountered popular ovation; but he gained less sympathy from the revolutionary government; his old-fashioned methodical method of conducting war exposed him to the criticism of the ardent Jacobins, and a defeat would mean the end of his career. It had become obvious to the more radical elements in Paris that Dumouriez was not a true patriot. He made this clear when he returned to Paris 1 January 1793 and worked during the trial of Louis XVI to save him from execution. Dumouriez had also written a letter to the Convention scolding that body for not supplying his army to his satisfaction and for the Decree of December 15, which allowed the French armies to loot in the territory they had won. The Decree insured that the Belgium Plan would fail due to the lack of popular support among the Belgians. This letter became known as “Dumouriez’s declaration of war”. The final defeat came to him at Neerwinden in March 1793, he ventured all on a desperate stroke. Arresting the commissaries of the Convention sent to inquire into his conduct, he handed them over to the enemy, and then attempted to persuade his troops to march on Paris and overthrow the revolutionary government. The attempt failed, and Dumouriez, with the duc de Chartres (afterwards King Louis Philippe) and his brother the duc de Montpensier, fled into the Austrian camp. This blow left the Girondists vulnerable due to the association Dumouriez had with them.

Dumouriez now wandered from country to country, occupied in ceaseless intrigues with Louis XVIII, or for setting up an Orleanist monarchy, until in 1804 he settled in England, where the government granted him a pension. He became a valuable adviser to the British War Office in the struggle against Napoleon, though the extent of his aid only became public many years later. In 1814 and 1815 he endeavoured to procure from Louis XVIII the baton of a marshal of France, but failed to do so.

He died at Turville Park, near Henley-on-Thames, on 4 March 1823.

Dumouriez's memoirs appeared at Hamburg in 1794. An enlarged edition, La Vie et les mémoires du Général Dumouriez, appeared at Paris in 1823. Dumouriez also wrote a large number of political pamphlets.


Other sources

The 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, in turn, gives the following references:

  • A. von Boguslawski, Das Leben des Generals Dumouriez (Berlin, 1878 - 1879)
  • Revue des deux mondes (15 July 1st and 15 August 1884)
  • H. Welschinger, Le Roman de Dumouriez (1890)
  • Arthur Chuquet, La Premiere Invasion, Valmy, La Retraite de Brunswick, Jemappes, La Trahison de Dumouriez (Paris, 1886 - 1891)
  • A. Sorel, L'Europe et la Révolution francaise (1885 - 1892)
  • J. Holland Rose and A. M. Broadley, Dumouriez and the Defence of England (1908)
  • Ernest Daudet, La Conjuration de Pichegru et les complots royalistes du midi et du l'est, 1795 -1797 (Paris, 1901).

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