Marshal Pierre Riel, marquis de Beurnonville, 1752-1821

Marshal Pierre Riel, marquis de Beurnonville (1752-1821) was an important figure early in the French revolution, fighting in a huge number of battles early in the Revolutionary Wars.

Beurnonville had originally been intended for the Church, but he chose to enter the French army instead. He rose to the rank of lieutenant general, and fought at the battle of Valmy (20 September 1792), where he served on the French right. In the aftermath of this battle the main Allied army under the Duke of Brunswick retreated back towards the French border. This allowed General Dumouriez to sent Beurnonville towards Lille, which was being besieged by the Austrians under Duke Albert of Saxe-Teschen. As the French advanced towards the city Saxe-Teschen was forced to lift the siege.

At Jemappes (6 November 1792), the first great offensive victory for the French revolutionary armies, he commanded the right wing of Dumouriez's Armée du Nord. At about noon he attacked the Austrian centre with eight battalions, and took several guns before three Austrian cavalry squadrons broke up the attack and forced Beurnonville's to flee. They were soon rallied and played a part in the later stages of the battle.

In February 1793 he was appointed Minister of War. This came just as General Dumouriez was suffering a series of defeats at the hands of the Austrians (in particular at Neerwinde, 18 March 1793 and Louvain, 21 March 1793). On 22 March Dumouriez entered into negotiations with the Austrians, promising to overthrow the revolutionary government and act as regent for the young dauphin, who would become Louis XVII.

Dumouriez's actions attracted the suspicions of the Convention. Beurnonville and four deputies were sent to investigate, but they were arrested by Dumouriez and in April 1793 Beurnonville was handed over to the Austrians. At the same time Dumouriez lost control of his army, and 5 April he was forced to seek refuge with the Austrians. This ended the most successful period of Beurnonville's military career - between 1791 and 1793 he was said to have fought at 172 engagements during the fighting around the French borders.

Beurnonville was exchanged in 1795. He succeeded General Moreau as commander of the French forces in Holland.

In the autumn of 1796 General Jourdan resigned as commander of the Army of the Sambre-and-Meuse. Beurnonville replaced him as army commander, but his time in command wasn't terribly impressive, and he was replaced in the spring 1797 by General Hoche.

In 1798 Beurnonville became inspector-general of infantry. In 1800 he became Ambassador to Berlin and in 1802 Ambassador to Madrid. In 1805 he was made a Senator in Napoleon's tame senate.

In 1814 he formed part of the provisional government that took over after Napoleon's first abdication. When Napoleon returned from exile in 1815 he followed Louis XVIII to Ghent, and was rewarded with promotion to marquis and Marshal of France.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (25 January 2016), Marshal Pierre Riel, marquis de Beurnonville, 1752-1821 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_beurnonville.html

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