General Anne Jean Marie René Savary, duc de Rovigo (26 April 1774-1833)

General Anne Jean Marie René, duc de Rovigo (1774-1833) was a French soldier and diplomat, who saw widespread military service under Napoleon, but ended the wars as his chief of police.

Savary was born in the Ardennes in 1774, and was educated at the collage of St. Louis at Metz. He joined the National Guard in 1790 and was soon commissioned.

From 1792-1797 Savary served in the Army of the Rhine. He fought against the Prussians in 1792, and served under Generals Pichegru and Moreau on the Rhine. By 1797 he had been promoted to chef de escadron (major). His career survived the fall of Pichegru in 1798 and of Moreau in 1804.

In October 1797 he became ADC to General Desaix, and took part in the unsuccessful campaign in Egypt. He later wrote an account of the expedition. Their journey back to France was complicated by the refusal of the British government to ratify the Convention of El Arish. Desaix's ship was captured and he wasn't released until 29 April 1800. Savary appears to have returned earlier, in time to support Napoleon's coup of Brumaire (9-10 November 1799).

He arrived back in France just in time to join Napoleon's Italian campaign. Savary fought with Desaix at the battle of Marengo (14 June 1800). Desaix's force arrived late in the day and saved Napoleon from defeat, but Desaix was killed during the battle. Before the battle Savary had been entrusted with a key reconnaissance mission, hunting for any Austrian troops at Novi. He was then sent to Napoleon to inform him that reinforcements were on the way. After the battle Savary took Desaix's body to Milan, where it was embalmed.

After the death of General Desaix, Savary became ADC to Napoleon. He was a member of the Emperor's headquarters staff on several occasions during his career, and served as head of the statistical branch at one point.

In July 1801 Savary organised the legion of gendarmes, Napoleon's protection force. This force later became the Gendarmerie d'Elite in the Imperial Guard, with Savary as its colonel.

He was promoted to général de brigade in August 1803.

Savary became involved in intelligence work. He helped suppress the Cadoudal-Pichegru plot on 1804, visiting western France to investigate the plot.

He was promoted to général de division in February 1805.

More controversial was his involvement in the kidnapping and execution of the duc d'Enghien in March 1804. He commanded the troops at Vincennes, where d'Enghien was tried after being kidnapped from Baden, and was accused of preventing a plea for mercy from reaching Napoleon. Napoleon himself later said that it was unfair to blame Savary for his involvement in this, as he was only following his orders.

Before the Austerlitz campaign Savary (along with Murat and Bertrand) were sent into Bavaria in disguise to collect information on the likely area of the upcoming campaign, and on Austrian troop movements.

In 1805 Savary was on Napoleon's staff, and was head of military police operations. Before Austerlitz he carried a message to the Tsar, part of Napoleon's attempts to convince the Russians and Austrians that he was in a vulnerable position. He also had a mission to spy on the Allied dispositions. This made them over-confident, and helped lead to Napoleon's great victory at Austerlitz. Savary was also given some responsibility for running occupied Vienna, including appointing the commissioner general of police.

In 1806 Savary distinguished himself at Jena, and took part in the cavalry pursuit after the battle, pressing the Prussians and preventing them from recovering their poise.

In 1807 he temporarily commanded V Corps, replacing Marshal Lannes. This corps won the battle of Ostrolenka (February 1807), a Russian attack on the right wing of the extended French line in Poland. The battle came after Savary began an advance of his own, and was fought on the River Narew. Savary was able to cope with the surprise encounter better than the Russians, and repelled the attack. Both sides then went into winter quarters. Savary was replaced by Marshal Massena, who had been recalled from Italy (much to his irritation), and rejoined the main army. This victory was greatly praised in French propaganda, in an attempt to make up for the drawn battle of Eylau.

He commanded a force of Grenadiers at the battle of Heilsberg (10 June 1807), a costly French attack on entrenched Russian positions early in the Friedland campaign. Savary's men played a part in the initial French attacks where they defeated the Russian rearguard on the approaches to Heilsberg. However his division suffered heavy losses when the first French attacks on the Russian redoubts failed, and had to form squares to resist a series of Russian cavalry attacks. In the aftermath of this battle he attacked Murat's conduct, cuttingly stating that 'it would be better if he was endowed with less courage and with rather more common sense'. 

At the battle of Friedland Savary's brigade of Fusiliers of the Guard was used to pin the Russian right wing in their exposed position on the northern half of the battlefield, potentially cut off from their only apparent line of retreat. Only the discovery of an unknown ford across the River Alle allowed the Russian right to escape.

After the treaty of Tilsit (July 1807) Savary was appointed French Ambassador to Russia. He was then moved to Spain, Napoleon's next target, where he helped convince Prince Ferdinand to go to Bayonne to seek Napoleon's help. Instead Ferdinand was imprisoned, and Napoleon's brother Joseph was placed on the Spanish throne, an ill-judged move that helped trigger the Peninsular War.

In May 1808 he was created duc de Rovigo, taking his title from a town in Venetia. He was part of the French delegation at the Congress of Erfurt, where Napoleon failed to get the support he had hoped for from Tsar Alexander.

In June 1808 he replaced Murat as commander of the French forces in Spain, after Murat was made King of Naples, replacing Joseph Bonaparte, who had been given the poisoned chalice of Spain.

He commanded the Guard Fusiliers at Somosierra (29-30 November 1808), during Napoleon's only Spanish campaign. This battle saw the French force their way past a Spanish force attempting to defend a pass over the Sierra de Guadarrama, and wasn't one of Napoleon's better battles. Savary's initial attack on the Spanish position was repulsed, and the battle is best known for a costly and pointless Polish cavalry attack, ordered by Napoleon.

In 1809 he took part in Napoleon's Danube Campaign, his last important military success.

From 1810 until April 1814 Savary served as Minister of Police, after the sinister Fouché was sacked.

In October 1812 he was surprised in his bed by the Malet conspirators, and briefly imprisoned. Malet was a strongly Republican general who was opposed to Napoleon and had been committed to an asylum. He escaped from the asylum, convinced the commander of the 10th National Guard that Napoleon had been killed in Russia and briefly attempted to form a provisional government. Malet's bluff eventually failed when he was recognised and captured, but the affair greatly reduced Savary's credibility as Minster of Police. It also greatly worried Napoleon and played a part in his decision to leave the remains of his army in Russia and return to France as quickly as possible.

After Napoleon's first abdication Savary accompanied the Empress Marie Louise to Blois.

In 1815 he returned to Napoleon's side and was appointed Inspector-General of Gendarmerie and a Peer of France.

After Waterloo Savary was proscribed by Louis XVIII. He accompanied Napoleon into British captivity, but wasn't allowed to join him in exile on St Helena. Instead he was held at Malta for a few months, but then escaped Over the next few years he lived in Smyrna, Austria and finally London, before returning to France in 1819. This was a temporary return, and he moved to Rome. He also became involved in a war of words with General Kellermann about the battle of Marengo.

In 1830 Charles X was overthrown and replaced by the more liberal Louis Philippe. Savary was recalled to the army, and was given command of the French Army in Algeria in 1831-32. He had to resign his command because of poor health, and died in Paris in June 1933.

Napoleon described him as 'a kind good-hearted man, entirely devoted to him', but also 'self-interested'. Sir Henry Bunbury, then Under-Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, who saw him after Napoleon surrendered to the Royal Navy, described him as 'a handsome man, but with something sinister in the workings of his countenance. His manner restless, and betokening the fears which were excited by the knowledge that he was one of those proscribed by Louis XVIII.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (24 August 2015), General Anne Jean Marie René Savary, duc de Rovigo (26 April 1774-1833) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_savary.html

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