Bonneval, Claude-Alexandre de

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Hierarchical Path: War of the Spanish Succession (Main Page) >> Personalities >> Bonneval, Claude-Alexandre de

Bonneval, Claude-Alexandre de

Imperial General-Feldwachtmeister (1707-1716), Feldmarschall-Lieutenant (1716-1724)

born 14 July 1675, Limousin, France

died 23 March 1747, Constantinople, Turkey


Claude-Alexandre was the second child of a family counting three sons. He was initially known as the Chevalier de Bonneval.

In 1685, at the age of 10, Claude-Alexandre began to serve in the “Gardes de la Marine,” thanks to the protection of a famous parent, the Amiral de Tourville.

In 1691, at the age of 16, Claude-Alexandre is appointed “enseigne de vaisseau.” After a duel, he was forced to leave the service of the Navy. He probably served as cadet in the Mousquetaires before obtaining a sub-lieutenancy in the Gardes-françaises in 1698. By 1701, he was ensign in this unit.

On 22 June 1701, the Chevalier de Bonneval obtained the king’s authorisation to raise the new Labour Infanterie regiment, which he paid 32,000 livres. He then served brilliantly at the head of his new regiment in Italy under the command of the Duc de Vendôme.

In 1704, the Chevalier de Bonneval found himself compromised in a case of embezzlement of contributions. On of his friend, the Comte de Francilieu, mentions in his memoirs:

“The Comte de Bonneval, a man of quality, but the youngest in his family, had found the secret to consume all of his elder’s assets; he was colonel of a regiment which served in Italy, and much my friend. He left for Paris using the system of post houses; having no equipage, he kept the last post horses for his own use; the postmaster complained to M. de Vendôme, who discovered that it was M. de Bonneval who had them, he made him return them. “Sir, said the count, I must therefore serve on foot, but do me a favor, it comes many deserters to your army, give the preference of their horses until I have an equipage.” This prince, full of kindness, who besides liked the Comte de Bonneval, granted him his request. These horses were taxed four gold pistoles, they were all brought to Bonneval who, with the help of the major of his regiment, first bought three or four, then he began to resell these horses, earning considerably; he kept twenty-four for himself and sold enough to pay for them and to make a profit. M. de Vendôme was informed of this, and withdrew his favor to grant it to others who needed it, otherwise Bonneval would have made himself very comfortable. I cite this particularity, because it is a fairly honest industry and can be used on occasion. But here is another one that is not the same. Bonneval was sent with his regiment to Ivrea in Piedmont, he had been charged to raise contributions, he acquitted himself well, but what he did wrong was to appropriate part of it. The Court ordered M. de Vendôme to make him account for it, which he could not do; he thought he had exonerated himself by saying that he had been obliged to keep silent on large expenses, because all the officers who went to or from France, passing through his quarter, ate at his house. The court did not accept this excuse and ordered him to come and report on his conduct. Unfortunately, he was not the only one in the same case, M. de Langallerie was there like him; neither dared to appear in court.”

In February 1705, at the death of his elder brother, Claude-Alexandre became Comte de Bonneval.

Bonneval finally explained himself in a letter sent to Chamillart, the Secretary of War. Bonneval exposed the case in his own way, but he could not refrain himself from concluding his letter to the minister with these words “I did not believe that an expense, made with the consent and the approbation of Monseigneur the Duc de Vendôme, would be subject to the revision of writers, and rather than submit to it, I will pay for it myself.” Later, he wrote once more to Chamillart “Sir, I have received the letter you took the trouble to write to me, in which you tell me that I fear writers because they know too well how to count. I must inform you that the high nobility of the kingdom willingly sacrifices their lives and their goods for the service of the king, but that we do not owe it anything against our honor; thus, if in the term of three months I do not receive a reasonable satisfaction on the affront which you make me, I will go to the service of the Emperor, where all the ministers are people of quality and know how to treat their fellow men.”

This insolence touched the king through his minister, and this threat was all the more difficult as a number of officers were defecting to Spain or Austria; like the prince of Lorraine Elbeuf, who had transferred to the Imperial service.

In February 1706 during the winter ceasefire, finally realising his extreme recklessness, Bonneval asked the Duc de Vendôme for leave to attend the carnival of Venice. There he joined the Lieutenant-General de Langallerie, who, like himself, had been caught red handed while diverting contributions for his own benefit. In Venice, on Langallerie’s insistence, Bonneval contacted representatives of the imperial court. The Abbé de Pomponne, the French ambassador to Venice, informed Versailles of these advances.

At this news, Louis XIV instructed Ponchartrain to immediately inform the Parliament of Paris and to proceed jointly, in absentia, against the the two deserters and against Prince Emmanuel de Lorraine.

The sentence was not handed down until 20 January 1707. It declared the judgment in absentia well instructed and convicted the three accused of lèse-majesté and felony. It deprived them of all their estates, honours, offices and dignities. It condemned them to be decapitated in effigy on a scaffold on the Place de Grève, Their feudal goods and estates were returned to the king and their other possessions confiscated to the profit of the king.

Langallerie and Bonneval took refuge in Bologna, in the Papal Estates and wrote to M. de Vendôme asking him to obtain their grace. Francileu writes in his memoirs: “This prince, beneficent as far as it was possible to be, did all what he could for it, but did not obtain it.” Seeing their hope vanish, Langallerie and Bonneval finally negotiated with Imperial representatives and joined the Imperial service. His old friend Francileu condemned their conduct and revealed that Bonneval had tried to convince him to join the Imperial service.

On the recommendation of Prince Eugène de Savoie, who has learned to esteem him as an adversary, Bonneval was admitted in the Austrian Army with the rank of major-general. He took part in the invasion of Provence.

In 1715, at the Peace of Utrecht, Prince Eugène obtained the reversal of Bonneval’s sentence and the restitution of his estates and assets. However, his younger brother had already been given the titles and assets and Bonneval did not want to deprive him of them. He therefore remained in Austria, where he was promoted to Feldmarschall-Lieutenant. He distinguished himself in the campaigns led by Prince Eugène against the Turks, and was severely wounded at the battle of Peterwardein (1716). This wound at the lower abdomen forced him to wear silver plaque for the rest of his life.

Wishing to return to France, Bonneval wrote to the Abbé Dubois. Shortly afterwards, the Regent sent him letters of abolition and Bonneval obtained from the Emperor a three month leave to travel to France and obtain the confirmation of this abolition. Despite the disapproval of some members of the Regency Council (including Saint-Simon), Bonneval was rehabilitated. He met the king and the regent.

On 7 May 1717, Bonneval got married with Judith Charlotte, Princesse de Biron. Ten days later, he left for Vienna, leaving his wife in France, who he would never see again. In September of the same year, FML Bonneval distinguished himself in the Battle of Belgrade.

In 1718, when peace was signed with Turkey, Bonneval was admitted to the Aulic Council, and moved to Vienna. He did not take long to be noticed by his licentious life. He still did not know how to keep silent “mocking fools, taunting the coteries, going little to churches, and willingly satirizing chancery agents and offices.” But above all, he ended up interfering, with his intrigues, in the private life of his protector, Prince Eugène. In 1724, unable to support Bonneval any more, the prince had him appointed as master general of the artillery and sent to Bruxelles in the Austrian Netherlands.

In these days, the Marquis de Prié was vice-governor of the Austrian Netherlands and held his court in Bruxelles. The Marquise de Prié and her daughter, the Comtesse d’Apremont, were very busy sowing scandal on the Queen of Spain, and spoke openly of her gallant affair with the Marquis of Aiseau. The Marquise even went so far as to say at a party: “That she was not surprised that the Marquis (d'Aiseau) had raised his ambition to a queen; but what surprised her was that such a well-made boy could bring himself to fall in love with a little monster.” Bonneval boasted of being descended from the ancient kings of Navarre, and was thus allied with the royal house of France. A princess of this powerful house, one of her parents accused of being a little monster and having lost her honour! The chivalrous Frenchman could not endure the shame, and he stepped forward with the greatest energy as the defendant's champion. In front of several gentlemen of rank, who repeated what they had heard in the salons of the Marquise de Prié, he growled so violently, that they fell silent for fear of the Count's sword, which was as sharp as his tongue. Against the Marquise, however, Bonneval employed his talents for sarcasm in a most insulting extent, and ended up sending her husband a challenge. For this offense, the Marquis de Prié had Bonneval arrested and placed in the citadel of Antwerp.

After a brief imprisonment, Bonneval was ordered to travel to Vienna to answer the charges held against him. However, instead of going to Vienna, he spent a full month in The Hague, and aroused suspicion through his repeated talks with the ambassadors of France and Spain. When he finally arrived at Vienna, he was arrested and imprisoned in the Castle of Spielberg in Moravia. From his jail, during the instruction of his trial, Bonneval requested the support of Prince Eugène de Savoie, but at the same time offered his services to Frederick Augustus I, King of Poland. The accusation against him was related both to his behavior towards the Marquis de Prié, and to his disrespectful conduct towards Prince Eugène and the Aulic Council. For these offenses, the Council of War condemned him to death, but the Emperor commuted his sentence to one year's imprisonment, followed by banishment. When his prison term expired, Bonneval was escorted back to the Tyrolean border, where he was strongly advised never to set foot in the Empire again. Thus ended his military career in Austria.

Bonneval moved to Venice where he lived until 1726, when, short of resources, he went to Sevraï in Bosnia. There the Austrian consul had him arrested by the Turks and asked for his extradition as a deserter in exchange for a large amount of money. The French ambassador refused to intercede in Bonneval’s favor. The latter, fearing the fate waiting for him in Vienna, converted to Islam and proposed his services to the Turks.

In 1730, a palace revolution forced Ahmet III to abdicate in favor of his nephew, Mahmud I. In 1730, Bonneval officially converted to Islam and took the name of Achmet. He was soon appointed pasha (three horse tails pasha) and appointed chef of the Bombardier Corps. At the court of Sultan Mahmud I, he got acquainted with a few French and Italian scholars and proposed to reorganise the Turkish Army. But the jealousy of the other pashas and of the Grand Vizier Ali Pasha, together with the intrigues of the European powers, prevented Bonneval from achieving great results.

In that same year of 1730, Persia reignited one of the numerous territorial conflicts opposing it to Turkey. In 1735, Russia, always looking for an access to the Black Sea, took advantage of the conflict between Turkey and Persia, and, supported by Austria, launched an offensive against the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish Army won some initial successes but it is difficult to know Bonneval’s exact role in this war. However, he never received any command.

In 1738, again at odds with his protector, Bonneval was appointed governor of the island of Chios. He remained only six months there before returning to Constantinople.

In 1742, passing by Constantinople, Casanova paid a visit to Bonneval, he writes:

“I followed him through the garden, and we entered in a room furnished with grilled wardrobes, and behind the wire mesh we saw curtains: behind these curtains there should be books. Taking a key from his pocket, he opens it; and, instead of in-folios, I see rows of bottles of the best wines, and we both laughed heartily: “This is, tells me the pasha, my library and my harem; because, being old, women would shorten my life, while good wine can only preserve it, or at least make it more agreeable.”

Calmed down by the weight of years and a tumultuous life, he always had a good meal and hardly followed Mohammedan precepts.

Shortly before his death, Claude-Alexandre wrote to the Marquis de Bonneval, his brother, with whom he had managed to maintain good relations. “I am often very far from myself with tiring reflections; frequent attacks of gout, other real infirmities, force me to seek advice from you, as from the head of the house, on what course to take.” The Marquis answered him, urging him to make the best choice and promising to help him with all his power. Claude-Alexandre planned to escape from Turkey aboard a Neapolitan frigate cruising in the archipelago and to seek asylum in Rome.

Death surprised him on 23 March 1747, he was 62 years old. His tomb is located in Péra (Beyoğlu), one of the district of present-day Istanbul, near the Palace of Sweden, with thins inscription engraved in Turkish: “God is permanent; may God, glorious and great among true believers, give peace to the late Achmet-Pasha, commander of the bombardiers, in the year of the Hegira 1160 (1747).”



Jean-Louis Vial for the initial version of this article