Maillebois, Yves-Marie Desmarets, Comte de

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Yves-Marie Desmarets, Comte de Maillebois

French lieutenant-general (1748-58)

born August 3, 1715, Paris, France

died December 14, 1791, Liège, Austrian Netherlands


Arms of the House of Maillebois - Source: Collection of Jean-Louis Vial
Detail of a painting of Maillebois in 1760 - Source: Collection of Jean-Louis Vial

Yves-Marie Desmarets, Comte de Maillebois was born in Paris on August 3 1715. He was the son of Jean-Baptiste François Desmarets, Marquis de Maillebois (1682-1762), then colonel of Touraine Infanterie, brigadier of the king's armies, Maître de la garde-robe du Roi, lieutenant-general in the Province of Languedoc (he would successively be promoted lieutenant-general then maréchal de France); and of Louise Marie Emmanuelle d'Alègre de Tourzel.

He was from an illustrious family of the Ancien Régime, grandson of the auditor general Desmarets and great-grandnephew of Colbert.

In 1730, Maillebois joined the Mousquetaires de la Garde, he was only 15 years old.

On May 28 1733, Maillebois transferred to the Corps Royal de l'Artillerie as lieutenant of the reformed sapper company of La Borie Battalion.

During the War of the Polish Succession, Maillebois followed his father, who was lieutenant-general, in Italy. In 1733, he serve at the sieges of Pizzighitone and of the Castle of Milan. In January and February 1734, he was at the sieges of Sarravale, Novarre and of the Castle of Tortone. By a commission dated March 10 1734, he became colonel of La Sarre Infanterie at only 19 years old. The same year, at the head of his new regiment, he took part in the combats of Colorno, in the Battle of San Pietro (June 29), in the crossing of the Secchia and in the Battle of Guastalla (September 19). Maillebois' military career went on and he progressed rapidly. On November 25, he was promoted lieutenant-colonel of Dauphin Infanterie. In 1735, with his new regiment, Maillebois took part in the capture of the Castle of Gonzague, and of the towns Reggio and Reveré. In June 1736, he returned to France.

On November 5 1736, Maillebois received the charge of Maître de la Garde-robe du Roi, succeeding his father in this charge.

In 1738, France launched a pacification campaign in Corsica. The French force was placed under the command of the Comte de Boissieux who died in February 1739. The Marquis de Maillebois replaced him as commander-in-chief. In 1740, his son, the Comte de Maillebois was part of the reinforcements sent to Corsica under the command of the Marquis de Maillebois. The campaign was a success and the Comte de Maillebois returned to France in 1741.

At the death of Charles VI, 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. France deployed two armies, one led by Maillebois who marched on Hanover, a second under the command of Belle Isle taking position in Bavaria.

As per an order of August 1 1741, the Comte de Maillebois served as aide maréchal général des logis of the Army of the Lower Rhine. With the first division, he marched into Westphalia and wintered at Neuss.

In 1742, the Comte de Maillebois marched with the Army of Westphalia towards the borders of Bohemia, in an attempt to relieve the army of the Maréchal de Belle Isle, blockaded in Prague. Maillebois was at the capture of Ellenbogen and at the relief of Braunau.

In January 1743, Maillebois returned to France. A patent dated February 20 1743 promoted him brigadier. He then rejoined his regiment at the Army of the Rhine under the command of the Maréchal de Noailles. At the head of the 5 battalions of the Dauphin Brigade, Maillebois took possession of the town of Miltenberg, thus cutting the supplies of the enemy army and placing it in a critical situation which eventually lead to their retreat along the right bank of the Main. Noailles was waiting for them at Dettingen but despite his advantageous position failed to defeat the Allies. Maillebois finished the campaign in Lower Alsace.

On February 1 1744, Maillebois was promoted maréchal général des logis for the Army of Italy placed under the command of the Prince de Conti. Maillebois contributed to the success of the attack and capture of the entrenchments of Nice, Villefranche and Montalban. On May 2, he was promoted maréchal de camp. In July, he distinguished himself by the dispositions that he took for the passage of the Alps through the Sture Valley by the French Army. He also took part in the capture of Château-Dauphin and in the siege and battle of Madonna dell'Olmo (September 30).

In 1745, Maillebois was employed once more as maréchal général des logis of the Army of Italy, now commanded by his father, the Maréchal de Maillebois. The Comte de Maillebois took part in all the actions of the campaign: the passage of the Maritime Alps through the Valley of the Spino; the siege and capture of the town and castle of Acqui; the submission of the provinces of Piacenza and Parma and of the town of Pavia; the passage of the Tanaro; the combat of Rivaronne; the sieges of Alexandria, Valence, Asty and Cazal; and the submission of the Province of Montferrat. On October 6, Maillebois obtained the charge of inspector general of the infantry. Still the same year (1745), the Comte de Maillebois married Marie Magdeleine de Voyer, the daughter of the Marquis d'Argenson, then minister of foreign affairs.

At the beginning of 1746, Maillebois was charged to resume the peace negotiations initiated by Champeaux at Turin with Charles-Emmanuel, King of Sardinia. However negotiations failed and Maillebois rejoined the Army of Italy with the functions of maréchal général des logis. He contributed to the capture of the towns and castles of Acquy, Ponzoné, Trezo and Montaboni; to the junction of the French and Spanish armies; and fought at the Battle of Piacenza (June 16). Maillebois then took part in the passage of the Pô, which saved the Franco-Spanish Army, and to the victorious Battle of Rottofreddo (August 12) where he particularly distinguished himself. In November, he returned to France.

As per a letter dated May 1 1747, Maillebois was assigned to the Army of the King in Flanders. Maillebois was at the Battle of Lauffeld (July 2) and, from July to September, took part in the siege of Berg-op-Zoom.

As per a letter dated April 15 1748, Maillebois was assigned to the Army of the Lower Countries where he took part in the siege of Maastricht in April and May. On May 10, Maillebois was promoted lieutenant-general.

In 1753, when his father, the Marquis de Maillebois, resigned as governor of Douai, the Comte de Maillebois succeeded him on June 15.

In September 1754, Maillebois commanded the instruction camp of Plobsheim in Alsace.

In December 1755, Maillebois was sent to the coasts of Provence and placed under the command of the Maréchal de Richelieu to prepare the expedition against Minorca.

On April 12 1756, Maillebois embarked as first lieutenant-general for this expedition against Minorca. On April 18, he disembarked near Ciudadela and the same day, at the head of the grenadiers, he made himself master of this city, capital of the island. Then, the French army marched on Port Mahon reputed impregnable. The assault was supposed to take place in three columns. Maillebois was charged by the Maréchal de Richelieu to command one of these columns and entered into the town Port Mahon on April 22. He then took part in the Siege of Fort St. Philip. The Maréchal de Richelieu charged him to prepare the general assault, a task that he achieved with the greatest intelligence. After the reduction of the island of Minorca, Maillebois repassed to Provence where he served till December.

On February 2 1757, Maillebois was appointed chevalier des Ordres du Roi. Until then, the military career of the Comte de Maillebois had been faultless. He was 42 years old, his qualities as a general officer were unanimously recognized and Maillebois most probably expected to receive command of an army. In those days, Maillebois enjoyed important backing at the court: besides his father's glorious military records; he had the support of the Maréchal de Richelieu, hero of the capture of Minorca; of his brother-in-law, Antoine Voyer Marquis de Paulmy, minister of war since February 1757; of Pâris Duverney, administrator general of the supplies of the army; and of the Cardinal de Bernis, just appointed minister of foreign affairs.

Louis César le Tellier, Comte d'Estrées for his part was Louvois' grandson. He was 62 years old. At the beginning of 1757, he was on his way back from Vienna where he had signed with Empress Maria Theresa, in the name of the king, the convention specifying the military and financial commitments between France and Austria, when he was informed of his promotion to the rank of Maréchal de France and of his appointment to the command of the Army of the Lower Rhine for the planned invasion of Hanover with Maillebois as his maréchal général des logis.

D'Estrées was certainly not a great strategist nor a great politic. He advanced very carefully into Germany, probably too carefully fearing a defeat. Soon, disagreement appeared between d'Estrées and Maillebois. The latter wrote to his brother-in-law, speaking of d'Estrées:

"His head becomes heated, he suffers, he thinks that he will lack provisions, fodder, artillery. When I show him the possibilities to guarantee these part of his services, he says that I see everything through rose-colored glasses: for him, he sees only in black, but most of the time he does not see at all."

The conflict developing between the commander-in-chief of the army and his major-general soon spread to the court and the battlefield where d'Estrées' fate would be decided was no more Germany but rather Versailles. Thus, on July 25, the Maréchal de Richelieu was sent from Strasbourg to replace him. On July 26, still ignoring the decision of the court, d'Estrées won the Battle of Hastenbeck. At the army, only Maillebois knew of the nomination of the Maréchal de Richelieu to relieve d'Estrées of his command.

Let's now look at the course of the French invasion of Hanover in 1757: on April 12, the French army was at Wesel with the Prince de Soubise as commander, awaiting the Maréchal d'Estrées who arrived at Wesel on April 27. By June 1, the army had advanced to Münster, only 84 km from Wesel. Meanwhile, the Duke of Cumberland was installed at Bielefeld with the Allied Army. On June 18, the French Army finally reached Bielefeld but Cumberland had already retreated. Indiscipline prevailed in the French Army and the plundering of Bielefeld could not be prevented. The march resumed towards the Weser and on July 10 the French Army reached Corvey.

“To the inherent causes of slowness: the clumsiness of the army and the prevailing habits; were combined those of the general-in-chief, the Maréchal d'Estrées, a honest nature, sound and firm, with a meticulous conscience, not wanting to cede anything to chance, always seeking for the best, who temporized, often modified his projects, sometimes hesitated in the execution. Above this jealous of his authority and obstinate in his words. Maillebois prided himself to conduct him and to command in his name but he had failed to do so. His annoyance was great and led him to exaggerate the defaults of his chief… relations remained courteous but without the mutual confidence necessary to the good conduct of affairs.”

D'Estrées moved away from Maillebois during the passage of the Weser, entrusting the Marquis de Vogüé with the details of the operation. Once the river passed, movements became quicker. Covered on his right by the capture of Kassel, d'Estrées marched on Cumberland along the two banks of the Weser: his main body on the right bank and the reserve under the command of the Duc de Broglie on the left bank. On July 21, d'Estrées encamped at Halle, his vanguards in contact with the Allied positions. Maillebois wished to attack immediately but d'Estrées preferred to wait. On July 23, the Allies having remained idle, d'Estrées resolved to attack. He sent three strong reconnaissance parties: d'Armentières along with Maillebois on the left along the Weser, Contades in the centre to advance up to Börry, and Vogüé on the right. These reconnaissance parties were supposed to debouch from Esperde and to march on the road leading to Hastenbeck. Each of the three columns came to contact with the Allies and engaged lively actions but each time, the Allies retired, hampering the advance of the French columns while luring them to the terrain chosen by Cumberland. D'Estrées sent orders to his vanguards to stop their advance. He was at Halle and was still waiting for a bread and ammunition convoy expected from Corvey, the last distribution had been done two days before. Finally, the vanguards resumed their advance, skirmishing with the retiring Allies. On July 25, both armies were facing each other. They deployed in order of battle for the following day. The positions of the Duke of Cumberland were particularly favourable: entrenched behind the Weser and a marshy area; his right covered by the town of Hameln and impassable defiles; a vast plain to his front with, in its centre at the foot of the Scheckenberg, a strong redoubt of twelve 12-pdrs and six howitzers; his left anchored on a wood located on the slopes of the Schekenberg, a steep hill intertwined with deep ravines. D'Estrées and his war council considered that a frontal attack would be too difficult and resolved to attack in three columns: Chevert would lead the main attack to turn Cumberland left flank; moving around the Schekenberg at night through the opening of Vorenberg; meanwhile d'Armentières would support him, advancing on the flank of the Schekenberg against the Allied redoubt. On July 26, Chevert's difficult progression was a success and the Duke of Cumberland seeing his left wing turned, decided to retire. However, in the mean time, in a last attempt, Colonel Breitenbach, who occupied Diedersen on the other side of the Schekenberg managed to pass between the columns of the Marquis d'Armentières and Chevert, surprising and defeating the Comte de Lorge left behind on the small plateau of the Scheckenberg. This close gunfight, combined with the rout of de Lorge's Brigade rushing back into the plain and with false information about an Allied attempt to turn the French left, led Maréchal d'Estrées to fear for a possible failure of Chevert attack. He decided to retreat, ignoring that Cumberland had already began to retire. D'Estrées, realising that Cumberland was abandoning the battlefield, finally ordered to resume the advance but it was too late. The Allies had already taken refuge under the guns of Hameln. The false alarm was later attributed to Maillebois or to the Duc d'Orléans. On July 27, the Maréchal d'Estrées received a message informing him of his replacement by Richelieu at the head of the army.

The Maréchal de Richelieu took command of the army, keeping the Comte de Maillebois as aide major général des logis of the army. The victory of Hastenbeck allowed for a rapid advance of the army into Germany: Minden was taken on August 1, then it was the turn of Hanover, Brunswick, Bremen, Verden and Harbourg to fall. On November 5, the Army of the Prince de Soubise was defeated at the Battle of Rossbach, forcing Richelieu to detach part of his army to come to the rescue of Soubise while, in front of Richelieu's Army, Ferdinand of Brunswick took command of the Allied Army after the repudiation of the Convention of Klosterseven. Richelieu, at the head of a weakened army, asked Maillebois to take disposition to space out winter-quarters of the army along the Aller.

In January 1758, the Comte de Maillebois returned to France. Great Britain was threatening the coasts of France and its colonies; and now supported the Allied Army involved in the continental conflict with an important contingent. The Maréchal de Belle Isle resolved to assemble three army corps respectively destined to effect a descent in England, Scotland and Ireland to strike the British in their own territory. On May 9, Maillebois arrived at Dunkerque to take command of one of these corps who should assembled in June.

Shortly before leaving for Dunkerque, the Comte de Maillebois had published without the authorisation of the king a report on the battle of Hastenbeck where he blamed the conduct of the Maréchal d'Estrées. The latter asked to the king that the affair be judged by a tribunal of marshals. Things then went very rapidly, Louis XV, judging disgraceful the attack on the reputation of the Maréchal d'Estrées, charged his war minister, the Maréchal de Belle-lsle, to inform the tribunal of his decision. On May 19 1758, the tribunal of the marshals met in an extraordinary assembly under the presidency of the Maréchal de Noailles and unanimously decided:

  1. to put M. de Maillebois under arrest, to revoke him of his command and to put him in jail for a long time at a location chosen by the king;
  2. when M. de Maillebois would come out of prison, to exile him far from the court for an even longer time;
  3. to suspend him from all his military functions;
  4. to allow the Maréchal d'Estrées to make his report public.

In the night of May 21 to 22, the judgment arrived at Dunkerque along with an order instructing Maillebois to go to the Citadel of Doullens in Picardie. On the morning of May 22, Maillebois left Dunkerque under the escort of M. de Bourdenave, colonel of Bourbonnais Infanterie. Maillebois resigned from all his charges and functions, keeping only the charge of governor of Douai.

In 1760, Maillebois was freed from jail and authorised to appear at the court but he had no military charge and had lost all his benefits. He made several attempt to regain the royal favours of Louis XV, like in 1771 supported by the Marquis de Monteynard, the new secretary of state to war; then in 1773 through the Maréchal de Richelieu. Each time, Louis XV ignored his requests.

Finally in 1776, now that Louis XVI, who had not much consideration for the old maréchaux de France, was king of France; Saint-Germain's reform was the occasion for Maillebois to recover a military charge. The ordonnance of March 18 1776 modified the organisation of the government of the provinces who were reduced to 39. Each of these provinces had a governor, a provincial commander and a commander of the provincial military division. For the Province of Picardie, the general governor was the Comte de Périgord, the Duc de Croÿ was named provincial commander with the Comte de Maillebois as lieutenant-general commanding the provincial division of Picardie and Soissonnais. This situation was not much appreciated by the Duc de Croÿ, considering that several provincial commanders (MM. de Castries, de Robecq, de Lévis, de Ségur , de Poyanne, etc.) had also received the charge of commander of their provincial military division. With the help of all his family, the Duc de Croÿ trashed about so well that he obtained the command of the provinces and provincial military divisions of Picardie, Soissonnais and Artois. Maillebois received the charge of commander of the provincial military division of Hainaut, a province where he was already governor of Douai.

Maillebois progressively reconstituted his social network. In a letter of the Duc de la Tremoille in May 1778, he mentioned:

"the maréchal de Broglie, arrived in the evening the day before yesterday, goes today to Marly and before 8 days, one will know the dispositions of the troops; it seems that the ministry still wishes to give a command to M. de Maillebois to limit the influence of the Maréchal de Broglie. There still remains to know the reaction of the king to his presence."

Despite these slow progresses, Maillebois' financial difficulties worsened and in 1781 he was forced to cede the Government of Douai in exchange for an annuity of 25,000 livres.

In 1784, the United Provinces were the siege of trouble, Joseph II in his quality of chief of the Holy Roman Empire wanted to impose his reforms to the United Provinces and required important territories to the profit of the Austrian Netherlands, like the cession of Maastricht and the free navigation from the Escaut to the sea. This ultimatum had the effect of uniting various Dutch parties like the Party of the Patriots, attached at the preservation of the established privileges of their republic, and the Orangist Party of the Stathouder, the Prince of Nassau. This situation was delicate for France, it was difficult to abandon its Dutch Allies but Marie Antoinette was the sister of Emperor Joseph II. Louis XVI and the Comte de Vergennes, minister of foreigh affairs decided to support the Dutch, they started to concentrate two armies in Flanders and on the Rhine and recalled the Comte de Maillebois to take command of the Army of the United Provinces. Maillebois also ordered to raise a corps of light troops named Légion de Maillebois However, none of the protagonists wanted to ignite a new armed conflict and, after some negotiations, the Treaty of Fontainebleau was signed on November 8 1785, marking the end of Maillebois's mission.

In 1789, revolution broke out in France. In 1790, Maillebois took part in several royalist plots and an order of arrest was launched against him. The Comte de Maillebois took refuge in the Austrian Netherlands where he died at Liège on December 14 1791, at 76 years old.



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