General Armand-Augustin Louis, Marquis de Caulaincourt, duc de Vincence, was Napoleon's chief diplomatic aide, serving as the French ambassador to Russia and representing his master in a series of peace negotiations late in the wars. He was also an experienced general who rose to high rank despite his aristocratic roots.
Armand was the son of General Auguste Jean Gabriel de Caulaincourt, a noble general in the pre-revolutionary army. Auguste supported the revolution, although he retired from active service in 1792. Armand joined the royal cavalry when he was only 14 and reached the rank of sous-lieutenant in 1789.
Armand was deprived of his rank and arrested as a aristocratic during the revolution, but he re-enlisted in the ranks and began to rise through the ranks, protected by the successful revolutionary general Lazare Hoche. He served in the Army of the North in 1792-93, the Vendée in 1794-95 and then in southern Germany. In 1799 he was promoted to chef de brigade of the 2nd Carabinier Regiment.
His diplomatic career began in 1801 when Talleyrand, who was a family friend, recommended him to Napoleon for a diplomatic mission to Russia. In the summer of 1802 Armand returned to France and became one of Napoleon's aide-de-camps. In August 1803 he was promoted to general of brigade.
Armand was involved on the edges of the plot to kidnap the duc d'Enghien. The duke was kidnapped from neutral Baden, just across the French border, taken to Vincennes and executed. Armand's role in this affair was limited to delivering Talleyrand's note to Baden justifying the French incursion, but he was later tainted by the affair.
In June 1804 Armand was made grand master of the horse, putting him in charge of Napoleon's stables, pages, messengers and escorts. He held this post until 1813. He also served on Napoleon's staff, and in this role took part in the campaign in Austria in 1805, Prussia in 1806 and Poland in the winter of 1806-7. He was one of Napoleon's inner circle during most of his later campaigns, forming part of the battle headquarters. In 1808 he was promoted to general of division and made duc of Vicence.
Between November 1807 and May 1811 Armand served as the French ambassador to Russia. In that role he was involved in the difficult negotiations at Erfurt in October 1808. He was dedicated to the role of improving the relationship between the two powers, and spoke out against Napoleon's plans to invade in 1812. He was sure that Tsar Alexander was not preparing to declare war, and would have preferred peaceful co-existence. He also reported a conversion with the Tsar in which he made clear that even a major battlefield defeat wouldn't bring Russian to the negotiating table once she had been invaded.
Despite his reservations Armand served alongside Napoleon during the 1812 invasion of Russia. He was present at the battle of Smolensk and at Borodino, where his brother General Auguste Caulaincourt was killed attempting to capture the Grand Redoubt. When the news reached Napoleon he asked if Armand wanted to retire, but his only response was to half-raise his hat, and then remain with the staff.
Prior to the retreat Armand took the precaution of preparing Household's horses for possible ice. During the retreat from Moscow Armand was present at the battle of the Berzina River. He was one of the tiny party chosen to accompany Napoleon on his epic fourteen day journey from the wreck of the Grand Army back to Paris. While the party was in danger Napoleon posed as Caulaincourts' first secretary, although one can't help think this might not have been a very effective disguise.
On 5 April 1813 Armand was appointed to the Senate. In late May he took over the duties of Grand Marshal Duroc, who had been mortally wounded. He took part in the campaigns in Germany in 1813 and France in 1814, and conducted all of the diplomatic negotiations that interspersed these campaigns.
In the summer of 1813 he took part in the talks related to the Pleischwitz armistice, which brought a temporary halt to the fighting. He was present at the Congress of Prague, where he was unable to obtain peace terms acceptable to Napoleon or to stop Austria from entering the war.
On 20 November 1813 he was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs. He represented Napoleon at the Congress of Chatillon-sur-Seine (5 February-19 March 1814). At this congress the Allies agreed to offer Napoleon peace if France would return to the borders of 1792. This was a good offer, but Napoleon's string of victories meant that he was unwilling to accept it and instead insisted on the 'natural frontiers', with France's eastern border on the Rhine. This was unacceptable in Britain, where French control of Antwerp was seen as a major threat to national security.
In April Armand took Napoleon's abdication note to Tsar Alexander I. He stayed with the former emperor after his suicide attempt on 12 April, and on 16 April was one of the men who ratified the Treaty of Fontainebleau, which made Napoleon sovereign of Elba.
After Napoleon's return to France in 1815 Armand became minister of foreign affairs (21 March). Once again he was given the task of negotiating peace terms acceptable to Napoleon, but this time the allies were unwilling to talk. Armand served on the Provisional Government (22 June-9 July). He was proscribed by the Bourbons after the second restoration, but Tsar Alexander intervened to have his name removed from the lists.
Between the end of the wars and his death on 19 February 1827 Armand de Caulaincourt lived in retirement in Paris, where he wrote his invaluable memoirs.