Andoche Junot, duc d’Abrantès, 1771-1813

Andoche Junot was a flamboyant but temperamental French general and was probably the most able of Napoleon’s generals not to be created a marshal.

Junot was born at Bussy-le-Grand. At the start of the French Revolution he was a law student in Paris, and an enthusiastic support of the revolution. He soon joined the revolutionary army, and by the time of the siege of Toulon (1793) was a sergeant of volunteers. There he impressed Napoleon while serving as his secretary. For the next few years he would rise with Napoleon, being promoted to colonel in 1796 and General of Brigade in 1798.

Junot was Napoleon’s aide-de-camp during his early Italian campaigns, and was chose to carry the captured colours back to France after the battle of Millesimo (1796).

In 1798 he accompanied Napoleon to Egypt. There he fought a duel against General Lanusse on Napoleon’s behalf, was wounded and had to be left in Egypt. In 1801, after his return from Egypt, he was promoted to general of division, and appointed commandant of Paris. He also married Laura Permon, the daughter of a friend of the Napoleon family. He was thus bitterly disappointed not to be created a Marshal in the “great promotion” of 1804.

After a brief spell as ambassador to Portugal, Junot was recalled, and fought at Austerlitz (1805). He was then dispatched to put down a revolt at Parma, before returning as Governor of Paris in 1806. There he became involved in a scandal involving Pauline Bonaparte, which may have played a part in his appointment to command the invasion of Portugal.

The invasion of Portugal took place without a hitch. Junot led his army across the mountains into Portugal, and on 30 November 1807 entered Portugal. The only disappointment was that the Portuguese Royal Family and the fleet had both escaped to South American. Junot was created duc d’Abrantès for his success in Portugal.

The Spain revolt left Junot dangerously isolated in Portugal. The British realised this, and in the summer of 1808 dispatched an expedition to Portugal, initially under the command of Arthur Wellesley. The British landed north of Lisbon, and on 10 August began to march south towards Junot. On 17 August the British fought their way past a French force attempting to stop them at Rolica, before moving to the coast at Vimiero to meet up with reinforcements.

By this point Junot had decided to attack the British before they could reach Lisbon. On 21 August he attacked the British at Vimiero even though he was outnumbered and would be attacking a strong position. Vimiero would be the first time Wellesley’s lines would face French columns, and the French were heavily defeated.

On the day after the battle Junot opened negotiations. Wellesley had by now been superseded, and in the Convention of Cintra his new superiors agreed to ship Junot’s army back to France. The reaction in Britain was predictably hostile – Wellesley’s career only survived because he had made it clear that he was opposed to the deal. Perhaps more surprisingly Napoleon was also furious with Junot, in his case for the defeat itself.

Despite this, Junot was soon back in Spain, taking over command for part of the second siege of Saragossa. In 1809 he was pulled out of Spain to command the reserve corps in Germany, before in 1810 returning to serve under Marshal Masséna in the Army of Portugal. Junot is said to have resented Masséna’s appointment and to have been a difficult subordinate. Junot had some success during this period, ending the siege of Astorga in April 1810 by scrounging together a siege train, but in that year Masséna was replaced by Marmont, and Junot was one of a number of senior commanders to be replaced.

During Napoleon’s Russian campaign Junot served as the deputy commander of IV Corps, under Eugène de Beauharnais, before being promoted to command VIII Corps (replacing Jérôme Bonaparte). His record in Russia was not good – he was blamed for the escape of Barclay’s troops at Smolensk, and was returned to France.

On his return he was appointed governor of Venice, and then of Illyria, but his mental health began to deteriorate, and he had to be relieved of duty. He died of injuries suffered when he jumped from a window at his fathers house, dying on 29 July 1813.

History of the Peninsular War vol.1: 1807-1809 - From the Treaty of Fontainebleau to the Battle of Corunna, Sir Charles Oman. The first volume of Oman's classic seven volume history of the Peninsular War, this is one of the classic works of military history and provides an invaluable detailed narrative of the fighting in Spain and Portugal. This first volume covers the initial French intervention, the start of the Spanish uprising, the early British involvement in Spain and Portugal and Napoleon's own brief visit to Spain.
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (22 January 2008), Andoche Junot, duc d’Abrantès, 1771-1813 ,

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