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Famous Faces

America's Sweetheart: Marquis de Lafayette

America's Sweetheart: Marquis de Lafayette Gilbert du Montier Lafayette was born on September 6, 1757, in Auvergne, France. His family had a rich military history, and after studying at the Military Academy at Versailles, he became a calvary captain at age 16.

At age 20, Lafayette fought in the American Revolution against the British. He served under George Washington, leading American forces to many victories, and was considered a national hero. Lafayette persuaded his own government to aid the Americans and worked with American ambassadors to Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson in France.

Following his return to France in 1782, Lafayette he was promoted and given military honors.  He also became an advocate of social and political reform in both France and the new United States. He was in favor of economic liberalism and religious freedom.  He served as a member of the Assembly of Notables called by Louis XVI and Calonne in 1787.  In 1788, Lafayette returned to military service, and in 1789 was elected to represent the nobility in the Estates General.  He joined the National Assembly when ordered to do so by the King in July 1789, and quickly became a leader, making the proposal to draft a declaration of rights.  After the fall of the Bastille on July 14, he was proclaimed commander of the Paris militia, which he transformed into the Paris National Guard. 

It was in his capacity as commander of the National Guard that Lafayette (at the head of his troops) accompanied the Women's March on Versailles in October 1789.  He was responsible for maintaining order after the crowd broke into the palace, such that the successful negotiations with the Naional Assembly and the King could be conducted.  He was responsible for the personal safety of the Queen and her family as they were escorted to Paris along with wagons full of bread.

Lafayette was committed to both the monarchy and the Revolution and tried to serve both.  Eventually, this proved impossible.  He was accused of colluding in the failed attempt of the Royal Family to flee in June 1791.  In July, he was forced to order the National Guard to fire on  a crowd that had gathered to demand  that the King be removed.  In October, after the constitution was completed and Consitutent Assembly dissolved, he retired from public service, only to return in December to command one  of France's three new armies.  In the midst of the campaign of 1792, he came back to Paris to protest the events of August 10: the invasion of the Tuileries and the resulting suspension of the King and imprisonment of the Royal Family. A week later, he was removed from his command as Prussian troops approached the French border.  That same day, August 17, he fled with 22 members of his general staff. 

Lafayette was taken prisoner by the Prussian army, which didn't really know what to do with him since he was both a revolutionary and a royalist.  He was eventually handed over to the Austrians, who held him until he was relased according to a special provision of the Treaty of Campoformio in September 1797.  He eventually returned to France and was to play an important role in the Revolution of 1830.  He died in 1834.

Famous Faces

Rumors and RevolutionThe Teen Queen: Marie AntoinetteHis Royal Hesitancy: Louis XVIThe Iron Fist: Maria TheresaSwede on the Side: Axel von FersenThe Queen's Crony: Princesse de LamballeMonsieur Moneybags: Jacques NeckerPass the Buck Chuck: Charles-Alexandre de CalonneMad Max: Maximilien RobespierreThe Warmonger: Jacques Pierre BrissotDear Abbe: Emmanuel Joseph SieyèsCrooked Cardinal: Cardinal de RohanAmerica's Sweetheart: Marquis de Lafayette
Explore Versailles Queen's Chamber

The American Revolution
Learn more about the revolution that made Lafayette famous.

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