As Women’s History Month draws to a close, so does my series on the wives of Napoleon’s Marshals. This week’s entry covers many of the lesser-known marshals’ wives and so, being limited to only publicly available information online, means that some sections of this post are sadly lacking in detail.
Madame Perignon: Hélène-Catherine de Grenier
Hélène-Catherine, born in 1764, was the daughter of the mayor of Montech; François de Grenier. On her 22nd birthday she married Catherine-Dominique de Perignon, who was ten years her senior and who had recently resigned from the army as a result of Ségur’s edict. The couple resided for some time together in Hélène-Catherine’s hometown of Montech.
Perignon is generally the Marshal of whom least is written (there is not even a single recorded comment about him from Napoleon) and sadly the same is true of his wife. There is no surviving correspondence from the couple to tell us how Hélène-Catherine lived, what sort of personality she had, or the happiness of her marriage. We do know however that between 1788 and 1804, Hélène-Catherine and her husband had eleven children: three sons and eight daughters (three of whom died in infancy). She was 42 years old when she had her youngest son.
It is possible that Hélène-Catherine had twins in 1790; two of her daughters (Elisabeth and Justine) were born and died that same year. There is no concrete mention of this and it might have been two separate births of course but she would have had to get pregnant pretty quickly after the first one.
The honorary nature of her husband’s appointment to the marshalate in 1804 meant that Hélène-Catherine did not have to endure the prolonged separations and endless worries of many of the other marshal’s wives. However, that did not mean that she felt none of the grief attached to war: in 1807, Hélène-Catherine’s eldest son Jean-Baptiste was killed at the battle of Friedland at the age of only 18. Three of her daughters went onto marry Napoleonic generals.
Although there is very little information available on Hélène-Catherine’s life, the few contemporary resources which mention her do so positively: Jean-Julien Juge’s thesis to obtain his medical doctorate (General considerations on the difference between acute and chronic illnesses and the influence of fever on the latter) was dedicated to Hélène-Catherine as his “benefactor” and offering her endless thanks and recognition.
She is also mentioned in Sir John Henry Cooke’s A Narrative of Events in the South of France. Sir John encountered Hélène-Catherine when he was based at Languedoc. Here Hélène-Catherine and her children resided towards the end of Napoleon’s reign. Sir John describes her as the “principal lady in the place” with charming daughters and notes that he and his comrades “escorted this family everywhere”. Hélène-Catherine seems to have had a happy, lively household as further description states that: “The hall door of Madame la Marechale was never closed, and should there be a lack of amusement elsewhere, the soirée was always spent there with either music, dancing or games of forfeits”.
Hélène-Catherine’s husband swore fealty to and was welcomed by the new Bourbon regime after Napoleon’s exile and so she did not experience the hardship of the likes of Mesdames Ney and Davout in post-Waterloo life. She did not live to see much of that life though, dying in 1816 at the age of 52. Her husband survived her by two years.
There is a portrait of Hélène-Catherine but as I have rather infuriatingly misfiled it I will have to add it later.
Madame Sérurier: Louise-Marie-Madeleine Itasse
Sadly even less information than above is available on Madame Sérurier! Louise was born in 1755 and was the daughter of Jacques-Antoine Itasse, registrar of the criminal bailiary of Laon, and his wife Marie-Madeleine Dohy.
On the third of July 1778, Louise married Jean-Mathieu-Philibert Sérurier at Presles-l’Bishop. She was 23 while he was 36 and had been newly promoted to captain. Louis Tuetey, Sérurier’s biographer, stated that “a reciprocal sympathy had united them rather than an arrangement of interest: Sérurier’s fortune was always modest.”
The future marshal was very active in the wars of the Revolution so, like most of the marshals’ wives, Louise would have had to bear long periods of separation in a period where the directory was wont to execute any commander they did not feel was enthusiastic enough in their attacking of the enemy. Her husband was noted as a very honest man and a strict disciplinarian.
In 1804, Louise’s title was elevated to Madame La Marechale Serurier when Napoleon named her husband as one of the honorary Marshals of the Empire. He was also named as governor of Les Invalides so the couple lived in Paris. In 1808, Louise became a Countess of the Empire.
Louise and her husband never had any children but in their later years they adopted two young women: Félicité Desprez-Sérurier (1795-1854), and Clarisse-Elisa Lanchamp (1799-1889), the latter inherited the small Sérurier fortune.
Marshal Sérurier died in 1819. Louise survived him by nine year and died at Versailles on 2 March 1828. She is buried in Pere Lachaise cemetery; originally beside her husband but his remains have since been removed to Les Invalides.
French records state that in 1821, she made a sale of ploughable land in Créteil to Pierre Marthe Lecouteux, farmer. She also gifted a magnificent portrait of her husband to their hometown.
I could find no portrait of Louise.
Madame Soult: Louise (or Jeanne-Louise-Elisabeth) Berg
Louise was born in 1771 and was the daughter of Johann Abraham Berg and his wife Wilhelmine Mumm. She lived with her family in Solingen and met her future husband when he was stationed at her family home.
Soult recalled the circumstances of their meeting: “My brigade was confined to the Solingen mountains and I established my general district in this small town. I was staying at Madame Berg’s. She saw me enter her house with indifference. Three months later, on April 26, 1796, she granted me her daughter’s hand.” At the time of their marriage Louise was 25 and her husband was 27.
Lousie was described by contemporaries as a woman of character who was very much in charge in the home. Boniface de Castellane described her as spirited and amiable with manners that were a contrast to her husbands. She was a good friend of Madame Davout’s and when the latter was plunged into a deep depression following the loss of two children it was Louise whom Marshal Davout suggested his wife invite to stay to keep her company.
In 1804 Louise became Madame La Marechale Soult and was appointed as a Lady of Honour to Letizia Bonaparte, Madame Mere. In 1808 she became the Duchess of Dalmatia when her husband was ennobled by Napoleon.
The couple had three children – Napoleon-Hector in 1802, Hortense in 1804 and then, after a large gap, their youngest daughter Caroline was born and died in 1817. Louise would have been in her late forties at the time of the birth. She spent a good deal of the late 1800s apart from her husband while he fought the peninsular war.
Marshal Soult certainly seems to have held his wife in high regard (not that his stopped him from taking a mistress while in Spain). When he built a magnificent chateau at his birthplace of Saint-Amans, it was not merely named Chateau de Soult, but Chateau de Soult-Berg.
Following Soult’s support of Napoleon at Waterloo, the couple briefly went into exile in Germany but were restored to favour in France by 1820. Louise’s husband then went on to have a successful political career and was appointed Grand Marshal of France. Having amassed an enormous fortune through looting, the couple lived in great comfort. Madame Soult was listed as a subscriber to The Reformed Grammar, Or, Philosophical Test of English Composition in 1847.
Louise’s husband died in November 1851. She survived him only a few months and died in March 1852.
Madame Suchet: Honorine Anthoine de Saint-Joseph
Honorine was born in Marsailles in February 1790. Her father was the Antoine-Ignace Anthone was the mayor. She was a niece of Desirée and Julie Clary and thus, by marriage, also of Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Bernadotte.
The Suchets have perhaps the most bizarre story of marriage of all the marshals. In 1808 the future marshal Suchet was directed by Napoleon to go to Spain; that graveyard of French military reputations. In letters to his brother, Suchet stated that he found military life lonely and longed for someone to share his life with. Rather than actually find and courting a wife, he asked his brother to negotiate arrangements for a marriage for him.
Honorine was 18 at the time and initially thought that the husband her family was suggesting she marry was 45 years old (he was in fact 38). She showed some understandable hesitance on the matter but was persuaded by her mother and Aunt Julie. Suchet was dismayed by her reluctance and so the negotiations were at first a little bumpy.
Eventually though the couple did marry on the 16th of November 1808. The venue was the Luxembourg Palace in Paris, at this time the home of Joseph and Julie Bonaparte, and Honorine’s aunt witnessed the marriage. They spent their honeymoon at Suchet’s home in near Vernon.
Only a few week’s later, Suchet had to leave Honorine in the company of his brother and sister in law and head for Spain. However, contrary to Napoleon’s instructions for his commanders, she joined him in Spain pretty much within a year. Theirs had become a marriage of very strong love and when Honorine had to return to Paris for her confinement in advance of the birth of their first child, Suchet wrote to his brother: “She has embellished my life and made me suffer a sharp sorrow at our momentary separation.” She soon was back at his side and was part of his ‘hearts and minds’ campaign. She was noted as setting the trends and fashions in Valencia.
The couple had three children: Louise-Honorine, Louis-Napoleon and a daughter whose name does not appear to be recorded.
In 1811, Honorine’s husband was elevated to the rank of marshal and then in 1812 was made Duke of Albufera. When he proved loyal to Napoleon during the Hundred Days the Bourbons excluded him from the Chamber of Peers and he was not restored until 1819. Honorine and her husband spent these years living quietly in their chateau near Marseille, always happiest when they were together. Marshal Suchet died in January 1826.
Honorine survived her adored husband by an astonishing 58 years and died in Paris in 1884 at the age of 94. She had been pre-deceased by two of her three children.
Madame Victor: Jeanne-Josephine Muguet and Julie Vosch d’Avesaat
Jeanne-Josphine was born in 1772 and married Claude Victor-Perrin in 1791 at the age of nineteen. Almost no publicly-available information exists on her life and there is no portrait of her.
After their marriage Jeanne-Josephine and her husband lived in Valence where they ran a grocery business before her husband eventually returned to the army. They had four children: Victorine (1792), Charles (1795), Napoléon Victor François (1796), and Napoléon Victor Eugène (1799).
Ultimately it can be supposed that the marriage was not a wholly happy one and the couple were divorced in 1802. After the divorce, Jeanne-Josephine lived in Dijon, then Paris, where she died in 1826.
Likewise it is extremely difficult to find information on the second Madame Victor: Julie Vosch d’Avesaat. She was the daughter of a Dutch Rear Admiral and was born in 1781. She was 22 when she married Victor in the Netherlands a year after his divorce. In 1805, their only child was born: a daughter named Stephanie. She did not accompany her husband to Spain, where he took up with the sister of Marshal Soult’s mistress.
When Victor was awarded his baton and then a dukedom, Julie became Madame La Marechale Victor and then Duchess of Bellune. It appears than in 1811 she set up a maternal charity and the patent was signed by Marie Louise. The only information available on her later life is that she sometimes used the baths at Dieppe and that she always behaved very correctly as a lady of the palace.
Julie died in 1831, her husband survived her by 10 years and died in 1841. I could find no portrait of her.
I hope you’ve found this series interesting!