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Marshal General
Jean-de-Dieu Soult, Duke of Dalmatia
12th Prime Minister of France

In office
11 October 1832 – 18 July 1834
Monarch Louis Philippe I
Preceded by Casimir Pierre Perier
Succeeded by Comte Gérard
19th Prime Minister of France

In office
12 May 1839 – 1 March 1840
Monarch Louis Philippe I
Preceded by Louis-Mathieu Molé
Succeeded by Adolphe Thiers
21st Prime Minister of France

In office
29 October 1840 – 19 September 1847
Monarch Louis Philippe I
Preceded by Adolphe Thiers
Succeeded by François Guizot
Personal details
Born (1769-03-29)29 March 1769
Died 26 November 1851(1851-11-26) (aged 82)
Political party None

Marshal General Jean-de-Dieu Soult,[1][2] 1st Duke of Dalmatia (French: [ʒɑ̃dədjø sult]; 29 March 1769 – 26 November 1851), the Hand of Iron,[3] was a French general and statesman, named Marshal of the Empire in 1804 and often called Marshal Soult. He was one of only six officers in French history to receive the distinction of Marshal General of France. The Duke also served three times as President of the Council of Ministers, or Prime Minister of France.

Early life

Soult was born at Saint-Arnans-la-Bastide (now called Saint-Amans-Soult, near Castres, in the Tarn departement), the son of a country notary named Jean Soult (1726–1779) by his marriage to Brigitte de Grenier. His paternal grandparents were Jean Soult (1698–1772) and Jeanne de Calvet, while his maternal grandparents were Pierre François de Grenier de Lapierre and Marie de Robert.

Military career

Soult was well-educated and was intended to become a lawyer, but his father's death when he was still a boy made it necessary for him to seek his fortune, and in 1785 he enlisted as a private in the French infantry.

The Revolutionary Wars

Soult's superior education ensured his promotion to the rank of sergeant after six years' service, and in July 1791 he became instructor to the first battalion of volunteers of the Bas-Rhin. He was serving in this battalion in 1792. By 1794, he was adjutant-general (with the rank of chef de brigade). After the Battle of Fleurus of 1794, in which he distinguished himself for coolness, he was promoted to brigadier general by the representatives on mission.

For the next five years Soult was constantly employed in Germany under Jourdan, Moreau, Kléber and Lefebvre, and in 1799 he was promoted general of division and ordered to proceed to Switzerland. It was at this time that he laid the foundations of his military fame, and he particularly distinguished himself in Masséna's great Swiss campaign, and especially at the Second Battle of Zurich. He accompanied Masséna to Genoa, and acted as his principal lieutenant throughout the protracted siege of that city, during which he operated with a detached force without the walls, and after many successful actions he was wounded and taken prisoner at Monte Cretto on 13 April 1800.


Marshal of the Empire

Soult at the First Battle of Porto

The victory of Marengo restored his freedom, and Soult received the command of the southern part of the kingdom of Naples, and in 1802 he was appointed one of the four generals commanding the consular guard. Though he was one of those generals who had served under Moreau, and who therefore, as a rule, disliked and despised Napoléon Bonaparte, Soult had the wisdom to show his devotion to the ruling power; in consequence he was in August 1803 appointed to the command-in-chief of the camp of Boulogne, and in May 1804 he was made one of the first marshals of the Empire. He commanded a corps in the advance on Ulm, and at Austerlitz he led the decisive attack on the allied centre.

A corps commander during the campaigns of 1805–1807, Soult is best known for the prominent part he played in the Peninsular War in Spain and Portugal.

Soult played a great part in many of the famous battles of the Grande Armée, including the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805 and the Battle of Jena in 1806. However, he missed the Battle of Friedland because on that day he forced his way into Königsberg. After the conclusion of the Peace of Tilsit, he returned to France and in 1808 was created by Napoléon first Duke of Dalmatia (French: Duc de Dalmatie). The award of this honour greatly displeased him, for he felt that his title should have been Duke of Austerlitz, a title which Napoléon had reserved for himself. In the following year, Soult was appointed to the command of the II Corps of the army with which Napoléon intended to conquer Spain. After winning the Battle of Gamonal, Soult was detailed by the Emperor to pursue Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore's British army. At the Battle of Corunna, at which the British general was killed, the Duke of Dalmatia was defeated and the British escaped by sea.

The Peninsular War

For the next four years the Duke remained in Spain, and his military history is that of the Peninsular War. In 1809, he invaded Portugal and took Oporto, but was isolated by General Silveira's strategy of contention. Busying himself with the political settlement of his conquests in the French interests and, as he hoped, for his own ultimate benefit as a possible candidate for the Portuguese throne, he attracted the hatred of Republican officers in his Army. Unable to move, he was eventually driven from Portugal in the Second Battle of Porto by Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Wellesley (later created Duke of Wellington), making a painful and almost disastrous retreat over the mountains, pursued by Beresford and Silveira. After the Battle of Talavera (1809) he was made chief-of-staff of the French troops in Spain with extended powers, and on 19 November 1809, won a great victory at the Battle of Ocana.

In 1810 he invaded Andalusia, which he speedily reduced. However, because he turned aside to seize Seville, the capture of Cádiz eluded him. He said, "Give me Seville and I will answer for Cádiz."[4] This led to the prolonged and futile Siege of Cadiz, a strategic disaster for the French. In 1811 he marched north into Extremadura and took Badajoz. When the Anglo-Portuguese army laid siege to the city he marched to its rescue, and fought and nearly won the famous and very bloody Battle of Albuera on 16 May.

The Duke of Dalmatia in later life

In 1812, after General The 1st Earl of Wellington's great victory of Salamanca, he was obliged to evacuate Andalusia. In the subsequent Siege of Burgos campaign, Soult was able to drive Wellington's Anglo-Allied army back to Salamanca. There, the Duke of Dalmatia, as Soult was now known, failed to attack Lord Wellington (later created Duke of Wellington) despite a 80,000 to 65,000 superiority of numbers, and the British army retired to the Portuguese frontier.[5] Soon after, he was recalled from Spain at the request of Joseph Bonaparte (who had been installed by his brother as King Joseph I of Spain) with whom, as with the other marshals, he had always disagreed.

In Germany And Defending Southern France

In March 1813 Soult assumed the command of IV Corps of the Grande Armée and commanded the centre at Lützen and Bautzen, but he was soon sent, with unlimited powers, to the South of France to repair the damage done by the great defeat of Vitoria. It is to Soult's credit that he was able to reorganise the demoralised French forces with a rapidity that even took Wellington by surprise.

His last offensives into Spain were turned back by Wellington in the Battle of the Pyrenees (Sorauren) and by Freire's Spaniards at San Marcial. Pursued onto French soil, Soult was maneuvered out of several positions at Nivelle, Nive, and Orthez, before dealing Wellington a final bloody nose at the Battle of Toulouse.

Political career

Caricature of the Duke of Dalmatia by Honoré Daumier, 1832.

The political career of Marshal Soult was by no means as creditable, and it has been said of him that he had character only in the face of the enemy. After the first abdication of Napoléon (1814), he declared himself a Royalist, received the Order of St. Louis, and acted as minister of war from 3 December 1814 to 11 March 1815. When Napoléon returned from Elba, Soult at once declared himself a Bonapartist, was made a peer of France and acted as major-general (chief of staff) to the Emperor in the Waterloo campaign, in which role he distinguished himself far less than he had done as commander of an over-matched army.

At the Second Restoration (1815) he was exiled, but not for long, for in 1819 he was recalled and in 1820 again made a Marshal of France. He once more tried to show himself a fervent Royalist and was made a peer in 1827. After the revolution of 1830 he made out that he was a partisan of Louis Philippe, who welcomed his support and revived for him the title of Marshal General of France, previously held only by Turenne, Claude Louis Hector de Villars and Maurice de Saxe.

Soult served as Minister of War from 1830 to 1834, as President of the Council of Ministers (or Prime Minister) from 1832 to 1834, as ambassador extraordinary to London for the Coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838 – where Field Marshal The 1st Duke of Wellington reputedly caught him by the arm and exclaimed 'I have you at last!' -, again as Prime Minister from 1839 to 1840 and 1840 to 1847, and again as minister of war from 1840 to 1844. In 1848, when Louis Philippe was overthrown, the aged Marshal General the Duke of Dalmatia again declared himself a republican. He died at his castle of Soult-Berg, near his birthplace.

Private life

On 26 April 1796 Soult married Jeanne Louise Elisabeth Berg, the daughter of Jean Berg by his marriage to Wilhelmine Mumm. She died at the Château de Soult-Berg on 22 March 1852. Although the couple had children, their male line died out with their son Napoleon Hector (1801–1857).


Soult published a memoir justifying his adherence to Napoleon during the Hundred Days, and his notes and journals were arranged by his son Napoleon Hector, who published the first part (Mémoires du maréchal-général Soult) in 1854. Le Noble's Mémoires sur les operations des Français en Galicie are supposed to have been written from Soult's papers.

Military Capability

Although often found wanting tactically – even some of his own aides questioned his inability to amend a plan to take into account altered circumstances on the battlefield – his performance in the closing months of the Peninsular War is the finest proof of his talents as a general. Though repeatedly defeated in these campaigns by the Allies under Wellington, many of his soldiers were raw conscripts, while the Allies could count greater numbers of veterans among their ranks. Soult was a skillful military strategist. An example was his drive to cut off Wellington's British army from Portugal after Talavera, which nearly succeeded. Though repeatedly defeated by Wellington in 1813–1814, he conducted a clever defence against him.

Soult's armies were usually well maintained before going into battle. After Vitoria, he reorganized the demoralized French forces of Joseph Bonaparte into a formidable army in a remarkably short time. An exception to this good logistical record was launching the Battle of the Pyrenees offensive when his soldiers only had four days rations.

Tactically, the Duke of Dalmatia planned his battles well, but often left too much to his subordinates. Wellington said that the Duc "never seems to me to know how to handle troops after the battle had begun". An example is at the Battle of Albuera, where he brilliantly turned Beresford's flank to open the battle. But when he found himself facing unexpected opposition from Spanish and British troops, the Duc of Dalmatia allowed his generals to adopt a clumsy attack formation, failed to act decisively and was finally beaten.[6] Another example of his strengths and weaknesses can be seen at the Battle of the Nive. Dalmatia recognized Wellington's strategic dilemma and took advantage by launching surprise attacks on both wings of the Anglo-Allied army. But French tactical execution was poor and the British general managed to fend off the Duke of Dalmatia's blows. Sloppy staff work marred his tenure as Napoléon's chief-of-staff in the Waterloo campaign.

Soult allowed his personal ambitions to distract him from his military duty. Greed and ambition caused him to pass up a golden opportunity to take Cádiz. While occupying northern Portugal, his intrigues earned him the nickname, "King Nicolas." Later, he set himself up as a virtual viceroy of Andalusia, looting 1.5 million francs worth of art.[7] One historian called him "a plunderer in the world class."[8]

Personal life

He married in 1796 Louise Berg (1771–1852) and had three children:

  • Napoléon (1802–1857), 2nd Duke of Dalmatia, who died without male heir, at which time the title became extinct.
  • Hortense (1804–1862)
  • Caroline (1817)


  1. Although many sources give Soult's first name as Nicolas, that does not appear on his birth certificate: "Le prénom de Soult n'est PAS Nicolas", from Soult, Maréchal d'Empire et homme d'État by Nicole Gotteri (édition de la Manufacture). See page 20: "Il est donc parfaitement clair que le Maréchal Soult se prénommait Jean de Dieu. L'indu ajout de "Nicolas" n'est que le résultat des calomnies déclenchées à la suite de la campagne du Portugal [...]". Kaga- (d) 29 December 2011 at 13:26 (CET)
  2. R. Hayman, Soult — Napoleon's Maligned Marshal (London: 1990), opposite p. 96
  3. Adversaries
  4. Glover, p. 118.
  5. Glover, p. 218.
  6. Chandler-Griffith, p. 468.
  7. Chandler-Griffith, p. 469.
  8. Glover, p. 39.
  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911) Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.) Cambridge University Press  That article, in turn, references:
    • A. Salle, Vie politique du maréchal Soult (Paris, 1834)
    • A. de Grozelier, Le Maréchal Soult (Castres, 1851)
    • A. Combes, Histoire anecdotique du maréchal Soult (Castres, 1869).


  • Glover, Michael. The Peninsular War 1807–1814. London: Penguin, 2001. ISBN 0-14-139041-7
  • Chandler, David (ed.). Griffith, Paddy. Napoleon's Marshals, "Soult: King Nicolas." New York: Macmillan, 1987. ISBN 0-02-905930-5

Further reading

  • Bukhari, Emir: Napoleon's Marshals. Osprey Publishing, 1979, ISBN 0-85045-305-4.
  • Chandler, David: Napoleon's Marshals. Macmillan Pub Co, 1987, ISBN 0-02-905930-5.
  • Connelly, Owen: Blundering to Glory: Napoleon's Military Campaigns. SR Books, 1999, ISBN 0-8420-2780-7.
  • Elting, John R.: Swords Around a Throne: Napoleon's Grande Armée. Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1997, ISBN 0-02-909501-8
  • Gotteri, Nicole: Soult: Maréchal d'Empire et homme d'État. Besançon: La Manufacture, 1991. ISBN 978-2-7377-0285-3
  • Hayman, Peter: Soult: Napoleon's Maligned Marshall. Sterling Pub, 1990, ISBN 0-85368-931-8.
  • Haythornthwaite, Philip: Napoleon's Commanders (2): c.1809–15. Osprey Publishing, 2002, ISBN 1-84176-345-4
  • Humble, Richard: Napoleon's Peninsular marshals: A reassessment. Taplinger Pub., 1975, 0800854659
  • Linck, Tony: Napoleon's Generals. Combined Publishing, 1994, ISBN 0-9626655-8-4
  • Macdonell, A. G.: Napoleon and His Marshals. Prion, 1997, ISBN 1-85375-222-3

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Casimir Pierre Perier
Prime Minister of France
11 October 1832 – 18 July 1834
Succeeded by
Comte Gérard
Preceded by
Comte Molé
Prime Minister of France
12 May 1839 – 1 March 1840
Succeeded by
Adolphe Thiers
Preceded by
Adolphe Thiers
Prime Minister of France
29 October 1840 – 19 September 1847
Succeeded by
François Guizot
Preceded by
Pierre-Antoine, comte Dupont de l'Étang
French minister of War
3 December 1814 – 11 March 1815
Succeeded by
Henri Clarke, Duke of Feltre
Preceded by
Étienne Maurice Gérard
French minister of War
17 November 1830 – 18 July 1834
Succeeded by
Étienne Maurice Gérard
Preceded by
Amédée Louis Despans-Cubières
French minister of War
29 October 1840 – 10 November 1845
Succeeded by
Alexandre Pierre Chevalier Moline de Saint-Yon

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