François Christophe de Kellermann

A Military Hero and Political Opportunist


François Christophe de Kellermann (28 May 1735 - 23 September 1820) was a French General, military hero, Marshal of France, and political survivor. His career spanned the tumultuous era of the Ancien Regime (the old monarchy), the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Empire, and beyond.

Kellerman descended from a noble German family living in the French owned territory of Strasbourg. He entered military service under the old monarchy of Louis XVI, and quickly rose through the ranks during the Seven Years War, where he attained the rank of Brigadier General.

When the French Revolution broke out, he sided with the rebels and held important commands fighting against the internal and external enemies of the Revolution. He was twice charged with misconduct and dereliction of his duties, and imprisoned, but he was both times acquitted and escaped the guillotine with his head intact. It was during the wars between France and her naighbours which followed the Revolution, that Kellerman earned lasting fame with his victory over the Prussians at the battle of Valmy. Napoleon himself later commented that he would not have had the courage to try the same tactics as Kellerman had done at the battle.

When the French Republic gave way to the Empire under Napoleon, Kellerman once again picked the winning side, and supported the Emperor. He was by then too old to take an active role in fighting at the front, but he was nevertheless given important assignments in charge of logistics and administration for the army, as well as training new recruits and commanding reserve troops.

In recognition of his career achievements, and especially because of the reverence which his victory at Valmy had earned him, Napoleon made Kellerman a Marshal of the French Empire. He also has the rare honour (restricted to only 600 other generals) of having his name inscribed on the columns of the iconic Arche de Triomphe in Paris.

When the tides of fortune turned yet again, Kellerman voted to depose the Emperor Napoleon in 1814, sending him to temporary exile on the island of Elba. After Napoleon's unsuccessful attempt to regain his thrown ended with the disastrous defeat at Waterloo, Kellerman sided with the restored monarchy (whom he had helped depose during the Revolution) and was made a Peer by the newly installed French king who replaced Napoleon. He then continued a political career.

Great Military Commanders of the Napoleonic Wars