Marquis de Lafayette Facts



Published: 06 Jan 2022

marquis de lafayette

The Marquis de Lafayette stands as a hero not just in one country or continent, but in two. During the American Revolution, he fought alongside the patriots and the Founding Fathers to win freedom for the USA. Later on, during the French Revolution, he fought to end the Ancien Regime, and bring freedom and democracy to France. Learn more about this amazing man with these 30 Marquis de Lafayette facts.

  1. Legend claims that one of Lafayette’s ancestors found the Crown of Thorns during the Sixth Crusade.
  2. Lafayette’s ancestor, Gilbert de Lafayette III, once fought alongside Joan of Arc during the Hundred Years War.
  3. Lafayette’s maternal grandfather served as the commander of King Louis XV’s cavalry guards.
  4. His paternal uncle Jacques-Roch died fighting during the War of the Polish Succession.
  5. Lafayette’s father also died in battle, during the Seven Years War.
  1. Lafayette came into the world on September 6, 1757, in France’s Auvergne Province.
  2. Lafayette joined the Musketeers with an officer’s commission in 1771, aged only 13.
  3. He later sailed to America to join the American revolutionaries in 1777.
  4. On arrival, he received the rank of major-general but did not command troops at first.
  5. He later fought with distinction at the Battles of the Brandywine and Rhode Island.
  6. He also fought during the Siege of Yorktown, which ended the war with an American victory.
  7. Lafayette entered politics on his return to France after the American Revolution.
  8. He became a leader during the French Revolution but fled into exile at the start of the Reign of Terror.
  9. He returned to France after Napoleon Bonaparte’s rise to power.
  10. After Napoleon’s fall, Lafayette became a liberal politician until his death.
  1. Lafayette had the birth name of Gilbert du Motier.
  2. He inherited the title of Marquis de Lafayette on his father’s death in 1759.
  3. In the July Revolution of 1830, he rejected an offer from the revolutionaries to become Dictator of France.
  4. Lafayette initially supported Louis-Philippe as King of France after the July Revolution.
  5. After the king adopted dictatorial policies, Lafayette withdrew his support for the monarchy.
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Lafayette married the daughter of the Duke of Noailles.

In 1772, the duke began looking for good matches for his daughters, with Lafayette looking like a good husband for Marie Adrienne Francoise. The duke’s wife, however, disagreed, based on Lafayette and Marie’s ages. Specifically, Lafayette had only reached age 14 at the time, and Marie only 12. That said, she didn’t disagree that they seemed a good match for each other, and made an arrangement with her husband. They kept the engagement secret, while at the same time organized situations to have Lafayette and Marie meet each other regularly in casual settings. This gave them plenty of chances to know each other, and even fall in love. The two of them finally married in 1774 and had four children together, until Marie died in 1804.

He became the Hero of Two Worlds after the American Revolution.

After the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781, Lafayette returned to France as an American envoy to rally more French support for the American cause. Despite America having a republican government, both the French monarchy and nobility had an idealized view of the revolution. This led to Lafayette receiving a hero’s welcome on his return to France, with King Louis XVI knighting him as part of the Order of Saint Louis. Lafayette later participated in peace talks between the USA and Britain, which led to the Treaty of Paris in 1783. He also participated in negotiations for postwar trade agreements between France and the US.

He eventually returned to the US in 1785, where he again received a hero’s welcome. Maryland, in particular, made him and all his children citizens of the state, and which also made them US citizens under the new US Constitution. Lafayette later described this as becoming a US citizen even before he became a French citizen, as the latter only became a reality with the French Revolution.

Battle of Yorktown, American Revolution
Image source: Pxfuel

Lafayette became a member of France’s National Assembly at the start of the French Revolution.

Ironically, he did so as a representative of the French nobility, the so-called Second Estate. King Louis XVI had assembled the Estates-General, France’s pre-revolutionary parliament, in 1789. Normally, the Estates-General voted in groups, and not as individuals. The commoners, or the Third Estate, wanted to change that and received the support of the church, or the First Estate. Most nobles resisted this, but Lafayette supported the commoners’ agenda.

This led the king to close the Estates-General on June 20. However, the delegates instead reorganized themselves as the National Assembly in a nearby tennis court. There, they swore the Tennis Court Oath, vowing not to disband until France had a constitution. Lafayette swore the oath and helped draft the Rights of Man and the Citizen, based on the US Declaration of Independence, on July 11. After the Storming of the Bastille on July 14, Lafayette became the commander of the Paris National Guard under the National Assembly.

He later participated in the royal family’s relocation from Versailles to Paris.

King Louis XVI rejected the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen on October 2. This led to a women’s march from Paris to the Palace of Versailles, to force the king and his family to relocate to Paris and the Tuileries Palace. Lafayette led his men after them, hoping to keep things peaceful. They met a mixed response at Versailles, with the citizens cheering the king, but greeting Queen Marie Antoinette with death threats. In the end, Lafayette treated the queen with courtesy and escorted the royal family peacefully back to Paris.

Lafayette’s fortunes fell after the royal family’s failed attempt to escape.

This took place on June 20, 1791, with the royal family making a run for Austria after the growing radicalization of the French government had turned them into prisoners in their own palace. Although the National Guard caught them at Varennes, the government blamed Lafayette for letting them escape in the first place. Lafayette also grew increasingly opposed to the radicalization of the revolution. In particular, his support for the rule of law became more and more at odds with the mob attitude of the revolution.

This led to an assassination attempt on Lafayette in July, sparking a riot that saw many civilian deaths after Lafayette’s troops fired on the mob. The mob retaliated by attacking Lafayette’s house and threatening his wife. In the end, Lafayette resigned from his command in October.

His family joined him in prison in 1795.

War broke out between France and the countries of Austria and Prussia in April 1792. Lafayette started out with a military command but soon resigned as he realized the French Army’s support for the radical turn in the French Revolution. After he publicly criticized this development in the revolution, Lafayette found himself accused of treason. This led to Lafayette running for Austria in August, with the hope of eventually sailing to the US.

Instead, Prussian troops arrested him, before handing him over to the Austrians who had him imprisoned. With public knowledge of his role in the American and French revolutions, other European royals feared Lafayette would cause more revolutions if he stayed free. However, American diplomatic intervention did manage to get Lafayette comfortable accommodations in prison.

In October 1795, his family managed to escape France and appealed directly to Austrian Emperor Francis II. The Emperor allowed them to join Lafayette in prison, where they stayed together until his release in 1797.

Marquis de Lafayette Facts, Lafayette in Prison
Image source: National Portrait Gallery from Wikipedia

He later also had a mixed relationship with Napoleon Bonaparte.

On one hand, Napoleon and his regime, the Directorate, had secured Lafayette and his family’s release from prison. On the other hand, though, they refused to allow Lafayette to return to France without first swearing allegiance to the new government. Lafayette refused, forcing him to stay in exile in Germany until 1799.

In that year, he returned to France under a false name. This enraged Napoleon who couldn’t punish him without causing public outrage. Instead, Napoleon sidelined Lafayette, who kept a low profile during the Napoleonic Wars.

Surprisingly, Lafayette did not support Louis XVIII after Napoleon’s first defeat in 1814, as Lafayette disagreed with the new restrictions on French democracy. However, after Napoleon’s brief return to power and second fall in 1815, Lafayette became a leading figure demanding his abdication and exile. Lafayette tried to arrange Napoleon’s asylum in the US, but British pressure caused his efforts to fail.

He toured the USA in 1824.

Lafayette arrived in New York in August, and received a welcome from revolutionary veterans. Four days and nights of celebration followed, a trend repeated on Lafayette’s arrival at Boston and Philadelphia. His arrival also inspired a large series of memorial buildings in the US, with him often invited to lay the first stone.

He also originally planned on visiting the original 13 states, but the scale of his welcome led him to visit all 24 states, instead. In Washington D.C., US President, James Monroe, personally welcomed him to the White House. The US Congress also voted to award him $200,000 as thanks for his contributions to the American Revolution. He finally returned to France in September 1825.

Lafayette’s death received varying responses between France and America.

He died in 1834, after a months-long battle with pneumonia, which he caught after having to walk under the rain. After Lafayette’s death, his political enemy, King Louis-Philippe gave him a military funeral, which gave an excuse to bar the public from attending. This caused widespread outrage and protests against the king.

In contrast, US President, Andrew Jackson, held a state funeral for Lafayette comparable to that for a fellow US President. In fact, President Jackson deliberately based Lafayette’s US funeral services on those held for the First President of the USA, George Washington. US Congressmen wore mourning badges for a month and had the Capitol draped in black at that time. Other Americans also made public shows of mourning. Former US President, John Quincy Adams, even gave a 3-hour-long eulogy for Lafayette.

Marquis de Lafayette Facts, Lafayette’s Grave with the US Flag
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Opinions on Lafayette’s legacy also vary between France and America.

Americans idolize Lafayette based on how he gave up his safe and privileged lifestyle in France to fight for freedom in the US. Later on, Lafayette’s early role in the French Revolution became seen in the US as exporting American values of liberty to Europe.

Historians also consider Lafayette’s foreign ancestry as something that contributed to his popularity in the US. In particular, the fact that he didn’t come from any of the original 13 Colonies made him someone all Americans could look up to without favoring any one of the 13 Colonies. His close friendship with George Washington, who actually saw Lafayette as a surrogate son, also contributed to his fame.

In fact, when the US joined WWI in 1917, many Americans saw it as repaying the debt owed to France and Lafayette. In contrast, most Frenchmen see Lafayette’s reputation as exaggerated. Monarchists blame him for helping end the French monarchy. Meanwhile, republicans see him as having only a small role in the events of the French Revolution.