Friday, April 30, 2010

Étienne Jacques Joseph Alexandre Macdonald, Maréchal d'Empire, Duc de Tarente.

At Howbeg on South Uist today there was a ceremony to mark the unveiling of a plaque to the memory of one of Napoleon Bonaparte's most distinguished generals: Marshall MacDonald.

(I am obliged to Uist Lady for the picture).

 The Maréchal's father Neil MacEachen was born on South Uist. A studious young man, MacEachan went off to the Scots College in Paris to study for the priesthood. He returned to find the 1745 Rising in full swing. It seems that he fought at Culloden; what is certain is that he was on that boat which carried 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' over the sea to Skye. MacEachen then stayed with the prince as escort/servant, until they eventually reached France and he had to make his own way in an unfamiliar world. Probably because no one could pronounce his name, he changed it to MacDonald and he joined a community of exiled and impoverished Jacobites at Sancerre. Later the family came along.

Little could poor Neil, whose wife took in washing and did cleaning jobs, have imagined what would happen 34 years later. In 1799: the new French Republic's wars against Britain, Russia and the Austrian Empire were not going well. A faction decided to mount a coup d'état and they needed a general to head it. According to author Jean Didier Hache who has written a book on MacDonald, the first choice general died in Italy, the second choice refused and the third choice was

MacDonald refused. Napoleon Bonaparte willingly accepted!

In 1825 MacDonald returned to Uist to see his father's birthplace, but having no Gaelic and very little English, the visit did not forge much in the way of ties with the island. He did however return with some good Scottish earth which was buried with him on his death fifteen years later.

We often boast of enlightened18th century  Scots who were world leaders in science, medecine, philosophy. It would have been quite nice to have had an Emperor too!

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