My Favorite History: The Marquis de Lafayette

Ever heard of Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier? How about the Marquis? Still no? How about any of the literally dozens of places named either Fayette, Lafayette, or Fayetteville? All of these places are named after one man who is my favorite historical figure. He is the Marquis de Lafayette and he is one of the most important people of the American Revolution. He was also French in case you couldn’t tell by all those names in the first line.

He was born in 1757 in Chavaniac-Lafayette. As you can tell by the name, he was a big deal based on his family name alone. He was from a very long and distinguished lineage in France and to say he was rich would be an understatement. And he was rich. Mainly because his family members kept dying very early on in his life including his father who was killed by British cannon. As you will see, he never quite got over it. But back to how rich he was. I’m not great with conversions, but by the time everyone in his family died and left him an orphan, they also left him a fortune of about 120,000 livres a year. How much is this? Again, conversion is a huge pain, but let’s just say there were not many richer than him maybe even the King included.

Lafayette grew up in the same court that would see the rise of Marie-Antoinette. In fact, she and Lafayette were in the same social circles. What did they think of each other? In today’s parlance, she found him to be a huge loser. He was skinny, awkward, and his manners did not befit a gentleman. He was roundly whispered about in the French court.

It didn’t hurt his marriage prospects all that much. He was engaged to Marie Adrienne Francoise when he was 14 and she was 12. The Marquis and Marie didn’t actually find out they were engaged for two years however. Marie’s mother thought they were too young, so they were slowly and inconspicuously introduced in social settings for two years before getting the news. The whole thing feels so very French, in a good way! Marie would become the most loyal person to the Marquis for the entirety of her life. In many respects, Marie would be one of the most devoted wives I have ever read about. The same could not necessarily be said of the Marquis. We do have to remember that this was France in the 1700s. Taking another lover was part of the scene back then. However, the Marquis certainly did love Marie, and would return the devotion she showed in due time.

As much as Marie loved him, the Marquis had his sights on one passion first and foremost. He always had his sights on winning glory in war. Couple that with his undying hatred of the British for killing his father and his next steps became crystal clear. You see, there was this little revolution that had started across the Atlantic…

(Part II next week)

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My Favorite History: The Marquis de Lafayette
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