What You Didn’t Know About the Marquis de Lafayette

Marquis de LafayetteEarlier this week, bestselling author Sarah Vowell released the book “Lafayette in the Somewhat United States”, which tells the story of French aristocrat Marquis de Lafayette and his role in the American Revolution.  As a teenager, he left France to fight for the American cause, and earned a place in the history books as one of early America’s great heroes.  I recently came across an article that features some facts about the Marquis de Lafayette you might not have known, listed below:

1. He had a very long birth name: As was quite common for aristocrats at this time, Lafayette’s full name was quite a mouthful: Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier de la Fayette.  In his autobiography, Lafayette joked that he was baptized “with the name of every conceivable saint who might offer me more protection in battle”.

2. King George’s brother convinced Lafayette to fight the British: In 1775, Lafayette attended a dinner party where the Duke of Gloucester, younger brother of George III of England, was the guest of honor.  Angry at his older brother for condemning his recent choice of a bride, Gloucester hit back at his brother’s policies in the colonies, praising the exploits of liberty-loving Americans across the ocean.  This struck a chord with Lafayette, who immediately went to Paris so he could travel from there to America.

3. Lafayette arrived in America at the age of 19 and with no combat experience: Despite the fact that King Louis XVI had forbade Lafayette from going to America for fear of provoking the British King, the young Marquis eluded authorities and crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1777.  Even though he was from a military family and had been commissioned a French officer since he was 13, Lafayette had no battle experience and spoke little English.  Yet he was still able to convince the Continental Army to commission him a major general in July of 1777.

4. He was shot in the leg during his first battle: During the Battle of Brandywine in September of 1777, Lafayette was shot in the calf.  Refusing treatment, he managed to organize a successful retreat, and was given command over his own division after a two-month recuperation.

5. Lafayette named his only son after George Washington: Lafayette held George Washington in incredibly high esteem as both a “friend and a father”, remaining by his side from the harsh winter at Valley Forge in 1777 to the battle of Yorktown in 1781.  In 1779, he named his newly-born son Georges Washington de Lafayette, and three years later named his youngest daughter Marie Antoinette Virginie in honor of Virginia and the French queen.

American Foxhound

American foxhound

6. Lafayette helped create a new breed of dog: In 1785, Lafayette sent Washington seven large French hounds as a gift.  To increase the size of a pack of English foxhounds he owned, Washington bred them with the imports.  The combination of these hounds and Lafayette’s dogs created the American Foxhound, described by the American Kennel Club as “easy-going, sweet-tempered, independent”.

7. LaFayette co-authored the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen: Inspired by the ideals of the American Revolution, Lafayette, with the help of Thomas Jefferson, wrote one of history’s most important documents about human and civil rights.  The National Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen in August of 1789, and is still enshrined in France’s constitution to this day.

8. Lafayette is an honorary American citizen: In 1784, Maryland gave Lafayette honorary citizenship, and other states followed suit.  Yet in 1935, the US State Department determined that the measures did not result in the marquis becoming a US citizen after the Constitution was ratified.  This was remedied in 2002 after Lafayette became the sixth foreigner to be given honorary American citizenship.

Old Marquis de Lafayette

A painting of Lafayette from 1825, when he was just a couple years shy of 70.

9. He was still a revolutionary leader at the age of 72: After King Charles X dissolved the National Assembly and suspended the free press in 1830, Lafayette rushed to the aid of the revolutionaries that erected barricades in the streets of Paris, a scene immortalized in the novel and musical “Les Miserables”.  After the king was forced to abdicate, Lafayette turned down the opportunity to rule as a dictator, instead backing Louis-Philippe on the throne as a constitutional monarch.  Yet after being disappointed by a lack of reforms, Lafayette was up in arms again, leading the liberal opposition to the ruler in his last years.

10. Lafayette was buried in both French and American soil: After dying at the age of 76 in 1834, Lafayette was laid to rest next to his wife in the Picpus Cemetery in Paris.  Since he had requested to be buried in both American and French soil, Lafayette’s son covered his coffin with dirt taken from Bunker Hill in 1825.