The Execution of Marshal Ney is an 1865 history oil on canvas painting by French artist and sculptor Jean-Léon Gérôme in the Academic style.
Marshal Ney was a prominent military leader in France during the Napoleonic era. Born on January 10, 1769, in the French town of Sarrelouis, Ney rose to prominence as one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s most trusted and skilled marshals.
Ney’s military career began in 1787 when he enlisted in the French army. He quickly demonstrated his talents and bravery on the battlefield, earning him rapid promotions. During the French Revolutionary Wars, Ney served with distinction in several campaigns, including the Battle of Jemappes in 1792 and the Battle of Ulm in 1805.
Ney’s true reputation, however, was forged during the Napoleonic Wars. He played a significant role in numerous crucial battles, showcasing his exceptional leadership skills and tactical prowess. One of his most notable achievements came at the Battle of Borodino in 1812, where he commanded the French left wing and displayed immense bravery on the field.
Ney’s most iconic moment came during the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. As Napoleon’s forces faced defeat against the coalition of European powers, Ney led a series of ill-fated cavalry charges known as the “Ney’s cavalry attacks.” Despite his personal bravery and determination, the charges failed to turn the tide of the battle, ultimately leading to France’s defeat. Ney’s actions at Waterloo have often been the subject of debate and criticism, with some attributing them to his fervent loyalty to Napoleon.
After Napoleon’s abdication and exile, Ney initially pledged allegiance to King Louis XVIII, but when Napoleon returned from exile in 1815 for the Hundred Days, Ney rejoined his former leader. However, following Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo, Ney was captured by the royalists and put on trial for treason.
Ney’s trial became a highly contentious and controversial affair. Despite his service and reputation as a military hero, he was found guilty and sentenced to death. On December 7, 1815, Ney faced execution by firing squad in Paris. It is said that before his death, he bravely refused to wear a blindfold and declared, “Soldiers when I give the command to fire, fire straight at my heart. Wait for the order. It will be my last to you. I protest against my condemnation. I have fought a hundred battles for France, and not one against her … Soldiers, fire!”
Marshal Ney’s legacy is one of a skilled and courageous military leader who played a significant role in Napoleon’s campaigns. Despite his ultimate downfall and controversial actions during the Battle of Waterloo, Ney remains an intriguing figure in French history, representing both the loyalty and tragic fate often associated with Napoleonic-era commanders.