Lafayette: French Hero, American Treasure...
You know P'Niche is obsessed with history and can even imagine that Lafayette would have been a dear friend. Here in our own USA, there are just so many places named in his honor and it's not hard to understand why. Let's jump into our trusty Time Travel Machine and take a P'Niche peek to get to know our guy a little bit more on what would have been his 266th birthday...
P'Niche Time Travel Machine time - beep, beep!
Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de La Fayette, Marquis de La Fayette, was born into French nobility on September 06, 1757 at the Château Chavaniac-Lafayette in the Haute Loire region of France.
Joking about his long moniker, he noted, "I was baptized a Spaniard, with the name of every conceivable saint who might offer me protection on the battlefield."
I mean, spoiler alert, his skill on the battlefield is legendary. And if you ever have the chance to go see his birthplace, you'll note that the French and American flags fly at the same level. It's more than a little humbling and touching to behold.
OK, back to Lafayette's childhood. We're in 1770. Our hero, Laffy, is aged 13 and enrolled into the King's Musketeers. He was ranked as a Junior Commissioned Officer.
You'll be as excited as I was to learn that Laffy actually served alongside legendary musketeers like Charles de Batz de Castelmore d’Artagnan - the real-life historical basis for Alexandre Dumas’s character d’Artagnan in the novel The Three Musketeers, which we covered in our book club. (I might have shrieked a little learning this fact.) How cool!
Gosh, I love researching for P'Niche! If you, too, enjoy fun facts like this, make sure to subscribe to join us back here for the good stuff...
Fast forward to April 11, 1774 when Lafayette (now 16) married the stunning Marchioness Marie-Adrienne-Françoise de Noailles (known simply as Adrienne), who was 14 at the time.
Their marriage was both a financial and love match - the latter being rather uncommon for the times.
Adrienne's royal ties often placed them at Versailles and the court of Louis XVI. In fact, our 6'2" tall and charmingly awkward Laffy did dance the quadrille with Queen Marie Antoinette. He even stepped on her foot mid-dance! Teasing ensued...
No worries, Lafayette was bound for Metz, near the border of Germany, for more military training, leaving his wife behind in Paris.
Why so much military training?
So glad you asked, P'Nicher!
In fact, Lafayette's family can be traced back to the 1200's, and military men, the lot of them. In fact, one relative, Gilbert de Lafayette III, a Marshal of France, had been a companion-at-arms of Joan of Arc's army during the Siege of Orléans! That's some military street cred right there.
In Metz, Lafayette was introduced to King George III's brother, the Duc of Gloucester, by the Governor of Metz (le Duc de Brogile). With the Duc's hatred of his brother the English King, of course, conversation turned to the uprising in the colonies, namely the Boston Tea Party.
And so, with the encouragement of King George III's brother and his own ideas of enlightenment, paired with a dash of wanting to prove himself, Lafayette commissioned the ship Hermione to go fight along the American rebels in 1777.
Let me reiterate here, the noble (literally and figuratively) Lafayette commissioned and paid for this ship out of his own pocket. Merci, bestie!
Of course, much has been written about Lafayette and his contributions to our freedom, by people much more educated and qualified than your P'Niche.
Suffice it to say, he was dearly beloved by Washington and so many others, but truly viewed of as a son by Washington. The love was reciprocated. In fact, Lafayette named his only son after George Washington! Upon the USA's hard fought freedom win, it was time for Lafayette to return to France...
Now, France was at the start of her very own Revolution.
Fresh from American victories, and deeply inspired by the ideology of our American Revolution, Laffy took influence from Thomas Jefferson as he helped write the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
This document is critical to the French democracy. It was formally adopted on August 27, 1789, and remains vital to France's present day constitution.
In fact, Lafayette was also the creator of the newly designed French flag, le Tricolore as well as what has come to be known as the National Guard (yes, just like the USA!)
Now, after the French Revolution, (we'll write more on that soon) Lafayette actually ran into a bit of trouble as Robespierre (leader of The Terror, yuck) launched a smear campaign against our Lafayette. He declared that Lafayette himself wanted to seize power and lead, much like his buddy, George Washington.
As such, they placed a warrant out for him on grounds of treason. And not just any warrant, a warrant on his head!
And so Laffy and family fled. P'Niche can imagine his thoughts were "Eff this noise, Terror Committee, we're heading to Holland to catch a boat to safety in America ... Vive la Liberté!"
Sadly, Lafayette was captured by the Austrians and placed into jail. Really Austria?! Boo! Each year, the Austrians moved Laffy's imprisonment location to keep people (who might try to break him out) guessing and frustrated.
Finally, his wife, Adrienne, went to Austria to plead to the emperor, stating, "If you don't want to free my husband, then you should imprison me with him, and our daughters also." Luckily, their son, Georges, was sent to America to escape, but for the ladies? Wilkommen to Austria.
Finally, in 1797, the Austrians opened up his jail cell...
(Not the actual conversation):
Jail Guy: Hey Laffy and family - war's over. Austria lost, so uh, hit the road?
Laffy: Wait a Frenching minute. C'est moi - General Lafayette! I do demand to know which general defeated you.
Jail Guy: Uhm, well, some new guy, (checks notes), Napoléon Bonaparte.
It seems Napoléon grew up on the legacy of Lafayette and demanded his release.
Send Bonaparte a quiche basket!
While France did undergo much (much) more strife, revolution, and change, let's fast forward in the P'Niche Time Travel Machine to the year 1824. Lafayette is returning to the USA, this time as an honored guest, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our independence.
It was decided and planned that Lafayette should have the chance to visit all of the 24 (at that time) American states.
He had many visits and official social tasks, like laying the cornerstones to various new monuments, etc. planned for his much celebrated and anticipated visit.
On August 16, 1824, over 3 million visitors (that's 25% of the population of the time!) raced to greet him.
Music, parades, and brightly colored banners of "Welcome Friend of America" were waved in his great honor.
Passing at the age of 76, on May 20, 1834, Lafayette was laid to rest beside his beloved Adrienne in Paris' Picpus Cemetery.
His son, Georges Washington Lafayette, covered the grave with soil taken from Bunker Hill in 1825, so that his father could be buried in both French and American soils as was desired (and fitting).
I learned from Parisology (more on him in a sec) that even during the Two World Wars, the grave was not touched or desecrated, such was the lasting respect and reverence for our Lafayette.
In fact, Lafayette's legacy was used to gain support and momentum for entry into The Great War (World War I).
General John J Pershing and his aide, Colonel Charles E. Stanton visited the grave of Lafayette, with the latter stating, "Here and now, in the presence of the illustrious dead, we pledge our hearts and our honor in carrying this war to a successful issue. Lafayette, we are here!”
Lafayette’s name was also invoked for the creation of The Lafayette Fund, which was started by Americans in 1914, to supply comfort kits to French soldiers.
Moving forward to 2002, we have arrived at a most touching honor.
As a special thank you for his services to America, Lafayette was granted honorary citizenship to the Unites States of America. He was even granted a posthumous US passport.
This is such an honor that only 8 honorary US citizens exist. Other such citizens are: Sir Winston Churchill, Mother Theresa, Raoul Wallenberg, Casimir Pulaski, Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, and William and Hannah Callowhill Penn.
Well done, all!
Parking our time machine in present day... In our own country, you don't have to search far to find an image of or tribute to Lafayette - even his portrait hangs in the US Congress Chamber of Representatives.
That's to say nothing of Lafayette Street, downtown NYC - P'Niche's hometown.
Where is the closest Lafayette tribute to where you live? You can check out the full list here to find yours!
Of course, Parisian Niche found her Parisian legs as a book club, and we will definitely be reading this gem: Hero of Two Worlds by Mike Duncan (originally published in 2021) in our 2024 book club selections.
We are more than 50 books deep and all are welcome. Come read with us!
Still yearning to learn more about Lafayette and lucky enough to be headed to Paris?
P'Niche recommends a tour (my fave was "American Forefathers in Paris") with Thierry from (non-sponsored) Parisology.
French native and local Thierry Collegia is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about history. It's even in his blood - his Corsican born (hey, just like Napoléon!) grandfather, was a war Veteran and Knight of the Legion of Honor.
Thierry boasts three accreditations from the Tourism Academy in partnership with Paris Airports, and in 2020 he received the Best Walking Tour Company in France Award from CorporateLiveWire.com.
And these honors speak nothing to how wonderfully Thierry delivers his knowledge and excitement. Wit and sharp humor are your companions on your walks and adventures with Thierry. Hey, over 2,000 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ reviews can’t be wrong!
Ready to book? Check out his schedule and get ready for an amazing Parisian experience!
What do you say, P'Nicher - have you been "enlightened" with a bit more insight into our hero, Lafayette, and eager to learn more? Let us know in the comments below et â bientôt!