Jean Baptiste Jourdan 1762-1833
Jean Baptiste Jourdan 1762-1833

Making Military Conscription Compulsory

Count Jourdan was a French marshal.

Image Above
Jean-Baptiste Jourdan, Lieutenant-Colonel au 2e Bataillon de la Haute-Vienne en 1792

Oil on canvas begun by Julie Volpeliere and finished by Horace Vernet


Jourdan's Contributions to His Country

Administratively speaking, Jourdan's main contribution was his military conscription law of September 5, 1798, also called the Jourdan-Delbrel Law.

In combat, Jourdan won his most important victory on June 26, 1794, at the  Battle of Fleurus, a battle in the War of the First Coalition.


The Early Years

Jourdan was born on April 29, 1762, at Limoges, in the southeast of France.

At the time, France was ruled by King Louis XV.

Today, you can reach Limoges by traveling 4 car hours south from Paris. The city is the capital of the Haute-Vienne département (so called after the Vienne River) and of the Limousin région.

Here is Limoges on a 1762 map:

Map of France 1601-1766: Limoges / Paris
Map of France 1601-1766: Limoges / Paris
Click to enlarge.


Jourdan's father was a surgeon.

From 1778 to 1784 Jourdan was a soldier in the French army.

To recover from illness, he retired from military service, went back to Limoges and became a draper.

Central Europe 1786
1786 Central Europe


The French Revolution

The French Revolution broke out in 1789, and Jourdan was very much for it.

He enlisted with the army again. That same year, he was made captain.

France 1789
1789 France


In October 1791, he was made lieutenant colonel of the 2nd Battalion of Haute-Vienne, a battalion of volunteers (see image at the top of the page).

France 1791
1791 France


The French Revolutionary Wars

France declared war on Austria on April 20, 1792, thus starting the French Revolutionary Wars.

In this war, Jourdan fought in the Battle of Jemappes, located in today's Belgium, on November 6, 1792 — French victory.

He then fought in the Battle of Neerwinden, also located in today's Belgium, on March 18, 1793 — Austrian victory.

Belgium 1792
1792 Belgium


On September 22, 1793, Jourdan succeeded General Jean Nicolas Houchard as commander of the Army of the North. Houchard himself was on his way to the  guilllotine.

Leading his troops together with Lazare Carnot, Jourdan was successful against the Austrians at the Battle of Wattignies, located in northern France, on October 15-16, 1793.

On March 19, 1794, Jourdan was made commander of the Army of the Moselle, succeeding General Lazare Hoche, who was arrested three days later.

In April 1794, Jourdan and his army joined General Charles Pichegru, and his Army of the North and invaded together the Austrian Netherlands (approx. today's Belgium and Luxembourg).

Map of the Austrian Netherlands Around 1792
Map of the Austrian Netherlands Around 1792
Click to enlarge.

On June 3, 1794, Jourdan was made commander of the Army of the Sambre and Meuse. This Army combined

the former left wing of the Army of the Moselle,

the former right wing of the Army of the North,

and the entire Army of the Ardennes.


On June 26, 1794, Jourdan won the important Battle of Fleurus, which is located just north of Charleroi, or one car hour south of Brussels.

As a result of Jourdan's victory, the Austrians retreated and left Belgium to the French.

Eastern France 1792
1792-1795 Eastern France


From 1795-1796, Jourdan engaged in less successful campaigns east of the Rhine River.

On September 3, 1796, the Austrians defeated Jourdan and his men at the Battle of Würzburg, located one car hour southeast from Frankfurt, after which he quit the army and returned to Limoges.


Jourdan and Politics

In March 1797, Jourdan's home département Haute-Vienne, elected him deputy to the  Conseil des Cinq-Cents.

This Council of Five Hundred proposed laws that, in turn, were approved or vetoed by the Council of Ancients (Conseil des Anciens).


The Jourdan-Delbrel Law

The Jourdan-Delbrel Law of September 5, 1798, named after the two men who proposed this law, Jean Baptiste Jourdan and Pierre Delbrel, was a conscription law for military service.

Previously depending on volunteers, the country now changed its approach.

Tout Français est soldat et se doit à la défense de sa patrie.

Every Frenchman is a soldier,
and the defense of his country is his duty.


:: Background

At the beginning of the French Revolutionary Wars, France recruited soldiers by calling on volunteers. Very soon, there were not enough volunteers.

On August 23, 1793, a levée en masse, a mass conscription, was decreed, drafting all bachelors and widowers without children who were aged 18 to 25 at that time. This mobilized more than 800,000 men.

Check this event in the timeline of the French Revolutionary Wars.

But this mass conscription was not renewed.

When the War of the First Coalition was officially over on October 17, 1797, France had only around 365,000 soldiers, while danger persisted.

On January 12, 1798, Jourdan proposed a permanent law for compulsory military service, that would draft all men age 18 to 24, or in peace times age 21 to 24. Military service would last 4 to 6 years.

Pierre Delbrel, deputy of the Tarn-et-Garonne département, made some amendments, and on September 5, 1798, the Jourdan-Delbrel Law was accepted:

All French men aged 20 to 25 must be registered with the recruitment board of the army.

In times of peace, military service lasts 5 years, married men are exempt, and not all men that are registered might be called upon.

To fight insubordination and desertion, all men 20 to 25 must carry a passport in which their military situation is stated.


This law didn't mention the duration of service during times of war.

As was the case with the levée en masse in 1793, the mandatory conscription introduced by the Jourdan-Delbrel Law gave cause to uprisings in western France, and revived counterrevolutionary insurrections.

Back to the life of Jean Baptiste Jourdan.


General of the Empire: Jourdan
General of the Empire: Jourdan
Château de Versailles


The French Revolutionary Wars Continue

The War of the Second Coalition begun on November 29, 1798.

Central Europe 1797
1797 Central Europe

Jourdan rejoined the army. He suffered defeat against the Austrians at the Battle of Stokach at Liptingen near Lake Constance, on March 25, 1799.

On November 9-10, 1799, the Coup of 18-19 Brumaire replaced the  Directory with Napoleon's Consulate.

Jourdan was against this coup, but eventually rallied to Napoleon Bonaparte, who, in 1804, made Jourdan and 17 other fellows maréchal d'Empire.


Maréchal de France

A maréchal de France, or Marshal of France, is the highest honored military officer of the State. It is not a rank, it is a dignity.

The words marshal and maréchal derive from the Frankish Latin mariscaluis, which in turn puts together mare (horse) and scaluis (servant). Thus, the original meaning of the word marshal was that of a stable officer, horse groom, horse servant, or horse tender.

The first known maréchal de france appears in the 12th century. His name was Henri I Clément, chosen as such by Philippe Auguste in 1185 (this was Philip II, who reigned 1179-1223).

Some sources say that Clement was the second marshal, appointed as such in 1190, and that the first one was Pierre, marshal from 1185-1190. Take your pick.

Originally only awarded to one officer at a time, the maréchal was only second to the connétable, or constable.

Under Saint Louis ( Louis IX), who ruled France from 1226-1270, two maréchaux de france served at the same time.

In 1627, under Louis XIII, who was King of France from 1610-1643, the connétable, or constable, was abolished, making the maréchal the most honored person in the army.

The number of marshals increased to 20 under Louis XIV, who reigned 1643-1715.

France had around 15 marshals at the end of the ancien régime.

In 1793, the Convention abolished the maréchal de France.

In 1804, Napoleon brought them back as maréchaux d'Empire, or marshals of the Empire.


The Marshals of the Empire

On May 19, 1804, Napoleon awarded 18 outstanding military officers for their outstanding services.

Four of them, Kellermann, Lefebvre, Perignon, and Serurier, were awarded honorary, because they were retired officers and now senators.

Here are all 18 men listed alphabetically:

Pierre Augereau (1757-1816)

Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte, aka Charles XIV of Sweden (1763-1844)

Louis Alexandre Berthier (1753-1815)

Jean-Baptiste Bessières (1768-1813)

Guillaume Brune (1763-1815)

Louis Nicolas Davout (1770-1823)

Jean-Baptiste Jourdan (1762-1833)

François Christophe Kellermann (1735-1820)

Jean Lannes (1769-1809)

François Joseph Lefebvre (1755-1820)

André Masséna (1758-1817)

Bon Adrien Jeannot de Moncey (1754-1842)

Adolphe Édouard Casimir Joseph Mortier (1768-1835)

Joachim Murat (1767-1815)

Michel Ney (1769-1815)

Catherine Dominique de Pérignon (1754-1818)

Jean Philibert Sérurier (1742-1819)

Nicolas Jean de Dieu Soult (1769-1851)

After 1804, Napoleon decorated a few more officers by making them marshals.


What Tops a Marshal?

Exceptionally, a king elevated a marshal above all other marshals. This was the case in 1733, when King Louis XV made Claude Louis Hector de Villars maréchal général de France.

Similarly, in 1847, King Louis-Philippe made Nicolas Jean de Dieu Soult, who had been made marshal by Napoleon, maréchal général de France.


French Marshals from 1850 Until Today

Napoleon III, who ruled France 1850-1870, awarded this honor to 19 officers, among them:

Achille Bazaine (1811-1888)

Jérôme Bonaparte (1784-1860)
Jerome was the youngest brother of Napoleon I Bonaparte and the uncle of Napoleon III

François-Certain Canrobert (1809-1895)

Edmond Lebœuf (1809-1888)

Marie Edme Patrice Maurice de Mac-Mahon (1808-1893)

Adolphe Niel (1802-1869)

Aimable-Jean-Jacques Pélissier (1794-1864)


After the debacle of the Franco-Prussian War, it took a while for the French military to become popular again.

The dignity of maréchal de France was awarded again in 1916. General Joseph Jacques Césaire Joffre, commander in chief of the French armies in World War I, received this elevation on his day of retirement.

After Joffre, the following generals were made marshals:

In 1918, General Ferdinand Foch (1851-1929), commander in chief of the Allied armies in World War I

In 1918, General Philippe Pétain (1856-1951), commander in chief of the French Armies in World War I

In 1921, Louis Hubert Gonzalve Lyautey (1854-1934)

In 1921, Joseph Simon Gallieni (1849-1916), posthumously

In 1921, Marie Émile Fayolle (1852-1928)

In 1921, Louis Félix François Franchet d'Esperey (1856-1942)

In 1923, Joseph Maunoury (1847-1923), posthumously


And after the Second World War:

In 1952, Alphonse Pierre Juin (1888-1967)

In 1952, Jean de Lattre de Tassigny (1889-1952), posthumously

In 1952, Jacques Philippe Leclerc (1902-1947), posthumously

In 1984, Marie Pierre Koenig (1898-1970), posthumously



The official insignia of the maréchal de France are the bâton de maréchal, covered with velvet and adorned with lilies, bees, or stars, as was the case with General Ferdinand Foch's marshal's baton, see below.

General Foch's Baton, Given to Him in 1918
General Foch's Baton, Awarded in 1918
Musée de l'Armée, Paris

The inscription on the baton reads, Terror belli, decus pacis, in other words, Terror in war, honor in peace.

Today, the dignity of marshal can only be granted to a general who has been victorious during times of war.

The French marshal has 7 silver stars.



Jourdan 1804-1829

Although now a marshal, Jourdan did receive no commissions of significance.

In 1806, Jourdan followed Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon's elder brother, to Naples. Joseph became King of Naples, Jourdan was made Governor of Naples.

In 1808, he went with Joseph Bonaparte to Spain, where Joseph was made King of Spain. That very year the Peninsular War broke out.

Peninsular War
1808-1814 Peninsular War


Spain & Portugal 1808 - 1814
1808 - 1814 Spain & Portugal

Taking part in this war, on June 21, 1813, Jourdan fought alongside Joseph Bonaparte in the Battle of Vitoria (Vittoria), which was a disaster for France. And not only for France in general, but also for Jourdan personally, who was dismissed from command because of his failure to control his troops at that very battle.

Jourdan swallowed hard and, in 1814, switched loyalties from Napoleon to  Louis XVIII.

Louis, in turn, much appreciated it. He made Jourdan a count in 1816 and a peer in 1819.


Jourdan 1830-1833

After the July Revolution of 1830, Louis Philippe appointed Jourdan for a short period ministre des Affaires etrangeres, or foreign minister.

On August 11, 1830, Jourdan was appointed gouverneur des Invalides, a position he kept until his death.

Jourdan died at Paris on November 23, 1833.


See also Governments of France.


Jean-Baptiste, count Jourdan
Jean-Baptiste, count Jourdan
Château de Versailles




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Napoleon About Jourdan

Here is a triple quote for you:

In 1851, Charles Mullié, University of Lille, quoted in his book Biographie des célébrités militaires des armées de terre et de mer de 1789 à 1850, vol.2, page 99, the historian Emmanuel de Las Cases, who sat down with Napoleon while on St. Helena, and published his 18-months-long interview entitled Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène in 1823.

Apparently, this is what Napoleon had to say about Jourdan:

En voilà un, en parlant de Jourdan, que j'ai fort maltraité assurément. Rien de plus naturel sans doute que de penser qu'il eût dû m'en vouloir beaucoup.

Eh bien! j'ai appris avec un vrai plaisir, qu'après ma chute, il est demeuré constamment bien : Il a montré là cette élévation d'âme qui honore et classe les gens.

Du reste, c'est un vrai patriote : c'est une réponse à bien des choses.

In other words:

I certainly used that man very ill. It is likely that he was very furious at me.

I have learned with pleasure that since my fall he invariably acted in the best manner. He has thus afforded an example of that praiseworthy elevation of mind which distinguishes men one from another.

Other than that, he is a true patriot : and that is the answer to many things that have been said of him.











































































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