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Foy, Maximilien Sebastien

FOY, MAXIMILIEN SEBASTIEN (1775-1825), French general and statesman, was born at Ham in Picardy on the 3rd of February 1775. He was the son of an old soldier who had fought at Fontenoy and had become post-master of the town in which he lived. His father died in 1780, and his early instruction was given by his mother, a woman of English origin and of superior ability. He continued his education at the college of Soissons, and thence passed at the age of fifteen to the artillery school of La Fère. After eighteen months' successful study he entered the army, served his first campaign in Flanders (1791-92), and was present at the battle of Jemmapes. He soon attained the rank of captain, and served successively under Dampierre, Jourdan, Pichegru and Houchard. In 1794, in consequence of having spoken freely against the violence of the extreme party at Paris, he was imprisoned by order of the commissioner of the Convention, Joseph Lebon, at Cambray, but regained his liberty soon after the fall of Robespierre. He served under Moreau in the campaigns of 1796 and 1797, distinguishing himself in many engagements. The leisure which the treaty of Campo Formio gave him he devoted to the study of public law and modern history, attending the lectures of Christoph Wilhelm von Koch (1737-1813), the famous professor of public law at Strassburg. He was recommended by Desaix to the notice of General Bonaparte, but declined to serve on the staff of the Egyptian expedition. In the campaign of Switzerland (1798) he distinguished himself afresh, though he served only with the greatest reluctance against a people which possessed republican institutions. In Masséna's brilliant campaign of 1799 Foy won the rank of chef de brigade. In the following year he served under Moncey in the Marengo campaign and afterwards in Tirol.

Foy's republican principles caused him to oppose the gradual rise of Napoleon to the supreme power and at the time of Moreau's trial he escaped arrest only by joining the army in Holland. Foy voted against the establishment of the empire, but the only penalty for his independence was a long delay before attaining the rank of general. In 1806 he married a daughter of General Baraguay d'Hilliers. In the following year he was sent to Constantinople, and there took part in the defence of the Dardanelles against the English fleet. He was next sent to Portugal, and thenceforward he served in the Peninsular War from first to last. Under Junot he won at last his rank of general of brigade, under Soult he held a command in the pursuit of Sir John Moore's army, and under Masséna he fought in the third invasion of Portugal (1810). Masséna reposed the greatest confidence in Foy, and employed him after Busaco in a mission to the emperor. Napoleon now made Foy's acquaintance for the first time, and was so far impressed with his merits as to make him a general of division at once. The part played by General Foy at the battle of Salamanca won him new laurels, but above all he distinguished himself when the disaster of Vittoria had broken the spirit of the army. Foy rose to the occasion; his resistance in the Pyrenees was steady and successful, and only a wound (at first thought mortal) which he received at Orthez prevented him from keeping the field to the last. At the first restoration of the Bourbons he received the grand cross of the Legion of Honour and a command, and on the return of Napoleon from Elba he declined to join him until the king had fled from the country. He held a divisional command in the Waterloo campaign, and at Waterloo was again severely wounded at the head of his division (see Waterloo Campaign). After the second restoration he returned to civil life, devoting his energies for a time to his projected history of the Peninsular War, and in 1819 was elected to the chamber of deputies. For this position his experience and his studies had especially fitted him, and by his first speech he gained a commanding place in the chamber, which he never lost, his clear, manly eloquence being always employed on the side of the liberal principles of 1789. In 1823 he made a powerful protest against French intervention in Spain, and after the dissolution of 1824 he was re-elected for three constituencies. He died at Paris on the 28th of November 1825, and his funeral was attended, it is said, by 100,000 persons. His early death was regarded by all as a national calamity. His family was provided for by a general subscription.

The Histoire de la guerre de la Péninsula sous Napoléon was published from his notes in 1827, and a collection of his speeches (with memoir by Tissot) appeared in 1826 soon after his death. See Cuisin, Vie militaire, politique, etc., du général Foy; Vidal, Vie militaire et politique du général Foy.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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