Lafayette (1757-1834) was a French officer who played a key role in the American war of independence and the French revolution.
Lafayette by Joseph Court (1792)
Lafayette early life
Lafayette was born on September 6th, 1757 in Auvergne, in a family of famous aristocrats. He became an orphan at 13 and was then educated by his grandmother. He studied in the renowned highschool "College Louis Le Grand" in Paris.
Lafayette was from the Nobility and could then belong to the court and work for the king. However, he refused this prestigious career and joined the army in 1771.
Lafayette and the American War of Independence
Found of enlighted ideas, he traveled secretly to America in 1777 to help the independentists. He became a general in the army and a close friend to Georges Washington. As a great leader, he won some strategic battles, notably in Yorktown, that eventually led to the declaration of independance in 1783.
Lafayette's return to France and role in the French revolution
Back to France, he became a hero, welcomed by Louis XVI in Versailles and congratulated on his military victory. Robespierre was admired all over the country for his ideas on freedom and equality.
Lafayette participated in the meeting of the Estates General and joined the National Assembly when the negociations failed. He worked on the Declaration of the rights of man and of the citizen which was adopted on August 26th, 1789 by the National Constituent Assembly. He was named commander in chief of the National Guard, the military hand of the newly created Assembly. Lafayette used the blue, white and red cockade as their symbol. On October 5th, 1789 an angry mob stormed Versailles and Lafayette avoided a massacre by taking the royal family to the Tuileries. But in this very difficult time, Lafayette was in a tough position. Being an aristocrat, he wanted to support the ideas of the revolution without harming the royal family. With the Varennes escape, the royal family fail attempt to flee the country, Lafayette gradually lost the support of the revolutionaries and was even called a "traitor" by Robespierre. On July 17th, 1791 the Champ de Mars massacre fastened Lafayette's decline as Marat held him responsible for the killings. The attacks against the royal family and their supporters became even more violent as a mob stormed the Tuileries on August 10th, 1792. The king was captured and suspended and a National Convention was formed with Robespierre and Danton as charismatic leaders. Lafayette refused to serve this convention and what declared a traitor on August 19th, 1792.
He had to flee France to avoid being executed by the most radical revolutionaries. After 5 years of escape in Austria, he came back to his hometown in 1815. He became a parlementarian and tried in vain to access the presidency of France in 1820. Lafayette died on May 20th, 1834.