General Maximilien Sébastien Foy

Maximilien Sébastien Foy
Artillery officer who opposed Napoleon's consolidation of power and distinguished himself in Portugal and Spain

Born: February 3, 1775

Place of Birth: Ham, Somme, France

Died: November 28, 1825

Place of Death: Paris, France

Arc de Triomphe: FOY on the west pillar


The son of a French soldier who served at Fontenoy and an English mother, Maximilien Sébastien Foy began his military career by enrolling in the artillery school of La Fère in 1790. Two years later he was commissioned as a sous-lieutenant and studying at the artillery school of Châlons. Later that year Foy was promoted to lieutenant and he joined the 3rd Foot Artillery in the Army of the North. In March of 1793 he began serving with the 2nd Horse Artillery and then a month later he was promoted to capitaine. At some time Foy became associated with the Girondin party and in June of 1794 he was thrown in prison for making "unpatriotic" remarks. After the coup of 9 Thermidor in July brought about Robespierre's downfall and the end of the Terror, Foy was released.

In June of 1795 Foy was reinstated as a capitaine in the 2nd Horse Artillery in the Army of the Rhine and Moselle. The next year he served at Offenbourg and Kamlach and then in November he defended the head of the bridge of Huningue. 1797 saw Captain Foy wounded in April during the crossing of the Rhine at Diersheim and two months later he was promoted to chef d'escadrons. In 1798 he served in Switzerland under General Schauenburg and then in 1799 he served with the Army of Switzerland under Oudinot. That year Foy fought at Feldkirch and Schaffhouse, received a promotion to chef de brigade, and commanded the artillery of Lorge's division at the Battle of Zürich . In March of 1800 he took command of the 5th Horse Artillery and in April he served as part of Lorge's division. Next Foy served under Lecourbe and he fought at Engen, Messkirch, Biberach, and Altrach in May. After all those battles he became chief of staff to Lorge's division. However, before long he traveled to Italy with General Moncey in June and he became chief of staff to Boudet's division in July. In 1801 Foy was employed with the troops of the Cisalpine Republic.

Due to his republican views, Foy voted against the Consulate for Life in 1802. In 1803 he was tasked with organizing the defense of the coasts of the 16th military division and then commanding the mobile batteries of the camp of Boulogne. The next year Foy became chief of staff of artillery at the camp of Utrecht and he reasserted his republican views, voting against the establishment of the Empire. When the Grande Armée marched to war in 1805, Foy became chief of staff of artillery of II Corps. The next year he commanded the artillery of the corps in Frioul. In 1807 Foy traveled to Turkey with General Sébastiani where he organized the defense of the Dardanelles and was made a Knight of the Order of the Crescent.

After leaving Turkey, Foy traveled to Portugal to join the French army there. In August of 1808 Foy commanded the artillery reserve at Vimeiro and was wounded there. Three months later he received a promotion to général de brigade and then he took command of the 1st Brigade of Heudelet's division in VIII Corps. In January of 1809 his division joined Marshal Soult's II Corps and he served at Corunna . Next Foy fought at Villaza, Ruyvaëns, and Carvalho before being wounded at Braga on March 20th.

A week later General Foy approached Oporto with the hopes of taking the city without a fight. He summoned the archbishop of Oporto to open the gates of the city to the French, but instead he was captured by the Portuguese militia. The militia almost immediately killed him, thinking he was the one-armed General Loison they despised, but Foy held up both his hands to show that he was not Loison.1 Regardless, he was stripped of his clothes and thrown in the dungeon, but two days later he was freed by French troops when they took the city. Continuing to campaign, Foy later fought and won at Arroyo del Puerco and then Cacérès.

In September of 1810 General Foy was made a Baron of the Empire and then he fought at Busaco where he was grievously wounded. Marshal Masséna chose Foy to return to France to deliver to Napoleon the news of the discovery of the Lines of Torres Vedras. Foy returned to France and met with Napoleon at the end of November and after presenting his information Napoleon promoted him to général de division. Foy next returned to Portugal and in May of 1811 he assumed command of the 1st Division of VI Corps. In 1812 he led his division into action at Salamanca and after the loss of the battle he helped to cover the retreat of the army. In the following weeks he served at Villahoz and Burgos and then he took Palencia and Simancas. In May of 1813 Foy seized Castro Urdiales and defended Tolosa. The next month he was wounded at Mondragon and then he returned to France. In July his division became the 1st Division of the Army of the South and he fought at Cubiry. Over the next few months he fought at Irun and won at Maya, and then in December he was repulsed on the Nive before fighting at Saint-Pierre d'Irube. In 1814 Foy served at Orthez where he was wounded by shrapnel to the shoulder blade.

With the restoration of the Bourbons to the French throne, Foy was rewarded as a Knight of Saint Louis and Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor. Despite these rewards and his previous republican views, when Napoleon returned to France from Elba, Foy proclaimed the return of the Empire at Nantes. Napoleon made him a Count of the Empire and gave him command of the 9th Infantry Division. That June he fought at Quatre Bras and then at Waterloo where he participated in the attack on Hougoumont and was wounded by a ball to the shoulder.

After Napoleon's second abdication, Foy was put on non-activity. In 1818 he was reconciled with the Bourbons and reintegrated in the army and in 1819 he entered politics as a liberal deputy of Aisne. Known for his honesty, Foy protested the French intervention in Spain in 1823 and began writing a history of the Peninsular War before dying of heart problems in 1825. He was so well regarded that 100,000 mourners attended his funeral.



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Updated March 2023

© Nathan D. Jensen