Jean François Jacqueminot, Viscount of Ham 1787-1865; Mentioned in Dispatches

© Jimmy NICOLLE, CC-BY-SA, Wikimedia Commons

Previously Mrs Allen the resident perfume-head noted the rose perfume created by Francois Coty called La Rose Jacqueminot.   For those with no particular interest in perfume, the question arises, who was Jacqueminot, and why did Coty name a perfume after him?

The rose itself is a classic red number, the standby for generations of stage door johnnies and penitent husbands. The fellow it was named after was the very opposite of moonstruck.

He was one of Bonaparte’s boys, a dragoon who saw serious action at Austerlitz, Essling, and Wagram, seven times wounded and frequently mentioned in dispatches, usually next to the word “brave”   He rose quickly through the ranks – Napoleon believed in rewarding excellence – and eventually found himself in the 1812 Russian campaign, where he was charged with commanding the vanguard during that ghastly retreat.  His most notable performance was on the banks of the Berezina.

The story goes that Napoleon wanted a Russian prisoner to interrogate,  and the closest would be found across the river.  The Emperor was reluctant, however,  to risk the lives of  too many of his men.   Jacqueminot piped up with an “Allow me, sire, to at least expose my own,”  and without waiting he rushed into the water, found himself a junior Russian officer, and brought him back to the emperor.

He made it home as most did not and even after Elba,  Jacqueminot  stayed true to the emperor. With the restoration was put in command of the Fifth Lancers under Marshal Ney.  For his bravery at Quatre-Bras,  just prior to Waterloo,  Ney put his name in for Commanders Cross of the Legion d’Honneur.

After Napoleon’s defeat,  he surrendered, but refused to take a post in the army of the restored Bourbons, thinking it a betrayal of the men who had fought under him.   With a magnificent gesture of defiance, he pulled out his sword and broke it over his knee.  Then off to prison for month, for form’s sake if nothing else.

His subsequent life in civvy street began well enough.  He ran a silk factory that employed 6,000 and took especial interest in veterans affairs.   It proved too small a stage, and so to politics, getting himself elected to the House of Deputies in 1827 where he was something of a nationalist, objecting to foreign occupation troops.     In the July Revolution of 1830, he backed the forces of Pajol,  seeking to clear France of the Bourbon Charles X.   Yet more terms as a representative (among other causes, he was staunchly opposed to the death penalty) and four times he was given the office of vice president.

Type casting saw him back in uniform as Chief of Staff of the Paris National Guard, a role that in better times might have been purely ceremonial.  Unfortunately for France,  a bad economy kicked up in the 1840s and rabble rousers like  Jean-Pierre (“Property is theft”) Proudhon were stirring up the excitable.   The government responded by banning political meetings, which resulted in “supper clubs” where politics were discussed, presumably under the influence of wine.   The masses were revolting and in February of 1848, marched on Citizen King Louis Philippe and his chief Minister Francois Pierre Guillaume Guizot.   The Paris Municipal guard was called out with Jacqueminot at their head.

It was one of those do-or-die moments you get from time to time.   In like circumstances, and also in Paris, Napoleon hauled  out the cannons and fired on civilians.  Brutal methods, but they did the trick. Those masses – those who survived – went home and he went on to become emperor.  Napoleon was twenty six at the time.

Jacqueminot was  over  sixty and we can assume not possessed of such burning ambition.   Then too,  he was perhaps sympathetic to the revolutionaries’  plight.   For whatever reason,  he held his men in check.   The masses, emboldened by his hesitation,  began to riot and in proof that no good deed (if was in fact a good deed) goes unpunished,  looted  Jacqueminot’s own house and a good deal of his personal wealth.  (Government bonds, chiefly.  He seems to have been a cash-in-the-mattress sort of fellow.)

In due course Louis abdicated,  the Second Republic was declared,  and political theorists had a field day.

Jacqueminot was retired in April, was restored the following year, but as a practical matter chose to retire from politics for good.  No percentage in it.

So what has this to do with Francois Coty?  That interesting man, a Corsican like Napoleon and admirer of the emperor,  fancied himself a defender of the people (he also made a point of employing war veterans) and a French patriot (in his case manifested through early fascism).   Perhaps he had a dark sense of humor as well.   Let the ladies wear his signature scent and think of roses.  Here as elsewhere, Coty  was hiding politics under a miasma of perfume.

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