Article

Jacques Antoine Hippolyte, Comte de Guibert

Jonathan Abel

in Military History

ISBN: 9780199791279
Published online April 2014 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0037
Jacques Antoine Hippolyte, Comte de Guibert

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Jacques-Antoine-Hippolyte, comte de Guibert, was born in 1740, the son of an officer in the French army, Charles-Benoît Guibert. (He occasionally published under the name François-Appoline, possibly due to a birth certificate mix-up). He followed his father into the army and served as a junior officer in the French service during the Seven Years’ War, and he saw service in the battles of Minden, Vellinghausen, and the crushing defeat at Rossbach. The last inspired in Guibert a lifelong desire to reform the French army. During the late 1760s, he wrote a primer for his reforms. The Essai générale de tactique was first published in 1772, appearing in multiple editions and languages across Europe by 1775. The Essai générale de tactique called for wholesale reform of the French army, centralizing its command structure and removing many aspects of noble privilege. Guibert advocated a hybrid system of linear and fire tactics, combining traditional French and Prussian elements, in a system he called l’ordre mixte (mixed order). This created a systemic doctrine for the French army, the first in its history. The preface to the Essai générale de tactique offered a stinging rebuke of the Byzantine bureaucracy and noble-dominated French state, indicating his interest in politics in addition to military theory. Guibert’s first work propelled him to prominence in French society and government. He attended the leading salons in Paris, composed poetry and theatrical works, and continued his advocacy for military reform. In late 1775, he joined the ministry of Claude-Louis, comte de Saint-Germain, to implement his reform program. For the next eighteen months, the two enacted many of Guibert’s reforms. However, reactionaries within the government forced both from power in 1777 and reversed much of their work. He returned to the Ministry of War in 1787 and remained in office long enough to see the establishment of his doctrinal system in the Provisional Regulations of 1787 and 1788. Guibert died in 1790 after having stood unsuccessfully for the Estates-General. His legacy proves complex and vital to the late Enlightenment. He was a pivotal figure in the society of the period: Marie Antoinette commissioned performances of his plays, he carried on a relationship with leading salonnière Julie de Lespinase, and he won appointment to the French Academy in 1785. His military theory and reforms reshaped the French army. The Provisional Regulations became the Regulations of 1791, which remained in force until the 1830s. They provided the tactical and organizational foundation on which the armies of the French Revolution and Napoleon built their victories. Contemporary authors identified Guibert’s influence during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Military and French staff historians expanded on this analysis in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Later historians examined his social and political writings, beginning the process of elevating Guibert to his proper place as one of the most influential figures of the late Old Regime.

Article.  6548 words. 

Subjects: Military History ; Pre-20th Century Warfare ; First World War ; Second World War ; Post-WW2 Military History

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