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'I am obliged to be very severe with these men.  For if I became too familiar with them, they would soon share in my power and wealth. They do not like me, but they fear me, and that is enough' - Napoleon

Napoleon knew his Marshals well and understood that though they were each unique, and some had rather noticeable shortcomings in terms of personal integrity, they were nonetheless some of the most talented and courageous battlefield commanders the world had ever seen, certainly the best of their day. With few exceptions they were men of humble origins, living testaments to the wisdom of the military meritocracy that Napoleon perfected during the First Empire.

Napoleon wasn't interested in what a man's social rank at the time of his birth was, only in what he could do. And on battlefields all over Europe his hard-charging Marshals did plenty. Today, the names of several of the Emperor's warlords are household names and their battles the topics of study in prominent Military Academies all over the world.

While most of the Marshals owed their noble titles to the Emperor, who named and elevated each of them according to their battlefield achievements, their relentless courage and ability to lead men ever forward by example was something special which when combined with the physical presence of the Emperor himself, whose simple little bicorn hat the Duke of Wellington once had said was worth 50,000 men on the field of battle, made the Grand Army all but invincible in combat.

There was Michel Ney, Napoleon's 'bravest of the brave'. His heroic command of the Rearguard at the Berezina during the retreat from Russia earned him the title of Prince of the Moskowa, to add to his earlier reward, the title of Duke of Elchingen. No fewer than five horses were shot out from underneath him at Waterloo, in that famously futile effort to regain a lost Empire. His execution at the hands of a Royalist firing squad, with St. Cyr's approval, was an ultimate injustice to a legendary warrior who had done so much for the glory of his people, and a slap in the face of the honor of France.

There was Nicolas Davout, the Duke of Auerstadt and Prince of Eckmuhl. A masterful commander never beaten in battle, he is considered by many military historians as a tactician equal to Napoleon himself. His brilliant victory over a Prussian Army more than twice the size of his own at Auerstadt, fought on the same day as Napoleon's victory at Jena just 12 miles away, is legendary among the students of military tactics as a stunning example of the 'double envelopment' of enemy forces which has so rarely been achieved in military history.

There was Joachim Murat, the King of Naples and Prince of Panache! Napoleon's brother-in-law, he was probably the most fashionably dressed man in the entire French Army. While Napoleon denigrated his tactical skills, he never questioned Murat's courage and determination to take any battlefield objective assigned to him. He was the most feared and respected cavalry leader of his time.

Between 1804 and 1815, Napoleon awarded a total of 26 Marshals Batons, each of them earned in some special way by these seasoned combat leaders who were so critical to Napoleon's 'Grand Design for Europe' and who played such critical roles in the story of the rise and fall of the First Empire.