Antiqua Print Gallery Marshal Bazaine's escape from Île Sainte-Marguerite
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Marshal Bazaine's escape from Île Sainte-Marguerite

François Achille Bazaine (13 February 1811 - 23 September 1888) was a French General and from 1864, a Marshal of France, "who suffered the fate of Generals who win every battle except the last". He was the first Marshal who had started as a legionnaire and like the great Marshals of the First Empire, he had risen from the ranks. During four decades of distinguished service (including 35 years on campaign) under Louis-Philippe and then Napoleon III, he held every rank in the Army from Fusilier to Marshal of France. He became renowned for his determination to lead from the front, for his impassive bearing under fire and for personal bravery verging on the foolhardy (resulting in him being wounded on numerous occasions and having his horse shot from under him twice). He was sentenced to death by the vengeful Government of the Third Republic, for his surrender of the fortress city of Metz and his army of 180,000 men to the Prussians on 27 October 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War. This sentence was commuted to 20 years imprisonment in exile, from which he subsequently escaped. He eventually settled in Spain where aged 77, he died alone and impoverished in 1888. To the Foreign Legion he remains a hero and to this day is honoured as one of their bravest soldiers.

Imprisonment and escape

MacMahon, who was a fellow Foreign Legion Officer and had served in many campaigns alongside Bazaine, was visibly disgusted when he received the news of the Court's decision and was incensed by their attempt to pass responsibility to him. The government wanted to banish Bazaine for life; MacMahon first proposed life imprisonment, though he softened and commuted the punishment of death to twenty years' imprisonment and remitted the disgrace of the formalities of a military degradation. Bazaine wrote to thank his fellow legionnaire, though he added, tongue in cheek, that he might have let his feelings run away with him. It was an academic concession for a man nearing sixty-three. Bazaine was incarcerated on the Île Sainte-Marguerite and treated rather as an exile than as a convict. During the night of 10 August 1874, using parcel rope supplied by Angelo Hayter, (son of the Court Painter Sir George Hayter) and baggage straps which he knotted in to a rope, the 63-year-old Marshal attached one end to his body and tied the other end to a gargoyle and climbed down the 300 foot cliffs to a boat which his wife had brough out from Cannes. They sailed to Genoa Italy, and from there Bazaine came to London with his young family where he stayed for a time with his Hayter relations.

Île Sainte-Marguerite

The Île Sainte-Marguerite is the largest of the Lérins Islands, about half a mile off shore from the French Riviera town of Cannes. The island is approximately 3km in length (East to West) and 900m across.

The island is most famous for its fortress prison (the Fort Royal), in which the so-called Man in the Iron Mask was held in the 17th century.

(Source Wikipedia)