In the German town of Weissenfels, near Leipzig, the Marshal Duke of Istria got hit by a cannonball that ricocheted off a wall.
This day in 1813 marked the death of Napoleon’s Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bessières, whom Bonaparte awarded with the high title of Duke of Istria (Duc d ‘Istria). The title refers to the Croatian peninsula of Istria, which was a part of Napoleon’s French Empire (Empire Français) since 1809.
Bessières received Istria as a Grand Duchy (French: duché grand-fief), which was a quite unusual use of old pre-revolutionary terminology in the era that considered itself “progressive”. Similarly, Marshal Soult received Dalmatia as a Grand Duchy. These duchies were hereditary and ruled by their families. Bessières had a son, Napoleon, who became the second Duke of Istria after his father’s death.
Marshal Bessières served with Napoleon on many fronts, including even the one in the Holy Land (Palestine). On this day in 1813 Bessières was killed in a rather violent manner. Specifically, in the German town of Weissenfels, near Leipzig, the Marshal Duke of Istria got hit by a cannonball that ricocheted off a wall. The cannonball hit him in the chest and killed him instantly.
Napoleon Bonaparte was known for mourning his faithful associates (when Marshal Lannes died on the battlefield, Bonaparte reportedly wept). Napoleon was shaken by Bessières’s death as well, because he was one of his most sincere friends and most capable associates. To repay the killed Bessières, Napoleon took care of his family. Later, after he was defeated at Waterloo, Napoleon supposedly said that he could have been victorious if the late Bessières had been there.