In This Article Jacques Antoine Hippolyte, Comte de Guibert

  • Introduction
  • Biographies
  • General Histories
  • The Conduct of War
  • Military Writings
  • Political and Literary Writings
  • Social Climate and Activity
  • Contemporaneous Sources

Military History Jacques Antoine Hippolyte, Comte de Guibert
by
Jonathan Abel
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 March 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0037

Introduction

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 and Vellinghausen and the crushing defeat at Rossbach. The last battle inspired in Guibert a lifelong desire to reform the French army. During the late 1760s, he wrote a primer for his reforms. The Essai général de tactique was first published in 1772, appearing in multiple editions and languages across Europe by 1775 (see Guibert 1773, cited under Military Writings). The Essai général 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 général 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 Lespinasse, 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.

Biographies

Biographies of Guibert remain limited in number and largely confined to the French language. Abel 2016 is the first English-language treatment of Guibert’s life and career. Lauerma 1989 provides the earliest book-length treatment of the subject, and Groffier 2005 is the most recent in French. Toulongeon 1803 is the earliest such source, serving as an introduction to the subject’s career contained in a collection of his works. Charnay 1981 collects the proceedings of a conference held on Guibert in the late 1970s, and it offers a variety of studies on the subject.

  • Abel, Jonathan. Guibert: Father of Napoleon’s Grande Armée. Campaigns and Commanders 57. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2016.

    E-mail Citation »

    Biography detailing Guibert’s life and career within the larger historiography presented in the other works in this section. To date, the only full-length biography of Guibert in English.

  • Charnay, Jean-Paul, ed. Guibert ou le soldat philosophe. Paris: Château de Vincennes, 1981.

    E-mail Citation »

    Invaluable collection of essays on Guibert’s career and influence, drawn from the proceedings of a conference held on Guibert in the 1970s. Covers a range of topics from military to social, political, and literary.

  • Groffier, Ethel. Le stratège des lumières: Le comte de Guibert, 1743–1790. Paris: Éditions Champion, 2005.

    E-mail Citation »

    Groffier’s work provides the newest monographic treatment of Guibert’s life and career. She seeks to rehabilitate Guibert’s rather tarnished image as a writer. Also provides the most current bibliography on the subject.

  • Lauerma, Matti. Jacques-Antoine-Hippolyte de Guibert, 1743–1790. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1989.

    E-mail Citation »

    Written during Lauerma’s academic career in the mid-20th century and published after his death in 1983. It provides an excellent introduction to Guibert’s career and influence, particularly in the realm of the military.

  • Toulongeon, François-Emmanuel. “Notice historique de Jacques-Antoine-Hippolyte Guibert, écrit en 1790.” In Journal d’un voyage en Allemagne. By Jacques Antoine Hippolyte de Guibert, 1–85. Paris: Chez Treuttel et Würtz, 1803.

    E-mail Citation »

    The first printed biographical treatment of Guibert. Toulongeon edited a collection of Guibert’s papers and here offers the biographical data by way of introduction, chiefly gleaned from his service record; serves as the basis for modern biographies.

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