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Auction: 24001 - Orders, Decorations and Medals
Lot: 380

The fascinating Royal and Military Order of St. Louis, attributed to General de Brigade Jean-Pierre Piat, a staunch Bonapartist and Baron of the Empire who was wounded on numerous occasions during his military career, including at the Battle of Ligny on 16 June 1815, and who had a long and eventful life

France, Kingdom, Royal and Military Order of St. Louis, Knight's breast Badge, 42 x 36mm, gold and enamel, ball finials, unmarked, on its original red silk riband with bow rosette and contained within its brown leather and gilt presentation case, and accompanied with its original parchment bestowal document on vellum, completed in full where relevant, dated 27 November 1814 and signed 'Louis', some slight enamel damage, good very fine

Jean-Pierre Piat was born in Paris on 6 June 1774 and entered the French army as a Second-Lieutenant on 10 January 1792 with the 56th Regiment of Infantry. Fighting with the Northern Army over the next year, he was wounded in the hand at the Battle of Neerwinden (18 March 1793) and promoted to Lieutenant shortly afterwards. Subsequently seeing further active service in Italy (where he was promoted Captain) and in Napoleon's Egypt Campaign (where he was thrice wounded, including to the face at the Siege of Cairo) he was one of the fortunate few to make it home to France and was shortly afterward promoted to Major and appointed a 'Legionnaire' the newly-instituted Legion d'honneur.

Serving with the Grande Armee from 1807, on 15 December 1808 he was promoted 'Officer' of the Legion d'honneur and promoted to Colonel of the 85th Infantry Regiment in April 1809; he also performed so well at the Battle of Wagram in the same year that, coming to the personal attention of Napoleon himself, he was made a Baron of the Empire. Participating in the ill-fated Russian Campaign and fortunate to survive, Piat fought in Saxony during 1813 as the Allied nations advanced on all fronts towards France; he was promoted to Brigadier-General on 2 April of that year, and was in Italy at the time of Napoleon's first abdication.

Considering his career up until this point - and indeed his later career too - it seems somewhat odd that he was awarded a Royalist honour; however, this may well have been some attempt to keep Piat 'on side' with the new ruler of France. But, despite being bestowed with the Military Order of St. Louis on 27 November 1814, as soon as Napoleon escaped Elba and returned to France, Piat was one of those loyal Bonapartists who rallied to their Emperor once again. Rewarded with command of a Brigade of infantry in General Girard's division, he is noted as having his horse killed from under him (and being badly wounded himself) at the Battle of Ligny on 16 June 1815, when Napoleon's army defeated (but, crucially, did not destroy) the Prussian army commanded by Field Marshal Blucher. Girard's division did not participate in the Battle of Waterloo two days' later, being part of the force assigned (and failing) to prevent the Prussians from combining with Wellington's allied army.

Following Napoleon’s final abdication, Piat was again placed on inactive service; by now a very much known Bonapartist, he was under close surveillance by the Bourbon regime. In March 1823, Piat was arrested (along with two companions) on his way from Bayonne to Bordeaux on suspicion of being the ringleader of a plot to subvert French soldiers on the Spanish frontier. He was released and no further action was taken against him. In April 1824 he retired from the army after an impressive 32 years' service.

In August 1825, the police reported that Piat lived in Champigny-sur-Marne and often received old Bonapartist comrades, including General Bertrand Clausel, Colonel Jean-Marie Varlet, and Captain Barthélemy Bacheville. Piat was said to be recruiting for the Spanish liberals and the police believed that he retired to the country to avoid surveillance, and noted that he often came to Paris incognito.

The July Revolution of 1830 marked a change in Piat’s fortunes; in March 1831 he was taken out of retirement and given command of the subdivisions in the department of Var and on 16 November 1832 was appointed Commander of the Legion d'honneur. The following year he moved to another supervisory post in the department of Hautes-Alpes. In 1837 Piat retired again, likely due to his age, but the active old soldier was not yet ready for a quiet life and the Revolution of 1848 gave the 74-year-old Piat yet another chance to serve the Bonapartes: '[T]he partisans of the empire, the friends of Louis Napoleon, those of his family, and some old followers of the emperor, grouped themselves around General Piat. This devoted adherent, at the first news of the abdication [of Louis-Philippe], had run to the Hotel de Ville to defend the rights of the imperial family; but instead of making himself heard, he had been almost torn to pieces by the furious republicans, who dreaded the influence which the great name still possessed over the popular mind.' (Life of Napoleon III, Boston, 1856, p. 333 refers).
Piat was one of the organisers of the 'Society of December 10', which advanced the cause of Louis-Napoleon, who was elected president of the Republic of France on 10 December 1848. Piat helped to found newspapers, including 'Le Napoléonien', designed to spread Louis-Napoleon’s ideas and increase his popularity. In 1850 he was made a 'Grand Officer' of the Legion d'honneur and Louis-Napoleon (who became Napoleon III) rewarded Piat by making him a senator in March 1852; he served in the Senate until his death on 12 April 1862, at the age of 87 and is buried in the cemetery of Saint-Maurice in Paris.

Sold together with a file of copied research and a copy of the booklet: 'Some Aspects of the Order of St. Louis and its Insignia' (Robert J. Sadlek, 1983).

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