There were women in history who fought in battle as men did. Like Nakano Takeko, in this previous blog post. Fearless, moved by a sacred fire, they always were on the front lines. This time we travel to France, to meet a bold, free spirit. ...
There were women in history who fought in battle as men did. Like Nakano Takeko, in this previous blog post. Fearless, moved by a sacred fire, they always were on the front lines. This time we travel to France, to meet a bold, free spirit.
Today we’ll tell you about Marie the Unconstrained, one of the most famous female soldiers of all times, thanks to the entertaining biography we had left, “Madame sans Gêne”, published in 1842.
Introduction: A small village around Orléans – 1842
The Sun shines through the milky windows of the Inn, bathing the taproom in bright light and illuminating the scene that unfolds before our eyes. An old lady and a man sit at one of the tables, the woman talking and the man scribbling away on a piece of paper.
«Did you write word for word, what I just told you?» Marie-Thérèse Figueur asks the man she is dictating her memoirs to. «Of course, Madame,» he replies, «please continue».
A soldier’s life
«So, I was wounded for the first time in my maiden battle as a cavalry trooper in Colonel Pinon’s Légion des Allobroges at the Siege of Toulon, where I met Napoleon for the first time, by the way. He was an artillery officer back then.
I already got my nickname le petit Sans-Gêne, the small « one » uncostrained, in that unit.
I guess my adventurous character and my androgyne features were the reason for it. And an adventurous career I definetly had.
After the siege of Tuolon, my unit was reorganised and I became a dragoon in the 15e régiment de dragons.
I learned the real soldiering there, horsemanship, formation manouvers and weapon training. And it paid off.
You know, in the campaign of 93-94 I saved General Noguè’s life, who was grievously wounded, got two horses shot from under me and nearly was made corporal.
At the time, I was only 19 years old. I didn’t know what destiny had in store for me yet, but this is how it began.»
First marriage and turbulent times
«In 1796 I married my first husband, who was a cavalryman with the 8th hussars. I joined them as well, but garrison duty was not made for me.
So when my husband transferred, I stayed with the 8th and participated in the invasion of Switzerland. My life was clearly on the battlefields. I frankly don’t know, there has always been a fire inside of me. I then transferred back to the 15th and finally to the 9th regiment of dragoons and that was when the real fun began!
But the Battle of Genola in ’99 changed everything. When I was wounded by four sabre cuts, I got captured but finally could escape.
Unfortunately the sabre wounds affected my future service. But when I got honourably discharged in 1800, I received twice the pension of a basic soldier, thanks to the recommendation of the great generals Augereau and Lannes. I had friends where it mattered!»
«In 1802 I decided to re-enlist after the effects of my wounds had ebbed away.
I got a good position and even got invited by Napoleon, who got ahead as first consul…to dinner! Can you imagine?
I was even an attendant of Josephine, his first wife. But that was not for me, if you are a little smart you got that I can’t stand boredom and calm.
And so, I joined the Paris garrison. In 1805, I was even proposed for the Napoleonic army’s gallantry medal, the Légion d’honneur!
Then I served even more, in the infantry, in Spain, in many places, later as cantinière but got captured eventually… again. Now you can think that I learned nothing. The truth is I always learned everything from war and adventure. I wasn’t like the other “dames”. I was unique, fierce. And I still am!
Finally, in 1814 I got a place in the prestigious regiment of chasseurs à cheval, formerly Napoleon’s personal escort, but I didn’t follow them to Waterloo. Didn’t have to see that.»
« After Waterloo, I opened a Table d’hôte restaurant in partnership with a remarkable woman, madame Jeanne Garnerin, a renowned balloonist and pioneer parachutist. We were uncostrained, free to choose our own way, thanks to our determination, strength and willingness. I regret nothing, I wanted it all. I also married again, this time with the man I loved.
And now I sit here telling you about my life. What more could I want? Will is power. Will is to be unconstrained.»
The man, baffled by that life story, finishes writing the last words and replies: «Few people live to tell such a story. Madame Sans Gêne, ma chère Marie, your story will be known all over the world and will sell a lot of copies! »
Marie-Thérèse Figueur died January 16, 1861 in Paris, one day before her 87th birthday.
Her biography, though revised, was a worldwide success, mainly thanks to the comedy by Victorien Sardou and Émile Moreau debuting in 1893 which gave the spark for the opera buffa by Umberto Giordani and seven films!
If you want to read her complete memoires follow this link HERE
And if you enjoyed the story about Marie the Unconstrained, you might want to check out our LadyFencers series, where we handpick the most incredible women in history – from noble-hearted ladies to downright nutjobs – who left funny or epic stories behind, for better or worse!
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