RA 1815. Oil on canvas. 270.5 x 179 cm. Windsor Castle, Royal Collection, UK. Read Note.
Field-Marshal Gebhardt von Blucher (1742-1819), nicknamed “Marschall Vorwarts” (German for “Marshal Forwards”), for his bold and aggressive approach in warfare; Prussian commander who led his country’s forces against Napoleon. Hailing from Rostock in Northern Germany, Blucher’s military career began when he joined the Swedish Army as a Hussar, aged only 16. His first military actions were, ironically against the Prussian Army that he would later serve in. He was, however, captured by the Prussians two years later, and the commanding officer was so impressed with the young man that he permitted him to join his regiment.
Blucher then fought in the Seven Years War, but his abrasive and controversial character led to him being passed over for promotion, in response to which he penned a rather rude letter of resignation to the Prussian Emperor Frederick the Great (1712-1786), who accepted with great alacrity. Blucher spent the next 15 years as a civilian. After Frederick’s death, he was reinstated to his regiment and promoted to major. In actions against the Dutch and the French, he won his promotion to colonel and finally, general.
During the War of the Fourth Coalition, Prussia was soundly trounced by the French. Blucher, who was in charge of the Prussian cavalry, was captured with his men, though he was released soon after. During the years 1807-1812, Blucher became something of a pariah in the Prussian court due to his uncompromising and hawkish attitude towards the French, whose vassals Prussia had virtually become. When, however, Napoleon was defeated in Russia in 1812, Blucher was placed in command of the Prussian troops and led their contingent at the Battle of Nations in 1813, where the French were soundly beaten.
With Napoleon’s forces on the defensive, Blucher lobbied the Allied monarchs to give him permission to persecute the war into France, which was given him. Though suffering some setbacks, the relentless marshal managed to corner and rout the outnumbered French forces, finally leading to Napoleon’s abdication in 1814. In 1815, after Napoleon’s return, Blucher again commanded the Prussian contingent, whose timely intervention in the Battle of Waterloo secured the Allied victory.