The Napoleonic War Leaders You’ve Never Heard Of

From the Dandy King to Black Bob, meet the remarkable military leaders who fought in the brutal Napoleonic Wars.

Joachim Murat, Archduke Charles, vonBlucher, Robert Craufurd

Joachim Murat

With his Byronic black locks and flamboyant dress sense, Joachim Murat didn't just look dazzling - he had the life story to back it up. Once a lowly grocer in the French provinces, he joined the army, soared up the ranks, married Napoleon's sister, become a hero of the Napoleonic Wars, and got himself crowned king of Naples.

Straight to the heart but spare the face. Fire!

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Murat's taste for fashion may have got him the nickname the "Dandy King", but he was brave and gutsy on the battlefield - in one skirmish he was shot in the jaw, and the bullet only missed his tongue because he was mid-speech. His commander said, "It was the first time he answered correctly." Things didn't end well for Murat, though. He eventually lost the Naples throne and, after unsuccessfully trying to win it back, he was shot by firing squad for treason. His final words? "Straight to the heart but spare the face. Fire!"

Archduke Charles of Austria

When you think of Napoleon Bonaparte's greatest opponents, Admiral Nelson and the Duke of Wellington will spring to mind. But what about Archduke Charles of Austria? A thoughtful and brilliant military strategist, he was a huge thorn in Napoleon's side in several skirmishes. In fact, he served up Napoleon's first truly significant defeat at the brutal Battle of Aspern-Essling in 1809.

Statue of Archduke Charles of Austria, Vienna.

Statue of Archduke Charles of Austria, Vienna.

More than 23,000 people were killed on each side as the forces of Archduke Charles and Napoleon clashed on the Danube. The Archduke didn't just inflict a major professional blow against Napoleon, but a personal one too: a close friend of Napoleon's, Jean Lannes, was killed by a cannonball during the battle. Napoleon himself was overcome with grief, and hugged the dead body of his dear friend weeping. He would have his revenge just weeks later when he defeated Archduke Charles at the Battle of Wagram.

Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher

It might be a mouthful, but there's a very good reason to know Blücher's name: he was the OTHER leader who beat Napoleon at Waterloo. Wellington may get all the credit, but it was only with the help of Prussian troops lead by Blücher that Bonaparte was finally crushed. In fact, the end of the Battle of Waterloo was signalled when Wellington and Blücher saluted each other at nightfall amid the carnage of fallen bodies.

Blücher was already a legend by that time due to his bravery in the Napoleonic wars. In one battle his horse was shot dead and fell on top of him, trapping Blücher for hours, but the old man survived to literally fight another day. Feted across Europe for his exploits, Blücher was also just one of only two men ever to be awarded the Star of the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross, the highest military decoration in German history.

Robert Craufurd

Perhaps the most intimidating soldier in the Napoleonic Wars, Robert Craufurd was a Scottish military prodigy who was commanding his own troops while still in his teens. His determination was legendary - during the Peninsular Wars against Napoleon, he was described as being an "iron man" with a "severe look and a scowling eye". He was also nicknamed "Black Bob" due to his terrifying mood swings and way of doling out discipline.

I will not allow my officers to ride upon men's backs through the rivers. All must take their share alike here.

Even in the midst of campaigns, with the French nipping at their heels, he would stop and have his own men ceremonially flogged for minor offences. Once, when he saw a soldier carrying an exhausted comrade on his back across a river, Craufurd barked at him to put his comrade down and make him wade through the water on his own. "I will not allow my officers to ride upon men's backs through the rivers," Craufurd yelled. "All must take their share alike here." As loved as he was feared, Black Bob was to die in battle in the Napoleonic Wars.