Jacques-Alexandre Law de Lauriston was born in Pondichery (India) on 1 February, 1768. He was the grandnephew of the infamous Scotsman John Law, who was the short-lived Contrôleur Général des Finances under Philippe d'Orléans.
Jacques-Alexandre's father was Jacques-François, a French General sometime Governor General of a French trading post in India and author of État politique de l'Inde en 1777. Lauriston fils was a student in Paris at the College des Grassins, and he continued his studies at the Ecole Militaire de Paris and was a supporter of the French Revolution.
The beginnings of a military career during the French Revolution
In 1791, Alexandre de Lauriston was ADC of General Beauvoir and served in the Armée du Nord. Further postings were in the armies of Moselle, Sambre and Meuse from 1792 to 1796. He was noted for his leadership at the Siege of Maastricht in 1794 and then at the Siege of Valenciennes, and was elevated to the rank of Chef de Brigade of the horse artillery in 1795. He left the army in 1796 and did not resume service until 1800 at the request of Bonaparte, for whom he was an ADC.
Bonaparte’s Aide-de-Camp and then the Emperor’s Diplomat
He therefore followed the First Consul to Italy and was present at the Battle of Marengo. He was subsequently ordered to organise the armament of the isles and ports of France. In April 1801 his military career took on a new path, as he was sent on mission to Copenhagen to help defend the town against the English.
On the 11 October Lauriston was given the responsibility of bringing the preliminaries of the Treaty of Amiens to Great Britain. There here received a triumphant welcome and was carried by the crowd all the way to the French embassy.
His military career then proceeded by leaps and bounds, as he became Général de Brigade in 1802 and General de Division in 1805, receiving the title of commander of the Légion d'Honneur in 1804 on the way. In this same year he was appointed commander of the troops destined for Batavia (Indonesia) but which in the end were sent on ships under Admiral Villeneuve to Martinique in the run up to the failed invasion of Britain. On arriving on the Caribbean island Lauriston captured HMS Diamond Rock (in fact a fortified rock south of Fort de France on Martinique) from the British on the 25 May, 1805.
On his return to Europe, he was made governor of various different cities in the southern reaches of the Empire, namely: General of Braunau; Imperial Commissioner in Ragusa; Governor of Ragusa and Bouches-du-Cattaro; and finally Governor of Venice in 1807. He was elevated to the rank of Comte de l'Empire in June, 1808.
He distinguished himself in the 1809 Campaign and, after Wagram, became dignitary of the Order of the Iron Crown. Among his missions as Colonel General of the Imperial Guard, he escorted Marie-Louise to France for the imperial marriage. After Louis Bonaparte King of Holland's abdication, Lauriston accompanied the former's children to France.
On the 5 February, 1811 Lauriston replaced Caulaincourt as ambassador in Russia. When war broke out between the two Empires he joined the Grande Armée at Smolensk and once again took on his role as Emperor's ADC. During the occupation of Moscow he was made responsible for the agreement of an armistice with General Kutuzov. Contemporary accounts record how Lauriston's mission almost succeeded. However in the end Napoleon was forced to leave Moscow and Lauriston joined the rear guard of the Grande Armée for the retreat. After reaching Magdeburg he was appointed Commander in Chief of the Corps de l'Observation de l'Elbe in January 1813, and towards the end of the month he was given charge of organising the 5th Corps d'Armée, which served in the 1813 Campaign.
From Leipzig to the Restoration
Lauriston fought in many encounters in the spring and summer campaigns of 1813 notably at Weissig Bautzen, Wurschen, Neukirch, Lowenberg, Goldberg and Katzbach. Present at the Battle of Leipzig, he was taken prisoner on 19 October and taken to Berlin. He was not to return to France until after the Treaty of Paris in 1814 when he became ADC to the Comte d'Artois. Louis XVIII appointed him as Captain of the Company of Mousquetaires de la Maison du Roi “Les Mousquetaires Gris” (“The Grey Musketeers”). During the Hundred Days, Lauriston followed the king to Bethune, and after the Second Abdication he was elevated to the rank of Pair de France and became commander of the First Infantry Division of the Garde Royale. Further appointments included commander of Saint-Louis in 1816, Marquis in 1817, Ministre de la Maison du Roi in 1820 and finally Maréchal de France in 1823.
He died in Paris on 10 June 1828.
– Jean Tulard (ed), Dictionnaire Napoléon, Fayard: Paris, 1999 (second edition), p. 162, s.v., ‘Lauriston'
– The Catalogue historique des généraux français, connétables, maréchaux de France, lieutenants généraux, maréchaux de camp. Maréchaux de France. Restauration. Monarchie de Juillet. Second Empire, M. Louis de La Roque, éd. A. Desaide (Paris), 1896-1902