Eldest son of the Maréchal de Ségur, born in Paris, 10 September, 1753, Louis-Philippe joined the army at 16 as a sub-lieutenant in the Mestre-de-Camp regiment in 1769, and became Colonel en second in the Régiment d’Orléans in 1776. Inquisitive by nature and keen on literature and philosophy, he frequented the salons of Mmes Du Deffand and Geoffrin, where he met Laharpe, Marmontel, Voltaire. In 1783, after having taken part in the contemporary military operations in America, he became a colonel in the Dragons Ségur. After spending some time employed by his father in the War Ministry, he left France as ambassador for Russia at the end of 1784. Becoming a close confidant of Catherine the Great, he attempted to bring about a Franco-Russo-Austro-Hispanic alliance to parry the breaking up of the Ottoman empire; which in the end failed. It failed because of the reticence of Louis XVI.
Returning to France in November 1789, enthusiastic for the new ideas, Ségur was in March 1791 appointed ambassadour to Rome – Pius VI however refused him entry into the Papal States. On his promotion to Maréchal de camp, he was sent to Berlin to attempt to detach Prussia from the league formed at Pillnitz. But the king, Frederick William II, on hearing that 3 million francs had been given to Ségur to give as bribes for Prussian ministers and their entourage, snubbed Ségur during the presentation of his letters of accreditation, 12 January, 1792. Seriously wounded during a duel several days later, Ségur left Berlin in March. He then turned down the king’s offer of Minister of Foreign Affairs and retired to Châtenay, near Sceaux, where he lived in the greatest discretion, until 18-Brumaire, when he returned to his literary activities, publishing a History of Frederick William II (1800), taking part in the Dîners du Vaudeville and in the Réunions du Portique républicain.
Appointed by the Sénat, he entered the Corps législatif on 8 Ventôse, An IX (27 February, 1801). Anxious to please, Ségur had a register opened in July 1802, in which to record the votes of the députés on the life consulship question. He was to become Conseiller d’Etat on 4 Nivôse, An XI (25 December, 1802) and wrote many ‘rapports’. Made member of the Légion d’honneur on 9 Vendémiaire, An XII (2 October, 1803), and then Grand-aigle on 14 Pluviôse, An XIII (3 February, 1805), he was subsequently covered with honours: Grand-officier du palais de l’Empereur, 21 Messidor, An XII (9 July, 1804). Becoming Comte de l’Empire on 23 May 1808, he was made Commissaire extraordinaire in the 18th division militaire.
Ségur voted for the deposition of the emperor in April 1814, and presented himself before Louis XVIII at Compiègne; he was made a peer of France on 4 June of the same year. He rallied to Napoléon during the Hundred Days and was returned to his position as Grand-officier du palais. On being made peer on 2 June, 1815, he vigorously defended the rights of Napoleon II after Waterloo and offered to follow the emperor into exile. A royal ordonnance of 24 July, 1815, deprived him of all his functions and stipends. Recalled to the upper house on 19 November, 1819, Ségur frequently spoke there in favour of liberal ideas. He was a keen supporter of the July Revolution 1830 and the return of the tricouleur. He died on 27 August, 1830, in Paris.
Member of the Académie française from 1803, Ségur wrote a great deal, not only works of history but also tales, fables, songs and plays. His Memoirs, or souvenirs and anecdotes, published in 1824, make fascinating reading and give a very colourful picture of Napoleon’s entourage. […]
Author: Alfred Fierro-Domenech, trans. P.H.
Dictionnaire Napoléon, 1999, Fayard
Reproduced and translated with the authorisation of Editions Fayard. All rights reserved.