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Alexandre Macdonald Letters

An inventory of the collection at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: MRC
Date: 28 Jun 2010

Biographical History

√Čtienne Jacques Joseph Alexandre MacDonald (1765-1840) was a Marshal of France and military leader during the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars, regarded with respect for both his military achievements and his personal character.

Born in France to Jacobite Scottish parents, he embarked on his military career in 1785. By 1793 he was a colonel in the French Army, and fought in Spain and Italy. In 1800 he was named commander of the Helvetic Republic (Switzerland) and in 1809 he became military adviser to the viceroy of the Kingdom of Italy. In recognition of his achievements that same year in the Battle of Wagram against the Austrians, Napoleon made him a Marshal of France and duke of Taranto (in Naples). After the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in 1814 MacDonald assisted in negotiating Napoleon's surrender and was named a peer of France, a Knight Grand-Croix of the Royal Order of St. Louis, and Chancellor of the Legion of Honor. He retired from public life in 1830 and died in 1840.

Although he visited his father's homeland, the island of Uist in the Outer Hebrides, only once, the island erected a plaque "to the memory of Marshal of France Jacques Macdonald" in May of 2010.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Alexandre MacDonald Letters consists of approximately 140 letters from MacDonald to three generations of the Billacoys family. The letters are personal and intimate in nature, many concerning the two Billacoys children who were sponsored by MacDonald and in whom he took a lively interest. Some discuss his activities in the French legislature and many give details of his life in Paris and at his chateau, with mention of mutual friends, including a number of important French personalities of the time.

There is little of military of political content, but the letters reveal a good deal of Macdonald's personality, character and philosophy and reflect the mores of France over a span of more than forty years.

Arrangement of the Collection



Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

MacDonald's travel diary resides in the French National Archives and includes, according to an article in London's Sunday Times, "his impressions on his first visit to his ancestral homeland...[and] an account of a boisterous evening in the company of a drunken Sir Walter Scott."

Subject Headings


Billacoys family.
Macdonald, Etienne-Jacques-Joseph-Alexandre, duc de Tarente, 1765-1840.


France -- History -- 1789-1815.
France -- History -- Consulate and First Empire, 1799-1815.
France -- Social life and customs -- 18th century.
France -- Social life and customs -- 19th century.

Genres and Forms




Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Alexandre MacDonald Letters,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Purchase, 1969.

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