Forging Napoleon's Grande Armée

Motivation, Military Culture, and Masculinity in the French Army, 1800-1808

296 pages

9 halftones

May, 2012

ISBN: 9780814737484



Also available in



Part of the Warfare and Culture series


Michael J. Hughes is Associate Professor at Iona College.

All books by Michael J. Hughes

The men who fought in Napoleon’s Grande Armée built a new empire that changed the world. Remarkably, the same men raised arms during the French Revolution for liberté, égalité, and fraternité. In just over a decade, these freedom fighters, who had once struggled to overthrow tyrants, rallied to the side of a man who wanted to dominate Europe. What was behind this drastic change of heart? 
In this ground-breaking study, Michael J. Hughes shows how Napoleonic military culture shaped the motivation of Napoleon’s soldiers. Relying on extensive archival research and blending cultural and military history, Hughes demonstrates that the Napoleonic regime incorporated elements from both the Old Regime and French Revolutionary military culture to craft a new military culture, characterized by loyalty to both Napoleon and the preservation of French hegemony in Europe. Underscoring this new, hybrid military culture were five sources of motivation: honor, patriotism, a martial and virile masculinity, devotion to Napoleon, and coercion. Forging Napoleon's Grande Armée vividly illustrates how this many-pronged culture gave Napoleon’s soldiers reasons to fight. 


  • "Michael Hughes provides the most fully developed and most highly nuanced account of motivation among the troops who composed Napoleon’s Grande Armée.  Founded upon extensive research and enlightened by new cultural and gendered approaches, his volume traces the evolution of Napoleon’s efforts to inspire, and manipulate, his soldiers and the effects of those efforts on officers and the rank and file.  Hughes’s application of new categories of analysis is not simply a voguish surface gloss; it is fundamental to the traditional military subjects he examines.  His treatment of the evolution of military honor is particularly impressive – absolutely the finest available – and his innovative exposition of how the lure of sexual opportunity tempted the troops is a revelation.  Forging Napoleon's Grande Armée  is a must read."

    —John A. Lynn, Distiguished Professor of Military History, Northwestern University

  • "What were the values that helped to make Napoleon’s armies the formidable fighting force they became? In this highly innovative study Michael Hughes shows how notions of honour became redefined to reward talent and courage and appeal to a sense of martial masculinity, while maintaining the sense of patriotic virtue that had been so potent during the Revolutionary years. The book is interdisciplinary in its approach, drawing on military studies and gender theory to create a highly convincing picture of the military culture of the Napoleonic era."

    —Alan Forrest, Professor of Modern History, University of York, England

  • "Michael Hughes has produced a fascinating study exploring the motivation of French soldiers during the Napoleonic Era, and the process through which they became Napoleon's men.  Hughes book is an important contribution to the historiography of martial culture.  He does well to integrate various historical methodologies, producing an intelligent and well conceived book that provides another dimension to Napoleonic military history."

    —Frederick C. Schneid, author of Napoleon's Conquest of Europe: The War of the Third Coalition

  • "Hughes offers a tight and well-grounded exposition and analysis of French military culture in the Napoleonic period in which military honour is presented as a dynamic element."

    Journal of European Studies

  • "Hughes provides an important contribution to the literature concerning Napoleon's ability."

    Journal of Interdisciplinary History

  • "Michael Hughes, associate professor of history at Iona College, has executed a masterful book on two fronts. Titled Forging Napoleon's Grande Armee: Motivation, Military Culture, and Masculinity in the French Army 1800-1808, Hughes's book not only contributes to our understanding of the military success of Napoleon's army, but also elegantly employs cultural history methods to better understand army operations and sustained troop motivations."

    —Julia Osman, History: Reviews of New Books