On This Day in Napoleonic History – 29 March 1796

29Louis-Alexandre Berthier becomes Napoleon’s chief of staff

Napoleon was the first commander to use a chief of staff in its modern sense. And he couldn’t have chosen a better man. Just like Napoleon himself, Berthier was indefatigable when it came to working long hours, without a break and often through the night. On one occasion in 1809 Berthier was summoned no fewer than 17 times in one night. He could keep his head clear after taking dictation for twelve hours, possessed prodigious memory and was one of the few who could decipher Napoleon’s atrocious hand-writing. A born diplomat, he managed to convince his wife, Duchess Maria Elisabeth of Bavaria, whom he was forced to marry by Napoleon, to share the chΓ’teau with his mistress, Madame Visconti, whom he had loved passionately for many years before his marriage. Berthier put together an efficient team that ensured that Napoleon’s every wish was quickly put into action.

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