Soldier of the Legion of Meuse

 

François Robert is one of the most famous French philhellenes, who played an important role and showed exemplary heroism during the siege of the Acropolis, under the command of Charles Fabvier.

François Robert originated from Nancy, France. He had enlisted in the French army and joined the Meuse Legion. In Greece he was given the rank of Major to the Regular Corps. He was very young and especially appreciated by Fabvier, the leader of the Regular Corps, who also came from Nancy. In fact, the latter treated him as his own child.

The young Robert is usually referred in the Greek history for his heroic fight in a trench, under the Acropolis, which caused numerous wounds, and his exemplary bravery before he died. It is a pity that very little is found in the French archives, about this brave French Philhellene or “the brave Robert”, as he was often called.

Henri Fornèsy, the biographer of the Philhellenes, is one of the few who mentioned François Robert. In his catalogue of the Philhellenes, he writes about him the following: “He was from Nancy. He died in Athens, due to injuries, on December 28, 1827. Former officer of the Meuse Legion. An infantry instructor in Greece, he commanded in Chaidari the 1st Battalion of the Regular Army, which showed great bravery, and being the leader he was wounded, which forced him to leave the battlefield, and be replaced by Captain Maillet”.

However, the one who provides the most information about this brave warrior, is undoubtedly Christos Byzantios, in the History of the Regular Army. Byzantios also mentions that Robert was originally an instructor of the Regular Army, who was training the soldiers applying the French infantry programme (manoeuvres), in collaboration with another French instructor, Maillet, who taught theory. Robert was then a Captain and the aid of camp of the 1st Battalion. Later, Robert took command of the 1st Battalion to replace Major Stefanos, who had been assassinated in Tinos in 1826.

Christos Byzantios informs us that in the battle of Chaidari, the then “Major of the 1st Battalion, Robert, marched in the form of a phalanx and reached the position of the uvanguard; he formed a square and waited for the enemy“. A little later, “the Major immediately, without wasting time, ordered the firing to start, to be carried out maintaining the square, prepare – fire, and before giving another order, he was wounded in the abdomen without any of the captains noticing this to take the command of the square“. Major Robert was forced to abandon the battle due to his injuries, but the First Battalion in this battle, although it lost 38 men, forced Kioutachis Pascha to retreat, gaining a great victory.

The Greek newspaper “The Friend of the Law”, published by the Italian Philhellene  Joseph Chiappe, refers in August 1826, to Robert’s bravery, glorious victory and injury in this battle, calling Robert “brave Philhellene Major Mr. Robert”.

Fornèsy goes on to say that a little later, Robert “took command of the marching battalion that supplied the fortress of Athens, under the command of Fabvier. His legs were amputated from the explosion of a canon missile, he fell into a moat between the fortress and the Turkish trenches and his absence was not noticed until everyone had entered in the fortress. Driven by his groans, four of his companions, M.M. Mollière, Pignaud, Bernard and Cartier, with the help of two soldiers of General Griziotis, whose names unfortunately remain unknown, after locating him, left the Acropolis and ran to the place where the unfortunate Robert was fighting with his furious enemies, chasing them away. After he was taken to the fortress, it was found that he had twenty-four wounds on his body, which were bleeding and came from fragments of cannon bullets, hits from swords, yatagans, etc. He managed to survive for four days with these terrible wounds and died, with the bravest self-denial and after horrible pains, causing the deep sorrow and tears of the brave Fabvier, who loved him as his child, as well as of the whole guard, who had admired his merit and the energy of his character”..

Antoine Pignaud was a French Philhellene who remained permanently in Greece after the Greek Revolution. He was appointed Head of the Guard of Pylos. Painting from the collection of SHP.

The same information about Robert is reproduced by Babis Anninos in his work “The Philhellenes of 1821″, in 1925, as well as by Michelle Averoff in her article on the Philhellenes in 1967.

On these events, Christos Byzantios provides a different, more eloquent and vivid description. The historian of the Regular army writes the following on Robert’s tragic death: “This Philhellene, after being wounded by small bullets on his feet, he fell between the Greek trenches and the moat. After the whole army entered in the Acropolis, the enemies returned to their positions, and finding him lying on the ground, they began to hit him with their swords; however, this unlucky man fought back for a long time with his sword, until certain soldiers of Griziotis heard the noise of the swords, and run in that direction to rescue him; they chased the enemies and carried him in the Acropolis. He had on his body twenty-six wounds from swords and two from bullets. The surgeon of the guard, Kourdalis, treated them all, except those of his legs, which he was unable to cut due to lack of the necessary medical instruments, so that after eight days of severe pains, he died. His death saddened everyone and especially Fabvier who loved him as his son”.

The above information of Byzantios and that of Fornèsy, are identical for the most part, which makes them completely reliable. Especially when Christos Byzantios was an eyewitness to the events. Spyridon Trikoupis gives similar information. Soumerlis indicates the name of one of Griziotis’s soldiers, saying that it was the brave Ioannis Kountouriotis who transported Robert inside the fortress, as he had fallen into the hands of ten enemies who were hitting him with their swords. According to the bibliography, the Turks had even cut off his ears, among others, so his body was completely deformed.

There is some confusion, however, around the exact date of the death of this great fighter. For example, Konstantinos Paparigopoulos, in the History of the Greek Nation, mentions as the date of Robert’s death December 6, 1827, a date with which Ioannis Vlachogiannis agrees. Similarly, Thomas Gordon in his memoirs agrees with Fornèsy, as to the date of Robert’s death and states that he died shortly after mid-December. Karl Heideck, on the other hand, mentions in his memoirs that the date of Robert’s death was February 1827. This fact is probably incorrect because according to documents published by the Philhellenic Commission of Paris, and specifically according to letters from doctors Bailly and Gosse to the Commission, Robert in January 1827 had already passed away. In any case, his heroic sacrifice remains memorable, though almost unknown.

The heroic death of this great Philhellene was admired by the Greeks and inspired the creation of a folk song in Roumeli (mainland of Greece) mourning for Robert’s death.

Finally, to remind the Greeks of the contribution and sacrifice of the brave Robert, the Greek state placed a memorial column in the Conservatory of Herodes Atticus, in the courtyard. On the left side of the column are engraved the words: “TO, FAVIERO, PROMACHO, OF THE ACROPOLIS GREECE 1826 – 1926”. On the left side of the column: “TO THE HEROIC MAJOR FRANG. ROBERTON AND THE PHILHELLENES WHO DIED WITH HIM GREECE 1826 – 1926”.

Commemorative column in Herodes Atticus for the Philhellenes who fell in Athens during the Revolution of 1821

Greece and the Greeks will forever honour this great Philhellene fighter, who fought heroically and died as a martyr for the liberation of Athens and the Acropolis, which constitutes the eternal symbol of the Western civilization.

 

SOURCES-BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • [Comité Philhellénique de Paris], Documents relatifs à l’État présent de la Grèce, février-mars 1827, Paris, Firmin Didot, 1827.
  • Barth Wilhelm – Max Kehrig-Korn, Die Philhellenenzeit, von der Mitte des 18 Jahrhunderts bis zur Ermordung Kapodistrias am 9 Oktober 1831, εκδ. Hueber, Μόναχο
  • Fornèsy Henry, Le monument des philhellènes, 1860, χειρόγραφο υπ’ αριθ. 1697, Τμήμα Χειρογράφων και Ομοιοτύπων, Εθνική Βιβλιοθήκη της Ελλάδος.
  • Gordon Thomas, History of the Greek Revolution, 1, London, William Blackwood, Edinburg & T. Cadell, Strand, 1844.
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