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One of the greatest heroes of the American Revolution, Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette (1757-1834) had his fair share of personal failures--primarily after his service to the American cause. Lafayette was at first unable to travel safely to America and threatened with imprisonment; he eventually sailed, disguised as a woman. Given the rank of major-general, Lafayette was at first not given a command, eventually becoming George Washington's aide-de-camp. His small force was forced to retreat from the Battle of Barren Hill in May 1778. In command at the Battle of Williamsburg, Lafayette's men were defeated by Lord Cornwallis.
After the British defeat at Yorktown, Lafayette returned to France a hero. Two extra-marital affairs damaged his reputation, and as head of the French National Guard, he survived a near mutiny in 1789. In 1791, his guardsmen disobeyed an order and refused to allow King Louis to travel for an Easter holiday. When, several months later, the King attempted to leave France, Lafayette (as head of the royal guard) was blamed and "and called a 'traitor' to the people by Maximilien Robespierre." Lafayette, now in near-disgrace, resigned following the Champs de Mars Massacre, when he ordered his guard to fire into a crowd of protesters. Lafayette was badly defeated in the Paris mayoral election, but he soon became the commander of one of the French armies marching on the Netherlands. When rumor spread that Lafayette was planning a coup d'etat, he was relieved of command and branded a traitor by the new National Convention. Facing the prospect of the guillotine, he attempted to flee to England with the prospect of retiring in America, but he was captured by anti-French Prussian troops.
Imprisoned from 1792-1797, he finally returned to France in 1797, where he was viewed as a rival by Napoleon. Lafayette assured Napoleon that he no longer had political or military ambitions, and he lived in relative obscurity until Napoleon was deposed. In 1830, Lafayette was offered the French dictatorship, but he declined.
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