1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Biron, Armand de Gontaut, Baron de
BIRON, ARMAND DE GONTAUT, Baron de (1524–1592), a celebrated French soldier of the 16th century. His family, one of the numerous branches of the house of Gontaut, took its title from the territory of Biron in Périgord, where on a hill between the Dropt and the Lide still stands the magnificent castle begun by the lords of Biron in the 11th century. As a page of the queen of Navarre Biron attracted the notice of the marshal de Brissac, with whom he saw active service in Italy. A wound received by him in his early years made him lame for life, but he did not withdraw from the military career, and he held a command in Guise’s regiment of light horse in 1557. A little later he became chief of a cavalry regiment, and in the wars of religion he repeatedly distinguished himself.
His great services to the royal cause at Dreux, St Denis, Jarnac and Moncontour were rewarded in 1569 by his appointment as a privy councillor of the king and grand master of artillery. He commanded the royal forces at the siege of La Rochelle in 1572, and four years later was made a marshal of France. From 1576 to 1588 he was almost continuously employed in high command. From 1589 he supported the cause of Henry of Navarre, but was suspected of prolonging the civil wars in his own interest. Biron was killed by a cannon-ball at the siege of Epernay on the 26th of July 1592. He was a man of considerable literary attainments, and used to carry a pocket-book, in which he noted everything that appeared remarkable. Some of his letters are preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale and in the British Museum; these include a treatise on the art of war.
His son, Charles de Gontaut, duc de Biron (1562–1602), fought brilliantly for the royal party against the League. He was made admiral of France in 1592, and marshal in 1594; governor of Burgundy in 1595, he took the towns of Beaune, Autun, Auxonne and Dijon, and distinguished himself at the battle of Fontaine-Francaise. In 1596 he was sent to fight the Spaniards in Flanders, Picardy and Artois. After the peace of Vervins he discharged a mission at Brussels (1598). From that time he was engaged in intrigues with Spain and Savoy, and, notwithstanding, directed the expedition sent against the duke of Savoy (1599–1600). After fulfilling diplomatic missions for Henry IV. in England and Switzerland (1600), he was accused and convicted of high treason and was beheaded in the Bastille on the 31st of July 1602.
His collateral descendant, Armand Louis de Gontaut, duc de Lauzun, afterwards duc de Biron (1747–1793), is known for the part he played in the War of American Independence and the revolutionary wars. Until 1788, when he succeeded to the duchy of Biron on the death of his uncle,—Louis Antoine de Gontaut, duc de Biron (1700–1788)—he bore the title of duc de Lauzun, which had passed, on the death of Antoine Nompas de Caumont, duc de Lauzun (1633–1723), to his niece, the wife of Charles Armand de Gontaut, duc de Biron (1663–1756). After for a while wasting his fortune in dissipation in various parts of Europe, he attracted attention by an essay on the military defences of Great Britain and her colonies (État de défense d’Angleterre et de toutes ses possessions dans les quatres parties du monde). This led to his appointment to a command against the English in 1779, in which he gained several successes. In the following year he took a conspicuous part in the War of American Independence, and on his return to France was made maréchal de camp. In 1789 he was returned as deputy to the states-general by the noblesse of Quercy, and attached himself to the revolutionary cause. In 1791 he was sent by the Constituent Assembly to receive the oath of the army of Flanders, and subsequently was appointed to its command. In July 1792 he was nominated commander of the army of the Rhine, with the duty of watching the movements of the Austrians. In May 1793 he was transferred to the command of the army of La Rochelle, operating against the insurgents of La Vendée. He gained several successes, among them the capture of Saumur and the victory of Parthenay; but the insubordination of his troops and the intrigues of revolutionary agents made his position intolerable and he sent in his resignation. He was thereupon accused by the notorious Carrier of incivisme and undue leniency to the insurgents, deprived of his command (July), imprisoned in the Abbaye and condemned to death by the Revolutionary Tribunal. He was guillotined on the 31st of December 1793. Some Mémoires, which come down to 1783, were published under his name in 1822 (new ed. 1858), and in 1865 letters said to have been written by him in 1789 to friends in the country, describing the states-general.