Charles Mathieu Isidore Decaen

Général Charles Mathieu Isidore Decaen.

Charles Mathieu Isidore Decaen (13 April 1769 – 9 September 1832), born in Caen, became a French general who served during the French Revolutionary Wars, as Governor General of Pondicherry and Isle de France (now Mauritius) and as commander of the Army of Catalonia during the Napoleonic Wars.

French Revolution

Before the French Revolution Decaen served as a gunner in the French navy. In 1792 Decaen enlisted in the Calvados battalion. He served under Kléber in the siege of Mainz. Promoted to adjudant-general, Decaen served in the uprising of the Vendée. He fought under the generals Canclaux, Dubayet, Moreau and Kléber. Promoted to general of brigade, Decaen was captured in the attack on Frantzenthal. After having given his parole he was exchanged.

In 1796 he served under Moreau in the operations near the Rhine and he distinguished himself in the passage of the river and the siege of Kehl, for which he was awarded a sword of honor by the French Directory. In 1800 he captured Munich and that December he commanded a division in the Battle of Hohenlinden. In that battle, he reacted "confidently and aggressively"[1] in a confusing situation in heavy forest during a snowstorm. His attack defeated the southernmost Austrian column and contributed greatly to the overall French success. For his role at Hohenlinden he was promoted to general of division (Major-General).

Service to the Empire

In Pondicherry

Possibly singled out for "exile" by Napoleon Bonaparte for his association with Moreau's Army of the Rhine, Decaen was sent on a difficult mission to the French establishment in India in 1802. From 1803 to 1810, he defended the remote Île Bourbon (Réunion) and Isle de France (Mauritius) against all the efforts of the British. Ultimately overwhelmed by the superior numbers of British, he obtained an honorable capitulation. He released Matthew Flinders from house arrest in April 1810, a few months before the Battle of Grand Port (August) and the capitulation to the British on 3 December of the same year.

Spain and fall of the Empire

Upon his return he was made a count and made the head of the Army of Catalonia from October 1811 to January 1814, fighting in Spain. From his headquarters in Barcelona, he reported to Marshal Louis Gabriel Suchet. He formed the Catalan guides and gained their high regard. At Suchet's request, he sent the troops who raised the Siege of Tarragona. In 1814, he tried in vain to keep the British out of Bordeaux. After the first abdication of Napoléon I he recognized Louis XVIII and he was appointed as governor of the 11th military division (Bordeaux). Decaen made an unsuccessful effort to maintain the royal authority in that city after the return of Napoleon I from Elba in 1815.

After the royal princes had left France, Decaen rejoined the emperor's side and during the Hundred Days, he commanded troops in the South of France, for which he was imprisoned for five months after the Bourbon restoration which occurred after Waterloo. After his release he retired to civil life until he was recalled to activity by Louis-Philippe I in 1830. He died two years later.




  1. Arnold, p 245


Government offices
Preceded by
Second British Occupation
(23 August 1793 – 1802)
Gouverneur Général de l'Inde française
18 June 1802August 1803
Succeeded by
Louis François Binot
Preceded by
François Louis Magallon de la Morlière
(Governor General)
Captain General of Mauritius
26 September 18033 December 1810
Succeeded by
Robert Townsend Farquhar
(Governor General)
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