Brigadier Gerard

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Brigadier Gerard is the comedic hero of a series of 17 historical short stories, a play, and a major character in a novel by the British writer Arthur Conan Doyle. By far the most entertaining of all of Doyle's characters, Brigadier Etienne Gerard is a Hussar officer in the French Army during the Napoleonic Wars. Gerard's most notable attribute is his vanity – he is utterly convinced that he is the bravest soldier, greatest swordsman, most accomplished horseman and most gallant lover in all France. Gerard is not entirely wrong, since he displays notable bravery on many occasions, but his self-satisfaction undercuts this quite often. Obsessed with honour and glory, he is always ready with a stirring speech or a gallant remark to a lady.


Conan Doyle, in making his hero a vain, and often rather uncomprehending, Frenchman, was able to satirise both the stereotypical English view of the French and – by presenting them from Gerard's baffled point of view – English manners and attitudes.


Gerard tells the stories from the point of view of an old man now living in retirement in Paris. We discover that he was born in Gascony in the early 1780s (he is 25 in "How the Brigadier Captured Saragossa"). In How the Brigadier Rode to Minsk he attends a review of troops about to depart for the Crimea (1854–5), and this is the last identifiable date in his life, although The Last Adventure of the Brigadier has a still later setting, with Gerard about to return to his Gascon homeland. He first joins the 2nd Hussars – the Hussars of Chamberan – around 1799, serving as a lieutenant and junior captain. He first sees action at Marengo in Italy in 1800. He transfers to the 3rd Hussars of Conflans in 1807 as a senior captain. He speaks somewhat idiosyncratic English, having learned it from an officer of the Irish Brigade of the French Army. By 1810 he is colonel of the 2nd Hussars. He serves in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany and Russia. He is awarded the Grand-Cross of the Légion d'honneur by Napoleon in 1814. There are various discrepancies in the accounts of his life, not the least that in none of the stories except the last is he married.

Conan Doyle modelled the comedic character of Gerard on a number of real-life sources from the Napoleonic era, writing in his author's preface that "readers of Marbot, de Gonneville, Coignet, de Fenezac, Bourgogne, and the other French soldiers who have recorded their reminiscences of the Napoleonic campaigns will recognise the fountain from which I have drawn the adventures of Etienne Gerard." [1] Conan Doyle enthusiasts have noted that although Gerard is a fictional character, he may have been inspired in particular by the real-life Baron Marcellin Marbot (1782–1854), a noted French light cavalry officer during the Napoleonic Wars. [2] Marbot's memoirs depicting the Napoleonic age of warfare had become very popular prior to the publication of Doyle's series about Brigadier Gerard and were praised by Doyle as being the best soldier's book known to him. [3]

The fictional Gerard is not to be confused with the real Napoleonic officer Étienne Maurice Gérard (1777–1852), who rose to become a Marshal and later Prime Minister of France.


The stories were originally published in the Strand Magazine between December 1894 and September 1903. They were later issued in two volumes: The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard in February 1896 and The Adventures of Gerard in September 1903. Some of the titles were changed on re-publication. The last story, "The Marriage of the Brigadier", was published in September 1910. All the stories were published in The Complete Brigadier Gerard in 1995, which includes the story "A Foreign Office Romance" (1894) – a precursor to the stories, but not actually featuring Gerard.

George McDonald Fraser cited Brigadier Gerard as a major inspiration for his own fictional comedic adventurer Harry Flashman, and wrote the introduction to a 2001 collection of Gerard stories. Although rare, the Brigadier Gerard stories are still in print. Twin Engine Publishing HB, Barnes & Noble Books, Echo Library and New York Review Books are some contemporary publishers. In May 2008, Penguin Classics published the complete short stories as The Exploits and Adventures of Brigadier Gerard as part of their Read Red series.

The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard

"How the Brigadier Won His Medal"
("The Medal of Brigadier Gerard")
December 1894France, March 1814. Gerard is sent by Napoleon with an important message, via enemy territory, and only narrowly avoids capture by marauding Russian and Prussian troops.
"How the Brigadier Held the King"April 1895Spain, July 1810. Gerard is captured by Spanish partisans but is saved from certain death by the British.
"How the King Held the Brigadier"May 1895England, August 1810. Gerard mounts an escape from Dartmoor Prison and is initiated in the mysteries of pugilism.
"How the Brigadier Slew the Brothers of Ajaccio"June 1895Paris, late 1807. Gerard assists Napoleon in a vendetta.
"How the Brigadier Came to the Castle of Gloom"July 1895Poland, February 1807. While on a mission to procure horses, Gerard becomes involved in an affair of honour.
"How the Brigadier Took the Field Against the Marshal Millefleurs"August 1895Spain, March 1811. Gerard finds himself temporarily allied with the English against a notorious brigand.
"How the Brigadier Was Tempted by the Devil"September 1895Paris, April 1814. Gerard and Napoleon carry out a secret mission.
"How the Brigadier Played for a Kingdom"December 1895Germany, March 1813. Gerard encounters German nationalists and a deceitful woman.

The Adventures of Gerard

TitlePublished [4] Notes
"How the Brigadier Slew the Fox"
("The Crime of the Brigadier")
January 1900Portugal, December 1810. While on a reconnaissance behind British lines, Gerard inadvertently joins a fox-hunt with unpardonable results.
"How Brigadier Gerard Lost His Ear"August 1902Venice, c.1805. Gerard gets involved with a lovely lady and some murderous Italians.
"How the Brigadier Saved the Army"November 1902Spain, March 1811. Gerard has another unpleasant encounter with Spanish partisans.
"How the Brigadier Rode to Minsk"December 1902Russia, November 1812. On the retreat from Moscow, Gerard is sent to collect food from a depot. A lovely woman and a murderous Cossack intervene.
"How the Brigadier Bore Himself at Waterloo" ("The Brigadier at Waterloo")
I. "The Adventure of the Forest Inn"January 1903Belgium, June 18, 1815. While delivering an important message, Gerard finds himself trapped in enemy territory.
II. "The Prussian Horsemen"February 1903Belgium, June 18, 1815. On the retreat from Waterloo, Gerard decoys the enemy, allowing Bonaparte to escape.
"How the Brigadier Triumphed in England"
("The Brigadier in England")
March 1903England, October 1810. Gerard shows the English how to box and fight a duel.
"How the Brigadier Captured Saragossa"
("How the Brigadier Joined the Hussars of Conflans")
April 1903Spain, 1809. Gerard infiltrates a besieged town to carry out a dangerous mission.
"The Last Adventure of the Brigadier"
("How Etienne Gerard Said Goodbye to His Master")
May 19031821. Gerard takes a sea-voyage and plays a major role in a plan to rescue Napoleon from St. Helena. In a brief preface the elderly Brigadier farewells his drinking companions in Paris as he prepares to depart for Gascony where he was born.
"The Marriage of the Brigadier"September 1910France, 1802. Gerard has an unfortunate encounter with a fierce bull, which results in a proposal of marriage. (This story was written too late to be included in the first two collections but is included in The Complete Brigadier Gerard.)
"A Foreign Office Romance"November 1894England, October 1801. A resourceful French agent ensures that the Treaty of Amiens is signed on favourable terms. (This is not a Gerard story but clearly prefigures the series in structure, character and theme; for this reason it is included in The Complete Brigadier Gerard.)
"Uncle Bernac"1897France, 1805. Gerard appears as a major character in this short novel, which deals with the return of an exiled French aristocrat. Its details, however, are not consistent with those of other Gerard stories; for instance, Gerard is a lieutenant of the 1st Hussars, a regiment in which none of the other stories describe him as having served. It is stated at the end that Gerard married Sibylle, daughter of the eponymous Uncle Bernac, many years after the events described in the novel, but this is not referred to in other stories. "Uncle Bernac" does not appear in The Complete Brigadier Gerard.


  1. A Foreign Office Romance (Unnamed)
  2. The Marriage of the Brigadier
  3. Uncle Bernac (Novel, major supporting character)
  4. How Brigadier Gerard Lost His Ear
  5. How the Brigadier Came to the Castle of Gloom
  6. How the Brigadier Slew the Brothers of Ajaccio
  7. How the Brigadier Captured Saragossa (How the Brigadier Joined the Hussars of Conflans)
  8. How the Brigadier Held the King
  9. How the King Held the Brigadier
  10. How the Brigadier Triumphed in England
  11. How the Brigadier Slew the Fox (The Crime of the Brigadier)
  12. How the Brigadier Took the Field Against the Marshal Millefleurs
  13. How the Brigadier Saved the Army
  14. How the Brigadier Rode to Minsk
  15. How the Brigadier Played for a Kingdom
  16. How the Brigadier Won His Medal (The Medal of Brigadier Gerard)
  17. How the Brigadier Was Tempted by the Devil
  18. How the Brigadier Bore Himself at Waterloo (The Brigadier at Waterloo)
  19. The Adventures of Brigadier Gerard (Play)
  20. The Last Adventure of the Brigadier (How Etienne Gerard Said Goodbye to His Master)


In 1915 a silent film Brigadier Gerard was made, directed by Bert Haldane with Lewis Waller in the title role.

The French film Un drame sous Napoléon (1921), directed by Gérard Bourgeois, was a film version of the short novel "Uncle Bernac".

A 1927 film with Rod La Rocque as Gerard had the title The Fighting Eagle .

In 1970 The Adventures of Gerard was directed by Jerzy Skolimowski with Peter McEnery playing Gerard.

Simon Russell Beale read a five-part adaptation on BBC Radio 4 in July 2000.

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  1. Conan Doyle, Sir Arthur (1956). The Complete Napoleonic Stories. London: John Murray. p. v.
  2. Goldfarb, Clifford (1997). The Great Shadow: Arthur Conan Doyle, Brigadier Gerard and Napoleon. Calabash. ISBN   189956229X.
  3. "Through the Magic Door, written by Arthur Conan Doyle". Project Gutenberg.
  4. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - Complete Works,