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NICOLAS HEURTELOUP (1750-1812), CHIEF SURGEON OF THE GREAT ARMY, SUCCESSOR
OF PERCY AND BARON OF THE EMPIRE

By Xavier Riaud (*), FINS

Nicolas Heurteloup
(© National Academy of medicine, 2010)

 

 

Nicolas Heurteloup was born in Tours, on November 26, 1750. It is the pharmacist of a neighbouring hospital who took charge of him from an early age. She succeeded in persuading him to study surgery (Henry, 1957 ; Pinçon, 2000). He started his studies in the « l’hôpital de la Charité » in Tours and graduated from the « Hôtel-Dieu » of Paris (Dupont, 1999). The young man enlisted in the army and he joined the embryonic health service which had just been founded (Lemaire, 1992 & 2003). In 1768, he held the position of sub-assistant surgeon in the army of Louis XV which stationed in Corsica. In 1782 (in 1770, according to Dupont (1999)), he held the position of surgeon major of the hospital of Bastia. In 1790, (in 1786, according to Dupont (1999)), he worked as chief-doctor in the hospital of Toulon. In 1792, having the same rank, he joined the Army of Le Midi and in 1793, the Army of the Alps (Lemaire, 1992 & 2003). That same year, he joined the health council and he sat there until his death (Thébaud, 2009 ; Meylemans, 2010). In 1795, he accompanied the army of Italy. He became the first surgeon of the armies that year. Such as Percy, Larrey and Desgenettes, he was appointed Inspector General in the health service on June 14th 1804. In 1808, he succeeded Percy who suffered from blindness as chief surgeon in the Great Army after previously being consultant surgeon of the Emperor (Henry, 1957 ; Dupont, 1999 ; Pinçon, 2000). In 1809, he organized the hospitals of Vienna and Ebersdorf where the wounded of Essling (May 21 and 22) and of Wagram (July 5 and 6) were treated (Dupont, 1999). In the bulletin of the Great Army, the next morning of the battle of Wagram, Napoleon wrote and published an order of the day quotation which insisted on « the extent to which surgery served the Empire and more particularly the services of chief surgeon Heurteloup » (Lemaire, 1992 & 2003). Percy and Desgenettes never received such honour. A banquet was organized for him and he received a medal decorated with the imperial eulogy. On December 16th, 1810, Heurteloup became a nobleman when Napoleon appointed him Baron of the Empire (Thiébaud, 2009). The Emperor elevated him to the rank of officer of the Legion of Honour (Henry, 1957 ; Lemaire, 1992 ; Pinçon, 2000).

He died on March 27th 1812 as he was paralyzed due to a brain infection which happened at the same time when Napoleon decided to wage war against Alexander I, the tsar of Russia and just after Heurteloup had given up his place of chief surgeon in the Great Army to Larrey on February 12th of the same month (Henry, 1957 ; Lemaire, 1992 ; Dupont, 1999 ; Pinçon, 2000 ; Meylemans, 2010).

He fought until his very last breath for the due military recognition of the military doctors and especially with military ranks which were to be awarded with respect to their merit (Lemaire, 1992 & 2003). He also published his memoirs on tetanus and on the inoculation of vaccinia notably in the hospital of Milan in1801 (Dupont, 1999). Little was written on the practitioner but it was generally agreed that his hands were of an exceptional delicacy (Lemaire, 1992 & 2003).

Recognized as one of the best inspector generals of the health service of the French army, he had remarkable administrative talents and an extraordinary and essential knowledge of military hospitals. He was appreciated for his justice, gentleness, benevolence and his great humanism (Henry, 1957 ; Lemaire, 1992 ; Pinçon, 2000 ; Meylemans, 2010).

 

Bibliography :
National Academy of Medicine, personal communication, Paris, 2010.
Dupont Michel, Historical Dictionary of the Doctors in and out of Medicine [Dictionnaire historique des Médecins dans et hors de la Médecine], Larousse (ed.), Paris, 1999.
Henry René, A great Tourangeau: the baron Nicolas Heurteloup, chief surgeon of the armies of the Revolution and of the Empire [Un grand Tourangeau : le baron Nicolas Heurteloup, chirurgien en chef des armées de la Révolution et de l’Empire], Centre médical d’études et de recherches (ed.), 1957.
Lemaire Jean-François, Napoleon and medicine [Napoléon et la médecine], François Bourin (ed.), Paris, 1992.
Lemaire Jean-François, Napoleonic medicine [La médecine napoléonienne], Nouveau Monde (ed.)/Fondation Napoléon, Paris, 2003.
Meylemans R., « The great names of the Empire » [« Les grands noms de l’Empire »], in The 1809 Ambulance of the Imperial Guard » [«Ambulance 1809 de la Garde impériale], http://ambulance1809-gardeimperiale.ibelgique.com, 2010, pp. 1-22.
Pinçon Charles, Baron Nicolas Heurteloup, first surgeon of the armies of the Empire [Le baron Nicolas Heurteloup, premier chirurgien des armées de l’Empire], ANRT (ed.), Lille, 2000.
Thiébaud Jean-Marie, « Doctors and surgeons, barons of the Empire (1808-1813)» [« Médecins et chirurgiens, barons de l’Empire (1808-1813) »], in http://www.editions-harmattan.fr, 2009, pp. 1-2.

 

 


(*) Dental Surgeon, Doctor in Epistemology, History of Sciences and Techniques, Laureate and member of the National Academy of Dental Surgery.