Obituary > Donald D. Horward (1933-2021)

General Jean-Philippe Douin presenting Donald D. Horward with cross of the Légion d’Honneur at the US Military Academy at West Point, in 2002 © Florida State University

It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of the American historian and Chevallier de la Légion d’Honneur, Donald D. Horward.

Don was a wide-ranging scholar of Napoleon and the French Revolution with a particular passion for the great French Marshal André Masséna – indeed he even founded a Masséna Society. His PhD research on the marshal in the early 1960s led to a lifelong close friendship with Victor-André Masséna, Prince d’Essling, the current president of the Fondation Napoléon and descendant of the Napoleonic hero. On gaining his doctorate, Don joined the faculty at Florida State where with prescient leadership he founded the Institute on Napoleon and the French Revolution, established the remarkable Strozier Library, and astutely attracted funding for two permanent professorships, one on Napoleon and the other on the French Revolution.

His tireless work supervising more than one hundred doctoral theses over a period of forty years established the Institute as the leading centre for Napoleonic Studies in the English-speaking world. Indeed, Don was like a father to all his PhD students, labouring tirelessly over the multiple draughts of their dissertations thereby creating today’s leaders in contemporary English-language Napoleonic research. He leaves a vast hole in the Napoleonic world which will be hard to fill.

Don was awarded numerous honours  (both in his home country and internationally) for his work on the History of the Napoleonic period, including notably, in 2002, being made Chevallier de la Légion d’Honneur, by the French government.

The Prince d’Essling (President), Thierry Lentz (Director), and Peter Hicks (International Affairs Manager), not to mention the whole team at the Fondation Napoléon would like to express their deepest condolences to Annabel his widow.


A tribute to Donald D. Horward, by Dr. Michael V. Leggiere, Professor of History, Deputy Director of the Military History Center University of North Texas

“A giant among pygmies.

At dawn on Sunday, 31 October, my Doktorvater, Donald D. Horward, passed away at age 88. Don, along with his twin sister, Barbara, was born in Pittsburg in 1933 to Frank and Selina Horward. Born in 1897, Frank had migrated to America from Germany while Selina was born in Braddock, Pennsylvania in 1899. Don had two older brothers, Frank and William. Don grew up in the wake of the Great Depression followed by the Second World War. Too young to serve, he would fondly tell us stories of how he collected scrap metal for the war effort. A man who devoted his career to studying war, he abhorred the human catastrophe that is war.

A native of Pennsylvania, Don completed his undergraduate studies at Waynesburg College before pursuing an M.A. at Ohio University, where he defended his thesis “Marshal Ney, Hero or Traitor: A Review of his Military Career” in August 1956. He then spent the next six years in a doctoral program at the University of Minnesota studying under Harold Deutsch, his Doktorvater, and John Wolf, the biographer of Louis XIV. Don’s research focused his research on French operations during the Peninsular War. His dissertation, “The French Invasion of Portugal, 1810-1811” was based on extensive research in the French archives, including the papers of Marshal André Masséna, and broke new ground in the field of Peninsular War studies.

In 1961, while finalizing his dissertation, Don joined the faculty at Florida State University, where he remained for over forty-four years. During his long and distinguished career, Don introduced some 16,000 students to the history of the French Revolution and Napoleon and developed a dynamic graduate studies program at FSU. He directed his first master’s student in 1963, followed by the first Ph.D. in Napoleonic history, the late Gordon Bond, in 1966.  Thus began the process of establishing Florida State University as the leading American center for the study of the Revolutionary Era (1750-1850) in the western hemisphere. By the end of his career, Don had directed over 100 doctoral dissertation and masters theses, making FSU one of the most prolific centers for the study of Napoleon in the world. Training several generations of Napoleonic historians represents Don’s greatest contribution to the field of history. Dozens of his students remain active in academia, teaching in American institutions of higher learning and producing original research that breaks new ground in the field of the Napoleonic studies. Don put FSU on the map as the preeminent university in the nation for the study of the French Revolution and Napoleon.

After forty-four years of distinguished service, Don retired in 2005. That year, he was asked what was it about Napoleon that so captivate him? “His footprint is gigantic,” responded Don. He changed warfare.

The warfare we see today in Iraq is what Napoleon developed. Students at the US military academies still study Napoleon’s military strategies.” In addition to his military exploits, Napoleon helped shape the modern world in myriad other ways,” Don said. “He was a brilliant politician and administrator. The Code Napoléon, our modern educational system, transportation, social services – all of these were innovations established by Napoleon that have had a dramatic effect on the world we live in. This was not just a conqueror; this was a guy who understood life.”

For his work in the Napoleonic period, Don was decorated by the French, American, and Portuguese governments, and recognized by the Czech Republic and Spain. He was elected to the Portuguese Academy of History in December 1991, and the following year he was decorated by the President of Portugal and named a Grand Officer of the Order of Infante Dom Henrique (Prince Henry the Navigator). In 2001, he was honored by the Napoleonic Alliance as the first John Elting Scholar “for his extraordinary contributions to the study of Napoleonic History.” Although deeply honored by these awards, Don received his most distinguished awards from the French government, being named Chevalier (1984), Officier (1992), and Commandeur (2001) de l’Ordre des Palmes Académique, an order established by Napoleon in 1808 for contributions to historical studies and the sciences. In 2002, the French government recognized his contributions to the field of the Napoleonic studies by naming him Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur, France’s highest civilian honor, which was established by Napoleon in 1802. In a moving ceremony at the US Military Academy at West Point, General Jean-Philippe Douin, Grand Chancellor of the Légion d’Honneur, represented the French Republic and French President Jacques Chirac, in making the awards. Don later commented that “the Legion of Honor is the medal of Napoleon, the Presidents of France, and battlefield heroes; but it is also the medal of Mme. Marie Curie, Louis Pasteur, Victor Hugo, George Sand, and Goethe.” He continued, “For me, it is the most important medal in the world, and a direct link to Napoleon himself; for me it is the impossible dream that came true.”

All who have studied under Don or worked closely with him know that he was tough, demanding, and at times hard on his graduate students because he wanted us to be the very best we could be. At times, he drove us like a stern stepfather, but when it came to looking out for us both personally and professionally, he was like a kind grandfather. He was a friend, a father-figure, and a role-model for us. He taught us how to teach and how to be scholars; he protected us yet pushed us out of the nest so that we had to take our first unsteady flight through the daunting halls of Europe’s archives; he opened his international network to us so that we could develop professionally; he laughed with us and he cried with us; he was larger than life. A giant among pygmies.

It used to bother me that his name was not mentioned along with Rothenberg, Connelly, Lynn, and Chandler, and I had always wished that he had written the definitive word on Napoleon to elevate himself above them. It was not until I became a Doktorvater myself that I truly understood Don’s magnanimity. My 6 doctoral students pale in comparison to Don’s 48, but every time I read a first or second or even third draft of one of their dissertations, I think of Dr. Horward, sitting in his vintage reading chair, pouring over the first, second, and sometimes third drafts of 48 dissertations, not to mention MA theses, conference papers, letters of application for jobs and scholarships that he graciously edited for us, and countless other things that were related to us, his students, and not to him or his research. What a tremendous gift he gave to us; many a Doktorvater has put their own research before the needs of their students. Never Don. For decades he sacrificed his own research and scholarship to read our dissertations and our theses. Doktorvater is truly an appropriate term for describing Don, for he bequeathed a part of himself to each of us. We will forever be grateful for all that DDH did for us and we will forever cherish the memory of our journey with him.”