Rouget de Lisle (1760 - 1836) was the author of the French national anthem.
Rouget de Lisle was born on May 10, 1760, in the village Lons-le-Saunier in the Jura region between France and Switzerland. He was the oldest of eight children, five boys and three girls. After going to school in Lons-le-Saunier, where he was found to have a talent for poems and compositions, he went on to a military academy to study engineering, becoming a lieutenant of the engineering corps in 1784.
He did a decent job and was promoted to captain in the engineering corps. They were stationed in Strasbourg in 1792 when France declared war on Hungary on April 24th. The mayor of Strasbourg, Dietrich, held a reception the following evening, and there he asked the young army engineer to write a marching song to lighten the spirits of the men. Chant de guerre pour l'armée du Rhin (War song for the Rhine Army, named after the garrison to which Rouget de Lisle belonged) was written in a night and it soon became immensely popular with the troops. It got the name La Marseillaise after the revolutionary troups that marched from Marseilles to Paris to depose the king, singing the song. Rouget de Lisle meanwhile went on to volunteer in the army of Ardennes.
Being a monarchist himself he was subsequently arrested during the Reign of Terror and imprisoned in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, where he wrote a song to celebrate Robespierre's fall in 1794. He escaped the guillotine probably thanks to the success of his song. La Marseillaise was declared to be the national anthem on July 14th 1795 since it was considered to have aided the success of the revolution. It was later on banned under Napoleon, since he found it to be too connected to the revolution, but reinstated with the July monarchy.
His military career came to an end in 1796 when he started working for the French embassy in Batavia. Under Napoleon he led an enterprise delivering supplies to the army. He didn't have too much luck with his literary career, publishing memoirs and translating documents from English, and he even had to sell part of his heritage from his father. It wasn't until the July monarchy that he received a life annuity of 1500 francs from Louis Philippe. He died shortly thereafter on July 26, 1836, at the age of 76.
Just to prove that he actually did write more than just La Marseillaise, here's the first verse (out of ten) of his Hymne à la Raison.
Quand déchirant les voiles sombres,
dont la nuit couvrait l'univers,
le soleil à travers les ombres
monte sur le trône des airs,
reste impur des vapeurs funêbres,
quelquefois d'épaisses ténèbres
arrêtent ses traits radieux;
il roule bientôt sa lumière
a dissout la masse grossière
et lui seul règne au haut des cieux ( bis )
Info and suchlike: (most will be in French, which I'm not)