General (cr) Michel Franceschi


by Job
The Duke d’Enghien facing the firing party






- A word concerning the author, General Michel Franceschi

- Preface by Mr Ben Weider,

President of the International Napoleonic Society



- The legitimacy of the arrest and of the charge

- The correct conduct of the trial and of the passing of the sentence

- The objectionable blunder of the execution


- The odour of calumny

- Falsehoods and the use of falsehoods

- Historical untruths

- The absurd notion of a sacrificial crime

- The misinterpretation of a political crime

- The ineptitude of Napoleon’s pseudo-remorse

- Approval in France and in Europe

- One plot hidden behind another





During the night of 20-21 March 1804, Louis Antoine Henri de Bourbon, Duke d’Enghien and grandson of the Prince de Condé, was shot dead by a firing party in the moat of the Château of Vincennes. A few moments earlier he had been condemned to death by a military court for communicating with the enemy, high treason and conspiracy.

Historians are practically unanimous in presenting this unhappy affair as a bloody stain on Napoleon’s memory. It warrants, however, further examination in the light of historical fact.

Even if we apply the minimum of objectivity to our consideration of the event, we are obliged to conclude that Napoleon has been the victim of serious defamation and History itself has been grossly manipulated.

But for the passage of time and were the witnesses still alive, the question might well be settled in a court of law, so let us now employ such a means, to throw as much light as possible on the affair. We hereby summon Napoleon to appear before the Court of History.

After the indictment has been read out, we shall proceed with a rigorous examination of the facts. Once these have been revealed, the Truth will become self-evident.

I - The defendant Napoleon is to rise !

As in all trials, this instruction is followed by the reading of the charge. In this case the latter is based essentially on four features of the affair, which need to be set forth straight away:

- the abduction of the Duke d’Enghien from foreign soil.

- the hearing of the case and the pronouncement of the death sentence in a matter of hours.

- the immediate execution of the prisoner, under objectionable conditions.

- the protection given by Napoleon to the person guilty of this unpardonable abuse of power.

A dispassionate examination of these bare facts leads naturally to the conclusion that we are dealing with a criminal travesty of justice, while it cannot be denied that appearances are not in Napoleon’s favour.

His countless detractors, forever on the look-out for the least fault, have seized on the event as a godsend and, heads lowered, have gone for it like bulls confronted with a red rag. Following one trial with another as it were, they have subjected him to a trial based on assumed motives, of a kind which Stalin himself would not have disowned. Even serious historians have allowed themselves to be attracted by the delusion, magnifying the affair promiscuously to the extent of conferring on it a resonance which it has never possessed. The most hostile accuse Napoleon of a ‘crime’, of ‘assassination’ or ‘murder’, while the least virulent use the term ‘summary execution’, worthy of the gulag.

It would be tedious to draw up the interminable list of these imitators of Saint-Just; one of them, a well-known historian, provides us with a quintessential version of the indictment. In his ‘Histoire de France’, Jacques de Bainville has written: ‘It was to the equivalent of regicide that Napoleon resorted in his turn, to give his throne a republican baptism of blood (…) . He had the young Prince de Condé, who was at Ettenheim in Baden, forcibly abducted and then court-martialled and shot, after a mockery of a trial. Was this crime essential in order that Napoleon should become emperor ? Of course not !

Numerous authors question the procedure: a perfunctory preliminary enquiry; the violation of a nation’s frontier in defiance of international law, irregular jurisdiction, an iniquitous trial conducted at great speed, and the summary execution of the sentence.

Every crime must have a motive, though on this issue there is disagreement. For Bainville and a few others, the ‘crime’ derived in some way from the ancient pagan custom of human sacrifice. For the majority, it was born out of Napoleon’s unswerving ambition and his impatience to ascend the Imperial throne.

These acerbic judgments involve only their particular authors. With history textbooks and encyclopedias, responsible for the official education of the young, it is quite a different matter.

Here are examples taken from three French encyclopedias:

In the case of the least partisan, the Encyclopédia Universalis, Napoleon’s motive is his hatred of the Bourbons: ‘My blood is as good as theirs. I will visit on them the same fear as they would inspire in me’.

Hachette takes every possible liberty with the facts, weaves a pretty tale but achieves nothing. ‘The Duke was living very quietly’ at Ettenheim, it writes. He was ‘condemned to death by a Court Martial (sic), convened entirely without legal basis’. It was Napoleon who ‘decided that the Duke d’Enghien should be executed’. He bears ‘the shame of such a violation of human rights’.

For Hachette, the Cadoudal plot, implicating Generals Moreau and Pichegru, was ‘extremely serious’ for Napoleon, because it ‘put at risk the loyalty of the army, the real basis of Bonaparte’s power (…) It had become necessary therefore to strike a resounding blow, to instill fear and to shed some blood’. Napoleon had chosen the convenient course and had picked upon the Duke d’Enghien because he ‘was the only Bourbon whom it was easy to abduct’. To enable ‘the First Consul to ascend the Imperial throne (…) the life of one man was of little importance’. Here we find again the recurrent theme of excessive ambition presented as the motive.

The Encylopedia Hérodote outdoes them all. The Duke ‘had made no moves against Revolutionary France (sic) other than to emigrate to the Grand Duchy of Baden, a neutral country’, it proclaims ! The Cadoudal conspiracy, ostensibly aimed at the assassination of the First Consul and the overthrow of the regime, was merely a ‘pretext, which had been supplied by a plan for an uprising, reported to the police by a double agent, Méhée de la Touche’.

The flagrant contempt for established facts continues: ‘The Military Court found the Duke guilty only of having plotted against the security of the State, which is untrue, and of having received money from England, which is true’. But hardly a crime !

Finally, for Hérodote the case concerns not so much the Cadoudal plot as a ‘Napoleonic plot’ (sic), intended to ‘strike fear into the royalist opposition once and for all (…). The murder achieved the expected result (…). Talleyrand encouraged the First Consul to commit this crime, the prologue to Napoleon’s personal dictatorship’. Here too we see blood-thirsty ambition presented as the motive.

It would be repetitive to pursue this theme before we examine the prosecution’s case. The main points of the indictment have been expressed and may be summarised as follows:

1 – Under the pretext of a plot which threatened both his life and the regime, Napoleon is guilty of the ‘murder’ of the Duke d’Enghien.

2 – The motives for the crime are twofold:

personal vengeance on the Bourbons.

a consuming ambition to accede more quickly to the Imperial throne.

3 – The law has been flouted:

the violation of a nation’s frontier.

a mockery of a trial.

the summary execution of the sentence.

In order to decide whether this uncompromising indictment is justified, we propose to submit it to the supreme verdict of the facts.

II - The irrefutable evidence of the facts :

This evidence depends upon a rigorous analysis of the sequence of events, to enable us to arrive at positive answers to three simple and logically based questions :

- Did the situation of the Duke d’Enghien justify his abduction from the other side of the Rhine and his arraignment before a Court Martial ?

- Was his trial correctly conducted and was the sentence just ?

- Was his hasty execution in accordance with the legal rules ?

To the first two questions our reply is YES and to the third it is NO, but with no responsibility being attributable to Napoleon.

The legitimacy of the arrest and of the indictment.

The affair of the Duke d’Enghien is interwoven with the Cadoudal-Moreau-Pichegru plot, to which we must refer before continuing.

Georges Cadoudal

General Pichegru

General Moreau

At the inception of the Consulate, the royalist opposition, turning its savage antipathy upon the First Consul, did not hesitate in resorting to blind terrorism. On the
24 December 1800, Napoleon had a miraculous escape from a major attempt on his life in the rue Saint-Nicaise. Following this, and despite general disapproval, the royalists remained bent on the physical elimination of the First Consul. To this end, the British Prime Minister Pitt encouraged and supported the murderous plans of the Comte d’Artois, younger brother of the late Louis XVI, who had taken refuge in London with his son, the Duke de Berry, and a band of royalists, not unduly burdened with scruples. The other members of the royal family in exile made no effort to oppose him.

Even before the breakdown of the Peace of Amiens in May 1803, a new conspiracy of an unprecedented breadth was gathering in London. Its driving force was Cadoudal, with the support, at any rate tacit, of Generals Moreau and Pichegru. Its objective was still the elimination of Napoleon, to achieve the restoration of the monarchy in France.

The head of the political police, Desmarets, had been on the track of the conspirators since the summer of 1802 and at the end of 1803 he arrested two of Cadoudal’s accomplices, called Querelle and Sol de Grisolle. Three minor royalist activists were also caught in his net.

On 13 January 1804, Real, the Conseiller d’Etat responsible for the police, learnt that Pichegru had arrived in Paris, summoned by Cadoudal who was already in the capital. Hoping to escape the death penalty, Querelle revealed all that he knew. In particular, he confirmed that Cadoudal and Pichegru were in Paris and that they were in touch with Moreau.

It was learnt that Cadoudal had landed in Normandy on 20 August 1803, in the shadow of the Biville cliffs. From there, he set up a logistical chain along which he sent various thugs and equipment, with the objective of removing Napoleon from the scene. The method had changed ; the carnage in the rue Saint-Nicaise had shown itself to be counter-productive for the royalist image. This time, the plan involved nothing less than the abduction of the First Consul on the journey from the Tuileries to Malmaison or Saint Cloud. A large party of cut-throats, armed to the teeth, were to attack the First Consul’s escort and carry him off, alive or dead.

For five months, for all their reputation for efficiency, the police had remained unaware of Cadoudal’s presence in Paris. Napoleon owed his life solely to the long time which had been needed to prepare what was very much a military operation.

Was it therefore misplaced to use every means necessary to put an end to this terrorist attempt to destabilise the established authority and to subject its authors to the rigours of the law ?

On 29 January, Real was put in charge of the operation, under the judicial control of Grand Judge Régnier. Murat, who had been appointed military governor of Paris on 15 January, and Savary, commandant of the elite gendarmerie, were ordered to give him every assistance. In Paris martial law was declared.

Matters now moved swiftly. Real arrested two important individuals: a certain Picot, one of Cadoudal’s servants, and most importantly Bouvet de Lozier, the former Adjutant General of the princes’ army, who had fought against France at the height of the Revolution. At the time, Lozier was Cadoudal’s right-hand man.

Bouvet de Lozier

He needed little encouragement to reveal the entire plot. He confirmed Querelle’s revelations in every detail and added details concerning relations between Cadoudal, Moreau and Pichegru. Most fortunately for Napoleon and for France, the latter had not been able to come to an agreement. Moreau was fully prepared to assent to the elimination of the First Consul, provided that it would be he who took his place. As a fanatical partisan for the Restoration of the monarch, the bloodthirsty Cadoudal flew into a rage and shouted at him contemptuously that he would rather keep Napoleon ! In the light of this discord, Cadoudal  continued with the venture alone, with the complicity of Moreau and Pichegru now only tacit.

The Consular police pursued their work swiftly and well. During the night of 26/27 February 1804, in an eventful series of arrests, they detained Pichegru, the brothers Armand and Jules de Polignac and de Ribière, all high up in the militant royalist movement. Several lesser accomplices were also taken.

The confessions wrung from these important persons introduced a new and decisive factor : a « young prince », his identity apparently unknown, was involved in the conspiracy. He was to « rally » the country after the assassination of the First Consul, in order to bring about a royalist Restoration.

It is here that the affair of the Duke d’Enghien enters the story.

The First Consul, now fully aware of the details of the plot, ordered the government to take all the necessary steps to render Cadoudal powerless and to discover the identity of the young prince being talked about.

It was not long before the name of the Duke d’Enghien made its first appearance in a police report. He possessed all the qualifications for the distinction : he was a prince, he was young (32 years old) and above all he had an active past. In exile since 1789, from that day on he had not ceased to wield his sword against France, first in the emigré army commanded by his grandfather Condé, then, after the latter had been woefully scattered, in the Austrian army. He had distinguished himself in the engagement at Belheim, in the attack against the lines of Wissembourg, in the capture of the village of Bertheim, in the defence of the fort of Kehl and at Biberach against Moreau. He had successfully covered the retreat of the Austrian army. His name had long figured in the list of his country’s traitors. If ever he were to fall into the hands of justice, there would be no doubt about his fate. He had already been condemned to death for high treason, in accordance with the laws then in force.

For the last two years he had been living at Ettenheim, a few kilometres across the Rhine in Baden. He divided his time between his deep love for his fiancée, Charlotte de Rohan-Rochefort, and above all the unbridled energy which he exercised within the restless circle of émigrés around Offenbourg.

The Duke of Enghien

Charlotte de Rohan-Rochefort,
the Duke d’Enghien’s fiancée

The information available to the police indicated that on visits to Strasbourg he had made efforts to suborn the soldiers and that he had attempted to organise a means of desertion. Other intelligence added that on one occasion he had travelled secretly to Paris to meet certain unidentified persons.

The least that can be said is that the inquiries were scarcely based on an assumption of innocence in his case !

Is it therefore possible, in all sincerity, to blame Napoleon for wanting to deal with the matter ? In a meeting of the cabinet, his ministers unanimously urged him to display the utmost resolution, Talleyrand and Fouché taking the lead in their determination to call for the Duke’s arrest.

General Moncey was given the task of actively pursuing the investigations and he sent Sergeant Lamothe, of the Gendarmerie Nationale, to make enquiries on the spot. Once these were complete, Lamothe submitted his report to the First Consul on 10 March.

Meanwhile, as a matter of interest, on 8 March Moreau wrote a letter to Napoleon, admitting his contacts with the conspirators, but claiming that he had rejected their proposals. As for Cadoudal, on 9 March he was arrested in the Odéon quarter after a bloody fracas. Arrogantly he proclamed his intention of assassinating the First Consul. He confirmed the participation of a prince whose identity he affected not to know. He had been awaiting the latter’s arrival in Paris before taking action. Arrested at the same time, his coachman Léridant corroborated his master’s story.

It was clear that, at his particular level, Cadoudal could not have been unaware of the identity of the «young prince» for whom he was waiting. Napoleon rejected with horror the use of torture suggested by some to make the other talk. He preferred to rely on the normal methods of police investigations. A genuinely bloodthirsty tyrant in his position would not have hesitated one moment in employing the barbaric but effective torture method.

The Lamothe report strengthened suspicions concerning the culpability of the Duke. With him at Ettenheim were the traitorous general Dumouriez and a certain Smith, probably the notorious British plotter. The Duke travelled frequently to Strasbourg and to Offenbourg, where he met with all the high-born royalists of the region. The suspicions about the Duke’s involvement became stronger as the information multiplied. Everything now pointed to him as being most probably the «young prince» who was awaited.

There was no time to lose if they were to make sure of him. At a further meeting, the cabinet took the unanimous decision to arrest the Duke and to bring him to justice. Once more Talleyrand and Fouché were foremost in their impatience.



Where was the illegality in this action ? Here was a government on the point of being violently overthrown and its head assassinated. A whole bundle of concordant pointers led to one prince, the presumed centre of the greatest conspiracy ever to threaten France. Once the doers had been rendered harmless, should the leader of the plot be allowed to escape, only to make another attempt at a later date ? Assuredly it would have been irresponsible on the part of any government to have stopped there !

It should be noted that the arrest and the arraignment implicitly acquit Napoleon of summary assassination. If he had been animated solely by a wish to shed the blood of a Bourbon, he would have found it much easier to have made use of hired killers, who could have been given the job discreetly and without the slightest risk of blunder.

The arrest needed the resolution of a ticklish problem of international law. There was a choice of two solutions : a request for extradition adressed to the Margrave of Baden in due form, or a surprise abduction by main force. The first method, manifestly impractical, was very quickly rejected. Both long and unconcealed, it would give the suspect plenty of time to make his escape. Furthermore, it would place the Margrave in a most embarrassing situation, certain to earn him the hostility of one or other of the parties. This was indeed confirmed after the coup, by the contents of his very diffident response to the government’s letter of apology. One might even have heard the sound of a deep sigh of relief.

The government thus had to fall back on abduction by main force. There were no lack of objections to what seemed to be an act of aggression against a foreign country. Having no choice, Napoleon took the responsibility of overriding them, with the approval of his senior aides.

At that time the concept of the inviolability of frontiers had not acquired the importance which it has today ; such violations were not infrequent. Napoleon justified his decision to his Council by basing himself on the spirit rather than the letter of the conventions in force : «The inviolability of territory was not conceived in the interest of the guilty, but solely in that of the independence of the peoples and the dignity of the ruling prince ». In other words, what is called «right of pursuit ».

It is also important to emphasise that the Duke and his friends were tolerated at Ettenheim by the Margrave on condition that they « did not conspire against the French government, its friends and allies ». They were to maintain a « peaceful and discreet conduct », an undertaking which they had clearly not observed.

In order to keep the international repercussions to a minimum, the expedition was to take the form of a surprise attack, entering and returning in a very short time and without causing the least consequential damage to the country. To reassure himself, Napoleon drew up the plan of the operation in detail himself.

On 10 March, General Ordener, commanding a big military detachment of a thousand men, received the order to «proceed to Ettenheim, seal off the town and carry off the Duke d’Enghien, Dumouriez, a British colonel and any other individual who might be in their train».

Despite the care which had been taken, the Duke’s entourage suspected that some danger was imminent. From all sides, he was assailed with advice to quit Ettenheim. But, reckless as ever, he ignored them all, as if he wished himself to seal his fatal destiny.

During the night of 14/15 March, a detachment of gendarmerie led by Commandant Charlot accomplished the arrest of the Duke without spilling a single drop of blood. Surprise had been only partially successful, but the Duke and his followers, although armed, offered no resistance, to Charlot’s great surprise.

It was not Dumouriez and Smith that Charlot found at Ettenheim, but the Marquis de Thumery and a certain Lieutenant Schmidt. Sergeant Lamothe had been misled by the German pronunciation of their surnames. This made no fundamental difference to the business, which was essentially concerned with the Duke, and the latter was firmly in the hands of the gendarmerie, together with his highly compromising papers which he had not had time to hide. He was borne off to Paris without delay, closely guarded by Charlot.

During the journey, the Duke conversed freely with his custodian. Recovering his natural arrogance, he made little effort to guard his tongue. Expressing his surprise that they had believed Dumouriez to be in his company, he declared « that it was however possible that he had been ordered to bring him instructions from England » .

This admission only increased the suspicion that the Duke and the awaited « young prince » were one and the same. Realising the enormity of his blunder, he hastily attempted to nullify it by declaring « that he considered Bonaparte to be a great man ». But pride immediately reasserted itself when he went on «that, as a prince of the Bourbon family, he had sworn an implacable hatred against him, as he had against the French, against whom he would wage war whenever occasion offered». Before he had even appeared before a tribunal, the Duke himself had pronounced his own death sentence.

When asked by Charlot why he had surrendered without resistance, he betrayed a certain annoyance and replied « that he regretted not having fired at him, by which means he would have met his fate, weapon in hand ».

In passing, there is a point to be made here. Without the least compunction, the Duke spat out his hatred for the people of his own country. As a true representative of the Bourbons, he supplied the profound reason for their downfall. In losing their love for their people, the cardinal virtue of their ancestors, the last of the Bourbons were themselves lost. Kings of France, they forgot to remain kings of the French.

The papers seized at Ettenheim were delivered into Napoleon’s hands on 19 March. They confirmed, if such were needed, the Duke’s compromised position in communicating with the enemy. In them it was discovered that he was in the pay of the British cabinet and that he was the moving force behind an entire anti-republican network, with many ramifications.

In correspondence addressed to Sir Charles Stuart, he subserviently offered his services to his country’s traditional enemies, enough to make the entire House of Capet turn over in their graves. In it one reads : «The Duke d’Enghien begs his Britannic Majesty to have the goodness to give him his consideration and to employ him, in no matter what capacity, against his implacable enemies, by deigning to grant him the command of a few auxiliary troops (…) ». The Duke’s « implacable enemies » were the French. After this overwhelming revelation, is it any longer possible to doubt that he was guilty of communicating with the enemy and of treason, even if the proof that he was indeed the awaited «young prince» had not been produced?

Sir Charles II Stuart

Recent letters to his grandfather Condé, who was advising him to be prudent, confirm his unrestrained militancy and lend a little more weight to the suspicion that he was the awaited «young prince» : « At this moment, when an order of His Britannic Majesty’s Privy Council calls upon those émigrés who had fallen back to assemble on the banks of the Rhine, I could not, whatever may happen to me, distance myself from these worthy and loyal servants of the monarchy ». In this passage the clear allusion to London’s involvement in the conspiracy is to be noted.

Other letters to his grandfather reinforce suspicions of his participation in the Cadoudal plot. One of them is particularly compromising : « (…) I want to stay close to the frontier since, as I said just now, at the point that things have reached, one man’s death can bring about a complete change  (…) ». Was not the man whose death was expected Napoleon and the « complete change » the overthrow of the regime ? To make the least grave of assumptions, the Duke was at least an accomplice to an assassination in the making.

Before passing on to the trial, we can state, without the shadow of a doubt, that the Duke was guilty of communicating with the enemy and of treason. Although he did not admit to being the awaited prince, he nevertheless admitted his complicity in the plot. His arrest and his arraignment before the court are no less legitimate. The unauthorised incursion into Baden represents no more than a trifle when set against the gravity of the whole affair.

The correct conduct of the trial and of the passing of the sentence.

The illustrious prisoner arrived at the château of Vincennes during the evening of 20 March. In the course of the afternoon, the First Consul had convened a further meeting of his Council at the Tuileries for the purpose of approving the decision to hold a trial. Entirely legally and with no objection of a judicial nature being raised by the Council, the following text was adopted : « In accordance with the report by the Grand Judge, Minister of Justice, concerning the execution of the orders given by the government on the 16th of this month, with respect to the conspirators who were assembled in the electorate of Baden, the government decrees that the former Duke d’Enghien , accused of having borne arms against the Republic, of having been and being still in the pay of England, of being party to plots conceived by the latter power against the security of the Republic, both internal and external, is to be summoned before a Military Court composed of seven members, appointed by the Military Governor of Paris, and which is to be convened at Vincennes».

Military Courts were not irregular tribunals. They had been instituted by the Convention, but the First Consul had moderated their severity. They were convened quite often, in 1803-1804 as many as fifty times.

Murat, the Military Governor of Paris, had very little time at his disposal to assemble the Court. He chose it somewhat at random from among the


officers of the Paris garrison. General Hulin, Commanding Officer of the Grenadiers of the Guard, was appointed President. Murat passed on to him the verbal injunction from Napoleon, transmitted by Savary, head of the elite gendarmerie, to «arrive at a judgement without delay and finish the business before the end of the night», in order words, to sit without interruption until pronouncement of the sentence. Note particularly the expression «arrive at a judgement without delay and finish the business before the end of the night» for it will in due course assume great significance.

Six colonels in command of regiments, a captain acting as judge advocate and a clerk formed the rest of the Court. The six colonels were : Guiton (1st regiment of cuirassiers), Bazancourt (4th regiment of light infantry), Ravier (18th regiment of the line), Barrois (96th regiment of the line), Rabbe (2nd regiment of the Paris Guard). The judge advocate was called Dautancourt. There was nothing in their service records to raise any doubt concerning their impartiality, as the conduct of the trial would confirm.

Savary was responsible ex-officio for the security of the location. In this post, he took it upon himself to sit in as an observer of the trial with overriding powers. There was no legal reason why he should not be present, since no order had been given to hold the case in camera. In addition, other officers were present, observing at a distance.

The Court received the file of evidence at about ten pm. It contained the government decree previously referred to, giving the Court its brief, the order from Murat defining the Court’s composition, the summary report compiled by Real and exhibits consisting of the compromising papers of the Duke which had been seized at Ettenheim.

The accused was immediately brought in for examination, closely guarded by the judge advocate. At no time did the Duke request the assistance of a defending counsel, which he knew he had the right to demand. Dautancourt took his time to ensure that everything was made plain. From his examination, it emerged in substance that the Duke fiercely denied any participation in the Cadoudal conspiracy. On the other hand, he had no difficulty in admitting, even with a certain relish, his active record as a fighter against the French army. He insolently affirmed his willingness to do so again given the least opportunity. He flaunted his entire allegiance to England in the war against France. He confirmed his hostility, to the point of hatred, towards « Bonaparte » whom he nevertheless could not help but admire.
Before signing the record of his examination, he insisted on adding in his own hand a veiled appeal for mercy : « I earnestly request a private audience with the First Consul. My name, my rank, my attitude of mind and the horror of my situation allow me to hope that he will not refuse my request ». It was a perfectly legitimate request.

The accused was brought into the courtroom by Dautancourt at about half-past midnight. Savary was in one corner of the room, paying close attention.

Face to face with his judges, the Duke preserved his haughty attitude, while the former subjected him to intense scrutiny. Colonel Ravier immediately requested leave to speak : General, he declared, I wish to point out that we are not complying with the conditions required by Law : no witness has been summoned and the accused has not been provided with a defending counsel. I wonder whether, in these circumstances, we have the right to sit. » To this fundamental question, the President gave a precise answer : « We have not been constituted as a Court Martial but as a Military Court, with special jurisdiction established by the Convention in the Year III, wielding discretionary powers and passing judgment without appeal. The accused has not requested a defending council. » Thus, the Court was sitting completely legally.

With this point cleared up, the prosecuting officer proceeded to read out the examination record. He finished with the Duke’s request for an audience with the First Consul. Colonel Barrois then requested leave to speak : « I believe it to be our duty, he declared, to forward this petition to General Bonaparte. This would not prevent us in the meantime from continuing our session. In less than four hours a well-mounted rider could carry a message to Malmaison and return to us with the reply. » Savary leapt to his feet and, going up to the president, rapped out in a peremptory voice : « This request is ill-timed !  » What business was it of his ?


Bravely showing its independence, the Court left the matter, having decided to examine the question again at the end of the hearing.

To questions from General Hulin concerning the contents of the record of his examination, the Duke gave frank replies. He confirmed his active record as a fighter against the French army. He could not deny his paid allegiance to England, his country’s enemy. He persisted in repeating his overwhelming confessions with an aggressive satisfaction.

Some members of the Court tried in vain to extend to him a helping hand by finding some possible extenuating circumstance. Their efforts were in vain, for he only made matters worse : « (…) A Condé can never return to France except with a weapon in his hand. My birth, my opinions, make me forever the enemy of your government ». This bravado was not lacking in panache, but by it its author had already signed his own death sentence...

And there was more to come ! Referring to the crucial question of his involvement in the Cadoudal conspiracy, he repeated with vigour his previous denials, considering such conduct unworthy of him. However, pressed into a corner by General Hulin, he ended by blurting out this half-confession which in the end was to sink him : « My intention was not to remain indifferent to it. I had asked England to be allowed to serve in its army and it had replied that this request could not be granted, but that I was to remain on the Rhine, where I would continually have a role to play, and there I waited. Monsieur, that is all I have to say to you ! »

Had the Duke, unknown to himself, been the «  young prince  » awaited by the conspirators ? After the event, it was established that the latter was in fact the Duke de Berry, which does not exclude the possibility that the Duke d’Enghien could have been awaited in addition. In any case, the question had become one of secondary importance.

With the proceedings completed, the Duke was returned to his cell to await the verdict. The Court’s deliberations took less than two hours. Never can a tribunal have had to judge so simple a case. The accused himself had already effectively signed his sentence. To add to that, his aggressive attitude scarcely inclined the judges to clemency. The sentence of death was inescapable. It was prononced unanimously by the Court. The Duke d’Enghien was found guilty :

« 1 - of having borne arms against the French Republic .

2 - of having offered his services to the British Government, the enemy of France.

3 – of having received and harboured in his household agents of the British government, of having provided them with the means to carry out espionage in France and of having conspired with them against the internal and external security of the State.

4 – of placing himself at the head of a group of émigrés and others, funded by England, on the frontiers of France, in the states of Fribourg and Baden.

5 – of having carried out espionage in Strasbourg, of a kind liable to encourage unrest in the neighbouring departments, in order to create a diversion favourable to England.

6 – of being one of the supporters and accomplices of the conspiracy devised by the English against the life of the First Consul which, in the event of its success, would have led to the invasion of France ».

It will be seen that all these motives correspond in all points to the established facts and to the confessions of the accused. It should also be noted that he was not identified as the « expected young prince », but solely as the accomplice in the Cadoudal plot. In any case, the question had become supererogatory in the light of the other charges.

Much heat has been generated over the severity of the sentence, probably because it was imposed on a prince of the blood. From a legal aspect the verdict is unassailable. For the crimes of communicating with the enemy and treason, here clearly established and even claimed, the laws of 28 March 1793 and 26 brumaire year III specify only the capital punishment for each of these counts. Justice must be the same for all without any discrimination. A high social position constitutes if anything an aggravating circumstance ! « Dura lex, sed lex. ». The court had no other choice. Napoleon himself would not have been able to save the Duke from the death penalty. The only action open to him was the granting of a reprieve.

The judgement has also been attacked for a drafting omission. The Court knew the laws which it was enforcing, but not their precise dates, and it had been obliged to leave them temporarily blank. Fundamentally, this minor imperfection made absolutely no difference.

The drafting of the judgement gave rise to a tiresome incident. At the request of the clerk, a first copy, which had already been signed by all the members of the Court, had to be discarded due to drafting errors. A second version was immediately produced, without care being taken to destroy the first, which remained in the personal papers of the President, Hulin. We shall see in due course the dishonest use to which it was put by certain persons in order to discredit the judicial procedure.

We have now disposed of the unjust censures generally placed on the judicial procedure which had been followed. Up to that point everything had taken place in accordance with the established rules, except for the final act. An unpardonable abuse of power by Savary was to place a heavy stain on the execution of the sentence.

The objectionable blunder of the execution.

Judgement having been pronounced, General Hulin immediately set about dealing, as intended, with the request for an audience with the First Consul. Once more Savary intervened :

- « What is that you are doing ? » he asked the General curtly. 

- « I am writing to the First Consul to explain to him both the wishes of the Court and those of the prisoner ».

- « Your task is finished, the other retorted vehemently, seizing the pen out of his hand. It is now for me to deal with ! »

General Savary

If one is to believe his « Explanations offered to men of  impartial minds » (1823), General Hulin claimed to have believed that « it was for him to inform the First Consul » and did not therefore press the point. This is an explanation but not a excuse. In such grave circumstances, the President of the Court should never have delegated his duty to anyone else. For the rest of his life he was to be consumed with an unconsolable remorse. Attempts have been made to place responsibility for the hasty execution on General Hulin. Invoking his honour, he defended his part in the affair in the document quoted above : «I wish to distance myself and my colleagues from the idea that we acted other than impartially. (…) Yes, in the name all my colleagues, I swear that that execution was positively not authorised by us. (…) The second draft of the judgement, the correct one, did not include the order « to perform the execution » immediately, but solely to « read out » immediately the judgement to the condemned man. (…) The correct procedure required that the execution order could be given only by a higher authority. (…) We do not know whether he who had so cruelly hastened this vindictive  execution had received any orders. If he had not, then he alone was responsible.» That man was of course Savary.

General Hulin’s claims may be accepted. Savary alone bears the responsibility for the flagrant violation of the Law which grants the condamned man the right to request a reprieve.

As dawn approached on that 21 March 1804, Savary did not lose a second in ensuring that no one had time to thwart his base designs. He ordered the governor of Vincennes to conduct the condemned man immediately to the moat of the château, where an atrocious tragedy, both shocking and surreal,  was about to unfold, which has added no little notoriety to the affair.

When he found himself in the moat, the Duke knew that he was lost. By the dim light of the lanterns, he could see, through the light rain which was falling, a line of gendarmes standing with ordered arms. An NCO, lantern in his hand, advanced towards him and read the judgement in a loud voice.

Retaining his self-possession, he then asked if someone could lend him a pair of scissors, an unexpected request which one of the gendarmes was able to satisfy. The Duke then cut off a lock of his hair which, together with the ring which he was wearing, he slipped into the envelope of a letter which he had been writing when they came for him. Addressing the officer of the gendarmerie who was present, he asked : «Would you have this delivered to the Princess de Rohan-Rochefort ? ». The officer undertook to fulfil this final wish.

Then, still calm, he asked for a priest to be summoned. As his final request, no one had the right to refuse it. Such was not the view of Savary, whose infamies on that fatal night were mounting. From the drawbridge spanning the moat, on which he was standing to watch the execution, his voice came down like thunder : « No false piety !». 

Retaining his poise, the Duke then walked towards a nearby bush, where he knelt to pray. With his ignominy now almost total, Savary called impatiently : « Sergeant-Major, give the order to fire! ».

A few minutes later the Duke fell before the shots of the firing party. It was only with difficulty that his dog Mohilof, which he had been allowed to bring with him from Ettenheim, could be persuaded to leave his side. His corpse was thrown and buried in a pit which had already been dug nearby, evidence of Savary’s criminal premeditation.

The execution had taken no more than a few minutes. The Court was still in the château when they heard the crackle of the gunfire. Agast, they shook with fear.

The Duke d’Enghien died with dignity. His undoubted bravery deserved a better cause than the nostalgic defence of outdated privileges, which conflicted with the greater interests of a Motherland of which he was unaware.

Early in the morning of 21 March 1804, Savary arrived at Malmaison to submit his report to the First Consul, « in the execution of his orders » as he had the effrontery to put it.

On being informed of the execution, Napoleon was dumbfounded. Sharply aware of the extreme gravity of this sudden outcome, he felt the ground giving way beneath his feet. He choked and almost fainted. Because of a baleful combination of circumstances which will in due course be revealed, a dreadful political error had just been committed, against his will. The precious card of a possible reprieve had just flown away.

The ignoble Savary attempted to excuse himself with a far-fetched explanation. With hand on heart, he asserted that he had assumed that the words «arrive at a judgement without delay and finish the business before the end of the night », as he had ordered the Court, meant to go as far as the execution of the sentence. Of course, if a representative of the First Consul had been present, he would not have ordered the immediate execution without his consent, he added hypocritically.

His stupefaction now replaced by anger, Napoleon inflicted on him a memorable mental thrashing which commentators have practically ignored, preoccupied as they were with the preparation of his future trial.

Napoleon rapidly regained his self-control and his legendary realism reasserted itself. The evil had been done and was tragically irremediable; what mattered now was to limit the political damage of this monstrous blunder. We shall see in its proper place the reasons which persuaded him not to disassociate himself from it publicly and to retain at his side the contemptible Savary.

In doing so, he would expose himself to the frightful accusation of being the organiser-in-chief of that summary execution. The trial of Napoleon would in due course succeed that of the Duke d’Enghien. His detractors would exploiter the situation to the utmost and establish it as an engine of war against him, contemptuously disregarding a document which was of capital inportance to the affair, which acquits Napoleon entirely and of which they pretend to be ignorant. It is of especial significance.

Napoleon knew his world. The insistence with which some of his senior subordinates had pressed him to adopt an uncompromising stance made him fearful of an inopportune excess of zeal. In order to avoid any pitfalls, he had decided to introduce his own representative into the judicial circuit. At the moment when the Court was preparing to convene, he caused the following order to be sent to Real, drafted by Secretary of State Maret :

« Proceed at once to Vincennes to question the prisoner. Below are the questions which you are to put :

1 – Have you borne arms against your Country ?

2 – Have you been in the pay of England ?

3 – Have you not forgotten all natural feelings when you have reached the point of calling the French people your cruellest enemy ?

4 – Has it not been your intention to raise an army and to persuade the Republic’s troops to desert, by saying that, during your two-year stay near the frontier, you have gone so far as to make contact with the troops stationed along the Rhine ?

5 – Are you aware of the plot devised by England, aimed at the overthrow of the government of the Republic and, were the plot to have succeeded, were you not to enter Alsace and even come to Paris, as circumstances permitted ? ».

This questionnaire is exactly the same as that contained in the Court’s brief and Napoleon knew that perfectly well. But it was a good pretext to have one of his own men on the spot. In that way he could be sure of maintaining control over the judicial procedure. So long as Real had not sent him any report of his mission, nothing irreparable or irreversible could occur.

Alas, alas, a fatal combination of circumstances, which History is sometimes pleased to inflict on men, was to ruin everything and completely neutralise the safety lock put in place by the First Consul. When, at ten pm, his letter arrived at Real’s house, the latter was already enjoying the sleep of the just, exhausted by his long and detailed enquiry. His task was finished and Justice had now taken up the reins. He had ordered his manservant not to disturb him for any reason before five o’clock the next morning. When he awoke and discovered the document, he hurried to Vincennes in great concern, but he arrived too late. The irreparable deed had been accomplished.

Would Napoleon have granted a reprieve if the Duke’s plea had reached him ? In his Saint-Helena Memoirs, his reply is in the affirmative : «  If I had seen the letter which he had written me, and which I did not receive, God knows for what reason, until after he was dead, most certainly I would have pardoned him». We shall return to the words «which I did not receive, God knows for what reason, until after», an allusion loaded with meaning. The sincerity of this assertion by Napoleon, made fifteen years after the events, cannot be doubted. But equally it is not possible to affirm that such would have been the case in 1804, in the fiery atmosphere of that time. The decision would certainly have been conditioned by the attitude adopted by the Duke when he was face to face with Napoleon.

Meneval, Napoleon’s secretary, in his own Memoirs, in which he deals with the affair at length, is entirely persuaded of his master’s clemency : « I am sure that Napoleon, sufficiently comforted by the humiliation which he had inflicted on his enemies in frustrating their plot, would have been inclined to clemency and would have spared the prince’s life. » Coming from someone who was living in close contact with Napoleon, this statement carries a certain amount of weight.



However that may be, we repeat that the letter to Real incontestably acquits Napoleon of the accusation of a crime against the Duke d’Enghien.

Before moving on to the last part, let us set out a brief recapitulation of the affair. The strong suspicions attaching to the Duke d’Enghien fully justified his arrest and his arraignment before a court. However brief – since it was very simple – his trial was correctly conducted and the sentence, pronounced by a legal and impartial tribunal, complied with the Law. Only his objectionable and over-hasty execution is to be condemned, but we have just seen that Napoleon was neither culpable nor responsible.

Thus, for all the iniquitous and vituperative actions brought against Napoleon, the obstinate and ineluctable truth persists, to shatter the fallacious indictment levelled against him.

There was a case to be heard. Nothing of the kind ! Despite all the evidence, Napoleon’s indefatigable detracteurs persist in fostering the black legend of this sombre episode in our History.

III - A falsification of history

In the absence of convincing arguments and irrefutable proof, their relentless eagerness to put a stain on Napoleon’s reputation pushes the perpetrators to employ blatant disinformation : calumnies, falsehoods and the use of falsehoods, historical untruths come one after another.

The odour of calumny.

Essentially, this odour is sensed when one reads the memoirs of the principal protagonists in the affair, as they shift the responsibility for their turpitudes on to Napoleon. To think that these honest fellows had the extreme temerity to await the Emperor’s death before publishing their efforts !

Regicides, or accomplices in that crime, they had much to do if they were to be pardoned by the new royalist masters of France. Faced with a choice between honour and political convenience, they did not hesitate. This hierarchy of the Napoleonic era, owing everything to Napoleon, gave themselves to a shameful anti-bonapartist zeal in order to regain favour, though without great success. The most contemptible of them all was without doubt Savary, but that goes without saying.

Without dwelling upon the matter further, is it possible seriously to accord the slightest credibility to these confused people ? How can one believe their gossip, their deceitful insinuations and their lying assertions ?

Considerably more reprehensible is the manipulation of the documents.

Falsehoods and the use of falsehoods.

We referred above to the attempt to make use of the first draft of the judgement of the Duke d’Enghien, discarded as soon as it was written, due to its non-conformance with legal style. It was subsequently and fraudulently abstracted from General Hulin’s personal papers for the purpose of demonstrating the illegality of the trial. Once the fraud had been discovered, the scheme hung fire, but without however the suspicion being entirely dispelled.

Worse was the fabrication of a bogus order given to Murat by Napoleon, requiring him to : « Give the members of the Court to understand that the business must be concluded during the night and order the sentence, if, as I have no reason to doubt, it carries the death penalty, to be carried out on the spot and the prisoner buried in a corner of the fortress » . It took a little while for the forgers to realise that this document was in direct contradiction of the official letter from Napoleon to Real, which was almost concomitant. The forgery being so blatant, they were obliged to abandon this discreditable attempt. But even today it is by no means certain that the doubt is fully removed. Lies always leave some doubt hanging in the air ! As is the case with historical untruths.

Historical untruths.

From an instructive comparison of the indictment and the evidence of the facts, we have already been able to cast out the majority of the untruths uttered. It remains for us to tear the latter to shreds.

- The absurd notion of a sacrificial crime.

Let us first sweep aside this extravagant idea, which deals a serious blow to the reputation of the historian who initiated it. According to it, the death of the Duke d’Enghien represented the immolation of a member of the House of Capet on the altar of the Empire, so as to sanctify in blood the baptism of the new dynasty. This bewildering digression failed completely to comprehend the fundamental nature of Napoleon. Utterly a man of the daylight, this barbarous pagan rite was the antithesis of his philosophy. Crime of any kind had always been repugnant to his conscience, as he made clear on Saint Helena, when discussing the Bourbons : «I had on more than one occasion their fates in my hands. I was offered their heads, from the highest to the lowest, but I rejected the idea with horror. I would have regarded it as base and gratuitous cowardice ».

To achieve success, Napoleon had no need to commit either a sacrificial or even a political crime.

- The misinterpretation of the notion of a political crime.

The assertion continued to be made that the affair of the Duke d’Enghien had been entirely the work of Napoleon, to serve him as a spring-board to Empire. In founding the latter, it was essential for him to take some step which represented a rupture with royalty, to guarantee the intangible republicanism of the succeeding regime. This scheme certainly upset a few Jacobin heads, as we shall see later on, but it was entirely foreign to Napoleon. Was it still necessary for him to produce proof of his unalterable attachment to the Republic ? Ever since 1789 he had shown it in all his actions. Of that neither the people, nor the Bourbons, nor yet the monarchies of Europe had had any doubt for a long time. Had he not replied to the official advances of the Count de Provence that «to ascend the throne, the Pretender would have to walk over a hundred thousand corpses» ?

The criminal plots directed against Napoleon were undeniably the decisive reason for the change of regime. However, when the Duke d’Enghien affair took place, the cause was already understood. Minds had been ready for it for months, the last touches were being added to the constitutional texts and, less than two months later, the Empire was proclaimed amid general euphoria in the Nation.

Neither does the accusation of personal vengeance against the Bourbons hold water. Despite several spontaneous rebuffs, Napoleon was too politically shrewd to allow his actions to be driven by some personal resentment.

The internal policies of the First Consul had everything to lose from a revival of the civil hatreds engendered by the convulsions of the revolution. Since the inception of the Consulate more than three years earlier, the reconciliation of the French people had constituted – to the point of obsession - the heart and the axis of the First Consul’s domestic policy : peace with the Breton royalists, amnesty for the émigrés, the Concordat etc. In 1804 he was on the point of completing this tour de force. He would have been insane to have taken the suicidal risk of undermining it all by a single act. He had, on the contrary a major political card in his hand. In the majority as they were, the royalists remained deaf to the appeasement offered by Napoleon. The Augustan clemency manifested by a generous reprieve granted to the Duke would perhaps have brought a large number to his side.

To complete the damage caused to Napoleon, it only remained to cast doubt on his conscience.

- The ineptitude of Napoleon’s pseudo-remorse.

Many historical writers insidiously allow it to be thought that, all his life, Napoleon was plagued with remorse. They base this on the need which he is supposed to have felt to justify himself, even in his testament.

With further malevolence, they credit him in this testament with words which he never wrote. Here for example is what can still be found in the Universalis and Hachette encyclopedias, one probably copying from the other : «It was a sacrifice necessary for my safety and my grandeur ». Let us compare it with the authentic text, in the eighth paragraph of the testament : « (…) I had the Duke d’Enghien arrested and brought to justice because it was necessary for the security, the interests and the honour of the French people, when the Count d’Artois, by his own admission, was harbouring sixty assassins in Paris. In similar circumstances, I would act in the same way ». Comparison of the passages highlighted finds the writers caught redhanded in the act of making things up.

On his death-bed, Napoleon made one final restatement of his position. He accepted full responsibility for the arrest of the Duke and for his being brought to justice, as a legitimate decision. On the other hand, he felt himself in no way guilty of the execution order. He had therefore no reason to feel any remorse, only frustration, at the most, at not having been able to use his right of reprieve. But he resented as a profound injustice the accusation of a crime.

The Emperor had no reason to suffer any uneasiness of mind. As we have seen, his high-ranking associates not only approved his decisions but put great pressure on him to take them, though for reasons, it is true, which are less than clear.

Furthermore, great efforts have been made to hide from us one feature – the general approval of current opinion.

- Approval in France and in Europe.

The more important the event, the more devastating the effect of a lie concerning it. The emotion and the alleged disapproval aroused by the death of the Duke d’Enghien have been exaggerated to suit those concerned.

In order to lay as much blame on Napoleon as possible, a complete section of literature makes reference to the proliferation of counsels of moderation allegedly wasted on the First Consul by his colleagues and his closest associates when the affair first began. That is the reverse of the truth. Let us turn again to Napoleon’s words on Saint-Helena : «As for the variety of opposition that I encountered and the many entreaties which were made to me, as have been disclosed from time to time, nothing could be less true. They were dreamed up solely to make me appear more odious».

Though they were not entirely invented, too much was made of the floods of tears from his private entourage when the Duke’s death was annonced, in particular from Josephine. That same evening, she accompanied  Napoleon to the Opera without the least reticence, where they were applauded louder than ever !

For public opinion was frankly in agreement with this application of the principle of equality under the Law. Before its eyes, the life of a prince of the blood had been shown to be worth no more than that of a simple workman.

During the days following the execution, the First Consul received numerous enthusiastic communications from the Grande Armée, assembled in its camp by Boulogne. It was the same from all over the country. In a word, the whole of France approved of the First Consul, with the exception of the royalist opposition. True, Chateaubriand submitted his resignation from his diplomatic post in Italy, but what can such an isolated action signify, taken under the stress of emotion and without true knowledge of the facts ?

Abroad, the story was the same. Only Sweden (for a very short time), Great Britain and above all Russia manifested their hostility. Tsar Alexander I was not in the best position to administer a lesson in morals to Napoleon. There was a suspicion, not without foundation, that he had been complicit in the assassination of his father Paul I not so long before, and that at the instigation of the British cabinet, because he was « napoleophile ». From the other European monarchies no reactions were reported.

The letters of protest from the Count de Provence, the future Louis XVIII, were returned to him without even being opened.

Oddly, most oddly, the Bourbons of Spain, Naples and Florence did not even go into mourning ! The Queen of Etruria went so far as to rejoice in the event in her own particular way : «If anything could have consoled the Queen on learning of the death of that prince, it was the delicacy with which the First Consul informed her of the event .» No comment !

In short, the death of the Duke d’Enghien was nearly everywhere perceived as a normal politico-legal affair. In truth, no fairminded person dreamed of blaming Napoleon, apart from his sworn enemies, with unfailing bad faith.

The last falsehood will lead us on to the affair’s deplorable outcome.

One plot hidden behind another.

The persons truly responsible for the expeditious execution of the Duke d’Enghien are to be found in the clique of regicides and their accomplices, such as Fouché, Talleyrand, Savary and their associates.

Since the inception of the Consulate, the prospect of the return of the Bourbons to the throne of France, with the inescapable settling of accounts that the event implied, had sent cold shivers down their spines. They were gripped by the syndrome of the English General Monk.

The French Revolution of 1789 possesses similarities with the English Revolution in the middle of the 17th century. Both featured the sentencing to death of the reigning monarch. Victor in the English civil war, General Cromwell proclaimed the Republic after the beheading of Charles I in 1649. After Cromwell’s death in 1658, anarchy held sway in the country. In the end, his successor General Monk restored Charles II to the throne in 1660.

General Monk


At the start of the 1st Napoleonic era, the Jacobins knew that the pretender to the throne of France, the future Louis XVIII, was making tempting and repeated offers to the First Consul. Though the latter had rejected them with contempt, as we saw earlier, they remained uneasy, lest in the end Napoleon should decide to follow Monk’s example.

When the affair of the Duke d’Enghien arose, they found themselves presented with an unforeseen opportunity to place Napoleon irreparably on bad terms with the royalists. From the start, the regicides and their associates exhorted him to show no pity. They manifested a suspicious zeal, as evinced by Napoleon in the Memoirs of Las Cases : « (…) Everything had been planned in advance. The documents were already prepared, it only remained for them to be signed, and the prince’s fate was decided. » One senses that Napoleon would have liked to say more about the question. But, in the position of persecuted prisoner which he now occupied, he could not permit himself to make more serious accusations without appearing to sacrifice his former associates in order to improve his own lot and so he continued to accept the responsibility for their crime.

Since a death penalty allows for no doubt, it was necessary for these radical Jacobins to exclude at all costs the possibility of a reprieve by Napoleon. It was at this point, as we know, that the miserable Savary, perpetrator of the low schemes of the clique of regicides, came on the scene.

One is inclined to wonder about the role played by Real, whose presence at the trial would have avoided the drama. It seems difficult to believe the reasons suggested for his absence. However, in the absence of proof, any suspicion of his complicity must be set aside.

The central question remains: why did Napoleon not disassociate himself from Savary and his associates ? When he learnt of the tragedy, from the mouth of Savary himself, he realised immediately that he had fallen into a deadly trap, set by certain of those around him; they had presented him with a terrible fait accompli. He found himself confronted by the frightful dilemma between his own convenience and the greater interests of the nation. In such cases he had never wavered, on several occasions in his career shouldering responsibility for the faults of his subordinates.

To keep the political damage within limits, he needed to be realistic. If he disowned Savary, he would be accused of the cowardly abandonment of a devoted subordinate, the propitiatory scapegoat for his « crime ». His popularity might be dealt a fatal blow and mistrust would be sown in the very heart of power, shattering its cohesion. In those uncertain times of institutional change, this approach could turn out to be more devastating for the life of the regime than the alternative evil. After all, there is nothing like having a good sword of Damocles to hang above the head of a compromised associate, in order to make sure of his allegiance through any trials – at least so long as one is alive. Thus it was that Savary was able to pursue a highly brillant career by the Emperor’s side before, after his death, stabbing him in the back in his Memoirs.

When the wine is uncorked, it must be drunk. From all evil we must try to derive some good. The First Consul had had forced upon him a bloody rupture with the royal party. So be it ! Since it could not be undone, why reject the political gain it offers ? Everyone now knew that the king would not be restored so long as Napoleon was in power. At a time when the threat of a military invasion was casting its shadow, this was the guarantee of powerful support for all those many persons who had much to lose from a Restoration. The most humble classes in the land would henceforth be unsparing in their adoration of the «little corporal». The beneficiaries of the sale of the national assets under the Revolution would no longer fear that it might be reversed.

Not, of course, that Napoleon was unaware of the low trick which had been played on him. We may recall the feigned astonishment which according to Las Cases on Saint Helena he expressed concerning the non-transmission of the Duke’s request for an audience. His «God knows for what reason »  is more eloquent than the longest of speeches.

In fact, the baleful shadow of Talleyrand and Fouché had perpetually hovered over the whole affair since the beginning. It is possible to say that it was here that the betrayal of Napoleon by these sinister characters began, only to increase as time passed.

King Louis-Philippe, too, was not fooled. If he had seen Napoleon as an ogre thirsting for royal blood, would he in 1840 have sent his son, the Prince de Joinville, to Saint Helena in his name to bring home the Emperor’s remains ? Would he have organised a return of the ashes worthy of a God ?

King Louis Philippe

Prince de Joinville

There are always some who think themselves obliged to be «more royalist than the King !»


Having completed our exposition, it has to be said that the historical presentation of the affair of the Duke d’Enghien constitutes a monument of disinformation, principally in France.

Napoleon’s unconditional detractors have used it as their war machine in their campaigns to demolish his image. But in the end it stands revealed as nothing but a great balloon, which we have had no difficulty in deflating.

The affair of the Duke d’Enghien is thus of a wider value. It is an eloquent illustration of grave errors in historical literature. It bears witness to the monstrous self-assurance and the utter impunity of the falsifiers of History. One yearns for an imaginary committee of ethics as the guardian of the temple.

Let us end on an optimistic note. The malevolence, to the point of hysteria, of its authors has in the end returned to them like a boomerang. It has resulted in doubt being cast on all the other mendacious assertions about Napoleon, which is excellent news for his admirers.

A great boon for both them and for Napoleon !


Casaperta. June 2005