THE AFFAIR OF THE DUKE
D’ENGHIEN, AN ANTI-NAPOLEONIC MISREPRESENTATION.
by Job The Duke d’Enghien facing the firing party
INTERNATIONAL NAPOLEONIC SOCIETY
THE AFFAIR OF
THE DUKE D’ENGHIEN,
- A word concerning the
author, General Michel Franceschi
- Preface by Mr Ben Weider,
the International Napoleonic Society
I THE DEFENDANT NAPOLEON IS TO
II THE IRREFUTABLE EVIDENCE OF
- 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
III A FALSIFICATION OF HISTORY
- The odour of calumny
- Falsehoods and the use of
- Historical untruths
- The absurd notion of a sacrificial
- The misinterpretation of a
- The ineptitude of
- Approval in France
and in Europe
- One plot hidden behind
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.
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.
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.
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 !’
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
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
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
(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’.
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
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
a mockery of a trial.
the summary execution of the
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 affair of the Duke
d’Enghien is interwoven with the Cadoudal-Moreau-Pichegru plot, to
which we must refer before continuing.
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, Cadoudalcontinued
with the venture alone, with the complicity of Moreau and Pichegru now only
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
discreetconduct », 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
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
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 .
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
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 againgiven 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 . 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
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 FrenchRepublic .
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
- « 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 !»
If one is to believe his « Explanations offered to men ofimpartial 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 vindictiveexecution 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
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
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 :
at once to Vincennes
to question the prisoner. Below are the questions which you are to
Have you borne arms against your Country ?
Have you been in the pay of England ?
Have you not forgotten all natural feelings when you have reached the point
of calling the French people your cruellest enemy ?
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 ?
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
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 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
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.
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
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
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 ?
reprehensible is the manipulation of the documents.
Falsehoods and the use of
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
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
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
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
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
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
- 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
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 accompaniedNapoleon 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
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.
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
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