Chapter 4

(January 1794 to March 11, 1796)

 

General Bonaparte saves the Republic

and marries Joséphine de Beauharnais

 

January 6, 1794

Napoleon visited his family, which had taken refuge in Marseilles.  The Minister of War, to whom General Dugommier had written: "General Bonaparte has a great deal of intelligence and science and just a little too much courage under fire," named him inspector of the Mediterranean coast.

 

When he learned from Letizia the dangers the family had been exposed to by the Toulon Royalists, of their desperate flight and the hardship they had to endure, he embraced her tenderly and replied: "Mother, all this is over; I shall bring you food and money and find you more decent lodging."

 

January 19 1794

Paoli surrendered Corsica to the British, and the Royal Navy began its occupation of the island ports. A French fleet, loaded with troops, was attacked by superior English forces as soon as it departed, and was obliged to seek refuge in Toulon under the protection of cannons controlled by Napoleon.  France had lost Corsica.

 

February 25, 1794

Napoleon was named artillery commander for the French army in Italy and requisitioned for his family a superb villa, Château-Salé, overlooking the Cap d’Antibes.  He, however, resided in Nice with his aides-de-camp Junot and Marmont, to be close the command post of General Dumerbion, the commander of the army in Italy, who had orders to oppose the threat of the first Coalition.

 

This was a coalition of all the great monarchies of Europe that had been created in February 1793 by the English Prime Minister, William Pitt; its aim was to destroy the French Republic. It included England, Austria, Prussia, Russia, Holland, Spain, Portugal and the kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia.

 

General Dumberion was 60 years old, physically handicapped, and did not have the energy for the task. In his contacts with leaders such as Colonna Cesari, Cateaux, Dopper and now Dumerbion, Napoleon understood clearly that the interests of the Republic compelled him to make known his own point of view, even in the face of more senior generals.

 

July 11, 1794

The political commissar of the army in Italy, Augustin Robespierre, the brother of Maximilian, designated Napoleon for a dangerous mission to Genoa. He was charged with bringing back information on the intentions of the Republic, on its forces and fortifications, and ensuring that the French ambassador, Tilley, was completely faithful to the Convention.

 

July 25, 1794

Napoleon, his mission perfectly accomplished, returned to Nice, where he learned that the older Roberspierre had left for Paris.  His family was in Marseilles at the wedding of his brother Joseph and Julie Clary, the daughter of one of the city’s richest merchants.

 

August 4, 1794

Napoleon learned that both Robespierre brothers had been guillotined in Paris.  He himself was suspected of Jacobinism and was soon arrested and imprisoned in Fort Carré d’Antibes.  He wrote the commissars a letter in which he proclaimed his Republican patriotism: "I would give my life gladly; I've already exposed it several times, but the idea that it can still be useful to the Republic impels me to defend it…"

 

He rejected an escape plan proposed by Junot and Marmont.

 

August 20, 1794

Napoleon was set free and resumed his post as commander of artillery in the Army of Dumerbion, who asked him to devise a plan of attack in Piedmont.

 

Napoleon not only had a plan to occupy Piedmont, but to chase the Austrians completely out of Italy; he also knew, however, that no one but he could carry out his plan, as the forces of the Coalition greatly outnumbered those of France.  He would need to be the commander-in-chief of the French army in Italy, which for the moment, he was not.  The attack was nonetheless launched, but soon, as he had foreseen, it ground to a halt.

 

April 21, 1795

Napoleon became engaged to Désirée Eugénie Clary, Joseph's young sister-in-law. At the first meeting of Napoleon and Désirée Eugénie, aged 19, in 1794, it was love at first sight. The war, however did not permit the idyll to continue. Madame Clary, who was of the opinion that "just one Bonaparte is sufficient in the family," welcomed this turn of events.

 

The beginning of April 1795, Napoleon was recalled from Italy and resumed his courtship. The two young people became passionate lovers. When they confessed "their error" to the parents, a betrothal was announced.

 

The marriage never took place, however, as Napoleon was soon to fall under the spell of Joséphine de Beauharnais. Desirée went on to marry Marshal Bernardotte and became Queen of Sweden, but all her life she harboured a painful wound in her heart and, as we shall see later, a constant attachment to her first lover.

 

Joséphine

 

May 7, 1795

Napoleon was named commander of an infantry brigade and charged with putting down the rebellion in Vendée.  He left immediately for Paris with Junot and Marmont, determined to refuse this new assignment.  "Never my sword against the people!" he proclaimed. Even though Letourneur of the public health committee threatened him with a death sentence, he did not yield.

 

He composed "Clisson and Eugénie," an epic poem dedicated to Desirée. He was Clisson, she was Eugénie.

 

August 18, 1795

Napoleon is employed in the topographical office at the Ministry of War.

 

August 22, 1795

The Constitution of Year III was adopted. The Convention was abolished and power conferred to a five-member Directorate.

 

Sept. 15, 1795

Napoleon was stricken from the list of generals and therefore deprived of his pay on the grounds of subordination, in other words, because he continued to refuse to massacre poor Catholic peasants in Vendée.

 

October 5, 1795

:(13th Vendémiaire of Year IV): Napoleon saved the Republic by putting down the Royalist insurrection.  Taking advantage of the troubles created by the change in the Constitution, The Royalist faction in Paris, a total of 30,000 armed men, marched on the Convention, which was defended by only 5000.  Gen. Menou, the leader of this army, was overwhelmed.  It was the end of the Republic.

 

In a last gasp, Barras, who had been chosen one of the five Directors, remembered General Bonaparte and the success he had had at Toulon.  Napoleon was sent for and he agreed to command the troops.  In no time at all, he completely reversed the situation.

 

He asked Menou if he had any cannons. There were 40 on the Plaine des Sablons. Napoleon addressed a fine-looking young cavalry officer:

"Your name?"

"Murat."

"Well, Murat, take two hundred horses, go to the Plaine des Sablons, and bring back the cannons and ammunition. Use your saber if you have to, but bring them back.  You answer to me!  Go now!"

 

The future Marshal Murat was impressed and inspired by the terseness and firmness of the order he had just received from this man who was to issue so many. In record time, he brought the cannons back.

 

Napoleon also delivered 800 weapons to the members of the assembly to enable them to defend their lives, if necessary.  General Thiébault wrote: "Napoleon set up two pieces of eight in the rue Neuve-Saint-Roch, in front of the church. The sound of cannon fire thundered through the streets. The cannons overturned or dispersed everything in sight. One thousand men from the battalion of patriots followed by a battalion of the line poured out of the cul-de-sac and rushed up to the dissidents in the front of the gate who occupied the rue Saint Honoré. The confrontaion was brutal; there was fierce hand-to-hand fighting. Under the personal leadership of General Bonaparte, however, the Republicans gained ground. Six more pieces of artillery were deployed, completing the rout of the Royalists, who fled in the direction of the Palais Royal and Place Vendôme."

 

October 12, 1795

The army of Sambre et Meuse, under the orders of General Jourdan, was repulsed by the Austrian army of Field Marshal Clerfayt and was obliged to pull back to the left bank of the Rhine in the region of Dusseldörf.

 

October 15, 1795

Joséphine came to thank Napoleon for making an exception by allowing her 14-year-old son, Eugène de Beauharnais, future commander in Chief of Italy and commander-in-chief of the Grand Army, to keep his father’s sabre. General Alexander de Beauharnais had perished under the guillotine after being President of the Constituent Assembly. In fact, following the 13th Vendémaire, a decree had been issued to the inhabitants of Paris, ordering them to surrender all weapons.

 

October 16, 1795

Napoleon was promoted to Major General.

 

Oct. 26, 1795

Napoleon was named Commandant of the Army of the Interior and was installed in the magnificent official residence that overlooked Place Vendôme.  He was now living in fine style and organized receptions that were attended by the loveliest women in Paris.  But he was never satisfied with mere banter and never missed an opportunity to learn something new. Accordingly, every time he had a guest who was a specialist in one subject or another, he would bombard him with questions without the slightest concern about displaying his ignorance to his subordinates. "You can't know everything," he said, "but it's good to know as much as possible."

 

December 15, 1795

Napoleon had not seen Joséphine for some time, since the memory of his fiancée Désirée never left him, and he hesitated to betray her.  But Joséphine would not admit defeat.  She sent a letter: "You no longer come to see a friend who loves you. You have totally forsaken her. You are quite wrong to do so, since she is tenderly attached to you.  Come and lunch with me tomorrow.  I need to see you and talk to you.  Goodnight my friend; I embrace you.  Joséphine de Beauharnais."

 

The next day, Napoleon visited her apartments in rue Chantereine. In this atmosphere of refined luxury, the lascivious, languorous Joséphine deployed her talents as an expert seductress and had very little trouble overcoming his resistance.  In the arms of the most sensual woman of his day – of the most womanly woman he had ever known, as he was to say later on St. Helena – he let himself be carried away by a love of which he was no longer the master … for several years.

 

March 9, 1796

Marriage to Joséphine

 

March 11, 1796

After only two day's honeymoon, Napoleon left for the army in Italy of which he was now commander-in-chief. In less than a year, he would be the most famous man in all Europe.

 

 

***

 

Return to the Life of Napoleon - page 1