Another ‘crime’ often thrown in Napoleon’s face is the execution of the Duc d’Enghien : « it was murder for Napoleon or some of his ministers to have the Duc d’Enghien shot for having conspired with others for the overthrow of the established French Government, but it is the saintly enforcement of discipline to have a British admiral shot and another ruined for no other reason than an error of judgment on the one hand and an insufficient victory on the other. Sir Robert Calder’s heart was broken by cruelty »75.
In his The Duke of Enghien Affair, A Plot Against Napoleon76, General Michel Franceschi says :« Nearly all the historical literature characterizes this unfortunate affair as a bloody stain on Napoleon’s memory. A historically correct, single way of thinking became the norm. But anyone who looks into the event with a minimum of objectivity quickly realizes that Napoleon is the victim of serious defamation and History of a crude manipulation »77.
Indeed, d’Enghien was found guilty of :
1) Bearing arms against the French Republic.
2) Offering his services to the government of England, the enemy of France.
3) Receiving and accrediting agents of the English government, procuring the means for them to gather intelligence in France and conspiring with them against the interior and exterior security of the State.
4) Leading a group of émigrés and others, in the pay of England, on the border with France in Freiburg and Bad-Wuttemberg.
5) Gathering intelligence in Strasbourg and attempting to foment an uprising in the surrounding departments to create a diversion favorable to England.
6) Being one of the ringleaders and accomplices of the conspiracy hatched by the English against the life of the First Consul and, in the event of the conspiracy’s success, bringing about the invasion of France78.
He was an accomplice in the infamous Cadoudal plot and was ordered shot by Savary before Napoleon had the chance to offer the criminal a pardon : « Napoleon was dumbfounded when he heard about the execution. Suddenly aware of the extreme seriousness of this hasty conclusion, the First Consul felt the earth move beneath his feet. He was staggered. Due to a horrible combination of circumstances, a dreadful political mistake had just been made against his will. The precious possibility of a pardon had just evaporated »79.
Throughout his time as ruler of France Napoleon faced the bitter opposition of all the so-called legitimate rulers. They would never forgive him for being the usurper :« He was an interloper who had nothing in common with the galaxy of monarchs who ruled Europe at that time »80. Furthermore : « It was a period of wild, uncontrollable passion, and the survivors of the old aristocracy hated the man of genius who had risen to power from the ranks of the people to take the place of the Bourbons. This was the canker that stimulated their enmity »81. The vilest things were said and written about him because he was ‘not one of us’. Hence the death of d’Enghien was portrayed as the most wicked crime since the crucifixion. The privileged elites of Europe :« sedulously nursed the Press, published books and pamphlets in every language, and employed the most poisoned pen that could be bought to portray the future ruler of kings in terms of obloquy »82. Runciman points to the reams written about the death of d’Enghien in contrast to how little has been said about Nelson’s actions in Naples.
However : « Fox made a speech on it in the House of Commons which was, and will ever continue to be, an awful indictment. There is nothing in the French Revolution, or in the whole of Napoleon’s career, than can be compared with it for ferocity… There cannot be found a more astonishing revelation of perfidy or inhuman violence in the archives of Europe than that related by Mr. Fox »83.
Fox says :« When the right honourable gentleman speaks of the last campaign,he does not mention the horrors by which some of these successes were accompanied ; Naples, for instance, has been, among others (what is called) delivered ; and yet, if I am rightly informed, it has been stained and polluted by murders so ferocious, and cruelties so abhorrent, that the heart shudders at the recital… They made terms… under the sanction of the British name. It was agreed that their persons and property should be safe, and that they should be conveyed to Toulon. They were accordingly put on board a vessel, but before they sailed, their property was confiscated, numbers of them taken out, thrown into dungeons, and some of them, I understand, not with standing the British guarantee, absolutely executed »84.
Here was an English politician condemning the actions of his own countryman yet it is never mentioned now in English history books of the period. By castigating Napoleon and accusing him of every crime under the sun, the British Establishment tried to hide their own violations of international law and common decency :« So much for the vaunted fairness and impartiality of our treatment of Napoleon ! »85
Runciman also portrays a Napoleon we seldom see described in the biased and partial works of nationalistic historians today : « It is only when we come to study the life of this man that we realize how he towered above all his contemporaries in thought, word, and deed. Napoleon’s authentic doings and sayings are wonderful in their vast comprehensiveness and sparkling vision, combined with flawless wisdom. When we speak or think of him, it is generally of his military genius and achievements and of what we term his ‘gigantic ambition’ ; and in this latter conclusion the platitudinarians, with an air of originality, languidly affirm that this was the cause of his ruin, the grandeur of which we do not understand. But never a word is said or thought of our own terrible tragedies, nor of the victories we were compelled to buy in order to secure his downfall. His great gifts as lawgiver and statesman are little known or spoken of »86.
Runciman then gives the opinions of two men who actually met Napoleon, the Swiss historian Mueller and the writer Wieland. Mueller said :« Quite impartially and truly, as before God, I must say that the variety of his knowledge, the acuteness of his observations, the solidity of his understanding (not dazzling wit), his grand and comprehensive views, filled me with astonishment, and his manner of speaking to me with love for him. By his genius and disinterested goodness, he has also conquered me »87. The German Wieland actually spoke to Napoleon on the battlefield of Jena so he was hardly likely to be impressed yet he said :« I have never beheld any one more calm, more simple, more mild or less ostentatious in appearance ; nothing about him indicated the feeling of power in a great monarch. Napoleon spoke to him for an hour and a half, to the great surprise of the whole assembly »88.
Yet what does Pitt say in a scrap of manuscript found amongst his papers :« I see various and opposite qualities – all the great and all the little passions unfavourable to public tranquillity united in the breast of one man, and of that man, unhappily, whose personal caprice can scarce fluctuate for an hour without affecting the destiny of Europe. I see the inward workings of fear struggling with pride in an ardent, enterprising, and tumultuous mind. I see all the captious jealousy of conscious usurpation, dreaded, detested, and obeyed, the giddiness and intoxication of splendid but unmerited success, the arrogance, the presumption, the selfwill of unlimited and idolized power, ad more dreadful than all in the plenitude of authority, the restless and incessant activity of guilt, but unsated ambition »89.
Pitt never met Napoleon and as a consequence he talks utter rot, gushing forth with childish inchoate ramblings that just demonstrate the feebleness of his own bigoted tiny mind. One wonders how many bottles of port he got through before he consigned his insane scribble to paper. As Runciman says :« This scrap of mere phrases indicates a mind that was far beneath the calibre of a real statesman. It was a terrible fate for Great Britain to have at the head of the Government a man whose public life was a perpetual danger to the state. Had Pitt been the genius his eloquence led his contemporaries to believe he was, he would have availed himself of the opportunities the Great Figure, who was making the world rock with his genius, afforded the British Government from time to time of making peace on equitable terms »90.
Pitt had no vision just a blinkered enmity for everything that Napoleon stood for :« The ‘usurper’ must be subdued by force of arms, the squandering of British wealth, and the sanguinary sacrifice of human lives… Had Pitt been talented in matters of international diplomacy, as he was in other affairs of Government, he would have seized the opportunity of making the Peace of Amiens universal and durable. It is futile to contend that Napoleon was irreconcilable. His great ambition was to form a concrete friendship with our Government, which he foresaw could be fashioned into a continental arrangement… »91. After all without British gold there could have been no battles and no war. The events of 1789, The Terror, and especially the execution of Louis XVI, haunted the British Establishment and their fear of similar upheavals at home never left them :« The ruling classes were seized with alarm lest the spirit of the French Revolution would become popular in this country, and that not only their possessions might be confiscated, but that their lives would be in peril if the doctrines he stood for were to take hold of the public imagination. They were afraid, as they are now (1917), of the despotism of democracy, and so they kept the conflict raging for over twenty years »92. Their stubborn rejection of change and reform blighted the lives of their own people and millions of others living on the continent. Even when Napoleon returned to Paris to popular acclaim in 1815 and without a drop of blood being spilt, Britain and her allies did not flinch from resuming their own blatant war-mongering policies. Even worse they decided to make war on Napoleon personally – something utterly unprecedented. They claimed that only he was the disturber of the peace. In fact, the opposite was the truth :« It was they who were the disturbers of the peace, and especially Great Britain, who headed the Coalition which was to drench the continent with human blood. Napoleon offered to negotiate, and never was there a more humane opportunity given to the nations to settle their affairs in a way that would have assured a lasting peace, but here again the ruling classes, with their usual impudent assumption of power to use the populations for the purpose of killing each other and creating unspeakable suffering in all the hideous phases of warfare, refused to negotiate… »93
Very few English history books mention the fact that in 1805 Napoleon wrote a very measured and friendly letter to George III when he assumed Imperial power asking for peace. He did his very best to avert the cataclysm that he foresaw if no one did anything to avoid future conflict :« Sir and Brother, Called to the throne of France by Providence, and the suffrages of the Senate, the people, and the Army, my first sentiment is a wish for peace. France and England abuse their prosperity. They may contend for ages, but do their Governments well fulfil the most sacred of their duties, and will not so much blood shed uselessly, and without a view to any end, condemn them in their own consciences ? I consider it no disgrace to adopt the first step. I have, I hope, sufficiently proved to the world that I fear none of the chances of war, which presents nothing I have need to fear ; peace is the wish of my heart, but war has never been inconsistent with my glory. I conjure your Majesty not to deny yourself the happiness of giving peace to the world, or leave the sweet satisfaction to your children ; for certainly there never was a more fortunate opportunity nor a moment more favourable than the present, to silence all the passions and listen only to the sentiments of humanity and reason. This moment once lost, what bounds can be ascribed to a war which all my efforts will not be able to terminate. Your Majesty has gained more in ten years, both in territory and riches, than the whole extent of Europe. Your nation is at the highest point of prosperity, what can it hope from war ? To form a coalition with some Powers on the Continent ? The Continent will remain tranquil ; a coalition can only increase the preponderance and continental greatness of France. To renew intestine troubles ? The times are no longer the same. To destroy our finances ? Finances founded on a flourishing agriculture can never be destroyed. To wrest from France her colonies ? The colonies are to France only a secondary object ; and does not your Majesty already possess more than you know how to preserve ? If your Majesty would but reflect, you must perceive that the war is without an Object ; or any presumable result to yourself. Alas ! What a melancholy Prospect ; to fight merely for the sake of fighting. The world is sufficiently wide for our two nations to live in, and reason sufficiently powerful to discover the means of reconciling everything, when a wish for reconciliation exists on both sides. I have however, fulfilled a sacred duty, and one that is precious to my heart. I trust your Majesty will believe the sincerity of my sentiments, and my wish to give you every proof of the same, etc, Napoleon »94.
No wonder that Runciman adds :« This letter indicates the mind and heart of a great statesman… We do not find a single instance of Pitt or Castlereagh expressing an idea worthy of statesmanship. What did either of these men ever do to uplift the higher phases of humanity by grappling with the problem that had been brought into being by the French Revolution »95. Runciman believes that had Fox been in charge, the whole political situation would have changed for the better especially for the poor who had to deal on a daily basis with hunger, unemployment and hardship. As it was, the ruling families did not give a damn about their social and political inferiors and just wanted to keep them in their place : « Our people as a whole (but especially the poorer classes) were treated in a manner akin to barbarism, while their rulers invoked them to bear like patriots the suffering they had bestowed upon them »96. And for what :« We made war on the French without any real justification, and stained our high sense of justice by driving them to a frenzy, we bought soldiers and sailors to fight them from impecunious German and Hanoverian princes. We subsidized Russia, Prussia, Austria, Portugal, Spain, and that cesspool Naples, at the expense of the starvation of the poorest classes in our own country »97.
Why isn’t all this in English history text books ? It was also a collective disaster for the ‘allies’. Urged on by the British Government to declare war on Napoleon, or, indeed to attack him without declaring war – as they had a habit of doing themselves – they lost thousands of men in unnecessary battles like Austerlitz and Jena that simply confirmed Napoleon’s military genius :« It is all moonshine to say that he broke the friendship. The power of Russia, Prussia, and Austria were hopelessly wrecked more than once, and on each occasion they intrigued him into war again, and then they threw themselves at his feet, grovelling supplicants for mercy, which he never withheld »98. What a despicable bunch they all were, Pitt Canning, Castlereagh, and George III on our side and the pathetic rulers of backward European countries like Alexander, Frederick-William, Francis and their creatures like Metternich. And then there were the twin traitors Talleyrand and Fouché – both evil incarnate – who stabbed Napoleon in the back. Yet he still forgave them time after time as he did the cringing kings. No wonder that in 1814 he said to Caulaincourt his ambassador :« These people will not treat ; the position is reversed ; they have forgotten my conduct to them at Tilsit. Then I could have crushed them ; my clemency was simple folly »99. And he was right. The truth of what happened during those momentous years is the exact opposite of the lies and mistruths repeated by lazy and bigoted ‘historians’. Napoleon :« In spite of what biassed writers have thought it their duty to say of him, was an unparalleled warrior-statesman, and his motives and actions were all on the side of God’s humanity and good government. From the time he was found and made the head of the French nation, he was always obliged to be on the defensive, and, as he stated, never once declared war. The continental Great Powers always made war on him… You may search English state papers in any musty hole you like, and you will find no authoritative record that comes within miles of justifying the opinions or the charges that have been stated or written against him »100.
Time after time, when people, even his enemies, met him in the flesh, they were forced to change their opinion of him : « The mind of this remarkable man was a palatial storehouse of wise, impressive inspirations. Here is one of countless instances where a prejudiced adversary bears testimony to his power and wisdom ». A few republican officers sought and were granted an audience, and the following is a frank admission of their own impotence and Napoleon’s greatness : « I do not know, their spokesman says from whence or from whom he derives it, but there is a charm about that man indescribable and irresistible. I am no admirer of his »101.
Runciman also says :« I might give thousands of testimonies, showing the great power this superman had over other minds, from the highest monarchical potentate to the humblest of his subjects »102. And what did we have ? George III… Fox said of him :« It is intolerable to think that it should be in the power of one blockhead to do so much mischief »103. Fox was treated with nothing less than adoration when he went to Paris in 1802. It is highly probably that had Fox had his way there would have been peace between England and France :« Had Fox been supported by sufficient strong men to counteract the baneful influence of the weeds who were a constant peril to the country over whose destinies George III and they ruled, we should have been saved the ghastly errors that were committed in the name of the British people »104.
The terrible and totally unjustified attack on Copenhagen in 1807 was one of the dire results of government by utterly inept politicians. It was Canning’s idea to divest the country of its fleet. Again – no declaration of war – made worse by the fact that Denmark was a neutral country. British bullyboy tactics were very much in evidence, and not for the first or last time. It certainly did not impress the Tsar of Russia :« The outrage of attacking a small State which was at peace and with which she had no quarrel was powerfully denounced by Alexander. He accused the British Government ‘of a monstrous violation of straight dealing, by ruining Denmark in the Baltic, which it knew was closed to foreign hostilities under a Russian guarantee »105.
Oh dear – another fine mess we had got ourselves into… The Tsar was further angered by the fact that the British had repeatedly said they did not have the soldiers to attack Napoleon on the mainland :« This bad statesmanship was deplorable. It set the spirit of butchery raging. It made a new enemy for ourselves, and in an economic sense added hundreds of thousands to our national debt, without deriving a vestige of benefit from either a military or political point of view. It undoubtedly prolonged the war, as all those squint-eyed enterprises are certain to do. It made us unpopular and mistrusted, and had no effect in damaging Napoleon’s activities, not of taking a single ally from him »106. And not surprisingly at Tilsit, having had more than enough of perfidious Albion, Alexander made peace with Napoleon. Canning found himself in the proverbial hot water :« Canning, like all tricksters, read extracts from documents, authentic and otherwise, to prove that Denmark was hostile to Britain, but when a demand was made for their inspection, he impudently refused to allow the very documents he had based his case of justification on to be scrutinized, and in consequence no other conclusion could be arrived at than that he was unscrupulously misleading the country »107.
Ah yes, another example of British justice and fair play. His fellow politicians looked down on Canning because his mother was an actress and he was not of noble birth. With his attack on Copenhagen he showed just how low he could go. Similarly the British blue bloods looked down their noses at Napoleon the ‘usurper’. As Fox asked, why were they :« making such a fuss about acknowledging the new Emperor. May not the people give their own Magistrate the name they choose ? » And he added : « On what logical grounds did we claim the right to revoke by force of arms the selection by the French people of a ruler on whom they wished to bestow the title of Emperor ? »108.
Yet mad King George would have none of it :« George III raged at Pitt for including Fox in his ministry when he was asked to form a Government. Does Mr. Pitt not know that Mr. Fox was of all persons most offensive to him ? Had not Fox always cheered the popular Government of France, and had he not always advocated peace with bloodstained rebels ? And be it remembered the indecorous language he had frequently used against his sovereign, and consider his influence over the Prince of Wales. Bring who you like, Mr. Pitt, but Fox never »109.
The aristocrats of Europe blamed Napoleon personally for the French Revolution and its consequences as if it was all his doing. Such perverted intellectual gymnastics still goes on today – more the product of abject ignorance than anything else. In my own hometown of Grimsby, Lincolnshire, England an exhibition about French prisoners of war at the local Heritage Centre began by stating that Napoleon had executed Louis XVI !110 Such crass and infantile errors can be avoided by a ten second search on Google, but such are the fixed mental errors and prejudices that many people cannot be bothered to check their ‘facts’ or maybe they are simply bent on perpetuating lies and information they themselves have been spoon fed from birth. George III inferring that Napoleon was a ‘bloodstained rebel’ is also fatuous – it is so obviously not true :« To class Napoleon as a bloodstained rebel and to put him on a level with the Robespierres and Dantons is an historic outrage of the truth. He had nothing whatsoever to do with bringing about the Revolution, though his services saved it, and out of the terrible tumult and wreck superhumanly re-created France and made her the envy of the modern world… In 1805 he was raised to the Imperial dignity, and one of his first acts was to write with his own hand that famous letter… pleading, with majestic dignity, for the King of England, in the name of humanity, to co-operate with him in a way that will bring about friendly relations between the two Governments and the spilling of blood to an end. The King “by the grace of God” and his horde of bloodsucking, incompetent ministers insulted the French nation and the great captain who ruled over its destinies by sending through Lord Mulgrave an insolent, hypocritical reply to the French ministers »111.
Time and again England forced war upon Napoleon and professed the exact opposite intentions – blaming him for everything. What a bunch of liars and cheats the British Cabinet contained. Pitt was indeed ‘the pits’ as the late Ben Weider once said to me :« The rage of war continued for another decade. If George III yearned for peace as he and his ministers pretended, why did the King not write a courteous autography letter back to Napoleon, even though he regarded him as an inferior and a mere military adventurer ? The nation had to pay a heavy toll in blood and money in order that the assumptions and dignity of this insensate monarch might be maintained, whose abhorrence of ‘bloodstained rebels’ did not prevent him and his equally insensate advisers from plunging the American colonists into a bloody rebellion, which ended so gloriously for them and so disastrously for the motherland »112.
Whatever was touched by the gracious and royal hand of mad King George crumbled to dust and ashes. As Runciman says quite tellingly :« even in his saner periods his acts were frequently those of an idiot »113. And this gibbering creature is the national figurehead and a hero of biased British historians who try to claim that Britannia’s cause was just and righteous when in actually she was a whore to justice and the truth. And her trident was imbued with the blood of countless thousands who died in her name.
- Ibid. 114
- Franceschi General Michel The Duke of Enghien Affair: A Plot Against Napoleon (Translated by
Glenn Naumovitz, International Napoleonic Society, 2005)
- Ibid. 5
- Ibid. 21-22
- Ibid. 25
- Runciman Ibid. 122
- Ibid. 122
- Ibid. 122
- Ibid. 123-124
- Ibid. 124
- Ibid. 125
- Ibid. 126
- Ibid. 126
- Ibid. 126
- Ibid. 127
- Ibid. 127
- Ibid. 127
- Ibid. 129
- Ibid. 129
- Ibid. 130 My italics throughout
- Ibid. 131
- Ibid. 134
- Ibid. 134
- Ibid. 136
- Ibid. 136
- Ibid. 138
- Ibid. 139
- Ibid. 139
- Ibid. 140
- Ibid. 140
- Ibid. 142
- Ibid. 142
- Ibid. 143
- Ibid. 144
- Ibid. 144
- Grimsby Heritage Centre, Lincolnshire, England, UK. The main French prisoners exhibition was
- Runciman Ibid. 144
- Ibid. 144
- Ibid. 145
Andress David The Savage Storm (London: Little Brown, 2012)
Esdaile Charles Napoleon’s Wars (New York: Penguin Books 2007)
Franceschi General Michel The Duke Of Enghien Affair: A Plot Against Napoleon International
Napoleonic Society publication 2005
Holmberg Tom Nelson’s Honor 1998
Runciman Walter Drake, Nelson and Napoleon (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1919)
Image : Portrait de Louis-Antoine-Henry de Bourbon-Condé, duc d’Enghien, vers 1788, musée Condé, Chantilly par Nanine Vallain.