On This Day in Napoleonic History – 14 October 1809

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events-war-of-the-fifth-coalition-1809-treaty-of-schnbrunn-14101809-ag2ax6Treaty of Schönbrunn is signed between Austria and France

The Treaty of Schönbrunn ended the War of the Fifth Coalition, imposing harsh penalties on Austria. Defeated Emperor Francis was forced to cede Salzburg to Bavaria, West Galicia to the Duchy of Warsaw, Tarnopol district to the Russian Empire and Trieste and Croatia south of the Sava River to France. Austria recognised Napoleon’s brother Joseph Bonaparte as King of Spain, promising to pay a large indemnity to France and reduce its army to 150,000 men. The last promise would remain unfulfilled.

The Treaty of Schönbrunn was something of a Carthaginian peace. Its harsh terms would ultimately force the Austrians to declare war on Napoleon once again following his catastrophic defeat in 1812. In 1809, however, the peace was welcomed in Austria despite its conditions. Metternich, who became Austrian foreign minister on October 8, stated that the only way for their nation to survive was to adapt to the triumphant France and become its junior partner.

On This Day in Napoleonic History – 13 October 1815

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13Marshal Joachim Murat is executed

Murat landed at the Calabrian port of Pizzo five days earlier, attempting to rally support in the hope of regaining his kingdom. Instead, he was arrested and condemned to death by Procurator General. When his sentence was read out to him, Murat exclaimed, ‘How does Ferdinand IV wish my death? What have I done? It displeases me much to find the violence with which the Court of Naples has treated this affair.’

Murat told the confessor who came to take his confession, ‘My sins are so heavy that none but God himself can pardon them.’ When the confessor insisted upon confession, Murat took a pen and wrote, ‘I have lived a Christian and die a true Christian.’ When the time for his execution arrived, he refused to be blindfolded and gave the command to fire himself.

‘Murat has only had what he deserved,’ said Napoleon when the news of execution reached Saint Helena. ‘It was all my own fault. I ought to have let him stay a marshal and not have made him a Duke of Berg, still less King of Naples.’

On This Day in Napoleonic History – 12 October 1809

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220px-interrogatoire_de_staps_4Friedrich Staps attempts to assassinate Napoleon

Napoleon was in Vienna not far from the horse-shoe shaped double staircase of Schönbrunn Palace when Friedrich Staps, the 18 year old son of a Lutheran pastor from Erfurt, tried to stab him while pretending to hand him a petition. Fortunately, Jean Rapp seized the would-be assasin before he had a chance to kill the Emperor. ‘I was struck by the expression of his eyes when he looked at me,’ Rapp recalled. ‘His decided manner roused my suspicions.’ A large carving knife was found on Staps and he was promptly arrested.

Napoleon hoped that the young student was insane and thus could be pardoned, but Staps was pronounced healthy. When asked by Napoleon what he would do if he was released, Staps replied: ‘I would try to kill you again.’ He was executed by firing squad on the 17th, crying ‘Long live Germany’ and ‘Death to the tyrant.’

This incident made Napoleon realise that a strong spirit of nationalism was arising in Germany. ‘I’ve always had a dread of madmen,’ Napoleon told his secretary. The fear of another assassination attempt and desire to produce an heir would soon push him to divorce Josephine and marry the Austrian princess Marie Louise.

On This Day in Napoleonic History – 5 October 1795

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bonaparte_vendemiaire_pt13 Vendémiaire

Napoleon played a major role in suppressing the Royalist insurrection against the Convention. As the second in command of the Army of the Interior, he was told by Paul François Barras to use all means necessary to disperse the insurgents. Napoleon sent Captain Joachim Murat of the 12 regiment of Chasseurs à Cheval with 100 cavalry men to the plain of Sablons with orders to secure the cannon before the mob got to them. Sending the reserves to defend the Tuileries Palace where the convention sat, he positioned his cavalry on the Place de la Révolution, today Place de la Concorde. Napoleon, who never liked the mob, said, ‘Good and upstanding people must be persuaded by gentle means. The rabble must be moved by terror.’ He was more than ready to resort to terror if the insurrectionists didn’t comply.

Napoleon had 5,5000 men against 30,000 people from the sections. He didn’t want to be the first to open fire, but as soon as the first musket shots were sounded by the rebels, he unleashed a devastating response. The bullet holes from that terrible day can still be seen on the walls of the Church of St Roch in the Rue Saint-Honoré. Napoleon’s ‘whiff of grapeshot’ dispersed the rabble, saving the Republic and preventing the civil war. The Paris mob played no further role in French politics for the next three decades.

On This Day in Napoleonic History – 30 September 1799

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elternhausajaccioNapoleon arrives in Ajaccio, Corsica, on his way from Egypt

Napoleon’s sudden appearance created a sensation on the island. Batteries saluted and, the populace rushed to welcome him. The room he occupied in the Casa Buonaparte on his return can still be viewed today.

It was the last time Napoleon would see his birth place. On October 6 he left Ajaccio. Only thirty years of age, he was on his way to become the ruler of France and, eventually, most of continental Europe.

On This Day in Napoleonic History – 27 September 1793

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27Dominique René Vandamme is promoted to Brigadier-General at the age of 22

Vandamme was even younger than Napoleon when he became general. He was a dashing swashbuckler of whom Napoleon had said: ‘Every army needs one but if there were two, I would have to shoot one of them.’

Outspoken and confrontational, Vandamme was an excellent career soldier and division commander. He was rough, proud and ambitious. He had a high opinion of himself and low opinion of others. As a result, he was often at odds with those around him. He quarreled and refused to obey marshals and kings who were placed above him. Napoleon recognised his military ability, as well as the imperfections of his character. Vandamme was never promoted to marshal, an honour he strongly believed he deserved, and it became the greatest disappointment of his career.

On This Day in Napoleonic History – 18 September 1812

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fireofmoscowNapoleon returns to the Kremlin

After the fire had abated in Moscow, Napoleon had installed himself at the Kremlin once again to wait and see whether Alexander would treat for peace. As soon as he returned, Napoleon distributed plundered roubles to the Muscovites who had lost their homes in the fire. He also visited an orphanage to the greatest surprise of the Muscovites, who were convinced he was going to eat its inhabitants.

Napoleon seemed to regret the destruction of the city greatly and couldn’t understand the Russians’ motivation in burning it. ‘Moscow was a very beautiful city,’ he wrote. ‘It will take Russia two hundred years to recover from the loss she had sustained.’

‘I ought not to have stayed in Moscow more than two weeks at the utmost,’ Napoleon would say years later, ‘but I was deceived from day to day.’ This wasn’t true. Alexander never pretended he wanted peace with the French. By this point Napoleon was so deep into Russia with his lines of communication stretched so thinly, he would probably had accepted as little as Russia’s return to the Continental System as the price of the peace.

On This Day in Napoleonic History – 16 September 1793

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16Napoleon is sent to command the artillery at the Siege of Toulon

Toulon was the first major break for Napoleon, whose youth was overlooked in the army that was so depleted by mass emigration and executions. Napoleon’s aim was to suppress the Royalist insurrection in Toulon and dislodge the British, Spanish, Neapolitan and Piedmontese troops that were supporting the insurrectionists.

Antoine Christophe Saliceti was soon writing to Paris that ‘Buonoparte was the only officer of artillery who knows anything of his duty.’ Napoleon was helped by two aide-de-camps who would stay with him until the very end of his political career – Jean-Andoche Junot and Auguste de Marmont. Thanks to Napoleon’s capable leadership, Toulon was a Republican victory and the Allies were forced to evacuate.

On This Day in Napoleonic History – 15 September 1784

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15Napoleon takes his final exams at Brienne-le-Château

The future Emperor passed his exams easily and in October entered École Militaire in Paris on the left bank of the Seine. Compared to Brienne, École Militaire was an elite institution, with three changes of linen a week, good meals and more than twice as many servants as there were students. Syllabus covered the same subjects as Brienne, with the addition of musketry, military drill and horsemanship.

Napoleon, who was the first Corscican to attend the school, continued to excel, especially in mathematics and geography. When he took his final examination at École Militaire, he came 42nd out of 58 candidates. This was not at all bad, considering he sat his exams after only one year instead of customary two or three.

On This Day in Napoleonic History – 14 September 1812

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fireofmoscowNapoleon enters Moscow

When Kutuzov decided to surrender Moscow, he said, ‘Napoleon is a torrent but Moscow is the sponge that will soak him up.’ Moscow was deserted when the French arrived. Out of 250,000 inhabitants, only around 15,000 stayed on, many of them non-Russian. On September 13 Napoleon received the president of the Moscow University and the delegation of French Muscovites, who told him that no deputation of notables would be coming to surrender the city keys and offer the traditional gifts of bread and salt. Instead, an enterprising old peasant offered the Emperor a guided tour of the city, which Napoleon declined. ‘There at last is that famous city. It’s about time,’ exclaimed Napoleon when he sighted the city walls.

Only the Imperial Guard and the Old Guard were billeted inside the city, with the rest of the army remaining outside. Napoleon occupied the Kremlin, the residence of the Tsars. ‘The city is as big as Paris,’ the Emperor wrote to Marie Louise, ‘provided with everything.’ But Napoleon spoke too soon. That very evening fire broke out across the city. It was the Russians, who, in abandoning the city, wanted to make it as uninhabitable for the French as possible. The city’s governor, Fyodor Rostopchin, had released the prisoners, ordering them to burn Moscow. As the Russians retreated, all the firefighting equipment was removed from the city. ‘I’m setting fire to my mansion,’ Rostopchin wrote to the French on the sign at his own estate in Boronovo outside Moscow, ‘rather than let it be sullied by your presence.’

The fire couldn’t be contained. Napoleon was forced to leave the city and set up headquarters at Imperial Palace of Petrovski six miles away. ‘When I got to Moscow, I considered the business done,’ he later said. He claimed that he could have stayed in Moscow throughout winter had it not burnt. In retrospect, it would have been better for the French had the whole city been raised to the ground, as that would have forced them to retreat immediately.

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