Saturday, October 23, 2010

October 23, 1812 – Malet's Coup Accidentally Succeeds

Claude Francois de Malet loved his country and felt that so much more could come from a France not chained under autocratic rule. When he had come of age at seventeen, he had enlisted as a Musketeer, as was common for minor nobles like himself to do under the reign of the Bourbons. Louis XVI disbanded the guard in 1776, and Malet realized the abuse of power one man could hold.

When the French Revolution began, he found common interest among the republicans. His family disinherited him, but Malet was content to fight for his own way and the way of his countrymen. He volunteered for the revolutionaries' army and became captain in the Army of the Rhine. Malet reenlisted after his first tour lapsed, and he fought valiantly until 1802 with many honors, being promoted to brigadier general in 1799.

Malet returned to France and found that the Revolution for which he had fought much of his life had given way to a new heavy-handed system. As the Consulate came to power, Malet voted against Napoleon as the First Consul. While a member of the Legion of Honor and thus a powerful enemy, Napoleon worked to push Malet's vehement voice away from public ears. Napoleon crowned himself emperor, and Malet resigned from service. Despite their differences, both Napoleon and Malet worked toward the greatness of France, and Malet accepted governorships in the Kingdom of Italy. He served in Italy for several years before being sent to prison for ten months in 1807 on charges not even considered in court as he was released without trial in 1808.

Returning to Paris after yet another stint of national service abroad and now seething from lost months of his life, Malet found himself arrested on suspicion of being a member of the Philadelphes, a society of Masons who had dedicated themselves to republicanism and, especially, opposition to Napoleon. From 1810, he sat under house arrest and began to plot. He built a network of allies and careful forgeries that would overthrow the dictator upon the false news of his death. Even if Napoleon were to return, Malet felt that the people of France would consider not taking back the emperor. When Napoleon marched on Moscow, Malet knew his chance had come.

October 23, 1812, Malet escaped and released his fellow conspirators from their prisons with forged documents, the presence of his general's uniform, and his sense of command. He marched to the barracks of the Gendarmerie, woke up the troops, and displayed further forgeries of orders to establish a republican Paris. The provisional government was established, and Malet's plan went smoothly.

Word of the coup filtered to Napoleon, who was sitting atop the ashes of Moscow. He passed command of the remnants of the Grande Armée to Marshall Joachim Murat and returned to Paris by fast-moving sleigh. Near Krasnoy, Russian snipers spotted the sleigh, thought it a messenger, and shot the passengers dead. After the disappearance of the emperor, emergency patrols would be launched, and his blood-soaked sleigh would be found November 14. When the news spread of the emperor's actual death, the Russians launched a renewed campaign against the devastated French troops.

In Paris, the news of Napoleon's death would be met with confusion. Malet worked to weave his lies and the truth into powerful propaganda that the French determined one was a false report, but no one knew which. In either case, they already had their provisional government established, and there was no need for a Napoleon II.

With the return to the republic, Malet worked to rally the army and peacefully disassemble Napoleon's web of satellite states, puppet kings, and forced alliances. While many in Europe called for a Sixth Coalition to defeat France wholly, the Continent was weary of war. Malet swore to fight defensively for French soil, but the diplomats were eager to take back their conquered lands without further bloodshed. A new balance of power was struck at the Treaty of Leipzig in October of 1813. Britain assumed dominance of the seas, Austria regained its holdings in Germany and Italy, and Russia grew in influence over Poland and Finland. France, meanwhile, would rebuild.

Malet was said to have “retired” France, and several groups rose up in dissension about his parceling up of the empire. Still, he argued if he had fought, the Coalition would have torn France apart, and his righteous anger proved that the age of old empires had come to an end. The colonies of Spain and Portugal would gain independence, and Germany under the Bavarians then Italy would unify themselves into European powers. Malet would die in 1826, not seeing the latter two actions, but living long enough to see the establishment of a new generation of free Frenchmen. Their republican ideals would spark waves of revolution across Europe in the 1830s and again in the 1850s, gradually dissolving the power of autocracy.

In its place, a sense of nationalism would grow up, sparking competition and, in the 1870s, the Great War. As the Prussians balked under Bavarian rule to began a civil war, all of the nations of Europe drew sides to divide the Continent and cost over a million lives. New systems would rise from its shadow, such as anarchism, communism, and progressive republicanism.

In reality, Napoleon did return to Paris. He quickly resumed power as the people loved him, but he was annoyed that no one had called for the continuation of his dynasty. Malet and his conspirators were gathered before trial on October 29 and executed by firing squad.

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