1812 Coup Attempt

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In the summer of 1812, Napoleon Bonaparte embarked on his most ambitious effort, the invasion of Russia. The Grand Army consisting of over 600,000 soldiers commenced the invasion of Russia under the personal command of Napoleon. While Napoleon was off, many generals and commanders who were opposed to Napoleon hatched a plot to remove him and seize power. It’s something equivalent to the July 1944 plot to remove Hitler.

The Plot

The brain behind the plot was General Claude-Francois Malet. He had been a general of the French army, but had his own ambitions and thus parted company from Napoleon. Malet was born in 1754 and was 58 years old then. He was imprisoned by Napoleon and while he was in prison, he hatched this plot to overthrow Napoleon. His partner in prison, a man named Abbe Lafon a professional forger, greatly enthusiastic him in his plan and promised to assist him. He was the guy who forged fictitious orders and papers for the coup effort.

The coup Effort

He arrived at the military barracks in Paris and grandly declared that Napoleon was dead in Moscow. He announced that he was authorized to declare a provisional republic and revealed papers which encouraged the commander of the army barracks to the next position. He thus won over an important part of the institution loyal to Napoleon.

He announced he was general Lamotte( an assumed name) and proceeded to ask the commander of the barracks to launch two generals namely General Ladurie and Guidal from prison. These generals had dropped out with Napoleon and imprisoned. General Ladurie immediately declared duty and took control of his old regiment. The plot was moving smoothly until an officer named General Hulin got suspicious and almost recognized Malet. He wanted to see the papers of Malet and as Malet had no papers, there was a scuffle and Hulin was shot dead. In real terms, Malet had no choice as otherwise, his entire plan was likely to be jeopardized.

The sound of gunshots alerted the guards and they hurried in and surrounded Malet. Here was the fly in the ointment, as Malet had cared for all contingencies, but had neglected to forge any papers about him. He had no identification he was General Lamotte and as such was promptly arrested.

Failure and execution

The coup thus collapsed and Malet and about 15 other conspirators were arrested. News also came that Napoleon was alive and well. A court-martial was immediately convened and all the 15 including Malet were sentenced to death by firing squad. Within a week Napoleon accepted the findings of the Court Martial and all the 15 were implemented. Keeping the rank of Malet in perspective, he was permitted to give the command for his own execution. All the 15 were implemented outside Paris and the curtain came down on the coup attempt.

Napoleon returned defeated but defiant from Russia and it was another 3 years before he was removed from power and eventually exiled to St Helena in the Atlantic. General Malet remains a footnote in history. It is important to study this case and realize that enemies of the state have no place in the life span of a nation.

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