in the summer of 1812, Napoleon Bonaparte embarked on his most ambitious campaign, 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 away, many generals and commanders who were opposed to Napoleon hatched a plot to remove him and seize power. It is something equivalent to the July 1944 plot to eliminate Hitler.
The brain behind the plot was General Claude-Francois Malet. He was 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 at that time. 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 an expert forger, greatly enthused him in his plan and promised to help him. He was the man who forged fictitious orders and papers for the coup attempt.
The coup attempt
Malet put his plan into effect on 23 October 1812., when Napoleon was in Moscow. He arrived in full regalia as a general of the French army and brought a sheaf of papers (all forged) with him. He arrived at the military barracks in Paris and grandly announced that Napoleon was dead in Moscow. He announced that he had been authorized to declare a provisional republic and showed papers which promoted the commander of the military barracks to the next rank. He thus won over an important part of the establishment loyal to Napoleon.
He announced that he was general Lamotte( an assumed name) and proceeded to ask the commander of the barracks to release two generals namely General Ladurie and Guidal from prison. These generals had fallen out with Napoleon and imprisoned. General Ladurie immediately resumed duty and took command of his old regiment. The plot was now 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 compromised.
The sound of gunshots alerted the guards and they rushed in and surrounded Malet. They asked for the identity papers of Malet. Here was the fly in the ointment, as Malet had taken care of all contingencies, but had failed to forge any papers about him. He had no identification that 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 approved the findings of the Court Martial and all the 15 were executed. Keeping the rank of Malet in view, he was allowed to give the command for his own execution. All the 15 were executed 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 finally exiled to St Helena in the Atlantic. General Malet remains a footnote in French history. it is important to study this case and realize that enemies of the state have no place in the life of a nation.