Updated date:

The 1812 Military Coup Against Napoleon That Failed

MG is a senior air warrior who has seen combat and is an alumnus of the Staff College and a writer on military matters.

Napoleon in Russia

Napoleon in Russia

Conspiracy against Napoleon

Most of us know about the infamous plot to kill Hitler in July 1944. Hitler survived and wreaked a terrible vengeance on the men who had plotted against him including the most famous German general, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. Something similar happened in 1812 when General Bonaparte was attacking Russia. In the summer of 1812, Napoleon had advanced against Russia with a force of 600,000 soldiers. The “Grand Army” penetrated deep into Russia with Napoleon leading them forward. The Russian army retreated but followed a scorched earth policy and burnt everything before retreating. The army of Napoleon was deprived of food and other items to sustain the campaign. Even when Napoleon reached Moscow there was no food to eat as the city had been emptied.

With Napoleon enmeshed in Russia, disgruntled generals of the French army, who had opposed Napoleon thought it fit to stage a military coup to oust the emperor and seize power. The plan was to present Napoleon with a fait accompli. A rumor was spread that Napoleon had been killed so that the conspirators could carry out their plan. The plan to oust Napoleon was based on some harebrained ideas and now we can see that the conspirators were a little too optimistic.

Claude-François de Malet

Claude-François de Malet

The Plot

The plan was both audacious and ingenious. The man behind this plot was General Claude-Francois Malet. This is not a name much known, but he was a key conspirator. He was a general of the French army but had his own ambitions. He had parted from Napoleon because of his ambition. As per reports Malet was born in 1754 and was 58 years old at the time of the coup. Malet is the key figure in the entire operation.

Malet had strong differences with Napoleon and was biding his time to strike back. Napoleon knew his tendencies and had imprisoned him. It was when he was in the Bastille that he hatched this plan for a military coup against Napoleon. He was aided in his plan by a master forger named Abbe Lafon who was also in prison along with him. Both men came to know each other and Abbe Lafon suggested that a set of fictitious papers and orders be prepared and use to stage a military coup. They hoped the plan would succeed and with Napoleon enmeshed in Russia, he would have no choice but to abdicate.

There were elements of bluff in the entire plan, so one can see that it was not something full-proof. The idea was to spread the rumor that Napoleon was dead and try and take control of the army and the government in his absence.


The Coup Attempt

On 23 October 1812, the plan was put into operation. They were helped by the fact that Napoleon was a worried man for though he had captured Moscow, it was a Pyrrhic victory and he was short of food for his grand army. To start with a message was passed to all in the court that Napoleon had been killed.

Malet with a set of forged papers and wearing his full military uniform arrived at the military barracks in Paris. He drove to the barrack and brandishing his forged documents announced he had been authorized to declare a provisional republic as Napoleon was dead. He followed up and showed forged papers that promoted the commander of the military barracks to the next rank. This was a masterstroke as he won over an important man. The commander of the barracks believed him and was grateful for his promotion.

Malet did not reveal his full name but claimed he was general Lamotte( an assumed name). He ordered the newly promoted commander to release two generals namely General Ladurie and Guidal from prison. These generals had been imprisoned by Napoleon for opposing him. The plan was now moving smoothly and general Ladurie, straightaway took command of his old regiment. However, an officer, General Hulin got suspicious and asked Malet for his Identity card. Malet had none as he had not forged an I- card for him. This was an unpardonable mistake and mallet was going to pay a dear price for it. He and the master forger completely forgot about preparing an identity card for Malet.

It was an oversight and he had to pay dearly for it. A scuffle between the two took place and general Hulin was shot dead. The sound of the shots alerted soldiers who surrounded Malet and arrested him. The coup then collapsed as General Ladurie was arrested while trying to run away. All the conspirators were herded into the Bastille and the very next day the Court-martial began. News also came that Napoleon was alive and now the conspirators could see the writing on the wall- death sentence.



Execution outside Paris

The coup like the attempt against Hitler collapsed like a pack of cards. Malet and co-conspirators were tried by a court-martial. Napoleon was incensed when he heard of this news and when the proceedings of the Court-martial were forwarded to him, he approved the death sentences at the stroke of a pen. He could not countenance anyone defying his authority, The news of the death sentence was conveyed to the conspirators and all of them (15 in number) were herded together and taken outside the city of Paris and shot dead. This was on 31 October 1812. The execution was carried out with clinical efficacy on the plain of Grenelle outside Paris. Napoleon was informed that all the conspirators had been executed.

Napoleon however continued ruling for another 3 years before he was deposed. Mallet is now only a footnote in French history, but in case he had succeeded, it would have been a different story. In hindsight, we can see that Malet actually stood no chance for Napoleon still had a lot of popular support in France.

A peculiar fact emerged. After the restoration of the monarchy in 1815, Louis XVIII granted a pension to the widow of Malet and his son got an appointment. The Bourbon's assumed that Malet was their supporter but actually he was a pure Republican.


MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on June 24, 2021:

Thanks, Tom, Napoleon had grandiose schemes like Hitler. There are many similarities between the two and of course dissimilarities as well. Hitler should have studied the campaign of Napoleon in Russia.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on June 24, 2021:

Thank you Colonel for your comments. Sometimes I do feel like you that Hitler had the same soul as Napoleon. Maybe at some stage, I will have to do a little more research and write on this topic.

Lt Col Avtar Singh on June 24, 2021:

Frankly, I never knew about this incident and you have given a good parallel with Hitler. Sometimes I feel that both Hitler and Napoleon were kindred souls. I wonder if you can write something on this.

Related Articles