“In order to ruin him… in the Emperor’s mind”

Following up on my previous post, I’ve been looking further into the alleged Fouché/Talleyrand plot to designate Murat as Napoleon’s successor. Primary sources on the episode appear to be few and far in between from what I’ve found so far; while Pasquier’s memoirs mention a letter supposedly intercepted by Eugène de Beauharnais (of which no trace seems to remain), the memoirs of Savary, quoted below, mention nineteen letters (no trace seems to remain of these either), confiscated from Murat’s chamberlain, which Savary claims proved Murat’s complicity in the alleged plot.

A couple more interesting details:

-La Vallette, who is named as a key figure by Pasquier in this incident, doesn’t even mention the supposed plot in his memoirs.

-In the memoirs of Mme de Rémusat (Vol 2 of the 1880 English translation), her son includes a bit in the conclusion regarding the alliance made between Fouché and Talleyrand that brought Napoleon back from Spain in such a foul mood, but writes only that Fouché “had been practically considering the hypothesis of the opening up of the Imperial succession, and this consideration had brought him nearer to M. de Talleyrand’s opinions.” Murat is not mentioned, and Napoleon’s rage at Talleyrand and Fouché is attributed entirely to their lack of prudence in speaking against his policies.

Here are two more relevant excerpts to the story. First, from the memoirs of Savary, who appears to have been the main source of this story (note that Pasquier says that he learned about it from Savary and La Vallette). Murat and Savary disliked each other, and Savary does not disguise his hostility towards Murat in his memoirs. The second excerpt comes from Jean-Michel Agar, the Count of Mosbourg, Murat’s friend and finance minister.


Source: Memoirs of the Duke of Rovigo (M. Savary), written by himself: illustrative of the history of Napoleon; London, 1828. Pages 116-119. 

The meetings of the council in Paris had sufficiently engaged public attention to furnish matter for all kinds of conversation, and consequently to become the subject of much correspondence, especially on the part of diplomatic envoys. They afforded an opportunity of discovering some intrigues much more deserving of contempt than of serious attention: that, however, which was most calculated to excite astonishment, was a little agency of news which the King of Naples had deemed it advantageous to set up in Paris. The more the subject was considered, the less necessity could there be found for that insignificant kingdom being possessed of other means of correspondence than such as its legation afforded; and this conviction made it incumbent to seek for the motive of what was going forward. It naturally presented itself. The Emperor ordered the minister for foreign affairs to send off all the Neapolitan officers, Frenchmen born, who were attached, under various pretenses, to the embassy of that country, which he resolved should be reduced to the individuals who were Neapolitans in the strict sense of the word, and who had originally composed it. He no doubt intimated this arrangement by means of his official organ; and it was carried into effect, notwithstanding the numerous complaints of that crowd of young men who were unwilling to quit Paris. It was in some cases found necessary to use coercive means in order to enforce obedience. 

Whilst this measure was carrying into effect, the Emperor, whose foresight anticipated everything, had received certain complaints from Spain, in consequence of which he directed the arrest of a chamberlain of the King of Naples, who had not left Paris. His directions were obeyed; and an examination took place of the chamberlain’s papers, amongst which were found nineteen letters in the King of Naples’ own handwriting. There could no longer exist any doubt, after the perusal of these documents, that whether the idea had originated with himself, or whether it emanated from the brains of some of the persons in his service at Paris, this Prince seriously entertained the hope of succeeding to the Emperor, in a given case, that of his death for instance. As the Emperor had not any children at this period, the King saw, that to succeed to the inheritance, he had only to remove his nephews; and he had so far deceived himself as to suppose that, in the state of things of which he anticipated the occurrence, the nation would not feel any repugnance at enlisting under his banners. 

In all his letters, he recommended to his chamberlain to have frequent intercourse with M. Fouché; to complain of his having so long neglected him; and to say that he always felt inexpressible pleasure at hearing from him. Most of those letters were dated in 1809, and had been written whilst the Emperor was at Vienna, and the English had possession of Flushing. I handed the letters to the Emperor, who did not open his mind to me respecting them, but ordered the chamberlain to withdraw to the estate he had in France, unless he preferred returning to Naples. 

The style of that correspondence was no enigma to me. I found the true key to it in the many injunctions it contained; and felt more than ever convinced that the project of succeeding to the Emperor was deeply rooted in the mind of the King of Naples, who had never relinquished it until the birth of the King of Rome. I entertained the impression that his obstinacy in insisting upon retaining about the person of his ambassador in Paris a host of gallant youths, all military men, was nothing more than a precaution on his part, for the purpose of obtaining correct information of the personal dispositions of the individuals holding high employments, of whose concurrence he would have stood in need if the event had come to pass which was a previous condition to carrying his views into effect. I also explained to myself the reason of his having taken so much umbrage at my nomination to the ministry of police: he was apprehensive of my discovering that of which he compelled me to take cognizance; for whatever were my private opinions on the subject, I had never before attended to it.

He was apprehensive of my finding something of importance amongst M. Fouché’s papers; and it occurred to my mind that my predecessor had consigned a part of the papers of his closet to the flames, with the view of burying those intrigues in oblivion. 

The Emperor, however, did not fail to remark that M. Fouché had never spoken to him of the correspondence of the King of Naples, nor of its object, which could not be doubted by any reasonable mind after reading the contents of that prince’s letters to his chamberlain. When this chamberlain was set at liberty, I ordered that the nineteen letters written to him by the King of Naples should be deposited in the archives of the police. Unless they were burnt in the month of February, 1813, they are probably still in the same place.

The discovery explained to me several petty under-hand dealings, which I had formerly considered as mere idle talk, but which were afterwards viewed in a much more serious light. Nothing should be held in the light of trifles in matters of police superintendence. The smallest trifles often lead to the most important consequences. Whenever great events are brought about otherwise than step by step, they always fail, unless there should be a total want of vigilance on the part of the police. 

These affairs were hardly blown over when the Emperor undertook a journey to Holland, in which he was accompanied by the Empress, who was perfectly restored to health. He proceeded from Paris to Antwerp, from thence to Amsterdam and Rotterdam, and returned along the banks of the Rhine, after he had seen in Holland whatever was calculated to gratify his insatiable desire of personally inquiring into everything. 


Source: Murat, lieutenant de l’Empereur en Espagne 1808, by Count Joachim Joseph André Murat, 1897. Pages 8-9 (footnote).

In 1809, while the Emperor was in Spain, Talleyrand and Fouché, longtime enemies of each other, came together and weaved intrigues, the true purpose of which I never quite knew; they rarely saw each other in Paris, where they had been careful to avoid anything which had the appearance of mystery; but they encountered each other frequently enough at the home of the Princess of Vaudemont, who lived in a country house in Suresnes. Mme Bonaparte, mother of the Emperor, was informed of secret interviews between the minister of the police and former minister of foreign affairs. Some indiscreet words had been reported; she informed the Emperor of them, who entered into a correspondence with her on this subject, and showed her the means of penetrating the proceedings of two men he mistrusted.

One day, Talleyrand dined with Fouché, with several persons of their mutual trust; the Duke of Feltre [Clarke] had been invited, in order to dismiss suspicion. After dinner, the latter having retired, and a small number of persons remaining in the salon, Fouché and Talleyrand chatted for a long time in a corner in low voices, but with much vivacity. M. Saulnier and M. Jay were playing a game of checkers not far away; they both heard these words pronounced with too much warmth by Fouché after the Emperor’s name: “He is a madman who sets fire everywhere; he agitates the whole of Europe, and he will end by upsetting France. We must end him!” The two players, seized with astonishment and horror, looked at each other, listened, and stayed silent, judging, each of them, how compromised they would be, if they allowed it to be seen that Fouché’s words had reached them. M. Saulnier found the means of getting these words to Mme Bonaparte, by the intermediary of a person of her house who informed him, on receiving this confidence, that the Emperor’s mother had been having Talleyrand and Fouché surveilled for some time. 

Madame immediately sent a courier to the Emperor, who left Spain fifteen hours after having received the dispatch, and arrived in Paris when all his ministers believed him still at the head of his army. 

Having barely entered the Tuilleries, he called for Fouché and overwhelmed him with reproaches, recalling the place and day of each of his interviews with Talleyrand, and when quoting, in the midst of several other remarks that had been reported to him or that he supposed, the words that M. Saulnier had heard, Fouché could not recover from his astonishment: in the depths of his heart he was confounded, but he was not disconcerted, denying or explaining the expressions attributed to him, casting ridicule on the idea of a plot against a power similar to that of the Emperor, between two men who owed him everything, who were only anything, and could only be anything through him; who had neither authority or influence in the army, and would only have the prospect, if the Emperor’s support were to fail them, of being hanged by the royalists, of whom they were in horror, or of being guillotined by the revolutionaries, who reproached them for having betrayed them by attaching themselves to him who had re-raised the throne. 

The Emperor did not treat Talleyrand with less severity; it is said that he reproached him with having precipitated the war in Spain, and of being the cause of the death of the Duke d’Enghien. 

Fouché remained minister, but from this time the Emperor watched him always with an anxious distrust, until finally taking away his portfolio. 

In the reports made to the Emperor, the King of Naples had been named. It was he, it was said, who, according to the plan of Talleyrand and Fouché, should take, in case of an event, the general command of the armies, and a large part in the direction of affairs. This idea was the one which most excited the Emperor’s anger. It made him furious with his brother-in-law, whom he supposed to be in league with Fouché, and who, however, had had no sort of communication with him. Was it true that Murat had been thought of? Was it true that Fouché and Talleyrand had conceived the plan of making him an instrument of their designs, only to destroy him afterwards? Or are we to believe that the King’s enemies had calumniously involved his name in this affair, in order to ruin him entirely in the Emperor’s mind? That is what I do not know. But what is certain, is that, from this time, Napoleon’s distrust of Murat grew continuously, and often manifested itself in outbursts that were very offensives to the King of Naples. The latter, whose pride was easily irritated, and who did not know the real cause of the criticisms the Emperor seemed to delight in showering upon him, supposed this conduct was the effect of a system arrayed against him, and that the Emperor only sought a pretext for removing his crown. This false and reciprocal situation of the two princes opened their violent spirits to the most unfortunate conjectures, to the most perfidious insinuations, and disposed them to the strangest determinations. Sometimes, the old friendship seemed reborn, the old affections of the heart reproduced themselves; but they were lightning, followed soon by new storms. (Note of Mosbourg)

Author’s note: It is interesting to compare this account with that of the same incident contained in the Memoirs of Chancellor Pasquier. 


(If any of my readers can recommend any more sources related to this issue, please let me know! I feel like there are still many pieces to this puzzle missing, and the ones I’ve come across so far don’t seem to fit together to form a coherent picture. I’m currently leaning towards this alleged plot just having been something concocted by Murat’s enemies to damage his reputation and relationship with Napoleon, but perhaps there’s still a proverbial smoking gun out there that might change my mind.)

One thought on ““In order to ruin him… in the Emperor’s mind”

  1. Josefa vom Jaaga

    I cannot provide any smoking gun but I do share your suspicions. In fact, we have three different stories that are mutually exclusive:
    – Pasquier claiming Eugène and Lavalette intercepted a letter to Murat and denounced Talleyrand, Fouché and Murat to Napoleon
    – Agar claiming Madame Mère informed Napoleon about this alleged conspiracy
    both of which happen at the same time, end of 1808/beginning of 1809, when Napoleon is still in Spain. The news of the alleged conspiracy then causes Napoleon’s hasty return to Paris.

    -> I have seen nothing to support either of this in Napoleon’s correspondence. He talks about him soon leaving Spain ten days before he actually does so. So I’d assume the return had been premeditated, and there is nothing to suggest it was caused by anything but the fear of an Austrian aggression. I’m particularly astonished as to the fact that Madame Mère (of all people) “had been having surveilled” Fouché and Talleyrand. Sorry but those three do not play in the same league. Madame Mère getting involved in any kind of police activity seems highly unlikely to me.

    Finally Savary’s own story I do not get at all. So we are in 1811. The emperor gets some news from Spain that lead to the arrest of Murat’s chamberlain in Paris. Who sent these informations? Joseph? One of the marshals? One of the secret police agents Napoleon had sent there? And what did these news say? And if they only found evidence against Murat from before Napoleon’s “divorce”, what consequences did these letters truely have? Before Napoleon remarried, the succession was factually unresolved.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s