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 started 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 remove Hitler.
The brain behind the plot was General Claude-Francois Malet. Malet was born in 1754 and was 58 years old at that time. His spouse in prison, a guy named Abbe Lafon an expert forger, greatly enthusiastic him in his plan and promised to assist him. He was the man who forged fictitious orders and papers for the coup attempt.
The coup Effort
Malet put his plan into effect on 23 October 1812., when Napoleon was in Moscow. He arrived at the army barracks in Paris and grandly declared that Napoleon was dead in Moscow. He announced he had been authorized to announce a provisional republic and showed papers which encouraged the commander of the military barracks to another rank. He thus won over an important part of the establishment 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 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 called General Hulin got suspicious and nearly recognized Malet. He wanted to find 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 whole plan was likely to be jeopardized.
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
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 the 15 were implemented. Maintaining the rank of Malet in view, he was allowed to give the control for his own execution. All the 15 were executed outside Paris and the curtain came down to the coup attempt.
Napoleon returned conquered 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 French history. It’s important to study this case and realize that enemies of this country have no place in the life of a nation.