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Introduction to the General Correspondence of Napoleon Bonaparte, Vol. 6

(Article by KERAUTRET Michel )

 Bibliographical details


The Correspondence project continues apace, and new additions, thanks to support all over the world, have once again enabled us to expand noticeably the epistolary heritage of Napoleon. For 1806, volume 6 compiles 2679 letters, that is to say an increase of 39 % on the Second Empire publication for the same year.(1)

1806 was probably one of the greatest years in Napoleon's career, perhaps even his apogee. As far as we are concerned, it can be noted that he wrote far more than he did in 1805: 1806 sees an increase of fifty percent on the previous year, one that was itself rather busy to begin with. We could thus conclude quite easily that Napoleon has doubled his workload. This observation is both obvious and a little misleading.

1806 was characterised by three quarters of peace and the construction of a new Europe, whilst the fourth quarter was once again concerned with war, with the outbreak of the conflict with Prussia.

The year began, post-Austerlitz and the Treaty of Pressburg, with a real hope for widespread peace. But first of all, southern and western Germany had to be organised once and for all. The former had been liberated from Austrian domination when Austria was dispossessed of the Swabian region and pushed back towards the east and the latter had been freed when Prussia was chased from Franconia and the Rhineland. Southern German lands were divided up between three new states in their own right, namely, Baden, Bavaria and Württemberg. These three lands had been given new territory by Napoleon and endowed with complete sovereignty, an act that sounded the death knell for the institutions of the Holy Roman Empire. Marriages between the Beauharnais-Bonapartes and some German princes completed the job.

It is thus hardly surprising to see Napoleon in regular correspondence (more than a letter a month, on average) with Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria and Frederick of Württemberg, two of his principal contacts, as well as with Archchancellor von Dalberg, who became the Prince Primate of the Confederation of the Rhine in July 1806. Moreover, Germany, and the discussion thereof, is also the principal theme in 146 letters addressed to Talleyrand, Minister of Exterior Relations, as well as a number of the 283 letters sent to Berthier, who was based in Munich at the time and who for the Emperor played a sort of Lieutenant-general role in Germany. Germany is also the topic of discussion in 69 letters from Napoleon to Murat, who had been named Duc de Berg and de Clèves in March 1806, and who served as a means of controlling the Lower Rhine region, between Holland and the zone of Prussian influence.

After several intense months of diplomatic activity, everything was ready: in July 1806, sixteen sovereigns, both greater and lesser, founded the Confederation of the Rhine, under the protection of Napoleon, and proclaimed their formal secession from the Holy Roman Empire. Francis II abdicated on 6 August, 1806, adding that the thousand-year-old Reich had ceased to exist, despite disposing of no actual right to make that decision and merely looking to ensure that the Emperor of the French did not have himself elected Germanic Emperor in his place.

Napoleon was not the slightest bit interested in seizing this new title, despite the willingness of others to offer it to him (beginning with Dalberg). In reality, the reorganisation of Germany was simply one element in a far greater construction, a "federal system", though in reality hegemonic, which historians have taken to naming "le Grand Empire" and which (according to preference) is seen as inspired by either the Roman or Carolingian Empires. Italy was to be the second key piece in this empire, and thus plays a considerable role in the correspondence.

The linchpin in the Italian peninsula remained "the kingdom", which was administered from Milan by Eugène de Beauharnais, to whom Napoleon wrote, on average, once a day (363 letters). Every subject was discussed in this daily correspondence, from questions regarding defence and fortifications, the navy, interior administration, and even details regarding specific individuals. However, the viceroy also served as a relay for correspondence since he was situated halfway between Paris and the more distant states in the Grand Empire, namely Dalmatia (attached to the Kingdom of Italy having been ceded by Austria at Pressburg) and Naples (conquered at the beginning of the year and entrusted to Joseph Bonaparte). It was thus that numerous instructions from Napoleon passed through the viceroy's hands, destined for the aforementioned areas as well as the intermediary posts in-between, such as Ancona, Rome and Civitavecchia, which now belonged to France, albeit under the nominal authority of the Pope. However, this did not stop Napoleon from also corresponding directly with his older brother, which he did frequently, often to lecture or admonish him: 159 letters are addressed to Joseph, King of Naples, some of which are particularly long and detailed.(2) On top of these (also Italian in subject) there are forty-odd letters to Junot, appointed governor of Parma with orders to seize back the Piacenza region which had revolted during the winter.

Also under the heading of "family" empire, special mention should go to more than fifty letters addressed to Louis Bonaparte, who became king of Holland in the spring of 1806.

To see Napoleon so absorbed in governing the continent, it is easy to forget that he was still at war with England. Yet nothing would be achieved as long as the latter continued the fight. After Trafalgar, victory at sea was no longer possible, and naval strategy no longer laid claim to the prominent place that it had occupied during the first quarter of 1805. However, this did not stop Napoleon from putting together new plans to attack England on the oceans, targeting in particular its trade, nor did he cease to follow attentively the progress of his naval divisions which he had sent to the four corners of the earth, as the 92 letters to Decrès, his Navy Minister, attest.

1806 was however the time for appeasement. With Fox having succeeded Pitt, peace negotiations were begun towards the end of winter. These languished for several months afterwards, appeared to pick up again in July, then faltered, before finally collapsing in September. In the interim, peace had almost been agreed with Russia, but the treaty signed in Paris in July was not to be ratified by the tsar. These various negotiations, distinct but nevertheless linked, appear from time to time in the correspondence, most notably in the letters addressed to Talleyrand.

None of this meant that Napoleon forgot about France. On the contrary, he took advantage of the nine months of respite from military concerns to seriously consider the financial matters that had been such cause for embarrassment the previous year. The proof: 135 letters concerned primarily with finance (89 addressed to Mollien, Treasury Minister, and 46 to Gaudin, Finance Minister). In terms of outgoings, major works and improvements, notably in Paris, also occupy an important place in the correspondence, with sixty-odd letters to Champagny, In

 
     
 
 

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 Bibliographical details

Author :

KERAUTRET Michel

Notes

 1. I would like to thank at this point everyone who has worked with us in the completion of this volume, notably Alain Pillepich, Jacques Garnier, Jacques Macé, Gabriel Madec, Michelle Masson, Patrick Le Carvèse, as well as the curators at the Archives nationales, the Archives du ministère des Affaires étrangères and at the Service historique de la Défense. That is without forgetting, of course, Elodie Lerner and François Houdecek, who as always have ensured the continuity of this enterprise with the same skill and devotion as for the previous volumes.
2. The exchange of correspondence between the two brothers has been published by Vincent Haegelé, Napoléon et Joseph Bonaparte : correspondance intégrale (1784-1818), Paris, Tallandier, 2007
3. Cf. Ernest d'Hauterive, La police secrète du Premier Empire. Bulletins quotidiens adressés par Fouché à l'Empereur, tomes 2 and 3, Paris, Perrin, 1913-1922
4. The other half of this correspondence has been published by Jean Tulard, Cambacérès, lettres inédites à Napoléon (1802-1814), 2 volumes, Paris, Klincksieck, 1973

Further information

 Correspondance générale de Napoléon Bonaparte : Tome 6, 1806 - Vers le Grand Empire (in French)

 

 
 

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