Napoleon’s period as chief magistrate in Italy began in January 1802 when the thirty-member commission charged with finding a president for the newly created Italian republic finally managed to persuade Napoleon to play that role. But Napoleon was an absentee president, with vice-president Francesco Melzi (and the latter’s man in Paris,)(Alain Pillepich, Napoléon et les Italiens, Nouveau Monde Editions, 2003, p. 54.) much to the disquiet of the other European powers, particularly Austria, with her ancestral designs on northern Italy. But with the proclamation of Empire in France, in May 1804, it was clear to politicians of the time, both French and Italian, that Italy could no longer remain as a republic. And so, on 17 March 1805, almost a year after the proclamation of Empire in France (and after two false starts), the Italian republic became the Kingdom of Italy – a particularly misleading expression, since the territory included in this realm was not the peninsular as a whole but merely Lombardy and the Emilia Romagna – with Napoleon as its king. The formal, ceremonial result of this political decision was the coronation in Milan. When he took the Iron Crown of the Lombards, Napoleon once again underlined his Carolingian credentials (and dared anyone else to take the kingdom from him). (“Iddio me la diede, guai a chi la toccherà”, (“God gave it to me, woe to him who touches it”) were the words spoken by Charlemagne when he received the crown as king of the Lombards in 774. They became the ritual words spoken by all those who received the ‘Iron Crown of the Lombards’.)
What was Napoleon’s attitude towards northern Italy at this time? The remark made by Napoleon in the autumn of 1801 is rich with inferences: “I go to Lyons. The Cisalpine people have asked me to prevent the debate and agitation which would surely result if they gave themselves a constitution. I thought it good to agree to this and to help in the formation of a state whose independence was bought with French blood”. (Recorded by Pierre-Louis Roederer in Oeuvres du comte P. L. Roederer / publiées par son fils le baron A.M. Roederer,… – Paris : Firmin Didot, 1853-1859, vol. 3, p. 428, hereafter Roederer, Oeuvres.) These three sentences reveal the broad lines of what remained Napoleon’s policy guidelines regarding Italy. First, Bonaparte did not trust the Italians to govern themselves; second, he very definitely wanted to have a say in the redaction of the constitution of the new republic; and third, Italy belonged to France and more specifically to Napoleon, since it was he alone who had conquered it. In the end, this threefold concern was to dissolve into a decision to become ‘King of Italy’ in the spring of 1805. This paper aims to consider how far this decision to become king was a long-term goal, how far Italian politicians wanted Napoleon to be king, and also how serious Napoleon was in offering the crown to his elder brother Joseph in the December of 1804.
Italian desires – independence by the back door
In the period when Napoleon was elevated to the imperial status on 18 May 1804, Italian administrators and government officials were naturally concerned as to the future state of the Italian Republic. Could it remain a republic when the head of state was an emperor? Given that the status quo could not continue, what were the conditions and consequences of the metamorphosis? A key source of information is the correspondence between the Italian government representative in Paris, Ferdinando Marescalchi, and the vice-president of Italy, Francesco Melzi. (I carteggi di Francesco Melzi d’Eril, Duca di Lodi, La vice-presidenza della Repubblica, vol. VI, Milan 1962, hereafter Melzi, Carteggi.) Marescalchi had already written to Melzi on 1 May, 1804 informing him of the debate in the Tribunat regarding the establishment of a hereditary empire, (On 30 April, 1804, in the Tribunat, Curée had proposed the famous motion that Napoleon should become ‘Emperor of the French’, see La proclamation de l’Empire, Paris: Nouveau Monde Editions, 2001, p. 24-29, and also on the website napoleonica.org http://www.napoleonica.org/proclamation/pro007.html.) noting that this ‘accession would be of importance for the whole of Europe and particularly for us [Italians] who recognise the same man as head of our government’. (Melzi, Carteggi, vol. VI, letter 1900, p. 158.) Having had a long interview with the Napoleon on 7 May, Marescalchi wrote an open letter dated 9 May to the government of the Italian Republic (the Consulta), (Melzi, Carteggi, vol. VI, letter 1925, p. 178-7.) informing them that: “the First Consul did not think that the title ‘President’ was compatible with his new dignity; although it was possible that he could omit it and completely forget about it”, an attitude which Marescalchi however thought dangerous for Italian prestige and prosperity. The Italian minister also remarked to the Consulta that he had reminded the First Consul that the Italian government had envisaged the elevation to the imperial dignity in Lyons two years earlier and had demanded of Napoleon his intentions. Marescalchi went on to quote Napoleon’s words regarding Italian fears as to its future. “‘No one,’ Napoleon said, ‘is in a better position to judge than you [i.e., Marescalchi]. Write to the vice-president [Melzi] and say that above all you must follow the general desire, or at least that of the majority. What is about to happen in France will certainly make it possible to see how people will react in your Republic. After that, the vice-president must consider the question. Then the Consulta must do the same. And then they should express their desire. Regardless of this event, I can see that people were convinced that the [Italian] Constitution needed reforming. You need a guarantee, and it is right that I should give you one. Do the Italians wish to form a Nation? Let them have one. The important matter is to find ‘the good’ and the perception of that good. Decide what that good may be. Write to them and tell them that I have no other plan than to contribute to their happiness and to support as much as possible the desire that they will have expressed to me’. He repeated these sentiments several times with that benignity and real concern which he has always shown for us. I insisted that he tell us at least what was his preferential solution. But he gave no indication of a direction. I also asked him which demonstrations could be offered to him on the occasion of this event, with the greatest hope that they be accepted, and on this subject he replied that had not yet formed a clear idea.” Marescalchi added that he would not add his own opinions because: “I have too close a view of the Hero to have any other feeling for him than of the admiration, respect and gratitude which he inspires in all those around him.’
But on the same day Marescalchi wrote a private letter to Melzi expressing himself more freely. (Melzi, Carteggi, vol. VI, letter 1926, pp. 178-180.) He reveals that the commandant of the Italian troops at the Boulogne camp, General Pino had sent to the Italian representative (and to others) an ‘Address’ to be sent to the First Consul dated 13 Floréal, An XII (3 May): It read: ‘The Republic of Italy is the work of your hands, General. You should complete that work. Let the Emperor of France become King of Italy.’ Marescalchi goes on in his letter to Melzi remarking that luckily no one had connected Pino’s enthusiastic outburst – the latter was a renowned hothead – with Marescalchi’s and Melzi’s own manoeuvres in the same direction. Marescalchi correctly recognised that the affair was of great importance – indeed so important that it made him tremble. He noted that regardless of any change in the system of government of France, “our state will always be precarious, and confidence in our future will always diminish if we are to take an opposite direction.” He went on: “The Consul has said (and correctly so): ‘that any project suggested by him would always contain the original sin that it had been suggested by him and thus seen as an act of arbitrary judgement, which would damage the rights of Nations. That we must begin by finding out what the penchant of the Nation itself might be. But experience has already proved all too well that all those projects enacted according to this fundamental principle bring about poor results. You could consult the Electoral Colleges, but if you did not present a motion, what result could there be? A host of contradictory opinions would be expressed, and perhaps none of them would be any good. And even if there were a good one, people would accuse it of being the result of intrigue or influence. What is about to happen in France will perhaps provide us with the easiest and safest solution. You must look to see which natural sentiment arises with respect to an event of this sort. We will be able to see more clearly if we can give the people a clear of idea of it; so that they can see the effects, consider them, compare them, judge them, in short so that they can appropriate them for themselves. We will then see how they are disposed, whether they prefer the principles introduced recently or another system which corrects them and comprises advantages more specific to their position, their interests and their customs…’ Tell me what you think. Consult with many people, discover the desires of those who are most enlightened, or with other interested parts of the state. With your support, these ideas could achieve the critical mass we have vainly sought for in the past. Once you have presented these ideas to the Consul and he has judged them suitable… all that will remain will be to bring over the others and to decide on a mode of execution. This is the plan the First Consul thinks is best…”
Marescalchi then went on to record Napoleon’s consideration regarding the complete annexation of Italy. “He [Napoleon] spoke in detail about the advantages, but came to no conclusion whatsoever as to whether these advantages would be sufficient to outweigh the loss of the hope of one day being a self-contained, independent Nation, the loss of their own magistrates, and the huge and painful efforts the government would have to make us accept complete amalgamation. He admitted that the example of Piedmont would certainly not be a reason for confidence in this respect. And finally he weighed up the obstacle of the lack of consent of the other Powers, already greatly afraid at such a colossal aggrandizement.
He seemed to think that a complete independence ought to be more agreeable to us. However since we lacked everything required in this respect, he judged that if we wished to continue with the Republic, even with a modified constitution, we were not mature enough to be able to avoid falling into the traps which our enemies would ceaselessly lay for us or to avoid being exposed to all the evils of internal dissension which would have brought about not only our [Melzi’s and Marescalchi’s] ruin but also that of our institution. If we preferred a monarchical state or a mixed government, he could not imagine which prince could be chosen, and even if one could be found, France would then have to be in agreement.
Here arose the idea of turning our eyes towards someone from his family. But even this solution was not exempt from difficulties, in his opinion. The first and greatest difficulty for him was that you [Melzi] should not be distanced from a position which you have so nobly occupied and to which you were called by the general will. The other is that, of those in his family, one would perhaps refuse [i.e., Joseph, ed.], another did not yet have the necessary experience [i.e., Louis, ed.] and standing. The conclusion of this was that which I outlined in the open letter.” (In another private letter to Melzi on the same day, Marescalchi returns to the possibility of a member of the Bonaparte family acceding to the Italian throne. Lucien is rejected because of bad blood caused by his marriage to Alexandrine Bleschamp. “In my opinion – [Marescalchi’s, ed.], setting Joseph to one side – he would refuse it out of hand.” Marescalchi was well acquainted with Joseph, acted as his literary advisor and was very much of the elder brother’s ‘party’. The Italian politician went on: “I think that the most suitable would be Louis, because he is a really good man, without pretensions and not lacking in judgement and character as is thought. It is his son whom the Consul wishes to appoint as his successor, despite the fact that he is only 18 months old. But – for heaven’s sake, and between us – Louis is against it out of respect to his brothers. […] You see more clearly than I do. To dig in our heels about remaining a republic would now be madness. That he should leave us in total liberty would be worse. But he would never do that. So the best solution sees to me to seize the moment and get the best we can for ourselves.” Melzi, Carteggi, vol. VI, p. 182.)
Marescalchi then went on to lay out his own opinions on the matter: “It must be the case that, despite the obstacles created by the different hypotheses, the First Consul favours one solution which can more easily be accommodated to the rest of the political edifice which he is erecting here and which will be complete in a few days time, without fear that it will be attacked or that it will fall down; a solution which, to put it frankly, must appeal more to him than to the others, and which at the same time could offer to us a way of getting what we have up to now desired in vain. I may be wrong, but I can almost see it. I certainly did not dare to suggest it to the Consul, but to you I can expound the problem such as it appears to me. […] We must set the premise that […] with an emperor in France, the idea of a Republic becomes for us a chimera and almost ridiculous. […] The best thing we can do is to take advantage of the situation so as to establish a constitutional monarchy or mixed government, where authority is suitably limited. Starting from this principle, I think that we should see this occasion as our best chance for emancipating ourselves and founding a government – the solution which at other times you thought best for us.
Having said this, Bonaparte will probably deserve our eternal gratitude and we could not, without doing ourselves a disservice, refuse him. But, even if we were to imagine excessive generosity on his part such that he might renounce this right, I do not think that it would ever be prudent or advantageous to ourselves to provoke that generosity, or even to agree to it. As a result, I could not advise this request nor propose any other head than him, as long he deigned to be it. As for the title, it could be one or the other, it is of no importance, provided it was worthy of him.
We must make our independence in the future our dearest goal; (As Thierry Lentz has noted (Nouvelle Histoire du Premier Empire, Paris: Editions Fayard, vol. 1, p. 117) inviting Napoleon to be king was not paradoxical, since it would cut political links with Austria and would also allow the Italians to impose conditions.) and this is the moment for setting that in motion. I shall ask him then, whether under his auspices from now on, or choosing someone from his family – whichever he thinks most suitable for us – 1) that the order of succession be fixed such that after Bonaparte, the emperor of the French may never be at the same time King of the Lombards, or of Lombardy or of Italy. 2) that once our independence has been consecrated inviolably, we should make a treaty directly with France based on the principles of reciprocal equity and common utility, one which establishes the rate of current contributions on a less onerous basis, and by which it was fixed that once Bonaparte’s descendants and the new dynasty should come to power, we would be exempt for ever and as a result that there would no longer be French troops on our territory.”
Marescalchi ended as follows: “regardless of everything, I shall end by saying that you had ordered me to discover what fate was reserved for us, and I can confirm that it still depends upon us. You asked me to speak openly, and I have done it. As for the first part of what I have written, it is the truth. As for the second, it is what I feel. If I am wrong, do not blame me.”
The interesting feature of Marescalchi’s note is that it shows Napoleon considering in detail the whole question: he had considered annexation but had ruled it out; that he was not a priori against Italian independence, but that time and support will be required; that he was concerned that the people be in agreement with the change of political system and constitution; that a ruler had to be found, even from within his family. The new emperor gives the impression of being the very model of moderation and liberality. There is also however a subtext to Napoleon’s remarks. The reference to annexation could be viewed as an indirect threat. The reference to Melzi’s position a vice-president could also be read as implying that Napoleon could depose him at will. We are also forced to conclude (despite Marescalchi’s impression that the Emperor did indeed have a plan) that Napoleon had not yet come to fixed conclusions. These Italian negotiations came not only right in the middle of the discussions in corridors and horse-trading over the proclamation of Empire in France, a declaration which would already have worried international opinion, but also at the climax of the Moreau-Cadoudal trial. Napoleon’s exhortations to the Italians that they should consult bought him time for reflection. In theory Napoleon was positive towards the initiative, but Marescalchi’s second point regarding the lessening of the burden of the military tribute was to prove a more than significant stumbling block.
The Italian Republic’s desire or voto
Melzi’s reply to Marescalchi was dated 21 May. He informed his minister that the Consulta would send two documents to Paris. One, a decree ordering the building of a monument to Napoleon as emperor. And a second, a statement of desire (voto in Italian, voeu in French) offering to Napoleon the quality of King of Italy or Lombardy (as he wished). That document was dated 28 May, 1804. Article two enjoined the emperor to take the title ‘king’ (although of what was not specified, since it was left up to Napoleon to decide what he liked best). Article three imposed that after Napoleon, now head of the Italian Republic (sic) could reside permanently outside the country. Article four noted that kingship of Italy was incompatible with emperorship of France. Article nine noted that details concerning the majority of the king, the regency, the rights and duties of the royal family etc. would be regulated by a constitutional act written by the Italian Electoral Colleges. Article ten underlined that Italy should be ‘politically independent’ and ‘democratic’. Article eleven required France to act as guarantor for the Italian Republic and to bring into the agreement the Emperor of Germany and the other friendly power as described by the Treaty of Lunéville. Article twelve allowed a treaty of mutual offence and defence, but formally refused all dependence and payment of tributes. (The full list of articles is printed in J.-E. Driault, Napoléon en Italie, Paris: Félix Alcan, 1906, p. 296-99.)
All that Marescalchi had mentioned to Melzi is here. For the Italians, the accession of Napoleon or any other member of his family was a step towards independence and freedom from the heavy tribute and troops stationed on Italian territory. Napoleon gave his approval to the ‘voto‘ in a dispatch dated the 29 May and asked the Italians to pursue their reflection. In July, Marescalchi presented the whole project for the constitution. The key part of the document was that it aimed to divide the organs of government into different sections entitled the ‘Grand Conservatore’ (‘Great Conservator’), the ‘Supremo Magistrato Conservatore’ (‘Supreme Magistracy of Preservation’), the Legislative Body, the National Accountancy and the Courts. The emperor wrote to Melzi on 23 June expressing his approval of the project and the direction of the ‘voto‘. (Correspondance de Napoléon, letter no. 7814.) On 11 July 1804, however, Marescalchi reported to Melzi, that ‘there were many things in the document which did not please him’. (Melzi, Carteggi, vol. VI, letter 2038, p. 312.) After this there was radio silence. Napoleon left on his imperial journey to Belgium and the banks of the Rhine (18 July to 12 October). Melzi was probably correct in his declaration to the Austrian agent in Milan, Baron Moll, on 9 July 1804 when he noted: “I think that Napoleon has not yet made up his mind, that he is listening, and that he is leaning towards declaring himself hereditary king of our country…” (Quoted in Albert Pingaud, Bonaparte président de la République italienne, Paris: Perrin, 1914, p. 413, n. 2, hereafter Pingaud, Bonaparte.)
Return to the negotiating table
As part of his imperial progress, the emperor had meditated before the tomb of Charlemagne in Aachen, preparing for his own consecration and coronation as the new Charlemagne. He had also come to certain conclusions regarding the fate of Italy. On 11 July, Melzi had written to Napoleon asking him to lower the military tribute paid by the Italian republic. (Melzi, Carteggi, vol. VI, letter 2043, 11 July, 1804.) Napoleon was against and wrote a stinging missive to Melzi on 28 August intentionally taking Melzi’s demands that Italy pay a lower military tribute as a threat that the Italians might willingly return to Austrian hegemony. (Sent via Marescalchi, (Correspondance de Napoléon, letter no. 7968).) Melzi was (it is true) in frequent touch with the Austrian agent, Baron Moll – even using code words in their correspondence to refer to sensitive subjects such as Napoleon, Italy, Francis, etc – but the threat seems far-fetched. And so, in Mainz on 2 October, Napoleon summoned Marescalchi, gave him a fiery reception and demanded that the Italian Consulta come to Paris the following month. “What do these men from Milan want?” he thundered, “They should watch out! If they want to go back on their word they risk being transformed into French departments. They will be my outposts, they will suffer war and pay for it. Which prince do they have in Italy whom they could put at their head? It is of no interest to me to be king of Italy; it is they who must pronounce the will of the people. Have them send me a deputation of some individuals from the Electoral Colleges, the Courts, the Legislative Body, the Legislative Council and the Consulta di Stato. And Melzi had better be there! He must head the delegation and direct the deliberations so that everything goes according to the rules.” (Archivio Marescalchi, cart. 26.) The delegation duly arrived in Paris, not only to attend the coronation but also to negotiate the new constitution. After spending the whole month of December in Paris visiting the coronation celebrations without having received a summons, the delegation was finally called to a solemn audience on 30 December (in theory to grant them their leave from the coronation celebrations). Here Napoleon suddenly and aggressively addressed them in a long monologue. He informed the Italians that he himself was Italy’s salvation, that Italy could no longer remain a Republic or indeed become independent as such, and that she could certainly not become a constitutional monarchy under an Austrian prince. The choice was between “me or a prince from my family”. He then dismissed the Italian enjoining them to summon the Consulta, to use the voto already written as a basis for the new document, and to return the new constitution in eight days. (Notes by Valdrighi, quoted in Pingaud, Bonaparte, p. 431-433.) Since, as Thierry Lentz has pointed out, Napoleon was clearly aware that to take the crown of Italy himself would be a casus belli for Austria, the French emperor turned to the old plan (considered by the Italians back in May 1804), of handing the throne to his elder brother Joseph. Suggestions by Talleyrand encouraged him in the same direction. It was hoped that the ‘gentle’ Bonaparte, the diplomat of Lunéville, would not ruffle Austrian feathers quite so much.
Joseph, king of Italy?
In November 1804, Napoleon was in full (private) discussions regarding the hereditary nature of the Empire and his desire to have Josephine crowned Empress. Roederer gives a remarkable account of the stinging interview which he [Roederer] had with Napoleon (dated 4 November, 1804) where the Emperor upbraided him for having placed Joseph too high in status in the establishment of the imperial heredity (should Napoleon die). Napoleon is supposed to have remarked: “What does Joseph want? He is putting himself in opposition to me, he is acting as a rallying point for my enemies. […] Joseph dares to tell that this coronation [of Joséphine] is contrary to his interests. […] this is to hit me where it hurts. They [the rest of the Bonaparte clan, ed.] say that I wish to give Italy to Eugène. Good god, I’m not mad! I think I am quite capable of governing Italy; and the state of Venice too. Italy brings me twenty million. If I gave her away, they would make a thousand little schemes so as to only give me fifteen.” (Roederer, Oeuvres, vol. 3, p. 515.) The important feature here is that the context is familial. In Napoleon’s opinion, given the impending coronation of Josephine (and thus the elevation of her children), Joseph is concerned that Louis’s children (descended from an Empress) would rank higher than his. (Roederer shows how, for Napoleon, this difference of opinion with his previously much loved brother (but of whom he was also very jealous) was decisive, (Roederer, Oeuvres, p. 517): “At another moment, after having said that his brother Joseph was trying to oppose him, he [Napoleon] said: ‘A month ago I wanted him [Joseph] to live at the Luxembourg palace. Today, I no longer want that’.) This is particularly interesting with respect to Napoleon’s offer of the Italian crown to Joseph shortly after this interview with Roederer. As Melzi perspicaciously noted (in code) to the Austrian agent Baron Moll on 11 December, 1804: “there is no doubt that if Fumagalli [i.e., Napoleon, ed.] is reduced to conceding preference on this contract to Pietro [i.e., giving the crown of Italy to Joseph, ed.] in light of the events of these days, he will be reduced to cutting off all relations with him.” (Melzi, Carteggi, vol. VII, letter 2341, p. 164.) [Via the Paris police, Napoleon was very probably aware that Melzi had been communicating with the Austrians during his time in Paris.] In the context of the previous interview, it would appear that Napoleon’s offer of the Italian crown to Joseph had a double purpose (and advantage): of distancing his brother and of offering a sop to Austria. Initially Joseph accepted, with an indemnity of 200,000 francs. And Napoleon wrote encouragingly to Francis on New Year’s Day 1805 claiming that he had handed the throne of Italy to Joseph thereby obviated his rights to it.
“In concert with the government of the Italian Republic, I have ceded all my rights to this country – and which have been mine since the Consulta of Lyons – to my brother Joseph. I have proclaimed him hereditary king of this country, with a clause of renunciation to the crown of France […] such that the two crowns may never be united on the same head.. I have sacrificed my personal grandeur and weakened my power; but I shall be fully recompensed if I have done something which your majesty finds agreeable.” (Letter of 11 Nivôse, An XIII (1 January, 1805) Correspondence de Napoléon, letter no. 8250, quoted in Thierry Lentz, Nouvelle Histoire du Premier Empire, vol. 1, p. 119 and note. Napoleon sent similar letters to the kings of England, Spain and Naples, but omitted mention of the ‘Joseph solution’.)
But after the initial agreement, further careful negotiation between Napoleon’s men (Talleyrand and Cambaceres) and Joseph’s (Roederer and Miot de Melito) took place. The final position agreed was that the two crowns would be disassociated until Napoleon’s death. If the emperor died childless, Joseph would succeed him in France and Louis would replace Joseph on the Italian throne. However, when on 25 January, Cambaceres came to present Joseph, ‘as a model’, the text of renunciation which Philip V had accepted to sign after the peace of Utrecht in 1713 in order to keep the throne of Spain, Joseph refused to sign away his rights to the imperial throne of France. Carlo Zaghi however in his long note claimed that that Joseph’s refusal derived less from disappointment in hereditary terms than from the fact that Napoleon would not give Joseph complete independence in Italy and would not free him from the heavy military tribute about which Melzi had complained. (Melzi, Carteggi, n. 1, p. 228-230. Lucien made a speech in Milan in January (reported by Moll and published in Pedrotti, vol. I, p. 213 and cited in Melzi, Carteggi, p. 230, saying: he would not accept the crown of Italy “if the little beggar (piccolo bougre) doesn’t give him complete independence”. See also Joseph Bonaparte, Mémoires et correspondance politique et militaire du roi Joseph / publiés, annotés et mis en ordre par A. du Casse. – 2e ed. vols I to IX. Paris: Perrotin, 1854-1855, vol. 1, p. 92, where Joseph refers to the heavy tribute which he would have had to pay.)
Louis, king of Italy?
On Joseph’s refusal, Napoleon turned to Louis and his offspring. A document was elaborated whereby Napoleon would take the crown as protector until the majority of Louis’s son, who would reign in Milan as Napoleon II. (Document quoted in Pingaud, Bonaparte, p. 437-8.) Louis was so aggressively against the plan Napoleon is said to have thrown him out of his office. (See Frédéric Masson, Napoléon et sa famille, vol. III, p. 20, quoted in Pingaud, Bonaparte, p. 438, n. 1.) The negotiation had lasted merely three days (27-30 January, 1805). So faced with potential embarrassment on a European scale, Napoleon cut the Gordian knot and decided to take the crown himself. He called a ‘conseil extraordinaire de cabinet’ for 5 February, where he announced to the nineteen people present (amongst whom, Melzi and five Italian deputies, Joseph, Cambacarer, Champagny, Fouché, Murat and Sieyès) that he would take the crown. The fate of Italy had been decided.
We are left to conclude that Napoleon was entirely serious when he proposed Joseph, following Italian wishes (after all, Marescalchi was one of Joseph’s ‘party’), as king of Italy. This not only would have deflected Austrian ire but removed Joseph from Paris (and the imperial succession). Joseph refused not only because accepting the Italian crown would not only cut out of the imperial succession but also because he would be left with no room to manoeuvre his new kingdom. But Napoleon had suspected that Joseph would refuse the humiliating conditions. So he had three fall back positions, Louis, Eugène or himself. But as we have seen in the interview with Roederer, Napoleon did not want to give Eugène that crown. He was never particularly convinced by the Louis solution (as Napoleon noted to Marescalchi in the summer of 1804). Paul Schroeder is however wrong to describe the offer to Joseph as a ‘little comedy’. (Paul W. Schroeder, The transformation of European politics 1763-1848, Oxford (UK): Clarendon Press, 2003, p. 266.) The proposal was entirely serious, but it was merely one of many possible solutions. And perhaps in the end, the ultimate solution was the best. For regardless of Austrian displeasure, it had the advantage of re-affirming on the European stage Napoleon’s identity as the new Charlemagne.