At the beginning of the French Revolution, most European nations were shocked by the the events in France and considered it appropriate to try to restore the French king to his throne. It goes without saying that all those other countries had monarchy in some form or another. However, by January 1793, Louis XVI was dead. The execution of the Bourbon king only intensified international opposition to the idea of a republican France. In 1793, Austria, Great Britain, Prussia, Spain, and the United Provinces of the Netherlands formed a coalition to oppose both the French government and the spread of revolutionary ideas to their own lands.
Over the course of the next 23 years, France was almost continuously at war, and in all probability, the only thing that kept it from being defeated at an earlier date was the military genius of Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon’s leadership was a double-edged sword, if you’ll forgive the pun. His brilliant victories defeated Austria and kept Britain at bay time and time again. However, after he became First Consul in 1799 and emperor in 1804, the other rulers of Europe viewed him as an upstart and a usurper, and they adopted the goal of defeating him at any cost. It became a vicious no-win situation for Napoleon. He felt that he had to use his leadership and military skills to keep his country safe, yet he became one of the primary reasons his country was being attacked.
Which brings me to October 12, 1809. By this time, the Allies had formed not one, not two, but five coalitions to defeat France. The Fifth Coalition essentially fell apart when Napoleon trounced the Austrians. France and Austria negotiated a treaty to end the war at the palace of Schönnbrunn in Vienna. While this was going on, a seventeen-year-old German named Friedrich Staps decided to assassinate Napoleon to bring an end to his rule. Staps entered the palace grounds on October 12 while Napoleon was viewing a military parade and tried to approach the emperor. One of Napoleon’s aides found the young man suspicious and had him arrested, and a knife was found to be hidden on his body. Under questioning, Staps admitted his plans. When Napoleon asked if he would be grateful for a pardon, Staps declared that he would still try to assassinate Napoleon anyway. A firing squad executed Staps on the 17th.
It was not the first attempt to assassinate Napoleon, and such attempts on his life only made him more obdurate in pursuing his goal to build a French empire. He greatly feared what would happen to France if he should die without a clear succession plan in place. After this attempt, he took decisive action that I will discuss in my next blog post.
Schönnbrunn Palace, via Wikimedia Commons