Saturday, I described one of the assassination attempts on Napoleon Bonaparte. There were two others that I know of. On Christmas Eve 1800, royalist plotters planted a wagon with a bomb, known as an “infernal machine,” along the route that Napoleon was going to take to the opera. Napoleon was running late that evening and ordered his coachman to drive more quickly than expected, so he passed by before the explosion occurred. Reportedly, more than 50 people were killed or wounded by the device.
In 1804, the French police received word that royalists were plotting once again to overthrow Napoleon. The report implicated the Duc d’Enghien, a young prince of the house of Bourbon, which had ruled France before the Revolution. Most historians today believe that, although there was a plot, the report about Enghien was false. But at the time, Napoleon acted on it immediately. He sent French dragoons secretly across the Rhine into Baden, arrested the duc, and brought him to France for a trial. Enghien was found guilty and executed by firing squad within a week. The affair of the duc d’Enghien incensed the rest of Europe. Napoleon had violated the sovereignty of another state to take Enghien prisoner, and the trial and execution were conducted with unseemly haste. The affair gave Napoleon’s enemies damning evidence to support their claims that he was an upstart tyrant.
The discovery of the plot had an equally dramatic effect on Napoleon. He became paranoid that he would be killed and all that he had accomplished would be undone. So he agreed with minister of police Joseph Fouché that the only way to prevent future such attempts was to change the consulate into a hereditary empire, with Napoleon as the emperor. That way, even if Napoleon should die, his heirs would continue to rule.
Five years later, the assassination plot of Friedrich Staps caused Napoleon to reach an equally momentous decision. He loved his wife Josephine, but she was already in her mid-forties and had proven unable to give him a son. Still worried about the stability of his empire should he be killed, Napoleon decided to divorce Josephine. He formed an alliance with Austria, which until then had been one of France’s bitterest enemies, and married the Archduchess Marie Louise. She was a member of one of the great royal houses of Europe and trained to do her duty. She was also, apparently, sensual. The only thing reported about their wedding night is that after the relationship was consummated, she turned to Napoleon and said, “Do it again.” (At least, that’s what Nappy claimed later.) Whether that story is true or not, she did accomplish her purpose and in a year, gave Napoleon a son.
Empress Marie Louise by François Gérard, via Wikimedia Commons