“Keep your friends close, and your enemies…closer.”, Montgomery Burns
Like the Hapsburgs, the Bourbons were a power to be reckoned in Europe. Before the Revolution, they hath ruled three nations, namely France, Naples, and Spain. The Revolution hath overthrown their dynasties in all but Spain. Now, Napoleon threatened the Bourbon monarch Charles on the Spanish border itself. The French army was dispersed over many battlefields, so the Bourbon Spanish army that he faced here outnumbered the French slightly.
Though Berthier was the General in this campaign, all men knew that Consul Napoleon was truly in charge. Napoleon outlined all the logistics and strategies, while Berthier helped calculate all that was needed. The French soldiers were in healthy mood, fighting for their liberty and democracy under the motto “Et liberte du Mortem” (“Give me Liberty, or Give me Death). They were well-equipped with modern rifles, while the disillusioned Spanish fought for greedy Bourbon monarchs who were little better than Louis XVI of France was. Was it a strange thing? After all, they were cousins.
At this point, Crown Prince Ferdinand of Bourbon Spain led his army out to meet Napoleon. He looked at the Consul in disdain, for he had the bigger army of the two.
Ferdinand arrogantly said to Napoleon, “Surrender now, peasant, for I shall be merciful.” The looks on the face of the Spaniard soldiers smirked. They did not like it. Many of them were peasants too.
Napoleon could see that they did not love the Bourbon monarch but simply chafed under his oppressive rule. They would not fight as the French would fight for their freedom, so he calmly addressed the corpulent prince of Spain, “I do not know how many Spanish soldiers would gladly die for you, but I do know that I myself would gladly die for any of my soldiers.”
The French received Napoleon’s words with standing ovation and were enheartened by his loyalty to their cause, while the Spaniards saw only the selfishness and indifference of their incompetent prince. They did not fight hard. Many Spaniards fled as the French rushed on them with their bayonets and fired at them with muskets. Every French soldier seemed willing to give up his life for Napoleon.
Though outnumbered, the French charged bravely and broke the Spanish line. Soon, even Prince Ferdinand himself was forced to retreat. Only one man, Alatriste, a noble mercenary warlord, braved the French torrent and fought me on the field. Alatriste shot me on my left shoulder and nearly killed me with his cutlass, but then, someone on horseback sprang to my rescue.
It was General Joachim Murat, brother-in-law of Napoleon!! He hath been defeated by noble Archduke Charles Louis John in Naples, but there was fight in him yet. Alastriste was a great swordsman, but he fought on foot, and therein lies his disadvantage. Eventually, he was slain by Murat.
Napoleon ordered Murat to bury Alatriste well, for there was greatness and nobility in his soul. At the end, Napoleon uttered the words, “May God bless the hero in this man.” And I was much surprised. Christian though I was, I understood that atheism was the spirit of the Revolution, and that no one embodied the Revolution more than our Consul. Little did I know how much of the old values Napoleon still held dear.
Our forces marched south to Barcelona and captured Prince Ferdinand himself, and it was here that King Charles came forth to parry with Napoleon.
King Charles: “What are your terms, Consul of France?”
Napoleon: “First that Spain shall cede Louisiana to the Republic of France.” Louisiana was a vast piece of land in the Americas that France hath ceded to Spain during the Wars of Spanish Succession. It was named for our King Louis XIV.
King Charles: “Very well, and you shall release my son and take your troops off Spanish soil…and any other conditions, Consul?”
Napoleon: “Yes, that Spain be an ally of France.”
King Charles was taken much aback by Napoleon’s suggestion. The French hath overthrown and killed his cousin Louis XVI and yet here they came seeking friendship. But Napoleon guessed right, for Charles was not in the position to bargain, so Charles agreed, “Very well, my friend. We shall be allies.”
And so, Napoleon subdued Spain and gained Louisiana for us. Yet, at his moment of glory, a ragged General Desauix, once Second Consul of France, appeared in Barcelona and stomped to meet Napoleon immediately.
Napoleon: “Welcome, Consul.”
Desauix was annoyed. Though Napoleon’s mistake was an innocent one, he corrected his curtly for he was in a foul mood. “Consul Bonaparte, a consul with no powers is not a consul at all! I would rather that you address me as General for I have served you well in that capacity.”
Napoleon: “Ah…I can see that”…Napoleon said teasingly.
Desauix was infuriated. He had executed the war against England well, and had it not been for the talented Archduke Charles Louis John, Holland would have remained in French hands. But more mature perhaps than even Napoleon himself, Desauix replied, “Be that as it may, Consul. I am here to report that I came here en route Paris. You are in dire danger. The Austrians and their Russian allies may cross Provence into French territory anytime. There are Bourbon monarchists and other non-Jacobin enemies of yours who are provoking for war. At any time, they will assist the Austrians in capturing Paris and replacing you. Hence, you must return to Paris at once.”
Napoleon could see the seriousness in Desauix’s voice. “Very well, General. I will return to Paris and deal with the situation.”
And so, in this manner, did we return to Paris. I was carried back on a stretcher, for I was very much tired and injured.
Meanwhile, the Consulate hath sent Talleyrand to meet with the Austrians led by Archduke Charles Louis John, who was now joined by his father Holy Roman Emperor Francis II near the border of Provence. Talleyrand was a French noble from the ancient family of that nobility. He was refined and cultured, the very type of person Napoleon would hate…and need.
At the approval of Lucien Bonaparte, Napoleon’s younger brother and deputy, he offered the Austrians 1 million francs, a large sum in our days, in return for withdrawing troops from French borders. Once the Austrians withdrew, the Russians would follow suit, for General Suvorov did not possess the courage to invade France on his own. In that day, the expert Austrian diplomat, Prince Karl von Metternich, was not by the side of the Emperor to advise him.
Emperor Francis: “Do you deny that Napoleon is a threat to Hapsburg and all monarchs of Europe? Now that my son has defeated him, you will ask me to withdraw?”
Talleyrand: “Ah, but you have not defeated Napoleon…Only his generals, and if Napoleon were such a threat to European monarchies, why then did he not invade Spain and depose the Bourbons there too? Instead, he extended his friendship upon them. France only wants to get things in order in our own house and would not interfere with the affairs of other nations, my Leige.”
Archduke Charles: “Certainly, the kings of Holland and Naples would not agree with your assessment, Marquis Talleyrand, and I would very much like to try my mettle against those of your famed Consul, if he is still even in charge. Is it not true that the French constitution prevents a civilian Consul from commanding a military force?”
Talleyrand: “Be that as it may. Berthier is a good general, but hardly the man to have defeated Spain on such unequal terms. Why can’t Austria and France not be friends again? We have no grudges against you. Did not our monarchs intermarry in the days before, your Highness?”
Emperor Francis: “Aye! But we do against you. The talented pianist Beethoven of my country now praises your Napoleon for his Republicanism. I should have him killed for his bitter rhetoric, had his music not been so sweet. And do you not remember the death of my sister, who was the last Queen of France?”
Talleyrand: “I grieved for Queen Marie Antonette’s death no less than yourself, my Leige, but the men responsible for that are now dead. Marat, Robespierre, a kind and noble man as Napoleon would not even think to harm the perfect beauty that your sister was. Please, your Majesty, I beg you on bended knees that you give Europe the peace…or a truce it requires…perhaps 3 months, and we will settle things internally.”
Archduke Charles: “But how? Is Napoleon not the protege of Robespierre and the scourge of all Europe? Did France not make him Consul for life?”
Talleyrand then replied wickedly, “But how long does a man live, my Leige?”
At that moment, it seems the Austrians got some idea, and so they graciously accepted Talleyrand’s offer, and there was peace in France…for a while.
And so by the time Napoleon reached Paris, he hath become a hero, bringing victories in Spain and buying the peace with Austria under Talleyrand’s successful mission. The Consul, Josephine, and their family rode on a coach to meet the common people and receive celebrations. Adulation was everywhere. It was the dawn of a new era under the Consulate that was the most effective government the French Republic ever had.
Just then, an explosion happened. Men and women were killed as they waited for Napoleon’s carriage to pass. Both Napoleon and Josephine survived unscathed, but Josephine’s daughter, beautiful Hortense, was injured and bleeding as her head knocked the carriage. Her brother, brave Eugene, rescued her, and took her aside.
At this point, Napoleon realized that the Republic was not working. The monarchists still constantly wanted to return the Bourbons to power. Some of the poor felt their beliefs within the Catholic Church were left out. Napoleon himself had great admirations for the French king Charlemagne of the days gone by, and he no longer intended to keep it a secret.
To everyone’s surprise, he announced that he would become Emperor of France. This was the only way to bring all Frenchmen together under one roof.
His brother Lucien objected violently, “When I endorsed you for Director and Consul, I promised the people that if one day, you should become tyrant, I would kill you with my own hands.”
Napoleon looked at his mild-mannered brother and replied calmly, “Lucien, if I shall be Emperor of France, it shall be by the will of the people. This is the only way we can attain peace internally and externally with monarchies of Austria and England. Did you not say yourself that France is weary of wars?”
And so, Napoleon appointed the cunning ex-churchmen-cum-secret-security cop, Fouche, as Minister of Interior and Talleyrand as Foreign Minister, despite suspicions that Talleyrand, the monarchists, and the Austrians or British were behind the attempt on his life. Fouche subdued any opposition, and soon, 80% of France voted to crown the Consul as Emperor Napoleon I with the consent of Pope Pius in Rome.
Before the coronation, Napoleon adjusted his new imperial robes, while his brother Lucien implored him, “As you go on with this madness that betrays all the Republic stands for, the Austrian composer Beethoven whose voice is sweeter than the best French honey doth pollute the minds of all, saying you are a hypocrite who has destroyed the republic! I beg you, stop this insanity, brother, or at least…at least, don’t make that viper Talleyrand Foreign Minister.”
But Napoleon was always his own man. Lucien may have been President of the Assembly once, but he was still Napoleon’s younger brother, so the Emperor of France replied, “You will hear me as one hears the voice of an Emperor, as a younger heeds the wisdom of the elders. As for Talleyrand, do you not know the saying ‘Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.’ I despise him more than anyone in France.”
And in this manner, Napoleon and Josephine went forth to receive the crown from Pope Pius, but then, when the Pope was about to place the crown upon his head, Napoleon snatched it from him and crowned himself. Then, he repeated the words of his childhood hero Charlemagne who had created the country we now call France and the Holy Roman Empire that Austria now usurped, “By my own hands shalt I be crowned.”
And I looked there from the glorious audience room in Paris, my arm recovering but still half aching, what I saw was short of amazing. It was hard enough to believe that a skinny Corsican boy would grow to become a respected general, but literally beyond imagination for him to rule as Emperor of the most powerful nation in Europe.