Malet's Coup Accidentally
Succeeds by Jeff Provine
says: we're very pleased to present a new story from Jeff Provine's
excellent blog This
Day in Alternate History. Please note that the opinions expressed in
this post do not necessarily reflect the views of the author(s).
October 23rd 1812,
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this day Malet's coup accidentally succeeded. Claude Francois de Malet
loved his country and felt that so much more could come from a France not
chained under autocratic rule. When he had come of age at seventeen, he
had enlisted as a Musketeer, as was common for minor nobles like himself
to do under the reign of the Bourbons. Louis XVI disbanded the guard in
1776, and Malet realized the abuse of power one man could hold.
When the French Revolution began, he found common interest among the
republicans. His family disinherited him, but Malet was content to fight
for his own way and the way of his countrymen. He volunteered for the
revolutionaries' army and became captain in the Army of the Rhine. Malet
reenlisted after his first tour lapsed, and he fought valiantly until 1802
with many honors, being promoted to brigadier general in 1799.
Malet returned to France and found that the Revolution for which he had
fought much of his life had given way to a new heavy-handed system. As the
Consulate came to power, Malet voted against Napoleon as the First Consul.
While a member of the Legion of Honor and thus a powerful enemy, Napoleon
worked to push Malet's vehement voice away from public ears. Napoleon
crowned himself emperor, and Malet resigned from service. Despite their
differences, both Napoleon and Malet worked toward the greatness of
France, and Malet accepted governorships in the Kingdom of Italy. He
served in Italy for several years before being sent to prison for ten
months in 1807 on charges not even considered in court as he was released
without trial in 1808.
"This could have happened---Malet's coup was a
close-run thing." - reader's commentsReturning to Paris after yet
another stint of national service abroad and now seething from lost months
of his life, Malet found himself arrested on suspicion of being a member
of the Philadelphes, a society of Masons who had dedicated themselves to
republicanism and, especially, opposition to Napoleon. From 1810, he sat
under house arrest and began to plot. He built a network of allies and
careful forgeries that would overthrow the dictator upon the false news of
his death. Even if Napoleon were to return, Malet felt that the people of
France would consider not taking back the emperor. When Napoleon marched
on Moscow, Malet knew his chance had come.
October 23, 1812, Malet escaped and released his fellow conspirators from
their prisons with forged documents, the presence of his general's
uniform, and his sense of command. He marched to the barracks of the
Gendarmerie, woke up the troops, and displayed further forgeries of orders
to establish a republican Paris. The provisional government was
established, and Malet's plan went smoothly.
Word of the coup filtered to Napoleon, who was sitting atop the ashes of
Moscow. He passed command of the remnants of the Grande Arm?e to Marshall
Joachim Murat and returned to Paris by fast-moving sleigh. Near Krasnoy,
Russian snipers spotted the sleigh, thought it a messenger, and shot the
passengers dead. After the disappearance of the emperor, emergency patrols
would be launched, and his blood-soaked sleigh would be found November 14.
When the news spread of the emperor's actual death, the Russians launched
a renewed campaign against the devastated French troops.
In Paris, the news of Napoleon's death would be met with confusion. Malet
worked to weave his lies and the truth into powerful propaganda that the
French determined one was a false report, but no one knew which. In either
case, they already had their provisional government established, and there
was no need for a Napoleon II.
With the return to the republic, Malet worked to rally the army and
peacefully disassemble Napoleon's web of satellite states, puppet kings,
and forced alliances. While many in Europe called for a Sixth Coalition to
defeat France wholly, the Continent was weary of war. Malet swore to fight
defensively for French soil, but the diplomats were eager to take back
their conquered lands without further bloodshed. A new balance of power
was struck at the Treaty of Leipzig in October of 1813. Britain assumed
dominance of the seas, Austria regained its holdings in Germany and Italy,
and Russia grew in influence over Poland and Finland. France, meanwhile,
Malet was said to have "retired" France, and several groups rose up in
dissension about his parceling up of the empire. Still, he argued if he
had fought, the Coalition would have torn France apart, and his righteous
anger proved that the age of old empires had come to an end. The colonies
of Spain and Portugal would gain independence, and Germany under the
Bavarians then Italy would unify themselves into European powers. Malet
would die in 1826, not seeing the latter two actions, but living long
enough to see the establishment of a new generation of free Frenchmen.
Their republican ideals would spark waves of revolution across Europe in
the 1830s and again in the 1850s, gradually dissolving the power of
In its place, a sense of nationalism would grow up, sparking competition
and, in the 1870s, the Great War. As the Prussians balked under Bavarian
rule to began a civil war, all of the nations of Europe drew sides to
divide the Continent and cost over a million lives. New systems would rise
from its shadow, such as anarchism, communism, and progressive
says in reality Napoleon did return to Paris. He quickly resumed power
as the people loved him, but he was annoyed that no one had called for the
continuation of his dynasty. Malet and his conspirators were gathered before
trial on October 29 and executed by firing squad.
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Today in Alternate History web site.
Jeff Provine, Guest Historian of
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