BERNADOTTE Jean Baptiste - Autograph Letter Signed 1800 to Napoleon
Jean Baptiste Jules BERNADOTTE (1763-1844)
Autograph Letter Signed (“Bernadotte”) to “general Bonaparte 1er Consul”, asking for the command of an army against Portugal, and reporting on the situation in “the west” [Brittany].
1½ pages 4to in French, Landerneau, 19 fructidor an 8 [6 September 1800].
A remarkable letter. Bernadotte, still a committed republican, had serious misgivings about Napoleon, particularly after the coup d’état which made him First Consul. But the Empire was still four years away, and Bernadotte here still refers to the “prosperity of the Republic”.
Trans: “From the moment that the fate of the Cisalpine Republic was decided I knew that you would turn your sights towards England. I guessed correctly; I saw at last the chance of bringing to fruition a project which had been at the forefront of my thoughts for a long time, it is tied to the prosperity of the Republic, and restores to the commerce of France its initial splendor.
The conquest of Portugal can bring to the Government all these advantages, and I believed without any presumption that I could be named its leader. I expressed my desire to Joseph who responded in the affirmative. So now, my general, it would be a sorry response to the affection which you have shown me, if I did not address myself directly to you immediately, allow me therefore to ask you for the command of this army. It would flatter me as much for the services which I would continue to give to my country as for the fact that it would come from you.
All continues calm in the west. The respect which people are beginning to have for the government, and for which military authority alone is responsible, demands that the troops, which are not very numerous as it is, should stay in this area for at least six weeks. It is, my general, the means to contain the malicious ones, and to keep them from harming us within six months.
The remains of my wife’s fortune have not yet been placed, once I have done my duty in the west and fulfilled your intentions, the situation of the region would allow me to beg you to allow me to spend a month in Paris, which should be enough to put in order my domestic affairs.
In any case, I need to speak with you, no matter how much I write to you it would not give you such a correct account [of events].
If you authorise me to do so, I will leave between the 15th and 20th vendemiaire . . . After having spent a little time near you, I will return to Rennes if you wish.
You know, my general, my feelings towards you –”
Napoleon’s victory over the Austrians at Marengo in June 1800 resulted in the establishment of the second Cisalpine Republic. With French control over northern Italy established, Napoleon turned to securing alliances elsewhere. By mid-September, a commercial treaty had been signed with the United States. A peace treaty was agreed with the Dey of Algiers, and by October, negotiations were under way for a peace treaty with Britain. These negotiations, however, soon foundered, and the Treaty of Amiens, heralding a brief respite in hostilities with England would not be signed until March 1802.
Bernadotte seems to assume that Napoleon was contemplating an invasion of England as early as 1800. In fact, it was not until some years later that he turned his attention to England, and in 1805 he sent the order to Admiral Villeneuve to “enter the Channel with my combined squadrons. England is ours, we are ready”. That hope, unfortunately for Napoleon, but fortunately for the British, ended at Trafalgar.
Portugal’s long-standing amicable relations with England, all the more essential at this time as the two maritime nations relied on these ties for secure trading routes, might have prompted France’s desire to conquer that nation. However, the French invasion of Spain, the only feasible route to Portugal, was not to take place until 1807, and Bernadotte never served in the Peninsula.
Bernadotte’s remark that he had spoken to Joseph about his ideas is unsurprising, as the two were brothers-in-law, Bernadotte married to Napoleon’s former fiancée, Désirée Clary, sister to Joseph Bonaparte’s wife Julie.
The letter has some visible foxing, but is in clear and legible condition. From the Crawford collection.
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