“That was worse than a crime, that was a mistake.”
The one who said this was not just anyone, but one of Napoleon’s most important ministers, the “Ministre de la Police” Joseph Fouché, feared by everyone.
By summoning a whole army of informers, he had succeeded in uncovering a conspiracy around the generals Cadoudal, Pichegru and Moreau, who were involved in an assassination attempt on Napoleon.
But Napoleon’s vindictiveness was not yet satisfied with the conviction of the traitors. Rather, he looked for another victim to send a widely visible signal to the loyal followers of the Bourbons.
He found it in the young Duke of Enghien, Louis Antoine Henri de Bourbon-Conde, who lived near the French border in Ettenheim near Baden. Politically insignificant, however, he was an ardent supporter of the Bourbons and fought as an officer in the army of emigrants against the National Guard of the still young republic.
Thus, on the night of 14 to 15 March 1803, a group of the gendarmerie, accompanied by 300 Dragons, sneaked across the border to kidnap the Duke and bring him to France to accuse him of treason.
The papers found in his possession clearly proved that the Bourbons recruited conspirators against Napoléon. The First Consul reacted with unbridled rage: “Why don’t they carry weapons against me? Instead, they send out muggers, blow Paris up, kill innocent people. For this they shall weep bloody tears.”
The duke was brought before a military tribunal after only a few days. He himself declared that he had sworn irreconcilable hatred to Napoleon and would use every opportunity to fight revolutionary France.
But he firmly rejected the accusations of having participated in a conspiracy against the life of the First Consul. Nevertheless, he was sentenced to death and executed the very next day.
From the point of view of foreign policy, this was a serious mistake because the European states, especially Baden and Prussia, saw themselves threatened in their state sovereignty.
Domestically, however, Napoleon knew that broad sections of the population were behind him, who were still loyal to the young republic. Moreover, all other royalist conspiracies were nipped in the bud.