By the time Archdeacon Lucien died, leaving the Bonaparte family comfortably off, Napoleon's ambitions had moved on a notch. With Joseph already president of the Ajaccio Directory, the Bonapartes were making progress. Fortified by the gold of the late miser Lucien, Letizia, still a striking woman habitually dressed in black, was able to abandon her chores as a housekeeper and start spending money on home and children. The family dynamic was beginning to grow complicated. At sixteen Lucien was a spoiled neurotic who resented the eminence of his two older brothers. Thirteen-year-old Louis, whom Napoleon was glad to be able to offload, was a good-looking mother's boy and favourite with women but something of a 'hop out of kin'. Seven-year-old Jerome was apparently as tiresome as a child as he was to be ineffective and useless as an adult. With Elisa, aged fourteen, absent at St-Cyr and the pale
skinned nine-year-old Caroline a quiet child with some musical talent, Pauline, aged eleven, was already usurping the role of most striking female Bonaparte. Emotional, charming, humorous and showing signs of her later stunning beauty, Pauline seemed to have inherited Letizia's looks and Carlo's love of pleasure.
To advance in Corsican politics meant making a minute analysis of the power structure on the island - something Napoleon, with his love of detail, was good at. On the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1 789, Corsica had at first been bedevilled by the extreme factionalism between the royalists led by Buttafuoco and Peretti, who relied for support on the Army, and the Paolists, whose power came from strong popular support. Throughout 1790 and 1791 the Paolists had won victory after victory, culminating in the royalist defeat when they tried to prevent the two Paolist representatives, Gentile and Pozzo di Borgo (delegates from the 1 790 Orezza assembly) taking their seats at the National Assembly. But almost immediately after this decisive rout of the royalists, the Paolistas had themselves begun to splinter, basically between those loyal to France and revolutionary principles and those who distrusted the Revolution's anticlericalism and its attitude to property and hankered after an independent and separate Corsica. Paoli, at first the champion of the Revolution against the old regime, increasingly emerged as a conservative figure, moving back into reaction even as many of his followers swung left into Jacobinism. The fissiparous nature of the Paolist movement resulted in violent religious riots in Bastia in June 179 1 . There was bloodshed, Bastia lost the rank of capital city and, more ominously, Paoli's authority and prestige were compromised and a parliamentary opposition arose against him.
Napoleon in late 179 1 still retained his faith in Paoli. His strategy now was to parlay his furlough into a quasi-permanent leave while becoming an Adjutant-Major in a volunteer company; this would make him a significant military force in the land. But in December 179 1 the National Assembly came close to torpedoing this strategy with a law requiring all officers in the regular army to return to their regiments for a nationwide census, to be carried out between 25 December and 10 January 1792. Fortunately for Napoleon, the deputy military commander in Corsica, General Antonio Rossi, had already petitioned Minister of War Narbonne for Napoleon's commission in the Ajaccio volunteer regiment, and a favourable reply to the request arrived in January 179 1 . Rossi wrote to Colonel Campagnol of the 4th Regiment to inform him that First Lieutenant Bonaparte was now an Adjutant-Major in the Corsican Volunteers.
But Napoleon's problems were not yet over, for in February 1792 the National Assembly passed a further law, requiring all officers of volunteer battalions to rejoin their regular army regiments by the end of March; the only exception permitted was to the handful of colonels of important volunteer battalions. There were only two such lieutenant-colonelships in Corsica, and it was now Napoleon's task to obtain one of them or see his career as a Corsican political fixer in ruins.
The two colonelships were elective positions, in which the five hundred or so National Guardsmen cast two votes for their two chosen candidates, in order of preference. Napoleon began by getting Paoli's backing for himself and Q!Ienza as the two Lieutenant-Colonels. They faced stiff opposition, particularly from Jean Peraldi and Pozzo di Borgo, scion of another of Ajaccio's great families. Napoleon began by laying out a good part of Archdeacon Lucien's legacy on bribery: more than two hundred voting volunteers were lodged free of charge in the grounds of the Casa Buonaparte and provided with lavish board for the two weeks before the elections. Then Napoleon thought of other ways to scupper the opposition. Tradition says that he actually tried to eliminate Pozzo di Borgo physically, by challenging him to a duel which Pozzo did not accept. What is certain is that Napoleon added intimidation to the bribery he had already employed.
Three commissioners had been appointed to supervise the election. One of them, Morati by name, made the mistake of choosing to lodge the night before the vote (3 1 March 1 79 1 ) at the house of the Peraldis, well known as opponents of the Bonapartes and supporters of Pozzo. Napoleon's men simply arrived at the Peraldi house at dinner time and abducted Morati 'to ensure his impartiality'. The next day, the election took place in the church of San Francesco. 52 1 volunteers arrived to record their preferences, but Pozzo di Borgo harangued them on the infamy of the Bonapartes; for his pains, he was pulled off the platform and narrowly escaped a knifing. It is said that Pozzo, who had hitherto not been Napoleon's rival, swore eternal vengeance by the code of vendetta; he certainly made good his threat in later years. Then the voting started. Quenza received the highest number of votes and was elected the first lieutenant-colonel. Napoleon, with 422 first and second preferences, was a comfortable second and so found himself, not yet twenty-three, a lieutenant-colonel of the Corsican volunteers. Since Quenza had no military experience, Napoleon was the effective commander and at once evinced his ability to remember every last detail about the personnel and organization of anybody he commanded.
Although the royalists on Corsica had been decisively routed in a political sense, they still retained the support of the Army in key strongholds. Paoli and the Directory, the centrally directed administration of Corsica, decided that the final stage in taking power in Corsica was to replace these royalist troops with the volunteers, and an obvious first target was the citadel at Ajaccio. General Rossi protested but was overruled by the Directory, supported by Paoli. In response the royalists played the clerical card, counting on the monarchist sympathies of most of Ajaccio. The National Assembly had already decreed that monasteries and religious orders were to be dissolved, but in March 1 792 a town meeting in Ajaccio petitioned that the Capucin order be excepted. The Corsican Directory reiterated the decree and added that the town meeting had no authority, being merely an unlawful assembly.
This was the juncture at which Christophe Antoine Saliceti, already a delegate to the National Assembly in Paris and a rising star in the Corsican opposition to Paoli, first appeared in full Machiavellian skill. A tall, sinister-looking man with a pockmarked face, Saliceti spread the whisper that Paoli was a fence sitter who had secret sympathies with the royalist rump in Ajaccio, and urged Napoleon to settle scores once and for all with the diehards in that town. Accordingly, Napoleon entered the town with four companies of republican volunteers, in full knowledge of the hatred that existed between the pious, royalist townspeople and his rural guardsmen.
On Easter Sunday 8 April 1792 a group of priests who had refused to swear an oath of primary loyalty to the French republic held a service in the officially dissolved convent of St Francis and announced a religious procession - actually a political demonstration under another name - for the following day. At 5 p.m. Napoleon, hearing of disturbances around the cathedral, took a platoon of his men to investigate. Outside the cathedral, he found a hostile mob who, it transpired, had already disarmed another platoon of volunteers and taken their muskets. When Napoleon heard of this, he demanded the weapons back and an angry altercation ensued. Suddenly a shot rang out and Lieutenant Roccadella Serra of the volunteers fell dead. Napoleon and his men rushed for cover, then made their way back to their headquarters by back streets.
It did not take a man of any great military talent, let alone Napoleon's superlative gifts, to work out that the key to the control of Ajaccio lay in command of the citadel. The snag was that this stronghold was held by a Colonel Maillard, commanding 400 men of the 42nd Infantry Regiment, and both commander and troops were loyal to Louis XVI. Napoleon went to see Maillard, who predictably proved uncooperative. Napoleon's argument was that his men were in mortal danger from angry townspeople and needed to take refuge in the citadel or at the very least to have access to the ammunition there. Maillard not only refused to accept either of these points but ordered Q! Ienza and Napoleon to withdraw their volunteers from the town centre to the Convent of St Francis.
Napoleon responded by getting from his friend, the procurer-syndic of the district, an order overruling any orders issued by Maillard or the municipality. The procurer did so, adding to the rider that Maillard was duty-bound to protect the volunteers. Maillard, however, was adamant that he would accept only the orders of the municipality. Despite the version of those who try to present Napoleon as a Machiavellian bully in this incident, it is quite clear that he had the law on his side.
Napoleon and Quenza refused to withdraw but offered a compromise. If Maillard withdrew his proviso about the volunteers' retreating to the convent of St Francis, they for their part would show goodwill by sending home the particular individuals in the National Guard most objected to by the townspeople. Maillard grudgingly accepted this, but Napoleon followed up the offer by surreptitiously extending his control in the town. The armed royalists in the town and the volunteers now began fortifying the houses they occupied, ready for a bout of grim streetfighting, while Napoleon unsuccessfully tried to suborn the troops in the citadel to rebel. To twist the knife still further, he instituted a food blockade by the republican peasantry. Napoleon's men killed cattle, ravaged orchards and cut off water supplies.
The conflict escalated when the municipality got Maillard to wheel out cannon from the citadel, preparatory to expelling the volunteers by force. Napoleon then produced a letter from the Directory authorizing him to stand fast and, if necessary, bring in more volunteers. It was quite clear that the municipality was putting itself in a position where it was defying the elected government of Corsica and thus making itself legally responsible for all damage sustained in the expected fighting. Evidently, the hotheads in Ajaccio finally perceived they were getting into very deep water; they backed down and agreed on a compromise peace with Napoleon. Maillard, however, refused to be a party even to this, claiming to be upholding the law. Since both the Directory and the municipality were now in agreement, it is difficult to see what this 'law' could be. In his own mind, it involved the supremacy of the claims of Louis XVI, as interpreted by him, against those of the French Republic, but in strictly legal terms his action was treason. Historical precedents were all against him, for the legitimacy of the House of Stuart in England had not prevented the execution of Charles I or, in the following century, dozens of Jacobites.
Eventually, two Commissioners arrived from the Directory to sort out the fracas. They arrested some of the troublemaking members of the municipality but the defiant Maillard simply retired to the citadel and challenged Paoli and the Directory to blast him out. Napoleon, Quenza and the volunteers had won the moral victory and Napoleon had shown himself to be exceptionally intrepid, energetic and resourceful, but the affair left a nasty taste in Ajaccio. Henceforth his reputation there plummeted, and Pozzo di Borgo was able to make significant propaganda ground in his vendetta.
When peace was made, Napoleon went to Corte, where he had an interview with Paoli. But his mind was on France, where his position with his regiment was precarious. At the review held on 1 January 1792, the regimental record stated: 'Buonaparte, First Lieutenant, whose permission of absence has expired, is in Corsica.' He was expressly left out of the list of those recommended to the National Assembly as having legitimate reasons for absence. It was evident that to clear his name Napoleon would have to go to Paris, for he was now virtually regarded as an emigre, as appears from the following note placed against his name in a list of lieutenants at the Ministry of War: 'Has given up his profession, and has been replaced on February 6th, 1792.'
Sometime early in May 1792 Napoleon left Corsica on his urgent mission to Paris. He reached the French capital on 28 May, to find that war had broken out with Prussia and France had sustained its first defeats. He wrote to Joseph that the capital was in a tense state, with financial chaos and the assignat at half its old value. It seemed to be a season for meeting old acquaintances, not all of them pleasant, for when Napoleon booked in at the Hotel des Patriotes Hollandais in the rue Royale, he found his old enemies Pozzo di Borgo and Peraldi staying there. The next day he bumped into a different sort of acquaintance, for he went to a session of the Assembly and met Bourrienne. For once Bourrienne's memoirs, noting the event, are probably trustworthy:
Our friendship dating back to childhood and college was completely revived . . . adversity weighed him down and he was often short of money. We spent our time like two young people of twenty-three who have nothing to do and not much money; he was even harder up than I was. Each day we thought up new plans. We were trying to make some profitable speculations. Once he wanted us to rent several houses which were being built in the rue Montholon in order to sub-let them immediately. We found the demands of the landlords exorbitant. Everything failed.
On 16 June he went to St-Cyr to visit his sister, who asked him to get her out of the convent as soon as legislation promised by the revolutionary government made this possible. On 20 June he had arranged to dine with Bourrienne in the rue St-Honore, near the Palais Royal, but, seeing an angry crowd, some s-6,ooo strong, debouch from the direction of Les Halles and head towards the river, the two young men decided to follow. Two huge crowds organized by Antoine Santerre headed for the Tuileries. After browbeating the Legislature, the crowd, chanting the revolutionary song (:a Ira pressed on into the undefended palace grounds themselves. In the Salon de l'Oeil de Boeuf, they came upon Louis XVI himself, with just a handful of attendants. For the whole of that afternoon the monarch was systematically humiliated, unable to escape, forced to listen to the taunts and abuse of the crowd. Finally, he put on a red hat - 'the crowning with thorns' - and was forced to drink the health of the people of Paris. It was well past six o'clock before Jerome Petition, the representative of the Assembly, persuaded the now placated multitude to leave. This was a much greater affront to the monarchy even than the return to Paris after the abortive flight to Varennes, and few observers doubted that it was the beginning of the end for Louis XVI. Napoleon, however, thought that if he had been king it would have been an easy matter to disperse the crowd.
All this time Napoleon had been submitting documents and affidavits to the Ministry of War, trying to prove his version of events against the hostile counter-testimony of Peraldi. On 2 1 June a departmental committee of the Artillery accepted that Napoleon's reasons for not returning from Corsica by r April were entirely satisfactory. The committee rejected the Peraldi submission - which has been endorsed by some modern critics of Napoleon - that to accept Napoleon's version was to reward crime: it was preposterous, on this view, that a man who had been leading a riot against the King's army in Corsica, should be commended for it, and even secure the promotion he would have got normally only by being with his regular army regiment. Whether Napoleon was a master manipulator, or just lucky, or whether he convinced the committee that he was a true son of the Revolution, the result was the same. On ro July the Ministry of War informed him that he would be reinstated in the 4th Artillery Regiment, with the rank of captain.
This new commission was backdated to 6 February 1792 - which meant Napoleon would receive the equivalent of £4o in back pay. To warn him against further legerdemain, the Ministry announced that it expected him to return to his regiment as soon as his promotion was ratified; meanwhile, some minor complaints brought from Corsica by Peraldi and Pozzo di Borgo would be dealt with by the Ministry of Justice. Napoleon was delighted. He knew, as did his opponents, that the Ministry of Justice was a labyrinth where complaints disappeared. The only thing keeping Napoleon in Paris now was the formal ratification of this decision, in the name of the King, by Minister of War Joseph Servan. Despite his triumph, Napoleon was gloomy. On 7 August he wrote to Joseph that the interests of the family necessitated his return to Corsica, but he would probably have to rejoin his regiment.
Before that, on 23 July he had written to Lucien words that show the youthful idealism about Corsica giving way to generalized cynicism: 'Those at the top are poor creatures. It must be admitted, when you see things at first hand, that the people are not worth the trouble is taken in winning their favour. You know the history of Ajaccio; that of Paris is exactly the same; perhaps men are here even a little smaller, nastier, more slanderous and censorious. '
On ro August Jean-Paul Marat masterminded the decisive blow against royal power. Of the revolutionaries, Danton, Robespierre, Rossignol and Santerre were all implicated in the day's gory events. Thousands of armed revolutionaries obeyed the tocsin call and converged from the right and left banks of the Seine on the Tuileries, defended by z,ooo troops, half of them members of the Swiss Guard. The scenes that followed were among the most terrible in the French Revolution. Confused by contradictory orders, the Swiss Guards were overwhelmed by superior numbers and slaughtered mercilessly. Six hundred died in the palace courtyard in a hecatomb of stabbing, stoning, clubbing and gunshot. Women stripped the bodies of clothes, and the most savage members of the crowd gelded and mutilated the corpses. When all was over, the dishonoured dead were carted away to a mass burial in lime pits. Napoleon was an eyewitness of these terrible events, and he later told Joseph that no battlefield carnage ever made such an impression on him.
His words to Las Cases on St Helena are worth quoting:
I found myself lodging in Paris, at the Mail in the Place des Victoires. At the sound of the tocsin and on learning that the Tuileries were under attack, I ran to the Carousel to find Bourrienne's brother, Fauvelet, who kept a furniture shop there. It was from this house that I was able to witness at my ease all the activities of that day. Before reaching the Carousel I had been met in the Rue des Petits Champs by a group of hideous men bearing a head at the end of a pike. Seeing that I was presentably dressed and had the appearance of a gentleman, they approached me and asked me to shout 'Long live the Republic!' which you can easily imagine I did without difficulty . . . With the palace broken into and the King there, in the heart of the assembly, I ventured to go into the garden. The sight of the dead Swiss Guards gave me an idea of the meaning of death such as I have never had since, on any of my battlefields. Perhaps it was that the smallness of the area made the number of corpses appear larger, or perhaps it was because this was the first time I had undergone such an experience. I saw well dressed women committing acts of the grossest indecency on the corpses of the Swiss Guards.
Some say his hatred and distrust of the mob dated from that day and a conviction that only a bourgeois republic could hold in check the forces of anarchy and the dark impulses of the canaille.
Napoleon judged that a resolute defence by the King could have saved the Tuileries and that, if he had been in charge, he could have routed the mob. His disdain for the hydra-headed monster of the crowd was increasing daily.
If Louis XVI's luck had run out, it was beginning to turn Napoleon's way. A new government decree, on 17 August, ordered the dissolution of all religious houses and the confiscation and sale of their assets. Since St Cyr was no more, Elisa had to leave for Corsica, but the college directors, by now terrified of their own shadows, refused to allow her to leave without two sets of orders, one from the municipality and another from the Versailles directorate. Napoleon, therefore, persuaded the local mayor, M. Aubrun, to go to the college with him. Elisa then made a solemn declaration that she needed her brother to escort her back to Corsica. Aubrun copied this down, then endorsed the copy with his own affidavit that permission was necessary. Napoleon then took the document to Versailles and requested that the directorate pay travelling expenses. Amazingly, Versailles voted the sum of 352 Livres (which represented one livre for every league of the distance between Versailles and Ajaccio) and authorized him to remove his sister, together with her clothes and linen. Napoleon's trip to Paris, therefore, ended in total triumph. He had cleared his name, won promotion and back pay, had avoided the necessity to return to his regiment and was now returning to Corsica with all expenses paid. The details of his journey are unknown, but it is probable that he left Paris on 9 September, as soon as the War Minister had ratified his promotion, took the water coach at Lyons to Valence, then stayed at Marseilles for the best part of a month before embarking for Corsica from Toulon on about I O October, arriving at Ajaccio on 15 October.
Once in Corsica Napoleon proceeded to Corte to rejoin his volunteer battalion. Shortly after his arrival, he had an interview with Paoli, which left both men dissatisfied. Paoli again turned down a Bonaparte request, this time that Lucien be appointed his aide-de-camp. Coming so soon after Joseph's defeat by the partisans of Pozzo di Borgo in recent elections, this was a very clear confirmation of the rumour that Paoli had been won over by the Pozzo di Borgos. For his part, Paoli was animated by a number of considerations. He never cared for the Bonapartes, disliked Joseph and was merely irritated by the young Napoleon's excessive admiration; most of all, he thought the entire clan a set of political trimmers and had never forgiven Carlo for his too-rapid defection to the French after q6g. At the ideological level, Napoleon's Jacobinism, contrasting with Paoli's growing disenchantment with revolutionary France, made them unlikely bedfellows.
Napoleon came away from the interview injured in his pride and needing time to lick his wounds and take stock. He began to feel that all his scheming to get back to Corsica had been a mistake, that maybe the future did, after all, lie with the 4th Artillery Regiment. Or perhaps he should throw up his career and go to India or somewhere else in the East as a mercenary. Certainly, it was a subdued and unwontedly quiet Napoleon who spent the last months of 1 792 in Corte, at least until 1 5 December, when he brought down to Ajaccio two hundred men from his battalion for a proposed expedition against Sardinia. Apart from a brief trip back to Corte, he was in Ajaccio from Christmas 1 792 to 1 8 February 1 793, and it was during this limbo period that Lucien remembers his brother often talking to his mother about the opportunities for service in India with Tippoo Sahib, Britain's mortal enemy on the subcontinent. By February 1 793 the French Revolution had taken a dramatic turn.
Staring military defeat in the face, by a massive effort (the levee en masse) the revolutionaries had turned the tables on the Prussians and Austrians. At the 'Thermopylae' of Valmy on 20 September 1 792 Dumouriez decisively defeated the Prussians. By the end of the year the new armies of revolutionary France had invaded the Rhineland and the Austrian Netherlands, officially 'exporting' the ideology of the revolution but actually in search of loot to shore up the value of the tottering assignat. January 1 793 was a key date in the Revolution, for Louis XVI was executed and Danton declared the doctrine of France's 'natural frontiers' (the sea, the Alps, the Pyrenees and the Rhine). In line with these national aspirations, the revolutionary executive or Convention declared war on England and Spain.
The French plan for an expedition against Sardinia was a sign of the new expansionist policies. Sardinia had obvious strategic importance in the Mediterranean, and the invasion was meant to demonstrate France's newfound power and to overawe Florence and Naples; there were additional objectives of seizing the island's corn and alleviating shortages in the south of France. Admiral Truguet arrived in Ajaccio with a large body of regulars and a flotilla of ships, intending to incorporate the Corsican volunteer battalions in his force. On the way over from France there had been tension between soldiers and sailors; to this was now added acrimony and bad feeling between the regulars and the Corsican volunteers. Paoli, who was now close to an overt breach with Revolutionary France, bitterly opposed the venture but was shrewd enough to see that Truguet's regulars might combine with Napoleon's volunteers to depose him if he came out openly against the expedition, especially since there were rumours that Truguet was already a fast friend of the Bonapartes and was besotted with the sixteen-year-old Elisa. He
therefore schemed to denude the island of Napoleon's volunteers while secretly taking steps to ensure the ultimate failure of Truguet's project. Because of the ill-feeling between regulars and volunteers, Paoli persuaded Truguet to mount two attacks: the main assault under Truguet would be at Cagliari, and a diversionary thrust would be made against La Maddalena, the largest of the eleven Buccinari islands that lie between Corsica and Sardinia. For the diversionary attack on La Maddalena, with its two forts, Paoli was successfully intrigued to have his nephew Colonna Cesari named as colonel, with Napoleon as third-in command (for Quenza was also participating). After carrying out half hearted artillery manoeuvres at Bonifacio, Napoleon embarked with 450 volunteers on r8 February I 793 · Altogether the assault force on Maddalena comprised six hundred men ( rso regulars) and four guns,
conveyed in sixteen transports escorted by a single corvette.
The omens for the expedition were inauspicious from the very beginning. Heavy gales forced the ships back to Ajaccio so that it was the evening of 22 February before they anchored off the western end of the channel between La Maddalena and the neighbouring island of San Stefano. A surprise attack at nightfall was the obvious ploy, but Cesari ruled this out. Napoleon was already despondent: 'We had lost the favourable moment, which in war is everything,' he wrote. But he stuck to his task. On 23 February, after troops had landed, secured a beachhead on San Stefano and captured the island's fort, he set up a battery of two cannons and a single mortar within range of La Maddalena. 24 February saw the bombardment commence, and Colonna Cesari promised that the main assault would take place the next day.
Dark deeds were afoot on the 25th and even today it is not easy to follow the exact sequence of events. First, the sailors on the corvette appeared to have mutinied and forced Cesari to call off the entire venture, even obliging him to send a formal letter to this effect to Quenya. But Napoleon, and many later analysts, believe there was no genuine mutiny at all, that this was all part of a preconcerted stratagem between Paoli and Cesari. Certainly, the corvette departed with Cesari, leaving behind the message that operations should be abandoned. Q!. Venza's version of the subsequent events was that he consulted with Napoleon and together they laboriously broke off the shelling of La Maddalena. But on St Helena Napoleon accused Quenza of reembarking on the 25th without telling him, with the consequence that he and his fellow artillerymen were left dangerously exposed, vulnerable to a sortie from the Maddalena garrison. The one certainty is that the bombardment was abandoned and that Napoleon and his platoon manhauled the one-ton guns through muddy fields to the embarkation point. Their labours were anyway in vain, for only a single ship's boat was sent into San Stefano to take off the men. Unable to retrieve his cannon, Napoleon was forced to spike them.
The Maddalena enterprise was a fiasco with a capital 'f and made Napoleon almost apoplectic with rage. It left him with a keen sense of betrayal as a key factor in warfare and a distaste for amphibious operations which, some say, was the unconscious factor in his ill considered later plans for the invasion of England. But the immediate effect of the fiasco was to finish Paoli with Napoleon for good. Restless, ambitious, aggressive and treacherous - all the adjectives Paoli applied to the Bonapartes - were exactly the epithets Napoleon now fastened on the 'saviour' of Corsica, the man he had worshipped for years.
On 28 February Napoleon landed at Bonifacio to find that his suspicions of Paoli were shared by the Convention in Paris, for on 5 February they appointed three Commissioners to investigate the worsen ing situation on the island; leading the deputation was Napoleon's ally Christopher Saliceti. But Napoleon had his own deteriorating position to consider, for at the beginning of March, in the Place Doria at Bonifacio, there was an attempt on his life in which Napoleon again claimed to see the hand of Paoli. Some sailors denounced him as an aristocrat and formed a lynching party, which was foiled by the arrival of a group of Napoleon's volunteers. Napoleon became convinced that the 'sailors' were disguised Paolistas, possibly the selfsame ones who had fomented the 'mutiny' on board the corvette off Maddalena.
He decided to beard the elderly lion in his den. He requested an interview with Paoli at the convent of Rostino, which turned into an acrimonious confrontation. To begin with, Napoleon tried to soft-pedal, aware that if it came to civil war on the island, the Paolistas were likely to win, the Bonaparte properties then being confiscated and his family reduced to destitution. He urged Paoli not to turn his back on the Revolution which had brought him back from exile and to take the long view of the nation's interests. Paoli spoke angrily of the way the French Revolution had gone sour, how its leaders wanted a subservient, not independent, Corsica and of how Marat, Danton and the others had forced people in the west of France into open rebellion. Most of all, he said, he was disgusted by the execution of Louis XVI, which for him was the last straw. Napoleon protested that Louis had met his fate deservedly for conspiring with foreign powers and inviting their armies onto the sacred soil of France. At this point, Paoli stormed from the room. The two men never saw each other again.
April 1 793 found Corsica at crisis point. Saliceti saw his chance to topple Paoli and become the number one man in the island. He opened a formidable propaganda campaign against the 'father of Corsica' by playing on French suspicions of Paoli's Anglophilia, nurtured by the twenty years' exile after 1769. The Convention was irritated by Corsica's ambiguous status, supposedly loyal to France yet paying no taxes, sending no volunteers to fight in the wars and in a permanent state of anarchy. Saliceti kept the pot boiling by insinuating in his dispatches that this state of affairs would never end while Paoli was top dog in Corsica. His initial aim was to get the pro-Paolista volunteer regiments disbanded and replaced by regulars from the mainland but, although he and his two fellow Commissioners (Deicher and Lacombe St-Michel) had plenipotentiary powers from the Convention, the snag was that it was Paoli's writ, not the Convention which ran in Corsica. Accordingly, Saliceti and the two Commissioners spent two fruitless months trying to make contact with their enemy, who hid away in a mountain fastness.
Unknown to Napoleon, his brother Lucien had been a major catalyst in the deepening crisis. In March, at the Jacobin club in Toulon, he denounced Paoli as a traitor who was preparing to sell out to the English. All the evidence suggests that Paoli knew of this denunciation when he met Napoleon at the convent of Rostino, but Napoleon did not. On 7 April 1 793 the Marat faction in the Convention decided to summon Paoli to Paris to answer serious charges laid against him by Lucien and others - for soldiers returning from the Maddalena fiasco were now openly saying that the expedition had been sabotaged by Paoli - on pain of outlawry should he fail to appear. The declaration was an arrest warrant in all but name. On 1 8 April, the Convention's formal decree to this effect was promulgated in Corsica, prompting Napoleon to write to Quenza that this made civil war on the island certain.
However, Paoli played the cleverest of clever hands. On 26 April he wrote a dignified letter of reply to the Convention, regretting that 'old age and broken health' made it impossible for him to come to Paris. This was called the Convention's bluff with a vengeance. With so many calls on their manpower, they baulked at sending the numbers of troops to Corsica necessary to bring the Paolistas to heel. The Convention saved face by rescinding the arrest decree and appointing two more (this time pro-Paoli) Commissioners from the mainland. The initiative, therefore, shifted back to Paoli.
Irritated at this turn of events, Saliceti and the two other Commissioners already on the island colluded with Napoleon to force a military solution before their tame colleagues arrived to patch up a peace that would leave Paoli with the spoils of victory. Napoleon's first idea was to bribe the new military commander of Ajaccio, Colonna Leca, to open the gates of the citadel, but he refused. His next project was a plan to visit the Sanguinaires isles to set up a safe military haven. But before he could implement this, he was warned that Paolistas planned to assassinate him once he left Ajaccio. He, therefore, stayed on in the town until 2 May. Paoli meanwhile summoned a convention at Corte to concert measures for the defence of Corsica against the French and their allies. One of the first decisions taken was to proceed against the Bonapartes, expropriate their property and arrest Napoleon. Ignorant of this, Napoleon set out for Corte, intent on another meeting with Paoli. On the road he was met by his cousins the Arrighi, who advised him that Paoli had intercepted a letter from Lucien to Joseph, making it clear that his denunciation had triggered the virtual decree of outlawry from the Convention. Amazingly, Napoleon seemed undeterred by this intelligence and pressed on to Area de Vivaria, where he lodged with the parish priest, another Arrighi connection. The next day he continued his journey and made the overnight stop with another set of relations, the Tusoli, in the hamlet of Poggiolo. On 5 May Napoleon was at Corsacci, trying to persuade some Corsican delegates not to attend Paoli's convention at Corte. But he was already in enemy territory, for the local magnates were his old enemies the Paradis. Marius Peraldi secured the help of the Morelli brothers to place Napoleon under arrest. It was lucky for him that he still had many friends and that some of them were resourceful. Two of them, Santo Ricci and Vizzavona by name, cooked up an ingenious plan and persuaded the Morellis to bring their prisoner to Vizzavona's house for a meal. Once there, they spirited Napoleon away down a secret staircase to a waiting horse. He and Santo Ricci then made their way back to Ajaccio by
backtracks and entered Ajaccio in secret on 6 May.
After hiding out with his friend Jean-Jerome Levie, three days later Napoleon was able to secure sea passage to Macinaggio, from where he travelled overland to Bastia. In Bastia, he was reunited with Joseph, Saliceti, Lacombe St-Michel and the principals of the anti-Paolista party. After two weeks of plotting and preparing, the conspirators sailed from St Florent in two ships with 400 men and a few guns. Ironically, on the very day of departure, the Bonaparte house in Ajaccio was being sacked by the Paolistas and their farms gutted. Letizia fled with her daughters and hid in bushes near the ruined tower of Capitello, across the bay from Ajaccio, while the Paolistas looked for them. Once again Letizia experienced the pendulum of fortune and was forced to become a fugitive.
A week later the ill-fated expedition anchored in the Gulf of Ajaccio but was fired upon by the fort. Since only thirty people rallied to their standard in Ajaccio, the coup was abandoned the next day. Napoleon meanwhile had landed at Provenzale on 29 May and made rendezvous with his refugee family, getting them by longboat on to a three-masted xebec, which took them to Giralda. Letizia remembered making yet another of her perilous night journeys before being united with her family at Calvi. Napoleon himself arrived there disconsolately on 3 June. Calvi was in friendly hands but was being blockaded by the English. Eight days later, after enjoying the hospitality of the Giubega family, the entire family embarked for Toulon, virtually penniless. They risked capture by the British by taking passage on a coaster navigated by a noted blockade-runner.
Paoli's triumph was complete. To cement it, on the very day of the Bonapartes' departure the Paolista National Assembly declared them to be 'traitors and enemies of the Fatherland, condemned to perpetual execration and infamy. Paoli's success, in socioeconomic terms, meant the triumph of the mountain folk, the shepherds and the peasants over the great landowners, the nobility and the bourgeoisie of the ports and cities. Most of those who fled into exile with the Bonapartes were merchants or landowners; the paradox was that Napoleon the 'Rousseau ist revolutionary' was from the viewpoint of social class more 'reactionary' than the 'counter-revolutionary' Paoli. The French still maintained a precarious toehold in Corsica, for they still held a few towns and villages, and Commissioner Lacombe St-Michel stayed on to encourage them.
Paoli's triumph was short-lived. Fearing the inevitable French invasion to restore their position on the island, he ended by inviting the British in. When Admiral Hood anchored at San Fiorenzo with rz,ooo troops, Paoli added his 6,ooo men and proceeded to besiege the French in Calvi and Bastia. In June 1794 the Council of Corsica, with Paoli at its head, proclaimed perpetual severance from France and offered the crown to the King of England. George III accepted and sent out Sir Gilbert Elliot as viceroy. Paoli, who was officially in retirement, still wanted to be the power on the island and, not surprisingly, soon quarrelled bitterly with Elliot. The British, tired of his prima-donnish antics, hinted broadly that Paoli might like to retire to England. Paoli hesitated, saw France still in the grip of anarchy and then thought of the possible consequences of war with both France and England. He accepted the offer. His victory over the Bonapartes was therefore a hollow one. His loyal ally Pozzo di Borgo left Corsica for a diplomatic career that would eventually find him in the service of the Czar of Russia.
What is the explanation for Napoleon's violent split with Paoli? the cynical view is that he realized that there was no future in Corsica for an ambitious young man, that Paoli had already snatched anything that was valuable in the way of power and prestige, and that the 'glittering prizes' were to be found only in France. The conventional view is simply that both men backed different horses in the Corsican power struggle and thus ended up as enemies; an additional factor was Paoli's personal dislike of the young man. Another view is that when Napoleon became a Jacobin he lost his faith in Rousseau and came to despise him. But it was Rousseau's Social Contract that had inspired his original visionary view of Corsica as a society of Spartan simplicity, civic virtue, social equality, poverty and nobility of soul. Simultaneous with his loss of faith in Rousseau, and possibly a contributory factor, was the extreme factional ism and in-fighting in Corsica in the early 1790s, which Napoleon witnessed at close quarters. As Masson put it: 'Just as France had made him Corsican, so Corsica made him a Frenchman.'
Yet I t seems unlikely that I t was merely the contingent circumstances during February-March 1793 that turned the Paolista Napoleon into Paoli's enemy or that a negative attitude to the Bonapartes alone could have turned off such an oil-gusher of adulation as that from Napoleon to Paoli. The psychologist C.G. Jung has warned us that 'lightning conversions' are seldom that and even coined the word 'enantiodromia' to describe the process whereby Saul becomes Paul - not, on this view, through seeing the light on the road to Damascus but because the experience crystallized a process of gradually dawning illumination. If Napoleon's violent breach with Paoli had in fact been brewing for years, we may ask another question of more general import. Was Napoleon simply boundlessly ambitious, in the way Brutus hinted Caesar was and was his ambition an irreducible and dominant psychological factor in his makeup? Or was his ambition a more complex manifestation reducible to other factors, which in turn might give us the clue to the deep dynamic of the quarrel with Paoli?
The key may lie in two apparently insignificant remarks. To one of his close friends Napoleon once confided that at some time in the Corsican period he had surprised Paoli by having intercourse with his (Napoleon's) godmother. And in the anti-Paoli essay he wrote in July 1793 Le Souper de Beaucaire he said that Paoli's greatest fault was that he had attacked the fatherland with foreigners; by uniting Corsica to France in 1790 without thinking through all the implications he had in fact lost any chance of an independent Corsica. We may, then, reasonably infer that Napoleon was deeply worried about three things: illicit sexual relations, the attempt to fuse Corsica and France, and the idea of a fatherland invaded.
Since it is a commonplace of psychoanalysis, confirmed in hundreds of case studies of neurotics, that concern about the fatherland really indicates concern about the mother, and we know in any case of Napoleon's ambivalent feelings towards Letizia, it seems reasonable to assume that Napoleon's antagonism towards Paoli was, at the uncon scious level, something to do with his mother. And since Paoli was consciously acknowledged by Napoleon as a father figure, it is clear that what needs further investigation is what depth psychologists would call Napoleon's 'paternal image'. There seem to have been four paternal images significant in the mind of the young Napoleon: of Paoli, of his actual father Carlo, of Louis XVI and of the Comte de Marbeuf. At any given moment, the association of 'father' could have been to any one of the quartets.
The role of Marbeuf as of the Bonapartes needs no further elucidation. Moreover, on returning from France on his first leave, Napoleon bracketed Marbeuf with Carlo when he expressed sorrow that he had lost the two significant older men in his life. We have also noted Napoleon's uncertainty about how to respond to Louis XVI, the father of the nation to whom he had taken oaths of loyalty. The flight to Varennes did not alienate Napoleon, and in Paris, in 1792 his dominant emotion during the two savage mob irruptions into the Tuileries was sympathy with the King rather than fellow-feeling with the crowd. The ambivalence Napoleon felt for Carlo was mirrored in his uncertain attitude to Louis XVI; he was partly for the Revolution against all kings, but partly for this particular King against this particular mass of revolutionaries. What finished Louis for Napoleon was when he became convinced that the monarch had called on foreign powers to invade French soil.
The quartet of father figures all represented men who, in Napoleon's mind, were betrayers. Whether or not Letizia and the Comte de Marbeuf were lovers - and circumstantial evidence overwhelmingly indicates they were - Napoleon certainly thought they had been. This trauma explains so much in his later life especially his sexuality, his misogynism. The horror he expressed at finding Paoli with his godmother may refer, not to an actual event, but to a transmogrified fantasy, hinting at Letizia's infidelity with Marbeuf. Napoleon's 'mother complex' owes something to the neurotic feeling that he could not be certain who his own father was - even though, as we have seen, Letizia's probable infidelity with Marbeuf had no actual connection with Napoleon, who was certainly Carlo's son. The important thing is that he thought it did, and we surely find an echo of the anxiety in that pithy clause in the later Code Napoleon: 'Investigation of paternity is forbidden' .
It is very probable that the excessive concern about the union of Corsica and France expressed in Le Souper de Beaucaire - 'he helped unite Corsica to France', 'he attacked the fatherland with foreigners' are an unconscious manifestation of anxiety about Letizia's infidelity with Marbeuf and of anger towards Carlo for letting such a state of affairs develop. The conscious anger Napoleon felt about his defeat by Paoli in Corsica tapped into an unconscious well of rage about quite other matters. Since Paoli was a father figure, Napoleon could discharge his anger about Carlo and Marbeuf onto him.
The rage against France as a young man, the violent outburst against the schoolmates who invaded his 'fatherland' at Brienne in the garden incident, the violent Francophobia, in general, are all explained on this hypothesis. But, it may be asked, why did the outburst against Paoli take place at this very time? Almost certainly the answer lies with the execution of Louis XVI in 1793. With Carlo and Marbeuf out of the picture, Napoleon's conscious adoration of Paoli coupled with an unconscious antagonism towards him for the 'sins of the fathers' was dispersed for a while as Louis XVI took centre stage. In late 1792 the anger against a man who would deliver the fatherland to foreigners was obviously directed by the Jacobin Napoleon against the perfidious Bourbon king. It is a characteristic of ambivalence to divide the love/hate object so that all negative feelings can be decanted against the 'Hyde' aspect and all positive ones retained for the 'Jekyll'. Put simply, in late 1792 Louis XVI attracted the fire that would later fall on Paoli.
When Louis XVI's execution redeemed him in Napoleon's eyes, the undischarged hatred arising from Letizia's infidelity with Marbeuf had to find a new focus. And it was only at this precise time January 1793) that Napoleon attached himself to France in a decisive and unambiguous way. It is sometimes overlooked by those who regard the breach with Paoli as purely contingent and political that Napoleon made common cause with Saliceti and the anti-Paolist faction before the breach was inevitable. In any case, once Louis XVI was dead, it made sense, at the unconscious level, that Napoleon should rid himself of the one remaining figure so that he could become the father. In symbolic terms, his infantile Oedipal phantasies were now partly assuaged. These had become exacerbated into a mother complex by the conviction that, though Carlo denied Letizia's body to his son, he had allowed it to other men.
It must be stressed that by falling out with Paoli Napoleon lunged into disaster, losing all his family's property without any good reason for thinking that he could retrieve the Bonaparte fortunes. From the point of view of rationality and self-interest, Napoleon's opposition to Paoli in early 1793 makes no sense at all. Yet one of the reasons historians have so violently debated 'Napoleon, for and against is the conviction that Napoleon, with his great intellect, must always have had sound reasons for his actions. An examination of the dark recesses of the Napoleonic psyche shows that this is not necessarily so and that self-destructive psychological impulses usually played some part, and sometimes the major part. This was not the last time in his life that Napoleon, pleading ineluctable necessity, raison d'etat and 'there is no alternative', plunged into reckless adventures that defy rational explanation.