BONAPARTE, JOSEPHINE

Josephine requests compensation for a Bolognese farmer whose hemp was confiscated by Napoleon’s army during the first campaign against the Papal States

Item #19397


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BONAPARTE, JOSEPHINE - Josephine requests compensation for a Bolognese farmer whose hemp was confiscated by Napoleon’s army during the first campaign against the Papal States
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BONAPARTE, JOSEPHINE - Josephine requests compensation for a Bolognese farmer whose hemp was confiscated by Napoleon’s army during the first campaign against the Papal States

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BONAPARTE, JOSEPHINE. (1763-1814). French empress; first wife of Napoleon I. ALS. (“Lapagerie Bonaparte”). ½p. 12mo. Bologna, February 28, 1797. In French with translation.

 

“I ask of Citizen Gonfaloniere to please consider this request. I would be very obliged to him for it.”

 

On March 2, 1796, five months after Napoleon assumed command of the Army of the Interior, he was promoted to commander of the Army in Italy. He took his post at a perilous time – the Republic had run out of money and it was especially difficult to find the means to feed, much less pay, the troops. Napoleon married Josephine de Beauharnais a week later, on March 9, before departing for Italy on the 11th.

 

Upon his arrival in Nice he found 30,000 starving soldiers, whereupon he issued his famous proclamation:  “You are badly fed and all but naked... I am about to lead you into the most fertile plains in the world. Before you are great cities and rich provinces; there we shall find honor, glory and riches.” Bonaparte invaded Italy on April 10, 1796, where his ability to assess every situation accurately and utilize scarce resources advantageously, underscored his military genius.

 

Badly outnumbered by his Austrian adversary, Napoleon’s daring maneuvers earned the French victory after victory in northern Italy. After conquering the region, the army turned south to launch a campaign against the Papal States. “The invasion was officially launched in revenge for the murder of Ugo Bassville, a French diplomat, in February 1793, but was motivated just as much by revolutionary hatred for the Papacy and the lure of plunder,” (“Napoleon’s Campaign in Italy, 1796-97,” www.historyofwar.org/articles/campaign_napoleon_italy_1796.html, Rickard).

 

The French reached Bologna on June 19, 1796, ejected Papal representatives and established the Bolognese Republic, one of France’s first client states. Despite agreeing to the Peace of Bologna on June 23, 1796, the treaty was not ratified by the French Directory or the Vatican and hostilities continued. Napoleon’s forces retained control of Bologna while defeating the Papal army and advancing south to Rimini, Ancona and Macerata.

 

In October 1796, at the Congress of Modena, Napoleon assembled representatives of provinces south of the Po River, and Bologna, Ferrara, and Reggio Emilia formed the Cispadane Republic.In January, the French client state established a government based on the French Directory and unveiled Italy’s first tricolor flag as its emblem.

 

On February 1, 1797, three weeks before writing our letter, Josephine arrived in Bologna, where Napoleon had eagerly been awaiting her and where she remained while he campaigned in the south and sent her frequent and passionate love letters. She was honored with numerous parties during her sojourn, yet revealed to her daughter Hortense on March 6, “I am weary of Italy, notwithstanding all the fêtes they give me, and the flattering welcome which I receive from the inhabitants of this beautiful country,” (Confidential Correspondence of the Emperor Napoleon and the Empress Josephine, ed. Abbott).

 

It is likely that Josephine forwarded her appeal on behalf of a landowner, Spiridione Bonetti, (whose letter is present) to the new republic’s Gonfaloniere – a prestigious elected government office held for two months at a time. Bonetti had requested reimbursement for raw hemp taken by the French army in Bologna, a center of hemp production, which the French had planned to exploit following the region’s capture as hemp was especially necessary for making sailcloth.   

 

In the face of French advances, Pope Pius VI again appealed for peace, and on February 19, 1797, the Peace of Tolentino ended the invasion of the Papal States. With the treaty, the papacy lost Bologna, Ferrara and Ravenna, the French occupation of Avignon and the surrounding region was officially recognized, and the pope paid an indemnity of money and artwork. Nevertheless, one year later, General Berthier invaded the Vatican and kidnapped Pius who died in exile shortly thereafter.

 

Josephine’s letter was written on the separated address leaf of Bonetti’s letter just eight days after the Peace of Tolentino. Folded with normal wear. Elegantly matted and framed with a color picture of Josephine, but not examined out of the frame. Scarce from this period.

 

 

Item #19397


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