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NAPOLEON I - Napoléon’s appointment of Berthier as commanding general of the reserve army
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NAPOLEON I - Napoléon’s appointment of Berthier as commanding general of the reserve army

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NAPOLEON I, EMPEROR OF FRANCE. (1769-1821). Military leader and Emperor of France. DS. (“Bonaparte”). 1p. Oblong Folio. Paris, April 2, 1800. A partially printed document headed with an engraved depiction of Marianne, the French Revolution’s symbol of France, in which Bonaparte appoints his most senior military aide, LOUIS-ALEXANDRE BERTHIER (1753-1815), Commanding General of the Reserve Army. First formed in March 1800, and originally headed by General Massena, Bonaparte became “Commander in person,” and herewith appoints his successor, Berthier, as Commanding General (though he assumed the role of Bonaparte’s Chief of Staff) with Bonaparte becoming the de facto Commanding General during the upcoming Italian campaign. Countersigned by Minister of War LAZARE CARNOT (1753-1823, “Carnot”) and HUGUES-BERNARD MARET (1763-1839, “Hugues B. Maret”). In French.


After gaining recognition for his victories in Italy, Napoléon Bonaparte commenced his Egyptian Campaign in May 1798, where his army experienced many early victories. However, he was famously defeated by the English admiral, Horatio Nelson, at the Battle of the Nile, leading British and Ottoman forces to challenge the French until August 1799 when, hearing of unrest in Paris, Napoléon and his forces withdrew. Several months later, the coup of 18 Brumaire (November 9, 1799) overthrew the Directory and appointed Bonaparte First Consul of France, a title he held until the Senate proclaimed him emperor in May 1804.


Berthier’s distinguished military career prior to meeting Napoléon included serving under Rochambeau during the American Revolution and acting as Lafayette’s chief of staff. In 1796, he was appointed Major-Général of the Army of Italy, recently placed under the command of Napoléon.There he became Napoléon’s most important deputy. “Once paired with Napoléon, both generals realized the value of each other, with Napoléon’s brilliance and audacity being organized into action by Berthier’s staff work. Berthier was one of the few who could read Napoléon’s handwriting, and with his amazing attention to detail he could understand Napoléon’s orders and translate them into clear orders for all of his subordinates. Soldiers began to refer to Berthier as ‘Napoléon’s wife’ due to their mutual dependence and the amount of time they spent together,” (“Marshal Louis-Alexandre Berthier,”, Jensen). As head of the Army of Italy, it was Berthier who took over the Vatican, declared it a republic and captured Pope Pius VI, who died in his custody. Berthier served as Napoléon’s chief in Egypt and was instrumental in the coup of 18 Brumaire, after which Napoléon appointed him minister of war. With the signing of our document, in advance of the June 14, 1800 Battle of Marengo, Berthier was made commanding general of the reserve army. The battle, at which Berthier was wounded, was a victory for the French and drove the Austrian forces out of Italy, thus solidifying Napoléon’s political position. Berthier reassumed the position of minister of war on October 8, 1800, remaining in office until 1807 and serving by Napoléon’s side in Spain, Germany, Austria, and Russia. Emperor Napoléon named him a marshal of France in 1804, and honored him with the Grand Eagle of the Legion of Honor, as well as the titles of Prince of Neuchâtel and Valangin and Grand Dignitary of the Iron Crown of Italy.After Napoléon’s abdication, Berthier aligned himself with the Bourbons, following Louis XVIII into exile during Napoléon’s Hundred Days. Less than three weeks before the Battle of Waterloo, while watching Russian troops march through Bavaria, he fell out of a window to his death, an event historians have speculated may have been suicide or an assassination. Napoléon lamented his absence at the Battle of Waterloo saying, “If Berthier had been there, I would not have met this misfortune,” (ibid.).


Berthier was briefly succeeded as minister of war by Lazare Carnot (1753-1823; minister of war from April 2, 1800, the day our document was signed, until October 8, 1800, when he was succeeded by Berthier) who has also signed our document. Carnot successfully mobilized the troops and made his mark by augmenting France’s dwindling forces, mainly through conscription. His skills brought him the accolade of “organizer of victory.”


As secretary of state, Hughes-Bernard Maret (1763-1839) was “the government minister responsible for all communications between [Napoléon] and military and civilian administrative departments; he held this key post from 1799-1811 and again in 1814 and 1815,” (An Encyclopedia of Napoléon’s Europe, Palmer). Unlike other ministers of state, Maret traveled with Napoléon and his armies as part of his personal staff and was raised to the nobility in 1809. According to John R. Elting’s, Swords Around A Throne, Maret was the pivot of Napoléon’s civilian rule. “Genial and fond of witty conversation and clever women, Maret was an outstanding executive, tough under stress, brave under fire.”


One of the two most important Napoléonic military commissions we have ever handled (the other being Napoléon’s appointment of his stepson, Eugene, Viceroy of Italy). Written on vellum with the boldly penned and large signatures of all three men, though Napoléon’s is a bit light. Intact blind-embossed paper seal at the lower left corner. Very light foxing and in otherwise superb condition. Framed.



Item #19443


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