A crime from history. How the murder of The Duke of Enghien confirms the evil reputation of Napoleon Bonaparte.

The Duke of Enghien. Victim of the Napoleon Bonaparte's Vengefulness.

"Civilian deaths are impossible to accurately estimate. Whilst military deaths are invariably put at between 2.5 million and 3.5 million, civilian death tolls vary from 750,000 to 3 million. Thus estimates of total dead, both military and civilian, can reasonably range from 3,250,000 to 6,500,000".

The above figure was taken from The wikipedia article on the casualties of the Napoleonic wars between 1803 and 1815. I am printing them here because I have read several articles by people praising Napoleon Bonaparte, as if he were a person that should be looked up to. Many words are wasted making heroes of the most unworthy of creatures, but few people in history are as unworthy of adulation as this dictator who brought ruin to his country, and devastation to a complete continent.

But I do not propose to write on the subject of Bonaparte's wars, in order to strip the facade of heroism from his stinking memory, but rather to relate the story of one honourable man who became a victim of the murderous malevalence of the corsican gangster.
I speak, of course of Louis Antoine, Duke of Enghien, who was kidnapped and then murdered on the orders of Bonaparte in March 1804.

Louis Antoine, Duke of Enghien was part of of the French Royal Family. He was a member of the Conde Family, a lineage that had given great service to France for many generations. At the outbreak of The French Revolution in 1789 he emigrated with his father and his grandfather. He fought for the royalist cause in the revolutionary wars which started in 1792. He was distinguished for his bravery in that conflict.
After the peace of Lunéville (February 1801), he married privately Charlotte de Rohan, niece of the Cardinal de Rohan, and took up his residence at Ettenheim in Baden, near the Rhine. He was, by all accounts, a devoted husband.

Murder most foul.

Duke of Enghien. Kidnapped and murdered by Bonaparte.
Duke of Enghien. Kidnapped and murdered by Bonaparte.
The murder of the husband of The duchess of Enghien.
The murder of the husband of The duchess of Enghien.
Bonaparte. A monster without a concience.
Bonaparte. A monster without a concience.

How this particular crime from history was committed.

Early in 1804, the Corsican, then First Consul of France, heard news which seemed to connect the young duke with the Cadoudal-Pichegru conspiracy then being tracked by the French police. Reports were received that the duke was in company with Charles François Dumouriez,( a leading opponent of the regime,) and had made secret journeys into France. This was false; the acquaintance was Thumry, a harmless old man, and the duke had no dealings with either Cadoudal or Pichegru. Bonaparte gave orders for the seizure of the duke.
French dragoons crossed the Rhine and surrounded the house of The Duke. He was captured and brought to the Château de Vincennes near Paris where a military style tribunal was hastily convened to try him.

Bonaparte had meanwhile discovered the truth of the case, that The duke was innocent of the charges being preferred.
But instead of freeing him to return to his family, which would have been the honourable thing to do, the charges were hastily changed to that of having borne arms against France in the late war, and having the intention of taking up arms again in the future.
So we have now the spectacle, of a representative of the legitimate authority being charged by a usurping criminal with fighting for the defence of his country. The fact that the unfortunate Duke was living in quiet retirement being neither here or there.
The Duke, of course was convicted, and he was shot in the moat of the chateau, near a grave that had previously been prepared.

He didn't totally die in vain however. When the details of what happened started to circulate around Europe, such was the revulsion at the actions of the dictator, that any residual respect he might have had from fair minded people evaporated, and it only served to unite those who opposed him. One of the more cynical commentators said about the murder of the duke, that "it was worse than a crime. it was a mistake".

Nevertheless Bonaparte never expressed any regrets about his actions at any time. In his memoirs, written in St Helena, he said that he would have done the same thing again had the opportunity presented itself..
Such are the delusions that cloud the conciences of evil men.

Napoleon Boneparte. The trail of misery.

More by this Author

Comments 30 comments

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida

What can I say, christopher, in defense of Napoleon? Only the famous words uttered by that famous comic American actor, Joe E. Brown, in the film, "Some Like It Hot." The last line in the movie, uttered by Joe E., was: "Nobody's perfect!"

christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author

Hi drjb. Thanks for the comment. I agree nobody's perfect.

But I think plunging a continent into over a decade of war, at a cost of up to six and a half million deaths, purely to feed ones own meglomania puts the late french dictator pretty high on the list of history's undesireables.

lisadpreston profile image

lisadpreston 6 years ago from Columbus, Ohio

Im not up on my history regarding this matter. This is quite a view of Napoleon that I haven't heard. I think many times we have excused evil behavior in those periods and before due to the power of conquest and such. Oftentime we excuse the same behaviors, although a little more subtle, in our modern time, and pass it off as "just war". Evil behavior and an evil mind is evil, no matter how we look at it. Thank you for an intriguing point of view and for sparking my interest to research this man.

christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author

What people tend to forget about Napoleon Bonaparte is that he wasn't regarded as a hero in Europe when he was conquering all those countries. You need to read about the Peninsular Wars to find that out. The Spanish People fought bravely against their french oppressors for many years. It was only in the eighteen thirties that his memory was glamourised in France. That was done for political reasons. He was a nasty piece of work. The murder of The Duke of Enghien was just illustrative of his character. I think it was the small minded pettiness of the whole episode that repels me most. It was like he was saying. "I am Napoleon. I can kill People."

attemptedhumour profile image

attemptedhumour 6 years ago from Australia

I'll have to call you Christopher Ranter now although i'm on your side. I didn't know anything about this miscarriage of justice but megalomaniacs always receive a dose of their own medicine in the long run. I love history but i've got a crap memory so i'll never be able to comment on too much of it. Except for the second world war. Cheers mate very interesting. Keith.

Petra Vlah profile image

Petra Vlah 6 years ago from Los Angeles

History is an account of innumerable murders and abuses done in the name of a “just cause” that tries to justify the unjustifiable.

Populated by criminals of all statures, with inflated egos and distorted minds, history is more subject to interpretation than any other science, since it has always been written by the victors and it is continuously being re-written as circumstances change.

christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author

Petra. I couldn't have put it better myself. Thanks for your intelligent comment.

SilentReed profile image

SilentReed 6 years ago from Philippines

After surviving one too many assasination attempts from the Bourbon royalty.Napoleon needed to make an example and the Bourbon scion was the unfortunate choice.It was a politcal expediency that any ruler who wish to maintain his grip on power must make without compunction.

christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author

SilentReed. Have you read the first paragraph?

There are two recorded incidents of assassination attempts on Bonaparte, one in 1800, which almost succeeded, and one in 1804, where the conspirators were caught and executed. The Duke of Enghien was not implicated in either of them, although you couldn't blame him if he were, considering what the corsican and his gang had done to his family. If either of those assassination attempts had succeeded, it is likely that the figure of dead between 1803 and 1815 would be very much reduced.

It is an unfortunate thing today that there are so many apologists for Bonaparte. The facts of the case are that he hijacked a country, and then went on to spread misery and death to most of Europe. Did the many people murdered by his forces during The Peninsular War share your views? I think not.

Did Pope Pius VI, kidnapped from his own palace, feel as you do. I doubt it.

Napoleon Bonaparte was a criminal gangster. There is no other way of looking at it.

christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author

I would like to add further to my answer to SilentReed.

You speak of The Murder of The Duke, as Bonaparte" making an example". The maniacal ambition of this loathsome adventurer made an example of six and a half million people, including six hundred thousand of his own unfortunate soldiers who died on the retreat from Moscow.

SilentReed profile image

SilentReed 6 years ago from Philippines

I am no apologist for the atrocities that Napoleon commited. History is replete with the evils done by tyrants and despots. Nowhere in my comment can you find me condoning his actions. I merely stated that there are people in power who apply the Machiavellian principles or Sun Tzu's art of war to maintain their grip on power.I did not touch the moral issue.

christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author


I take it then that you mean that it is sometimes necessary for our modern democratic political leaders to resort to murder, occasionaly if they wish to retain power? I did, however, touch on the moral issue. I feel that we cannot look at the careers of some people without touching on it. I am not setting myself up as a model of rectitude. The truth of my character is far from that. But I think, even you will agree that to kidnap someone from a neutral country, during a period of peace, and then to execute them on trumped up charges, goes a little bit outside of what most reasonable people would regard as moral behaviour.

SilentReed profile image

SilentReed 6 years ago from Philippines

Would you consider the allege torture of prisoner in guantanamo normal moral behavoir or is it justified because of 9/11 ? It is not only dictatorial regimes like North Korea but democratic govt. around the world that resort to clandestine activities like murder and kidnappings (prisoners in guantanamo). This is a stark reality of geo-politics.

MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 6 years ago from South Africa

Yes, indeed, "Such are the delusions that cloud the consciences of evil men."

Great hub, well researched and well presented... as all your other hubs.

SilentReed profile image

SilentReed 6 years ago from Philippines

Talleyrand, Napoleon's minister was allege to be part of the plot to kidnap and kill Louis Antoine.But when Napoleon fell and the Bourbon kings restored to power, Talleyrand did a volte-face and work for LouisXVIII as his foreign minister.That says it all about moral behavoir. The king was probably a pragmatic man and appreciated Talleyrand's talents.

christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author

You are right there. Talleyrand served the directorate, Bonaparte as first consul, Bonaparte during the Empire, and then, when he turned against the dictator after 1812, he betrayed him to the allies, and then worked for the restored Bourbons. To give him his due, he usually turned against an employer when he considered that their policies were damaging France. Talleyrand was undoubtedly a slippery character, but at least he was a genuine patriot.

I quite agree with you about Guantanamo. It was set up in that location deliberately so that it would not be subject to international law.

George Bush, Rumsfeld etc are not much better than the people they were fighting against.


Thanks for your supportive comments.

I really do appreciate them.

GarnetBird profile image

GarnetBird 6 years ago from Northern California

Well done!! I did not know about this kidnapping-fascinating!

christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author

I suppose it would be considered one of the postscripts of history nowadays, but it really shocked people at the time.

The "Ancien Regime" might have had its drawbacks, but at least people tended to behave more chivalrously towards their enemies. It was the very ruthlessness of the act that really opened people's eyes to the true nature of Napoleon Bonaparte.

It's just a pity that so many nowadays seem to have forgotten his true character.

De Greek profile image

De Greek 6 years ago from UK

Christopher, the night before last I watched a documentary on ITV about the Iraq war. If you can get a copy, do have a look. Over one million civilians killed for what ITV said was simply the strong taking resources from wherever they can. I am not a fan of Napoleon, but then I am not a fan of empires in general :-)

christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author

Thanks De Greek. I shall look for that on ITV Player.

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 6 years ago from England

Hi, interesting hub and the comments were as fascinating! I only knew the obvious things about him, but all I know is that the French continuously tried conquering England, and thank goodness we gave them a good sorting out! the one thing that is never really mentioned about france as a whole, is that when William the Conquerer, well, conquered England back in 1066 the only reason why he managed it was because the vikings decided to conquer us at exactly the same time, so our troops were rushing backwards and forwards from the south of England to the north to try and stop both lots! if the vikings had kept away, we would have won and the whole of our English royalty would have been different! evidently Richard the lion heart or couer de lion as they called him, wasn't all that! in fact he couldn't speak a word of our English at the time, and he was only over here for six months! instead he spent ten years in the holy land! richard the lion heart, my backside! lol sorry for going of your subject, got carried away there a bit! lol cheers nell

christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author

Cheers Nell.

It is true that the English and the French were always at loggerheads. This country's natural allies were almost always in Germany until the twentieth century.

Richard was OK. He was just a man for his time. Since The Normans ruled a large part of France, he would never have thought of himself as English.

Stan Fletcher profile image

Stan Fletcher 6 years ago from Nashville, TN

I love history and this was facsinating. And a story that I was unaware of. I want to look into this further. I had no idea the body count was in Holocaust territory. Amazing! Great hub.

christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author

Hi Stan.

I was surprised at the figures myself. If you add in the numbers killed in The French Revolutionary Wars 1792/1802, the figure increases by 1,400,000.

Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 6 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

Bet you can't show me a decent warmonger, Christopheranton; as by definition they are human monsters. Dick Cheney and George W. Bush being the latest U.S. warmongering scum. I do love history though, and I never fail to learn something from great hubs like this one.

christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author


You are dead right there. Thanks for reading.

profile image

Louis Mascolo 6 years ago

Sounds like the makings of a good historical novel. Nice hub.

christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author

Thanks for visiting Louis.

The historical novel on The Duke of Enghien has already been done by a much better writer than I could ever hope to be. Alexandre Dumas.

Napoleon-Empire profile image

Napoleon-Empire 5 years ago

christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom Author

Happy to read your hub. Thank you.

Having now read it, I see no reason to change my opinions.

Thanks again.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    Click to Rate This Article