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Napoleon Bonaparte's Career
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Click to EnlargeThreats against the life of Napoleon Bonaparte were not rare as his manner of ruling France did outrage many on all sides of politics.

Royalists were the main plotters, although Bonaparte preferred - for political reasons - to blame the rival Jacobins.

One discovered assassination attempt was the stuff of modern spy thrillers.

It involved the plotters infiltrating a group of workmen restoring Malmaison and switching Bonaparte's favoured snuff box with one laced with poison. The plan was foiled, but the same group then schemed to kidnap the First Consul as he walked alone in the grounds of the estate.

Nothing came of the conspiracy, although Bonaparte did use the threat of kidnapping or assassination as a means of frightening Josephine. He played tricks upon her, making up stories of attempts on his life and then would calm her by bursting out in laughter.

The most serious - and very nearly successful - attempt on his life took place on Christmas Eve in 1800 when a massive bomb exploded near his carriage as he went to the opening night of Haydn's opera Creation.

Royalist plotters had positioned a horse and wagon bearing a barrel filled with gunpowder and shrapnel on the Rue Saint-Nicaise and lit the fuse as Bonaparte's carriage neared.

The speed of the vehicle - Bonaparte had ordered his driver to go quickly because he did not want to be late to the opera - and the poor quality of the gunpowder led to the bomb exploding seconds after the First Consul had passed.

An estimated 52 people were killed or wounded by the device - known as the Infernal Machine - including Bonaparte's stepdaughter Hortense Beauharnais, who was cut on the wrist by flying metal.

She had been, together with Josephine, in a separate carriage that belatedly followed the First Consul. A friendly argument between Josephine and General Jean Rapp over the choice of a scarf is credited with delaying her journey long enough to avoid taking the full brunt of the explosion.

The power of the bomb destroyed several buildings and one of the victims was a young girl who had been paid by the plotters to hold the reins of the wagon's horse.

Bonaparte, Josephine and their party attended the performance for a while before returning home.

Despite knowing that Royalists had planted the bomb, Bonaparte used the attempt to discredit the Jacobins. Two of the actual ringleaders, a former noble Pierre Saint-Regent and a royalist rebel named Carbon, were later guillotined.

In 1804, another Royalist plan - this time to kidnap Bonaparte and known as the Cadoudal Plot - was foiled and led to the arrests of a large number of conspirators, including generals Jean Moreau and Jean Pichegru.

Its leader and chief planner, Georges Cadoudal, was captured and executed, Pichegru is believed to have killed himself in prison, while Moreau was exiled.

 
 
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