Venice: Napoleon's Italian Thorn
By Victor Blair
Today, the city of Venice is made up of 117 inhabited islands separated
by a network of 180 canals cut through by the Grand Canal bent in the
shape of an 'S.' The city was originally founded in the 5th Century.
In the year 830, the body of St. Mark the Evangelist having been transported
1797: Napoleon, being master
of all northern Italy, with the exception of Venice, the mistress
of the Adriatic, though no longer qualified to keep equal rank with
the first princes of Europe, was still proud and haughty, and not likely
to omit any favourable opportunity of aiding Austria in the great and
common object of ridding Italy of the French. Napoleon wished
to make an ally of
Advice more prudent and humane could not have been given, but
heard without surprise that the Doge (chief magistrate ruler) had been
raising new levies, and that the senate could command an army of 50,000,
composed chiefly of fierce and semi-barbarous Sclavonian mercenaries.
He demanded to know what these demonstrations meant, and was answered
Napoleon now hastened to carry the war into the hereditary dominions
of the Emperor of Austria. Twenty thousand fresh troops joined his victorious
Bonaparte found the Archduke posted behind the river Tagliamento, in
front of the rugged Carinthian Mountains, which guard the passage in
that quarter from
where the Austrian division of Lusignan was in observation, he himself
determined to charge the Archduke in front. Massena was successful
where a rear guard of 500 surrendered and thus turned the Austrian flank.
Bonaparte then attempted and effected the passage of the Tagliamento.
After a great and formal display of his forces, which was met by similar
demonstrations on the Austrian side of the river, he suddenly broke
up his line and retreated. The Archduke, knowing that the French
had been marching all the night before, concluded that the general wished
to defer the battle till another day; and in like manner withdrew to
his camp. Two hours later, Napoleon rushed with his whole army,
who had merely lain down in ranks, upon the margin of the Tagliamento,
no longer guarded adequately and forded the stream before the Austrians
line of battle could be formed. The Austrians displayed much gallantry
but could not dislodge the French troups. Retreat was judged necessary!
The French followed hard behind. At Gradisca, the French captured
5,000 prisoners. In this campaign of 20 days, the Austrians fought
Bonaparte ten times, but the overthrow on the Tagliamento was never
recovered. The Archduke adopted the resolution of reaching
This plan, at first sight
the mere dictate of despair, was in truth that of a wise and prudent
general. The Archduke had received intelligence from two quarters
of events highly unfavourable to the French. General Laudon, the
Austrian commander on the
Cleverly, Napoleon hastened to write to
the Archduke offering to share with him the glory of giving peace to
Archduke Charles replied
Soon after, a series of negotiations between
Napoleon and the Emperor of Austria were concluded with the provisional
Treaty of Loeben, signed
No sooner were the major negotiations concluded, then Napoleon abandoned
the details to his subordinates and pivoted on his heel to retrace his
steps, and pour the full storm of his wrath on the Venetians.
The rapidity of Bonaparte's return gave them no breathing time.
He wrote to the Directory, that "the only course to be taken,
was to destroy this ferocious and sanguinary government ; and erase
the Venetian name from the face of the earth." They hastened
to send offers of submission, and their messengers were received with
anger and contempt. "French blood has been treacherously shed,"
said Napoleon; "if you could offer me the treasures of
The Doge and the senate whose only hopes had rested on
the successes of
Popular tumults filled the streets and canals of
Bonaparte appeared, while the confusion was at its height on the opposite
coast of the Lagoon. Some of his troops were already in the heart
of the city, when on the 31st of May, a hasty message reached him, announcing
that the Senate submitted wholly. He exacted severe revenge.
The leaders who had aided the
It was a glorious reform for the Venetian nation; it was a terrible downfall for the Venetian aristocracy. The banner of the new Republic now floated from the windows of the Doge's palace, and as it waved exultingly in the breeze, it was greeted with the most enthusiastic acclamations by the people, who had been trampled under the foot of oppression for fifteen hundred years.
Such was the humiliation
of this once proud and energetic, but now worn out and enfeebled, oligarchy.
Napoleon took possession of the city, and the history of the
Abbott, John. The Life of Napoleon Bonaparte;1855.
Cruickshank, George. The History of Napoleon Buonaparte Family Library;1866.
Hazlitt, William. The Life of Napoleon Buonaparte; 1854.
Laurent de l'Ardeche, M . History of Napoleon;1853.
Pratt, Fletcher. Road to Empire 1939.
Scott, Sir Walter. The Life of Napoleon Buonaparte; 1827.
Placed on the Napoleon Series October 2002
© Copyright 1995-2008, The Napoleon Series, All Rights Reserved.