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Henri Clarke, Minister of War, and the Malet Conspiracy
Général Henri Jacques Guillaume Clarke, Napoleon's Minister of War, was both a competent administrator and shrewd politician. He developed the Ministry of War into an efficient component of Napoleon's military-civil administrative structure. Clarke served Napoleon well, and was rewarded by titles and donations. Especially while on campaign, Napoleon depended upon Clarke's presence in Paris, and sent him volumes of instructions, orders, and directives. Clarke was hardworking, intelligent and loyal, but he was also ambitious, enterprising and resourceful - qualities that were desirable as long as Napoleon himself provided adequate focus and direction. In October 1812, when the mad Général Claude-François Malet attempted a coup against the Imperial government, Clarke seized the opportunity to expand the function of the War Ministry into police activity and martial administration. This brought him into direct conflict with the Ministry of Police. Although Napoleon initially backed Clarke in the rivalry that developed between the two, his frustration with Clarke's perceived failure to raise troops during the Russian invasion hardened into contempt throughout the winter months of 1812, as Clarke pursued Malet's imaginary co-conspirators. It is the purpose of this paper to examine Clarke's development of the Ministry of War throughout the period May to December 1812 and to determine how Clarke used the Malet "conspiracy" to augment the function of the Ministry as well as the immediate consequences of his actions.
Clarke, who replaced Alexandre Berthier as Minister of War in 1807, was an extremely competent and zealous administrator. During the 1809 campaign, he orchestrated the defense of Walchern Island in the absence of Napoleon, occasionally over the objections of the King of Holland. Napoleon was impressed enough to make Clarke the Duke of Feltre on 30 October.  The following month, Clarke's major rival, Minister of War Administration Général Pierre-François Dejean, wrote to Napoleon advising him that the Dutch refused to support the French in Sud-Beveland. Napoleon took the matter out of Dejean's hands altogether and sent it to Clarke, ordering him to annex Walchern Island and Sud-Beveland unless they cooperated. 
Napoleon came to depend upon Clarke heavily, both for political and military support. Clarke was the focal point for the drafting of troops, the management of the armies of occupation, and all matters of military organization and administration that fell outside of Berthier's capacity as Chief of Staff. Clarke flourished in his role. His position brought him into contact with the Emperor on a daily basis, and his Ministry acted as a clearinghouse for the Emperor's orders to his far-flung troops, whether they were in sunny Spain or cold northern Germany. On 16 March 1812 Clarke received official word that Russia was to be invaded and the tentative invasion date was set for 1 April.  Although Berthier, who had assumed command of the Army of Germany in February, was in charge of the Grande Armée's overall organization, recruitment responsibility (primarily outside of Germany) soon passed to Clarke.  Throughout the summer and fall of 1812, Clarke's chief function was to raise troops, organize units, and send them to Russia or Spain.
As the first scheduled date for the invasion of Russia came and went, Napoleon turned to Clarke to bring more units into the growing army. On 8 May he charged Clarke with locating remaining troops and horses in France and preparing them to move. He also ordered him to transfer all extra units, especially artillery batteries, from Rochelle and the Pyrénées and send them to Berthier. Ten days later, Clarke received broader responsibilities in the form of instructions to organize the order of battle of the reserve divisions, equip them, and send them to Berlin. These reserve divisions consisted of the already existing 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Divisions of Reserve, and the 4th was to be organized from two Regiments de la Méditerranée, currently stationed at Walchern Island. In addition, Clarke was responsible for the creation and equipage of various independent formations such as the Erfurt Brigade and the Alexandria Brigade. All of these units were sent to Germany to become part of the Grande Armée. 
This army, large as it was becoming, was still not large enough for the planned invasion. On 23 May, Napoleon instructed Clarke to raise troops from Naples and units stationed in Italy. The same day, he told Clarke to obtain at least 500 horses and 10 batteries from the Neapolitans, plus additional horse and foot cannon. On 27 May he ordered Clarke to raise 30,000 Italian soldiers and 1,000 horses as well as the Royal Army of Italy. 
Clarke's efforts to raise troops went beyond simply organizing new French and foreign battalions. On 26 May, under Napoleon's instruction, he reorganized the National Guard units and began using them to replace French garrisons. For example, the Belgian 3rd Brigade of the National Guard relieved the French units stationed along the coast, and within the 3rd Brigade no "old French" were to be permitted. In the same letter, Napoleon exhorted Clarke to scour hospitals and sick battalions for any and all malingerers. Clarke searched everywhere for regular troops. On 16 June, at Clarke's request, Napoleon authorized him to replace the Guard of the Prince and Grand Duchess Borghese with National Guard troops. The ducal guards were sent on to Berlin. Clarke's mobilization of the National Guard was so successful that on 21 June some surplus cohorts were sent to Germany to augment the reserves. 
National Guards provided the final touches to an army that was ready for action. When the Grande ArmÈe crossed the Niemen River on 24-25 June, thanks to Clarke's efforts to comb garrisons and hospitals throughout the Empire, it contained about 450,000 soldiers, not including Prussian and Austrian contingents. By 26 June the French had captured Vilna, capital of Lithuania, without a fight. Despite a three-week stop there, the army had already begun losing horses and troops to heat, exhaustion, illness and hunger. By early July Napoleon urged Clarke to redouble his search for conscripts in Switzerland, Spain, Italy and France. 
There were not many places left for Clarke to search. In mid-July he organized six new National Guard cohorts with old men and moved them to Bremen with the intention of sending them east. Napoleon rejected this idea, but he requested that two regular divisions, the 24th and the 32nd, on garrison duties in Germany, be incorporated into XI Corps in Russia. Once the depleted status of these divisions became known, Napoleon had Clarke reinforce them with twelve additional National Guard cohorts. In order to meet these demands, Clarke organized new National Guard cohorts, not only of old men but of sick and lame ones as well, using them to relieve garrisoned units. For example, the 10th Cohort, permanently mobilized as a part of the Paris garrison, was made up of men who had some physical disability, such as flat feet. 
By September, Napoleon was becoming so desperate for replacements that even disability did not exempt soldiers from service in Russia. He sent word to GÈnÈral de Division Jean Gerard Lacuée, Dejean's successor at War Administration, that he wanted the XI Corps's hospitals and sick battalions cleared out and stronger discipline imposed. Napoleon had problems on the Spanish front as well. On 22 July the Duke of Wellington had defeated Marshal Auguste Marmont at Salamanca and in August the English had briefly taken Madrid. Napoleon sent instructions to Clarke to interview Marmont and express the Emperor's extreme displeasure, but to emphasize to the public that the defeat was insignificant. This may indicate a subtle shift in Napoleon's perception of Clarke's responsibilities, and in Clarke's own understanding of those duties. Clarke had recalled soldiers from already hard-pressed commanders in Spain and diluted the quality of the occupying forces in Italy and Germany, which made him unpopular with those commanders, regardless of whether or not he was acting on the Emperor's orders. But for Napoleon to expect Clarke, a général de division and an administrative rear-line soldier, to chastise Marmont, a Marshal of France who had been severely wounded during his last battle, was unthinkable and unprecedented. Clarke had always obeyed the Emperor, and it was from the Emperor that Clarke derived his authority. But as Napoleon advanced deeper into Russia and communications became more difficult, Clarke's duties forced him to become less of a conduit of the Imperial will and to act more on his own authority. Perhaps he even began to see himself as the preserver of the Napoleonic system in the Emperor's absence. 
Supporting this trend, Napoleon ordered Clarke to search for reinforcements by crossing into other Ministers' areas of operations. On 5 October, Napoleon asked Clarke to find and send 200 surgeons to Russia. He had requested them from the Ministry of War Administration, but they were not forthcoming. The same day he instructed Clarke to requisition "6000 sailors from ships, ports, or anywhere," an order that would certainly bring the Ministry of War and the naval/maritime ministries into conflict. Napoleon also wanted troops from Holland and Poland, and he authorized Clarke to actively search in those areas. Finally, on 8 October, Napoleon instructed Clarke to raise the disponibles, men who had already served their terms in the military and been mustered out. 
There was a significant time delay between Napoleon's issuing these orders and their receipt by Clarke and vice versa. The deeper Napoleon went into Russia the longer it took for Clarke and the Emperor to communicate. Reports and communiqués Clarke sent were not received for a month, unless special couriers were used. Thus, in the event of any crisis, the administrative structure of the Empire would have to respond without the benefit of the Emperor's direction. In 1812, this administrative structure revolved around three persons, Archchancellor Jean-Jacques de CambacÈrËs, Minister of Police Général Anne Jean Marie René Savary, and Minister of War Clarke. 
Cambacérès was an old friend of Napoleon's. His responsibilities as Archchancellor consisted of assisting the Empress Marie-Louise with her duties as regent, which meant acting as titular head of whatever parts of the government were not controlled, directly or indirectly, by Clarke or Savary.  Savary, a veteran of Austerlitz, Spain and Friedland and a skilled diplomat, had replaced Joseph Fouché as Police Minister in June 1810. The Duke of Rovigo since 1808, Savary maintained an effective network of police spies that enforced tranquillity and discipline in the Empire. In addition, he controlled the gendarmerie, and, as such, draft evaders and deserters fell under his province. Clarke had never been able to challenge the power of these men, but of the two, Savary's authority seemed to overlap Clarke's. An uneasy truce existed between the three in the fall of 1812, but in late October events provided Clarke with an opportunity to dislodge Savary's particular grip on power.
Around 4:00 A.M. on 23 October, Général de Division Claude-François de Malet went to Colonel Gaberiel Soulier, commander of the 10th National Guard Cohort, and announced that Napoleon had been killed in Russia. He presented the commandant with several forged documents that "proved" his claim. According to those documents, the 10th Cohort was to provide soldiers to arrest Savary, Clarke, Cambacérès, and Commander of the Paris Garrison Génèral Pierre-Augustin Hulin. At the same time Soulier himself was to be promoted to the rank of GÈnÈral. Soulier, already ill and shocked by the announcement, gave the necessary authorizations to assemble the troops. 
Once the Cohort was assembled, Malet marched them to La Force Prison and ordered the release of Générals Victor Lahorie and Maximilian-Joseph Guidal.  Malet instructed Guidal to take a company of the 10th Cohort and arrest Cambacérès and Clarke. Meanwhile, Lahorie was to take another company to arrest Savary. However, Guidal had a personal vendetta against Savary and went with Lahorie to Savary's house instead of proceeding against his assigned targets. They awoke the minister and seized him, taking him to La Force around 8:00 A.M. In addition, they arrested Desmarest, head of Savary's Security division, and Etienne-Denis Pasquier, the Prefect of Police in Paris. By 8:30 A.M., they had incarcerated the major policemen of Paris, and Lahorie had assumed the position of Minister of General Police. 
Meanwhile, Malet had gone to Hulin's house to relieve him of command of the Paris Garrison and to acquire the official seal of the 1st Division. He arrived around 7:30 A.M. When Hulin asked to see the senatorial orders relieving him and the arrest warrant, Malet shot him in the face and left him for dead. Once he obtained the seal, Malet left to go to headquarters, across the street from Hulin's house. He had sent orders earlier to Colonel Jean-François Rabbe, commander of the Regiment of the Paris Guard, to assemble his troops there. Thus, the 10th Cohort was under his control, and he had the necessary documents and seals to assume command of the 1st Division; once Rabbe appeared, Malet could assume control of all the military forces of Paris, and with them insure the success of his coup. But Malet was recognized by Adjutant-Commander Colonel Jean Doucet as an old conspirator who had been locked up in an insane asylum. Doucet had received a letter from Malet that morning promoting him to gÈnÈral de brigade and advising him that Napoleon was dead and that there was a new government. Doucet himself was to arrange for the occupation of key buildings and strong points throughout Paris.  Doucet was aware that Napoleon had written Clarke and Hulin since 7 October, the date Malet was claiming as the death date, and that the Senate had not met at all on the night of the 22nd. When Malet entered Doucet's office, Doucet seized and gagged him, and ordered the companies of the 10th Cohort back to their barracks. By 9:00 A.M., the conspiracy was over. It simply remained to arrest the conspirators.
Doucet immediately wrote to Clarke to advise him that an insurrection had taken place and that Malet had been arrested.  Clarke then contacted Cambacérès and urged him to move the Empress and Napoleon's infant heir, the King of Rome, to Saint-Cloud.  He sent a letter to the Empress as well, advising her of the insurrection and assuring her that he would do everything possible to assure her safety. Clarke also sent a detachment of the Imperial Guard to protect her and his personal aide-de-camp Verdun to keep her informed of all developments.  Marie-Louise felt herself in mortal danger from Malet, and Clarke's reassurances undoubtedly eased her fears. 
Doucet began dealing with the conspirators as soon as the 10th Cohort was isolated in its barracks. He set Savary, Pasquier, and Desmarest free from La Force. Savary went directly to the Ministry of Police, which Clarke had already placed under the protection of detachments of the Imperial Guard.  Once Savary had issued a banal statement assuring the public that all was well in the capital he began working to arrest anyone with any connection to Malet.  Savary's arrest had left a stain on his record, one that rapid work might minimize. His position was not only embarrassing but dangerous. How could the Empire's chief of secret police be arrested in his bed, by a certified lunatic, with a few unfit National Guards? To make matters worse, Clarke's role in this whole affair was spotless. For the moment, Clarke had the upper hand.
Clarke immediately began to manage the situation. He wrote to Joseph Bonaparte, King of Spain, assuring him that everything was well, that Napoleon was safe, and to spread the word "to all commands and allies."  He then began demanding accounts and reports of the affair from all participants over the next five days, receiving detailed reports from Hulin and Colonel Laborde, Doucet's assistant.  On the 24th Clarke ordered the entire 10th Cohort to Bremen.  Laborde was placed in command of the Paris Guard, which was eventually disbanded and replaced by other regular army units. Clarke was determined to handle the investigation and trial as a military matter, which would place it under his jurisdiction rather than Savary's. Since the conspirators were military officers, a military tribunal was organized personally by Clarke under Dejean, the former Minister of War Administration.  The chief prosecutor, and the man who wrote up the indictments on the conspirators, was Pierre Franchot, an official in the Ministry of War. Clarke was determined to punish the conspirators harshly and on 24 October, four days before their trial began, Clarke ordered the Imperial Guard to provide fusiliers for firing squad duty. The conspiracy provided Clarke a chance to demonstrate to the Emperor his efficiency and loyalty - and to demonstrate Savary's incompetence as well.
Clarke's reports to Napoleon emphasized both. In his report of 24 October, Clarke blamed the entire episode on Savary and the Ministry of Police, stressing that such a dangerous individual as Malet should have been kept under much tighter supervision and that it was the military, not the police, who had finally ended the affair. He outlined the steps he was taking to catch other conspirators. But in order to exploit this incident further, Clarke had to extend the search for conspirators beyond Malet, Lahorie and Guidal. While Savary wanted to limit the conspiracy and close the affair, Clarke began arresting anyone who had anything at all to do with it. When the case came to trial on 28 October, a total of twenty-three officers and civilians, including Soulier and Rabbe, were charged with the capital crime of treason. All were convicted and, with the exception of Rabbe and an enlisted man from the 10th Cohort, all were shot on 31 October.
The executions did not end Clarke's activities. During the trial, an official on the tribunal protested Clarke's treatment of the Paris Garrison, pointing out that the 10th Cohort and the others had been duped and that the garrison units and officers were not disloyal to Napoleon. Nonetheless, Clarke had a list of all generals in the vicinity of Paris drawn up and checked their activities of 23 October. On 22 November, he personally suspended those whose actions he deemed suspect. 
Meanwhile, in Russia, Napoleon had become frustrated and alarmed with Clarke's failure to replace the army's losses. Losses in Russia were indeed a matter of grave and ongoing concern. At the beginning of the campaign, Napoleon had over 450,000 soldiers under his command; on 14 September, he captured Moscow with just under 100,000. Of these, over half would be gone by the time the army reached supply depots at Smolensk on 13 November, and cold weather had just begun in early November. After the battle of Maloyaroslavets on 24 October it became apparent that French victory was to prove more elusive than had been thought. Napoleon continued to urge Clarke to send more troops, and as the situation grew more grave his calls became more desperate and unreasonable. For example, on 5 November he sharply rebuked Clarke for incursions the National Guard had made across the Spanish border against brigands. The National Guard was not to enter Spain at all. 
Complicating matters greatly, Clarke's reports of the Malet affair arrived on 6 November by special courier. Clarke stressed the view that this was part of a widespread conspiracy. Reports from Savary, arriving on 7 November, reported the opposite. According to him, Malet had acted alone, and had even fooled Lahorie and Guidal. Nonetheless, Napoleon was inclined to believe Clarke simply because it was unbelievable that one man, acting alone, could deceive high ranking officers and entire units with such ease. But that did not exempt Clarke from scorn. According to the Emperor, Clarke "parades his devotion to me, but did not stop to put his boots on before running to the barracks to take oath to the King of Rome." As reports continued to come in over the next few days, it became obvious that the danger had passed. Napoleon's fears subsided somewhat, even to the point of joking about the capture of Savary and Pasquier.  Over the next few weeks, the passage of the army through hostile territory and over the Berezina River on 26-27 November occupied his attention. When the remnants of the army reached the comparative safety of Vilna on 5 December, Napoleon turned command over to Murat and left to return to Paris. The same day, Napoleon sent Cambacérès a letter in which he condemned the rift between Savary and Clarke as "ridiculous and dangerous" and expressed the view that the Minister of Police was wrong in his evaluation of the conspiracy. He also wrote Clarke, instructing him to gather information on one Général Dubreton and others as possible suspects. Finally, he wrote to Savary, advising him that he was returning to Paris and warning him that his "quarrels with the General Staff (were) pitiful, unjust, and impolitic." 
Napoleon's journey, made incognito with Général Armand Caulaincourt, gave him time to reflect on the situation and the personalities involved in the ministerial rivalry. This reflection did not improve Clarke's position. On 12 December, Napoleon commented that Clarke was "a typical courtier, a man of mediocre talents, the most conceited man I have ever met...such a flatterer that I can never trust any opinion he emits."  Napoleon also thought that by overemphasizing the conspiracy, it would become apparent that his regime was not as stable as he wished people to think. It was better to present the matter as the escapade of a madman, or at most of a few malcontents. Between Savary and Clarke, then, Savary was the one acting more in the Imperial will: "Savary anticipated my wishes perfectly by adopting this attitude."  By 16 December this opinion had hardened. Napoleon downplayed Clarke's role in the affair: "Clarke boasts of his devotion, of what he did and the orders he gave, possibly after the event; but he did not even put on his boots to go make sure of the troops." On the other hand, Savary "ha(d) always served me with zeal" and was more concerned with settling the matter than anyone. Napoleon realized that Savary had more at stake than Clarke in the crushing of conspirators; after Malet, Savary was certain to be more on his guard. Napoleon still had doubts about Malet being the sole conspirator, but his sympathies were beginning to shift to Savary. 
Part of the reason for Napoleon's empathy is that Savary's fall seemed certain. To Napoleon, Savary "was not treated well by the Paris correspondents. Everyone ridiculed him."  Savary seemed to have already lost power. Clarke had begun investigating generals and Napoleon's correspondence clearly favored Clarke and his version of the events of 23 October. But these thoughts were expressed by the Emperor to Caulaincourt and not sent to Paris. As Napoleon traveled from Vilna to Warsaw, across Germany to France, Clarke had no reason to think anything other than that he had usurped, or at least derailed, the Ministry of Police, just as he had the Ministry of War Administration in previous years.
On the night of 18 December Napoleon arrived in Paris. The following day, he met with his Ministers, first in council and then in private interviews. As Savary approached for his audience, the crowd parted "as if to let a funeral procession pass."  Savary remained closeted with the Emperor for two hours. He emerged with his Ministership intact and no punitive actions against him. Likewise, Pasquier was forgiven. Both Doucet and Laborde were promoted. But for Clarke, Savary's interview with the Emperor represented a surprising and threatening check to his ambitions. What should have been Clarke's greatest triumph in a career of assimilating and consolidating power - the discrediting of the mighty Minister of Police and Clarke's usurping of his authority - was not.
Clarke's failure to discredit Savary created a far more dangerous situation than was at first apparent. Throughout his career, Clarke had been able to gain Napoleon's trust and carried out his assignments with efficiency. He had been able to eliminate his competitors or have them placed them under his authority. Savary was an entirely different kind of enemy. He began sending Napoleon reports on Clarke, portraying him as a renegade out for his own gain and glory.  Further, Cambacérès sided with Savary, possibly because he was alarmed at Clarke's assumption of power during November. He wrote to Napoleon on 9 January 1813 concerning Clarke's indictment of two "conspirators," Alexandre Bouteaux and Joseph Caamano. He felt that if they were guilty they should certainly be put to death, but there was some question of at least Caamano's role. Cambacérès expressed the opinion that the whole affair was over and it should be dropped, including the persecution of these two.  Thus, Napoleon, who already had expressed dissatisfaction with Clarke's recruitment work as late as November, now had two of his most trusted ministers advising him against Minister of War.
There was nothing Clarke could do about the situation. He had gambled on Savary's fall and lost. But he was far too competent as War Minister to be lightly dismissed, despite Napoleon's hostility over the Malet affair. Thus in 1813 the two most powerful Ministries of the Napoleonic government, War and Police, viewed each other with distrust and deliberate ill will. The final legacy of the Malet conspiracy was that the government fractured into mistrustful factions dedicated more to dislodging each other from Imperial favor than effective administration, a situation that did not bode well for the future of the Empire.