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For All Nails #243E: Napoleon's Nail (Part 5)

By Raymond A. Speer


December 25, 1796, Sunday

I attended the early Christmas Mass at the Lisbon Cathedral this morning. The sermon was in the vernacular, which placed it beyond my comprehension, but my Portuguese translator sat quietly throughout, so I assume that the bishop said nothing that could be interpreted as an insult to France or its Queen Regent. I held clenched in my hand the letter I had received from one of the Cardinal's aides.

"Having taken the enemy stronghold of Lisbon," the letter read, "you no longer need as many men as were necessary for your campaign of conquest." Accordingly, the establishment of my army was to be reduced by two-thirds -- the men I led to victory in Iberia were being sent to plug the weaknesses that Dumouriez's defeat at Weimar had caused to the French front along the Rhine.

For the second winter in two years, the gains of a summer of hard fighting had been reversed by a military catastrophe. While Dumouriez was back in Versailles, explaining his setback, Marshal Ney managed what was left of our forces in Germany.

I had written concise memoranda to the Cardinal and the War Ministry on measures to prevent another flanking movement by the English Marshal John Moore and his Prussian ally, Frederick William II. Whether the slightest attention had been paid to my essays, I do not know.

What I did know was that the Franco-Austrian Alliance could claim only one solid victory -- my conquest of Portugal against the opposition of the English General Wellesley. Wellesley was the son of an English grandee who ran plantations in Ireland, using the local population as serf labor. Wellesley's experience at war had begun under the aegis of Field Marshal the Lord Cornwallis when the British had attacked Tipu Sultan, the monarch of Mysore, a country in southern India. FN1 When he had fought me, Wellesley showed an appreciation for terrain and movement, hampered by old-fashioned tactics learned from Cornwallis. FN2 In two months, I had pushed him back to Lisbon.

Maria, the Portuguese Queen, had fled to London, and I persuaded Wellesley to surrender the capital to me. FN3 I allowed him and his officers sail back to London -- reports from there have Wellesley resigning his commission rather than face court-martial.

And my reward for driving the English into the sea is that I am reduced to the governor of a garrison force. Worse yet, besides the possibility of another English invasion, I must worry about the conduct of the court of Spain. Carlos IV is sympathetic towards the Comte de Provence, if for no other reason than fear that his Queen Maria Luisa and her lover, Chief Minister Godoy, might eliminate him and rule Spain through the artifice of a Queen's Warrant making them regents for the child Fernando.

The writings of Danton against the Queen Regent have not been suppressed by Spanish censors who otherwise want to ban nearly every piece of literature penned in the last century. Minions from the Cardinal of Bourges distract me with inquiries as to whether or not representatives of the King's brothers have met so-and-so of the Spanish court. And the supply promised by the Spanish to their French allies has always been late and meagre.

I should go with my men, and wage war in Germany (with me there, our battles would prove successful). But my brother Lucien has arrived in Lisbon, fresh from Paris. Lucien reports that the Queen Regent -- estranged from her brothers-in-law -- has slowly yet surely gravitated towards the sentiments of the sansculottes. The rabble now call her Dame Liberty, forgetting the earlier nicknames they had used -- Madame Austria, Madame Deficit. The scandalmonger Marat prints the largest journal now available in France -- its praise of the Queen Regent is so overdone as to seem ludicrous to me.

The lame and clever Cardinal held a great rally outside the city, in which he blessed the Queen Regent as the defender of our liberties --- whatever those liberties might be. There have been promises that an Estates General will be called to modernize the institutions of France as soon as our enemies surrender.

The consequence is that deeply conservative Madrid is pondering the wisdom of continued fealty to Marie Antoinette, monarch of the radicals.

"So why does that disqualify me from command in Germany?" I asked Lucien.

"The Marquis de la Fayette damned you with faint praise when he returned to France. He told the Queen and Talleyrand that you mock philosophic concepts of liberty ---"

"I do when he spouts vague nonsense," I interupted.

Lucien continued. "They fear you, Napoleon. You have been successful while they have used far greater resources and failed at horriffic costs. They worry that you could overthrow them and recognize Provence as the Regent, or become Regent yourself."

"So I stay here, and keep watch on fat King Carlos," I stated.

"That is their desire," my brother answered.


(Proceed to Napoleon's Nail (Part 6).)

(Return to For All Nails.)

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