General Claude-François MaletGeneral who escaped from a mental asylum and attempted to overthrow the government while Napoleon was in Russia
Born: June 28, 1754
Place of Birth: Dôle, Jura, France
Legion of Honor: Commander
Died: October 29, 1812
Cause of Death: Executed
Place of Death: Paris, France
Best known for his attempted overthrow of Napoleon in 1812, Claude-François Malet first entered the army in late 1771 when he joined a company of musketeers. In 1775 he returned to his home in Dôle when his company was disbanded. Malet avoided the army for the next fifteen years until the onset of the Revolution when in 1790 he took command of the National Guard of Dôle. The next year he was commissioned as a capitaine and he became an aide-de-camp to General Charles de Hesse-Rhinfels. In 1792 Captain Malet served with the 50th Infantry in the Army of the Rhine and he served near Phalsbourg. The following year Malet was promoted to chef de bataillon and he distinguished himself at Nothweiler before he quit the army for being associated with the ancien regime.
Malet rejoined the army in 1796, joining the Army of the Rhine and Moselle and being promoted to chef de brigade. In 1797 he was employed in the 6th military division and then in 1798 he was elected to the Council of 500 but the law of 22 Floréal deprived him of his seat. In 1799 Malet joined the Army of the Alps under General Championnet and Championnet promoted him to général de brigade. That year he successfully took the positions of Petit-Saint-Bernard and Roche-Taillée from the Austrians. Over the next few years, Malet served in Switzerland before being given administrative positions within France. When it came time to vote for the Consulate for Life, Malet voted against it, and when the people voted for the Empire, Malet again voted against it. Nevertheless, he was made a Commander of the Legion of Honor.
Malet was put on non-activity in 1805 but that September he was given command of a brigade in the Army of Italy. The next year he served in the Army of Naples and then was made Governor of Pavia and later Rome. In 1807 he was suspended by order of Prince Eugene for financial irregularities and the propaganda he was spreading. Sent back to France, Malet was arrested and imprisoned in the prison of La Force. He was released in 1808 without having been put on trial and he retired from the military. However, Malet couldn't stay out of trouble, and in 1809 he was again arrested, this time for working with the society of the Philadelphes to overthrow Napoleon. He was later transferred from prison to stay at a private mental asylum at the request of his wife.
While at the the asylum Malet devised a plan to overthrow the imperial government. Much of his plan depended on the fact that at this time Napoleon and the Grande Armée were far away, deep inside Russia. Due to the distance and the somewhat insecure route, couriers could not bring news from Russia to Paris in timely manner, with news often being weeks old.
On the night of the 22nd of October, 1812, Malet escaped from the mental asylum. The next morning he put his plan into action. Donning a general's uniform, he went to the barracks of the 10th Cohort of the National Guard and presented forged orders to the colonel in charge, Colonel Soulier. These orders included news of Napoleon's death in Russia, the meeting of the Senate to establish a new government, a promotion to general for Soulier, and the need to turn over the troops to Malet to arrest some of the leaders of the imperial government. Overwhelmed by these official looking documents, Colonel Soulier turned his men over to Malet.
Next Malet went to his former prison of La Force and presented more forged orders, granting a release of Generals Guidal and Lahorie. These two generals had been imprisoned for working against the imperial government, and Malet enlisted them into his conspiracy, sending them off to arrest some of Napoleon's ministers who could potentially stop him, including the Minister of Police General Savary. Meanwhile Malet himself went to the home of the commander of the Paris garrison, General Hulin, to convince him to hand over command of the garrison. When Hulin began to question Malet's orders, Malet drew his pistol and shot Hulin in the jaw, leaving him for dead. Undeterred, Malet continued on and went to Colonel Doucet to gain control of more troops. Presenting Colonel Doucet with orders similar to those he had presented Colonel Soulier, he was thwarted when Doucet and a policeman Laborde recognized him. They quickly disarmed Malet and arrested him and before long the plot was contained and stopped.1
Malet, along with some of the others who had helped him along the way, were quickly tried by a military tribunal and sentenced to death. On the 29th of October they were executed by firing squad.
- Archibald Alison, History of Europe from the Commencement of the French Revolution to the Restoration of the Bourbons, (Paris: Baudry's European Library, 1841), IX:28-32.
Updated March 2017
© Nathan D. Jensen