Claude François de Malet, a general of the French revolutionary wars, resigned his commission when Napoleon became Emperor. On Oct 23rd in 1812 Malet presented papers that showed Napoleon was killed in Russia.
Malet attempted to take control of France, but his coup was defeated by supporters of Napoleon. As we all know Napoleon was still alive and returned from Moscow. Or did he?
Before Moscow Napoleon was the undefeatable General. Yes his marshalls lost battles, but not the master himself. One month before his supposed death he defeated the Russians at Borodino. After Moscow what do we see? French forces driven backwards out of Russia. Then defeat after defeat in Prussia and Germany culminating in the disaster for the the French at Leipzig.
A year on Elba and this weak copy of the Emperor raises his army again in the 100 days to Waterloo, and is again defeated.
Which begs the question; was Malet correct? Did Napoleon Bonaparte die in Moscow. Did the Napoleonic inner circle hide the truth and replace their leader with a body double? A double who looked the part, but with none of the military genius.
“But wait” you say “everyone knows what Napoleon looks like”. Really? Do they? His most famous painter Jacques-Louis David could not get Bonaparte to sit as a model. He reported the following conversation with the Emperor:
Napoleon: ‘[Pose?] For what good? Do you think that the great men of antiquity of whom we have images posed?’
David: ‘But I am painting you for your century, for the men who have seen you, who know you: they will want to find a resemblance.’
Napoleon: ‘A resemblance! It isn’t the exactness of the features, a wart on the nose which gives the resemblance. It is the character of the physiognomy, what animates it, that must be painted. Certainly Alexander never posed for Apelles. Nobody knows if the portraits of great men resemble them. It is enough that their genius lives there.’
When we look at the traditional image of Napoleon we see a short dark haired and defeated man. How different from images captured from early in his life. A tall, slim man with flowing blonde hair. Could it be true? Could the French Emperor have died in Moscow? Could this be one of the great conspiracy theories of history?