The Malet coup of 1812 was an attempted coup d'état in Paris, France, aimed at removing Napoleon I, then campaigning in Russia, from power. The coup was engineered by Republican general Claude François de Malet, who had spent time in prison because of his opposition to Napoleon. The coup failed, and the leading conspirators were executed.
Claude François de Malet was born in 1754, distinguishing himself in the French Revolutionary Wars and slowly becoming disenchanted with Napoleon Bonaparte, opposing the Corsican general's rise to the position of First Consul. Malet, by 1804 a brigadier general, resigned his commission after Napoleon was crowned Emperor of the French. After his resignation, Malet was made governor of Pavia, then of Rome, both of which were under French control. After Napoleon's stepson, Viceroy of Italy Eugène de Beauharnais, accused Malet of conspiring against Napoleon, the governor was removed from his position and incarcerated in France. In 1812, Malet was allowed to retire to a sanitarium, upon the request of his wife.
While at the sanitarium, Malet met with several agents of the House of Bourbon, who were working to replace the First Empire with a restored monarchy. Despite these connections, Malet appears to have had strong republican, rather than royalist, leanings. At the sanitarium he began to plan a coup which would topple the emperor. Napoleon was absent from France in 1812, commanding his troops in the invasion of Russia, providing Malet with an ideal opportunity to strike. With several others, he crafted detailed plans for a seizure of power, which was scheduled for late October. Malet and his co-conspirators even planned a provisional government, to be installed after the coup. Lazare Carnot was to be part of this government, serving as interim president.
At 4:00 in the morning on October 23, 1812, Malet escaped from his captivity, donning a general's uniform. He approached Colonel Gabriel Soulier, who commanded the 10th Cohort of the French National Guard, informing the colonel that Napoleon had died while in Russia. Several forged documents convinced Soulier of the accuracy of Malet's claims, and the colonel, ill and stunned by his own "promotion" to general, which was among the forged papers, obeyed Malet when told to assemble the cohort. Soulier did not question Malet, even when the latter announced his intention to arrest several top officials, and the cohort followed its commander's example and submitted to the recent prisoner, following him to La Force Prison.
At La Force, Malet ordered the release of two imprisoned generals, Victor Lahorie and Maximilian-Joseph Guidal. The guards obeyed him, and the generals, republicans like Malet, were convinced to join the coup. Malet sent Lahorie to arrest the Duke of Rovigo, the Minister of Police, while Guidal, with a company of National Guards, was to seize General Henri Clarke (Duke of Feltre), the Minister of War, and Archchancellor Cambacérès (Duke of Parma). Guidal, an enemy of Rovigo, insisted that he be allowed to accompany Lahorie. The two generals awoke Rovigo and placed him in La Force, neglecting to arrest the other two officials.
Other senior officials, such as the Paris prefect of police, were arrested, and Lahorie was given the position of Minister of General Police. As this occurred, Malet confronted General Pierre-Augustin Hulin, the commander of the Paris garrison, in the latter's home. The general listened to the conspirator, who informed him that he (Hulin) had been relieved of his garrison command and that he was to turn over the seal of the 1st Division, which was located in Paris. Hulin demanded to see the official papers that would authorize such actions, whereupon Malet shot him in the jaw.
Malet then proceeded to the military headquarters opposite Hulin's home. There, he met with the senior officer on duty there, Colonel Jean Doucet. Doucet was suspicious, however, because the letters presented to him that referenced Napoleon's death stated that the Emperor had died on October 7. Doucet had knowledge of letters written by Napoleon that had been sent after that date. The colonel also recognized Malet as a sanitarium inmate, and, once he was alone in his office with the general, overpowered him. Malet was placed under arrest, while Doucet ordered the National Guard's 10th Cohort to return to its barracks. He then released Rovigo and other officials imprisoned by the conspirators, and informed the Minister of War, Clarke, of these developments.
Clarke, whose ministry was experiencing strained relations with that of Rovigo, sent a detachment of the Imperial Guard to protect the Ministry of Police and set about restoring order to Paris and, at the same time, making an effort to portray Rovigo as incompetent. One of Clarke's first actions was to inform Archchancellor Cambacérès of the coup, urging the man to bring Empress Marie-Louise and Napoleon's heir, the infant King of Rome, to Saint-Cloud.
Malet, Lahorie, and Guidal were tried before a council of war and were executed by firing squad on October 29. Others, including Colonel Soulier, who had been tricked into enabling the coup, were shot on October 31. Colonel Jean-François Rabbe, commander of the Paris Guard, which too was fooled into supporting the conspirators, was spared execution. The 10th Cohort was sent to Bremen, and Minister of War Clarke began to investigate all general officers present in Paris on October 23, suspending from service those who he thought had acted in a way that showed support for Malet. Napoleon, rushing back to Paris from Russia, did not punish Rovigo—to the disappointment of his rival, Clarke. Clarke had been spoken poorly of by Napoleon, who wondered why after hearing of his supposed death, the minister did not proclaim Napoleon II as the new Emperor.