The Empress Josephine is Saved By a Shawl: 1800

Cachemire shawl Empress Josephine

Josephine draped in a Kashmir shawl.

The following particulars respecting the affair of the infernal machine are related by Rapp, who attended Madame Bonaparte to the opera. He differs from Bourrienne as to the total ignorance of the police:

“The affair of the infernal machine has never been property understood by the public. The police had intimated to Napoleon that an attempt would be made against his life and cautioned him not to go out. Madame Bonaparte, Mademoiselle Beauharnais, Madame Murat, Lannes, Bessieres, the aide de camp on duty, Lieutenant Lebrun, now duke of Placenza were all assembled in the salon, while the First Consul was writing in his cabinet. Haydn’s oratorio was to be performed that evening; the ladies were anxious to hear the music, and we also expressed a wish to that effect. The escort piquet was ordered out; and Lannes requested that Napoleon would join the party. He consented; his carriage was ready, and he took along with him Bessieres and the aide de camp on duty.

I was directed to attend the ladies. Josephine had received a magnificent shawl from Constantinople and she that evening wore it for the first time. ‘Permit me to observe,’ said I, ‘that your shawl is not thrown on with your usual elegance.’ She good-humouredly begged that I would fold it after the fashion of the Egyptian ladies. While I was engaged in this operation we heard Napoleon depart. ‘Come sister,’ said Madame Murat, who was impatient to get to the theatre: ‘Bonaparte is going:’ We stopped into the carriage: the First Consul’s equipage had already reached the middle of the Place du Carrousel. We drove after it, but we had scarcely entered the place when the machine exploded.

Napoleon escaped by a singular chance, St. Regent, or his servant Francois, had stationed himself in the middle of the Rue Nicaise. A grenadier of the escort, supposing he was really what he appeared to be, a water-carrier, gave him a few blows with the flat of his sabre and drove him off. The cart was turned round, and the machine exploded between the carriages of Napoleon and Josephine. The ladies shrieked on hearing the report; the carriage windows were broken, and Mademoiselle Beauharnais received a slight hurt on her hand. I alighted and crossed the Rue Nicaise which was strewed with the bodies of those who had been thrown down, and the fragments of the walls that had been shattered with the explosion. Neither the consul nor any individual of his, suite sustained any serious injury.

When I entered the theatre Napoleon was seated in his box; calm and composed, and looking at the audience through his opera-glass. Fouche was beside him. ‘Josephine,’ said he as soon as he observed me. She entered at that instant and he did not finish his question ‘The rascals’ said he very cooly, ‘wanted to blow me up: Bring me a book of the oratorio.’”

Memoirs of General Count Rapp: First Aide-de-camp to Napoleon, Comte Jean Rapp, 1823

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The occasion was the French premiere, on 24 December 1800, of The Creation oratorio by Joseph Haydn. The infernal machine was part of the so-called “Plot of the Rue Saint-Nicaise,” a Royalist attempt on the life of the Emperor. The Empress was, of course, known for her extravagant love of dress, particularly “cachemires” or Kashmir shawls.

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6 thoughts on “The Empress Josephine is Saved By a Shawl: 1800

  1. Pingback: Saved By a Shawl | Not So Distant Past

    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      And she was the one who apparently suffered the most among the Imperial party: nearly due to give birth and utterly shocked by the blast. I believe she blamed her son’s frail health on the trauma of that night.

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  2. Pingback: The Cashmere Shawl: 1840 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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