19th Century Attempts to Assassinate Napoleon Bonaparte

Threats against Napoleon Bonaparte‘s life were not rare. In fact, there many attempts to assassinate Napoleon. One failed attempt by royalists was known as the plot of the rue Saint-Nicaise, occurred on Christmas Eve in 1800. It resulted in a bomb blast and left Napoleon badly shaken but unscathed. Another failed attempt to assassination Napoleon involved snuff. In this case, royalists infiltrated a group of workmen restoring Malmaison with a plan to switch his good snuff for poisoned snuff, but before they could bring their plan to fruition, it was discovered. The next failed attempt to assassinate Napoleon occurred in 1804 when royalists planned to kidnap him. However, instead of kidnapping him, the conspiracy was discovered and the conspirators arrested.

Attempt to assassinate Napoleon Bonaparte

Attempt to assassinate Napoleon in this illustration of the Plot of the rue Saint-Nicaise. Courtesy of Wikipedia,

Despite all the failed plots, there was supposedly one eager young lad who decided he had the wherewithal to attempt to assassinate Napoleon after he became Emperor. Fortunately, before the young lad could carry out his dastardly deed, French Police discovered his intentions. The police’s discovery resulted in a New York newspaper, The Atlas, publishing an article about it in 1828. Here is their report provided almost verbatim:

“I was informed in the course of the winter that a family of great distinction in Dresden felt extremely uneasy at the resolution formed by a young man of twenty years of age, connected with it by ties of relationship, who had suddenly left the university of Halle or of Leipsic, where he was pursing his studies, and had taken his passport for Frankfort on the Maine, from whence he would probably penetrate into France. I was also informed that this young man was very light-headed, and had quitted the Lutheran creed to embrace the Catholic religion. The notice given was short, and the information extremely vague. I should have failed to make any discovery had not one of my agents written by the same courier to apprise me of the passage through that town of a young Saxon named Wondersdale, on his way to Paris. He added that the Saxon had taken up at Frankfort a letter of credit upon Paris.

I could plainly see that he distorted the name of the young man, who, according my calculation, must have been two days in Paris; and I caused every search to be made after him by the prefecture, as well as by the ministry of police. I issued this order on a Sunday morning, at the hour of ten; and ordered an application to be made to all the banking-houses which were understood to correspond with Germany, for the names of all those in whose favour they had been directed to open a credit for the last five or six days. I was immediately furnished with a list of names; and remarked, amongst the rest, the German name of Von der Sullin, having a credit from Frankfort of such a date, with the name of the street and hotel where he was to be found. He was accordingly met at his hotel towards five o’clock in the evening of the same day. Four pair of pistols and a dagger were discovered in his apartment; and he had confessed himself and received the sacrament.

When he entered my apartment, I was much more disposed as I looked at his handsome countenance, to speak to him of balls and amusements, than of more serious matters. I had, besides, nothing but suspicion to act upon, and was forced to assume a disguise in order to get at the truth. I spoke morality to the young man; and forcibly dwelt upon the irreparable disgrace which attended a wicked action, especially when committed by a person of his distinguished birth. He coloured, became embarrassed, and, with that frankness and condour of mind which indicates innocence from guilt, he at last acknowledged what had been his intention in coming to Paris. He had resolved to kill the Emperor, in order, by coupling their names together, to immortalize his own.

I asked him how it happened that he was not arrested by the difficulties which he must have foreseen, and of which he now had a clear proof. He calmly replied, that whether he succeeded or not, he knew that his own death was certain; that he had prepared himself to render an account of his actions to God; and that, if he had missed his aim, another would have followed his example, and by profiting of the experience which had been waiting him would avoid the obstacles in the way of success. He added that Henry IV had been missed on twenty-two occasions, but that the twenty-third attempt was successful. The Emperor had only been missed three or four times: this failure was not enough to arrest a man of courage, who only reckoned his life as of any value so long as he could render it useful: his own life would have been sufficiently well employed, in so far it would have promoted, by one more chance, the probabilities of success for those who might wish to tread in his foot-steps. It was difficult to carry to greater lengths than this young man had done, the readiness to sacrifice one’s self in order to commit a criminal action.

I made a written report to the Emperor of whatever had preceded and followed the arrest of the young Saxon, whose intentions admitted no longer of any doubt. The Emperor wrote in the margin of my report, by the hand of his secretary:

‘This affair must be kept concealed, in order to avoid the necessity of publicly following it up. The young man’s age must be his excuse; none are criminal at so early an age, unless regularly trained to crime. In a few years, his turn of mind will alter; and vain would then be the regret of having sacrificed a young madman, and plunged a worthy family into a state of mourning, to which some dishonour would always be attached. Confine him in the castle of Vincennes; have him treated with all the care which his derangement seems to require; give him books to read; let his family be written to; and leave it to the time to do the rest. Speak on the subject with the arch-chancellor, whose advice will be of great assistance to you.'”


  • The Atlas, October 11, 1828

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