Pichegru Conspiracy or the Cadoudal Affair

The Pichegru Conspiracy, or the Cadoudal Affair, was a plot to overthrow Napoleon Bonaparte‘s military regime. It involved royalists Jean-Charles Pichegru and Georges Cadoudal. Pichegru had served briefly in the American Revolution and as a distinguished general in the French Revolutionary Wars. Cadoudal was a Breton politician and leader of the Chouannerie during the French Revolution.

Jean-Charles Pichegru and Georges Cadoudal. Public domain.

Despite being a hero, Pichegru began to participate in various conspiracies. One was to return Louis XVIII to the throne, and another conspiracy was a successful attempt to seize power (known as the Coup of 18 Fructidor) that involved members of the French Directory. Eventually, Pichegru also went to London. There he joined with thousands of French émigrés who had left France in an effort to save themselves from the violence of the French Revolution during what was called the French Emigration (1789-1815).

Jean Victor Moreau in 1792. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In 1803, while in London, Pichegru contacted Cadoudal, who had participated in the Vendée insurrection and waged war in behalf of the Count of Provence (future Louis XVIII) in his claims to the French throne. Cadoudal also disliked Napoleon’s abuse of power, and he hated Napoleon for killing his brother, Colonel Julien Cadoudal, and his friend, Pierre Mercier. However, at one point, Napoleon, who admired Cadoudal, “sent him a safe-conduct and had him summoned to his presence, when he endeavoured to win him over. But Cadoudal declined every offer.”[1]

When Pichegru and Cadoudal met in London, Cadoudal proposed a plan to assassinate Napoleon. After the assassination, two men — Pichegru and Jean Moreau (a military rival of Napoleon’s) — would control the armies and the capitol. They would wait for the Count of Provence to return to France and take control as King. Britain was also aiding the conspirators by giving them a safe haven, money, weapons, and naval transport.

On 23 August 1803, Cadoudal and his co-conspirators disembarked from an English ship at Biville, near Dieppe. After Cadoudal arrived he worked out all the details and waited for the son of the Comte d’Artois (future Charles X) to arrive in Biville. His name was the Duke of Berry. To ensure that the plot was successful, the Comte and the British politician, William Pitt, also sent about thirty émigrés as reinforcements, one of who was Pichegru. In addition, Louis Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Enghien was living a few miles away close to the French border, supposedly on orders of the King of England.  

Arrest of Cadoudal. Public domain.

On 28 January 1804, Pichegru met with Moreau, and a day later, the French arrested a British spy named Courson. He then supposedly revealed the details of the plot that Pichegru and Cadoudal had planned.

“[On 3 February 1804] after the most careful precautions, a formidable troop presented itself in the early morning at Moreau’s door, and, finding him absent at his country place, seized his papers and put the household under supervision. Shortly afterward they arrested [Moreau] … as he entered the city. That night he was examined by the grand judge, and weakly, pusillanimously, denied every charge.”[2]

Pichegru was arrested on 28 February, and, in the meantime, Cadoudal remained loose. There was a lot of uneasiness among the public about him being free.

“[I]n short, the whole city and nation were in a frenzy of outraged loyalty to the person of Bonaparte.”[3]

Cadoudal was then captured on 9 March at seven in the evening on the streets after having killed one police officer and seriously wounding another. When Cadoudal was questioned, he stated that “his object was not to kill Bonaparte, but to seize him as he rode through the streets in midst of his guards.”[4] As to the Duke of Enghien, he had been warned frequently about the danger.

“On the 14th [of March] a French spy was dispatched from Strasburg; he was recognized as such at Ettenheim, and was pursued, but escaped to report everything favorable. Still the rash young duke refused to move, but determined to remain with arms at his bedside, and have another day’s hunting. On the morning of the 15th he awoke to find the house surrounded by French troops; every avenue of escape was closed, and he surrendered.”[5]

Death of Pichegru, Public domain.

After a long trial, the conspirators were convicted and sentenced. However, before Pichegru’s sentence could be carried out, he was found dead in his cell at the Temple prison on 5 April 1804. He had been strangled with his own cravat. Controversy soon sprang up as to whether he had committed suicide or not. This was partly because “royalist prisoners in the next cell declared afterward that they had heard a scuffle during the fatal night.”[6]

As for the other conspirators, Moreau was banished to the United States but returned to Europe during the War of 1812. He hoped to see Napoleon defeated and wanted a republican government installed, so he gave advice to the Swedish and Russian leaders about how to defeat France. Unfortunately, during the Napoleonic Wars, he was mortally wounded at the Battle of Dresden on 27 August 1813. The fate of the other two was execution. The Duke of Enghien was executed on 21 March 1804 and Cadoudal was executed about three months later, on 25 June.


  • [1] Broglie, Albert de, Memoirs of the Prince de Talleyrand, Volume 1, 1891, p. 201.
  • [2] The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, Volume 50, 1895, p. 850.
  • [3] Ibid.
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] Ibid., p. 854.
  • [6] Ibid., p. 850.

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