Napoleon’s Four Personal Requests
Rejected by Romanov's family

Part 1

Napoleon en uniforme de  sous colonel
Napoleon en uniforme de sous colonel
Napoleon is no doubt the most outstanding personality of the XIX century. The career of one of the greatest and charismatic men of all time, his genius and ambition surprised contemporaries and the legacy of all achievements of such a unique man is viable today. Obviously it would require the work of a lifetime to do real justice to so vast a subject and so much has already been written by such a galaxy of distinguished authors over the past two centuries, that it may seem that is little more that can be usefully added to Napoleonic literature.

However the discovery of a considerable number of new sources in XX century has thrown more light on the period, leading in some cases to important reappraisals. For example, the Memoirs of General Caulaincourt, that first became available during 1938, has illuminated Russian campaign of 1812 and done much to reveal the character of Napoleon during the years of his decline and fall. Further on, the Memoirs of Louis-Joseph Marshand published in 1955 inspired Dr. Sten Forshufvud and then Dr. Ben Weider to thorough research dedicated to the assassination of Napoleon at St.Helena; previously unknown order to Marshal Ney on June, 16, 1815 dated “one hour after midday” in Napoleon’s execrable handwriting was auctioned at Sothbeys in 1970; 28 autographs by Napoleon Bonaparte, more than 100 autographs of his family’s members, together with 2 400 of his fellow-fighters were discovered by Dr.F. Petrov and Dr.A. Yanovsky at Moscow State Historical Museum in 1992 covering the period 1795-1851; a love letter of General Bonaparte to Josephine during his first campaign in Italy and captured (as a “gift” of war) by one Russian military doctor during World War II in Germany, was auctioned in Moscow in 2007 and sold out for USD 50.000.00 to a private collection.

And even now we do not know many of the facts of Napoleon’s life or some of them still seem unclear or not fully studied. Such facts which can in some extent illuminate the reasons of Napoleon’s persistent enminity to Russia are:
  1. Application of Sub-Lieutenant Napoleon Buonaparte to Russian service dated 1789 and rejected under the pretext of pretension of the applicant to major rank.
  2. Application of Lieutenant-Colonel Napoleon Buonaparte to Russian fleet and rejected under the same reason.

  3. Napoleon’s intention to marry Grand Princess Ekaterina Pavlovna (Alexander I’s sister) first diplomatically declined by Alexander and then finally rejected i.e. Grand Princess was immediately engaged by Prince of Oldenburg.

  4. Second Napoleon’s request to marry another Russian Grand Princess Anna Pavlovna, also rejected by Romanovs under the pretext of her age (she was only 15 years old).
Let us try to analyze the above facts one after another.

Mr. Ivanchin-Pysarev, not very famous Russian writer of XIX century but a great fun of Russian history, describing in 1842 Savior Andronnikov monastery situated near Kolomna (around 150 km to the south-east of Moscow) found the grave of General Zaborovsky (1735-1817). The latter, when he was alive told him a very curious story. General Ivan Zaborovsky, being a chief commander of the army corps at Turkish border (the event happened during the second Russian-Turkish war under the reign of Catherine the Great) received a written request from one foreign officer to enroll him to Russian service in the same military rank he had at the moment. General Zaborovsky, following the prescript of Empress (to accept foreign officers to Russian service abating one military rank) had to refuse. Offended officer changed his mind and tried to enter Turkish service, but thinking a little suppressed disappointment and delayed his intention. This officer was Napoleon Buonaparte.

The case was a real “fluctuation of fortune”, because General Zaborovsky remembered later that the prescript of Empress (not to accept foreigners in the same rank) arrived to Army Headquarters just one or two days before Napoleon’s application was received. Moreover, Mr. Ivanchin-Pysarev claimed: “we know that almost at the same time young Bonapart applied with the same request to General Tomara - Commander of Russian Marine Squadron at Mediterranean Sea - further Russian envoy to Constantinople, to accept Bonapart as fleet officer and general refused under the same pretext [1].

Napoleon’s intention to enter Russian service is justified by other witnesses. Mr. Bantish-Kamensky in his “Historical Dictionary” writes that when Napoleon was near Moscow in 1812, General Zaborovsky - at that time Moscow Department Senator - had to leave the old Russian capital saying: “It is a pity to remember the events of 1789 when the future conqueror of Europe was looking for the glory among the ranks of our soldiers”. There are some more evidences of the same fact. Mr. Peter Bartenev, in his letter dated December, 12-th 1909 writes to Count Paul Sheremetev: “I heard many times from Count D. Bloudov that Alexander I during the days of his coronation asked General Zaborovsky if it was true that First Consul had addressed to him for Russian service. General Zaborovsky (at that time he was 77 years old) reported that he had to refuse that request following the recent prescript of Empress - Catherine the Great.

Here it must be some kind of misunderstanding. It seems that General Zaborovsky, Mr. Peter Bartenev, Count Bloudov or Count Paul Sheremetev were not exactly correct. As we already mentioned above, the prescript of Empress permitted to enroll foreign officers to Russian service only under the condition of abating one military rank. But General Zaborovsky had received this order just a couple of days before the negative answer was sent to Napoleon. So Bonaparte was right when he first sent his application to Russian General as before spring 1789 the rule of equivalence of military ranks for foreign officers seeking Russian service was still in force. However, if we try to reproduce the table of military ranks of the epoch we would receive the following.

France, 1789Russia, 1789
General d’Armee General of Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery
General de Corps d’ArmeeMajor-General
General de DivisionBrigadier-General
General de BrigadeColonel
Chef de BattalionCaptain
LieutenantSecond- Lieutenant

Another famous witness - Count Feodor Rostoptchin (Moscow Governor in 1812)

claimed that Bonapart sent an application to General Tomara seeking Russian service in 1789. “…I often regretted - Rostoptchin writes - that General Tomara, who in 1789 during our war with Turkey was appointed to organize our fleet in Mediterranean Sea, refused Napoleon’s application. But the rank of Major he pretended to, being himself Lieutenant-Colonel of Corsican National Guard was the reason of refusal. I had this letter in my hands several times” [2].

This evidence seems very important and it proves that there were at least two intentions of Napoleon to enter Russian service and it also justifies that there was a letter (or two) signed by Bonapart.

Such are the evidences of contemporaries that in general have much in common.
For further study we have to operate with other documents.

Let us now have a brief glance on Napoleon’s movements during the period which matches the second Russian-Turkish war: autumn, 1787 - winter, 1792 and where were Russian generals Zaborovsky and Tomara during the same period.
November, 9-th 1787, Napoleon arrived to Paris
January, 1-st, 1788 - June 1788, on Corsica.
June, 1788 - September1789, with his regiment in Auxonne.
September, 1789 - February, 1791 back to Corsica again.
February,12, 1791 - June 1791, back to Auxonne.
June, 16, 1791 - September, 1791 in garrison in Valence.
September 1791 - May, 1792, back to Corsica.
May, 1792 - October, 1792, in Paris.
October 1792 - February 1793, back to Corsica.
February, 18, 1793 - February, 25, 1793, expedition to Sardinia.
June, 11, 1793 - Napoleon leaves Corsica for Toulon (with his family) [3].
General Zaborovsky
General Zaborovsky
The Second Russian-Turkish war began in 1787 soon after Catherine the Great’s visit to South of Russia and Crimea. The success of the first war with Turkey was still fresh in minds and provided hopes for new victory.

General Ivan Zaborovsky - participant of the previous war with Turkey and former governor of two Russian provinces - Vladimir and Kostroma was appointed Commander in Chief of Russian expedition corps in Italy. Russian Empress was of higher opinion of this general. She wrote as early as in August, 1787: “I very much hope for the best governing of the provinces under General Zaborovsky who proved of persistent energy and firmness”. On January, 11-th and 13-th, 1788, Catherine the Great wrote to Prince G. Potemkin: “My Dear Prince Gregory Alexandrovitch,…, I am going to speak to General Zaborovsky and if he accepts, I will appoint him the Commander of our fleet in Mediterranean Sea…, as General Michelson is sick and is needed here (in St.Petersburg) in case the Swedish will threat us….God bless you”[4].

On February, 10, 1788 she wrote to Prince again: “General Zaborovsky has arrived To St.Petersburg and if he agrees, I will send him to command our fleet. If not, I hope to ask Prince Vassily Dolgoroukov to accept the command”[5].

Prince I.T.Meszersky
Prince I.T.Meszersky
Zaborovsky agreed and the order of his appointment was signed on February, 12-th, 1788. He arrived to Triest, Italy in June, 1788. General was supplied with accurate instructions, including among other issues, the recruitment of Corsicans. This particular point of instructions stated: “Having organized your Headquarters in Triest, please go to Toscane and there try to recruit all Corsicans who were on British service. Then, send this corps to Syracuse to Captain Psareaux, Russian Navy. As soon as our fleet under Admiral Samuel Graig reaches Syracuse you will take the command of our land army. Both fleet and your corps will be under the general command of Admiral Graig”.

Omitting military actions of General Zaborovsky during this war, we draw the attention of the reader to the particular point of instructions related to recruitment of Corsicans. Among the papers of Russian Foreign Office Archive there is one curious financial document dated December,1788: “Brigadier-General Prince Meczersky has received the sum of 2 400 Chervonetz needed for the recruitment of Corsicans by the order of Admiral Graig who is going to Toscana from St.Petersburg” [6].

Samuel Graig (1736-1788)
Samuel Graig (1736-1788)
General Zaborovsky in his letter to Count Alexander Bezborodko, dated Venezia, July, 19/30, 1788 wrote about Corsican soldiers: “Corsicans, those who are on British service, do not agree with our proposals to be paid with 1 Chervonetz per month.

They demand for the salary equal to Russian soldiers. Besides, on entering to Russian service they ask that each person should receive a momentary payment of 6 Chervonetz. They insisted on this term of conditions and I, seeing not much loss for the budget, ordered Brigadier Prince Meczersky to agree and to sign the relevant financial document with them.”

In the other letter, dated September, 25-th, 1788 General Zaborovsky informed Count Bezborodko from Livorno that “…all Christian peoples such as Albanians and Dalmatians are waiting for the arrival of our fleet to enter Russian service and to attack the Turkish. Count Mocenigo, Russian envoy in Florence, in his letter dated Piza, June, 23-nd/July, 4-th informed Russian Vice - Chancellor Osterman about the arrival of Prince Meczersky:

Count A.A.Bezborodko
Count A.A.Bezborodko
“…Ce matin est arrive ici Monsieur le Prince Meczersky; il m’a communique sa commission, et je lui fournirai les moyens d’en venire a but,j’en ferai a son temps le rapport a Votre Excellence, je lui ai remis les letters, qu’Elles m’avait envoyees. Nous avons arrange de nous arreter ici, comme la place la plus propre pour nos affaires.

J’ai l’honneur d’etre avec la plus profonde veneration.
De Votre Excellence
Votre tres-humble, tres obeisant serviteur,
Le Comte Mocenigo

Pise ce 23 juni/4/juillet 1788
A son Excellence Msgr Le Comte d’Osterman,
Vice-Chancellier de l’Empire de Russie etc. etc.a St.Petersbourg“.

A little later the same Count Mocenigo described his personal point of view about Corsican soldiers in the next letter addressed to Count Osterman:

Count I.A.Osterman
Count I.A.Osterman
Mr. le lieutenant-general Zaborovsky m’a ecrit d’avoir envoye Mr. le Brigadier Prince Meczersky, d’aller en Corse pour lever un bataillon. Je lui ai ecrit qu’il etait impossible d’aranger une pareille etreprise, et que par l’impossibilite de le reussite, on ne pourroit s’attendre qu’a des desagremens, don’t Mr. le Prince Meczersky, qui est sur la place, convient aussi - qu’en Toscane on pourroit ramasser une centaine de Corse,- que le rest, qui est repandu en Italie, qu’on povoit ramasser en partie en Toscane, Rome, Genes et Naples, se trouve abandonne et n’a pas un acces aise pour les notres,- qu’on pourroit ramasser un bataillon de 500 hommes de mauvais gens de diverses nations, don’t une bonne partie a servi les Anglais et les Francois,- que quelques Corse m’avoient propose la formation de ce corps, don’t connaissant l’impossibilite de l’entreprise, je n’ai pas voulu meme le proposer, voyant qu’on ne visoit qu’a attrapper de l’argent, et je connois a mes frais ce qu’on peut s’attendre que cette sorte de gens.

J’ai ajoute que je suis pret a suiver ses orders. J’ai l’honneur d’etre avec la plus profonde veneration.

De votre Excellence
Votre tres humble, tres obeisant serviteur,
Le Comte Mocenigo

Le 2 aut/le 22 juillet 1788"

General Zaborovsky wrote to Russian Empress on September,25-th, 1788:

“…Having recruited up to 70 Corsicans I stopped the procedure because of the stoppage of our fleet and in order to prevent further expenses I can ensure you that I would complete the Corse bataillon when needed.”

To pay the Corsicans already on Russian service, Zaborovsky had to borrow money. He informed about it Count Bezborodko in his letter dated Florence, April.12/23 of the next 1789: “ To pay the Corsicans and Greeks who served on Russian vessels I borrowed 6 000 ounces of negotiator Manzo in Sicilia and 3 000 Chervonetz of our Consul Kalamay in Livorno. This money is already transferred to General-Major Gibbs (British on Russian service) in Syracuse".

To imagine the higher spirits of Corsicans in that time we reproduce below the abstract of the letter (found in the same Archive) of Mr. Angelo Francesco who was a little older than Bonaparte and who wrote to General-Major Gibbs:

“Mon general!...Je suis ne gentilhomme Corse et d’une Famille qui a toujours rempli avec distinction les premiers employs de l’Etat. En 1769 j’abandonnai ma Patrie, desole de n’avoir pas pu rencontrer une mort glorieuse dans les diverts combats que je soutins pour sa defense, aux cotes du general Paoli; et malgre les propositions avantageuse des Francais pour reconnaitre leur domination, j’aimais mieux reconcer a mes charges, a mes fils et a touts mes biens, et marcher sur les pas de la liberte en suivant ce grand home”.

As we have mentioned above Napoleon separately asked Russian General Vassily Tomara to enroll him to Russian service [8]. General Vassily Tomara was a marine squadron commander during the Second Russian-Turkish war 1787-1792. Later in 1798 he was appointed Russian envoy to Constantinople. It happened so that having not fulfilled his mission completely, Zaborovsky was called back. He returned to St. Petersburg on June, 1-st 1789. His expedition failed.

Therefore according to the above General Zaborovsky he stayed in Italy from late June 1788 till middle May, 1789. As to Napoleon, he was with his regiment in Auxonne from June 1788 till September 1789. Knowing about Corsican corps formation by Russians he theoretically could address General Zaborovsky with the written request to enroll him to Russian service. However, until February, 1791, Napoleon was still Sub-Lieutenant and obviously could not pretend to the rank of Major. But he could apply to major rank (here the word “major” means one rank higher). Careless translation of this word (major) by Russians could be one of the reasons of misunderstanding.

The other reason is hidden in incorrect dates of service. Napoleon Buonaparte was commissioned Lieutenant on February, 1791, and soon after, on June,1-st, 1791 -as Captain appointed to 4-th artillery regiment.

On July, 22-nd, 1791 National Assembly of France decreeted the organization of National Guard out of 100 000 volunteers. Four battalions were to be recruited at Corsica. In September, 1791 Napoleon was appointed adjudant of National Guard of Corsica with the rank of Captain. On April, 1-st, 1792 he was elected Lieutenant-Colonel of Corsican National Guard. After the fall of Tuileries, new French Ministry of war again commissioned Bonapart to Captain (dated since February, 6-th, 1792 as if he stayed all this time with his regiment). Napoleon immediately applied to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel to marine artillery. This time however his letter was sent to archive with mention “SR” - sans reponse (without answer).

After brief Sardinian expedition Bonapart embarked at Ajacco on March, 3-rd, 1793 and said good-bye to his volunteers. In spite all doubts he found that he could not be their Lieutenant-Colonel any longer.

Obviously, when he was away from Corsica the whole National Guard of his native island was dismissed. Instead, two regiments of light infantry were formed.

So it looks more realistic that Napoleon could address Russian General Tomara during 1791-1792 but not in 1789.

Summarizing the above we have to admit that unfortunately both of Napoleon’s letters were not found by now. But with the evidences of direct witnesses, we already have, it seems quite realistic that future conqueror of Europe could address with such request to Russians and they twice neglected his request. As to the fact that he did not agree to abate one rank matches well his character. He once said:

“Ma naissance me destinait au service; j’etais deja lieutenant d’artillerie quatre ans avant la revolution. Je n’ai jamais recu de titre avec autant de plaisir que celui-la”.

Part II

Jean-Pierre Jazet. Divorce of Empress Josephine (1763-1814)
Divorce of Empress Josephine (1763-1814)
by Jean-Pierre Jazet
Great Princess Anna Pavlovna by Philip Botkin
Great Princess Anna Pavlovna
by Philip Botkin

In 1809 trying to assure the future of his dynasty, Napoleon divorced childless Josephine in order to be able to contract a new marriage. He ordered to produce a list of all princesses according to their age and origins to partage his throne. Among 18 names on the list he has chosen two: one of Grand Princess Ann, 15 y.o. and Archduchess Marie-Louise, 18 y.o.

A little earlier, during the celebrated meeting at Erfurt in 1808 Napoleon via Talleyrand asked for the possibility to marry Grand Princess Ekaterina Pavlovna (Alexander I-st’s sister). Russian Tsar a year earlier (at Tilsit) carelessly proposed his sister’s hand to Jerome Bonaparte and further to make him a King of Poland.

Napoleon said to Talleyrand: “I must found a dynasty, and my consort must be the daughter of a great line. Alexander has sisters, and one of them is of suitable age. Have a talk with Romanov. When the Spanish affair is settled, I shell discuss the partitition of Turkey. Tell him this, and use other arguments as well. I know you have long been in favor of the divorce”.[9]

Now in Erfurt Alexander diplomatically evaded a positive answer, saying: “I should have no objections, but I can not dispose of my sister’s hand without my mother consent”. As to Ekaterina Pavlovna, when she first learned the news, she claimed: “I would rather marry a simple Russian heater than accept the hand of this Corsican” [10]. Immediately after Alexander’s return from Erfurt, she was engaged with German Prince of Oldenburg. Count Collaincourt wrote to Napoleon:
“Prince is ugly with pustuled face, speaks with difficulty, etc, etc…”[11]

Great Princess Ekaterina Pavlovna (Alexander I's sister)
Great Princess Ekaterina Pavlovna
(Alexander I's sister)
On April, 18, 1809 the wedding ceremony of Grand Princess Ekaterina Pavlovna and Prince of Oldenburg took place. The poor Prince besides his ugly face was very sick and died three years later. Napoleon would say to Alexander in 1810 with regret “… you were too much in a hurry marrying Grand Princess Ekaterina Pavlovna the Prince who could neither give her a relevant high position nor bring any news for Russia”[11]. However now again for political reasons and in hope to reinforce his alliance with the court of St.Petersburg Napoleon decided to choose Anna Pavlovna from the list. And without waiting the civil and religious procedure related to the divorce with Josephine, charged his ambassador in St.Petersburg to undertake the first official demarches. This request of the conqueror of Europe produced much buzz and confusion in St. Petersburg. During more than three months Alexander lengthen the negotiations under different pretexts. Count Collaincourt first declared Napoleon’s wishes on December,16, 1809. Alexander responded that if he was to decide, he would say “yes”, but, as the destinies of his sisters are in the hands of his mother - a widow Empress Maria Fiodorovna (Paul I’s wife). Alexander added that it could take 10 days to ask her opinion. Maria Fedorovna was thinking as long as 4 times by 10 days and even more.

On Tuesday, December, 21-st, 1809 Alexander I came to Gatchina Palace (Paul I summer residence located near St. Petersburg). He seemed very concerned but tried not to show it. He addressed to hid mother: “An estafette from Paris brought me Prince Courakin’s letter. He writes that the great events are under way as Napoleon is divorcing Josephine. Bonapart’s family wants him to marry his niece, Lucien’s daughter. But Napoleon himself is intending to marry our Ann. The others say he is going to marry Marie-Louise, Emperor Francis’ daughter. As you know I did not believe these rumors in case of Katho (nickname of Ekaterina Pavlovna), but now I do. The situation is really serious. What shall we answer him? Obviously we all are against this marriage. But the refusal will provoke the offence and anger because it is necessary to know well the man whom we refuse”. [12]

Maria Feodorovna (Alexander I's mother) Empess-widow
Maria Feodorovna (Alexander I's mother)
Maria Fedorovna writes to her daughter Ekaterina Pavlovna: “Dear Katho, …, the problem we are facing is very serious. Let us try to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of such alliance. Here they are.

Advantages: If the marriage happens there would be a hope to sign a long peace treaty with France that contributes to our resources and defense. We will improve our finances and gain time to avoid (at least temporary) Napoleon’s ambitious plans.

Disadvantages: The refusal might provoke in due course (as soon as the affairs in Spain are over) the war against Russia together with further negative consequences to our trade… As to my poor Ann, we would have to consider her as a victim for the sake of the safety of the Nation. Being only 15 y.o. Ann has not yet her character shaped. Besides, if she would not bring him a child within the first year of marriage she would have to suffer a lot. Napoleon would either divorce her or would wish to have children at the sake of her honor and virtues…

All the above make me trembling. From one side there are interests of the State, from the other - the happiness of my child…

If we refuse, Alexander, as monarch, will suffer a lot. If we agree, we would ruin my daughter. Only God knows would it be possible to avoid the distress for the State. The situation is really dramatic…”

Maria Fedorovna also added that if Napoleon dies being Ann’s husband, she would suffer all horrors of uprisings, disturbance and confusion. As to Alexander, he said he would not be able to finance an eventual war with France. Russian borders were unsafe with no fortresses and the army counts 200 000 men only. Would this marriage happen or not the war is inevitable. We would fight either Napoleon or because of Napoleon as he would involve us in his ennimity policy against Porta.

The advice of Ekaterina Pavlovna was as follows: “
  1. It is not possible to refuse Napoleon categorically
  2. It is necessary to tell him that Anna Pavlovna is not yet ripened to womanhood
  3. Having a sad experience of two elder daughters (Alexandra and Helena both being under 18 y.o. died giving birth to their children) Maria Fedorovna sweared not to marry her daughters until they reach 18 y.o.
  4. Besides the above to tell Napoleon that both Alexander I and widow-Empress have sympathy for this marriage.
  5. The most important is to win time”.
But the time passed and the Emperor of French did not receive any answer. At last by Napoleon’s instructions, the court of St Petersburg is informed that he has been kept waiting too long. Furthermore, it would be inconvenient to have a priest of Russian Orthodox Church in the Tuileries. Finally he has been informed that “…Grand Duchess Ann, who is 15 y.o., is not yet ripened to womanhood. Inasmuch as, in young girls, two years elaps between the appearance of the first signs of womanhood and complete maturity, this will not suit the aims of the Emperor, who does not wish to be married for three years before he can have a child”. This excursus is the last we hear of the Russian wooing which had began so inauspiciously in Erfurt. [14]

This evasive answer was equal to refusal which led to cooling of relationship between two allies and a couple of years later to final disrupt. Thus two more Napoleon’s personal requests were rejected by Romanovs.

Textual References
  1. I. Pysarev “Spaso-Andronikov”, Moscow, 1842, pp.33, 101-102
  2. F. Rostoptchin “The Truth about Moscow Fire”
  3. J. Tullard “Dictionaire Napoleon”, Paris, 1999, v.2, p.378
  4. Russian Historical Society, vol.27, p.964-965
  5. Russian Historical Society, vol.27, p.474
  6. Russian Foreign Office Archive, vol.X, Campaigns, Turkey, p.7
  7. Russian Foreign Office Archive, vol. III, Affaires with Toscana, Florence, 1788, p.4
  8. P.Cheremetiev “Bonapart and Russians and about Zaborovsky”, Moscow, 1910, p.16
  9. Napoleon I,op.cit. v.15, p.479
  10. “Russian Archive”, 1878, v.I,p.307
  11. N.Troitsky “Alexander I and Napoleon”, Moscow, 1994, p.185
  12. V. Timostchouk “Marriage projects of Grand princesses Ekaterina Pavlovna and Anna Pavlovna”, St.Petersburg,”Russkaya Starina”, 1911. N3, p. 530-537
  13. A.Vandal “Napoleon and Alexander I” French-Russian alliance during First Empire, St.Petersburg, 1910-1913, p.1-3
  14. E. Ludwig “Napoleon”, New York, 1962, p.325
© Dr. Alex Zotov,
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