The Objects

24th Apr 1815

Source:, with permission of the Bibliothèque nationale de France

Joseph Fouché Seizes his Moment

Contributed by: Ewan McGowan

Joseph Fouché (1759-1820) first rose to prominence in revolutionary France in year II for his leading role in the mitraillades (or mass executions) of over fifteen hundred citizens in Lyons. Fouché planned and led these brutal killings using grapeshot, earning himself the title of ‘The Executioner of Lyons.’ In the same year he voted for the execution of Louis XVI. It is unsurprising, therefore, that Fouché found himself out of government upon the restoration of Louis XVIII in 1814. Wickedly pragmatic, however, Napoleon’s return presented an opportunity for his own return to power.

Fouché was not driven by idealism but personal gain, being inspired neither by Napoleon nor the Royalists. Within days he both swore his complete loyalty to Napoleon and promised the king’s brother, the comte d’Artois, that he would 'take care of saving the monarchy’. Using his position as head of the police, Fouché played factions off against one another in an attempt to secure his long-term survival. He remained in contact with Metternich throughout the 100 Days and handed military secrets to both Wellington and Bonaparte. Using the wide spy network established during the Napoleonic period, Fouché remained potentially the most well-informed and connected politician of the 100 Days. His role was so established that even Talleyrand, returning from the Congress of Vienna, realised that Fouché was crucial to any government post-Napoleon. He was therefore pardoned by Louis XVIII despite his well-known regicidal leanings and briefly became Prime Minister after Napoleon’s defeat.