A Froggie Forgery? Do you think?

Ha ha ha.

Well, following on from that charming little lecture on the Continental Blockade and Napoleon’s shifty behaviour which I posted the other day (The War of 1812…), I thought I would share this little bijou nugget-ette. 

You see, following the British Government’s announcement on 21 April that they would be repealing the Orders in Council, the American ambassador–a delightful poet by the name of Joel Barlow–hopped on a boat bound for Calais and made his way to Paris to tell the Frenchies that this had happened.  And to say, “Okay Monsoor, how about the Continental Blockade then, hmn?”  Or words to that effect. 

Joel Barlow

Diddled by the French?

But here’s the thing. 

When Barlow was finally admitted in to meet with the French Foreign Minister, the chappie handed him a decree, dated 28 April 1811, which said that Napoleon had revoked the Berlin and Milan Decrees.  Er, yes, that’s right–the thing was dated a year earlier.

And the oh-so-charming and effusive Minister went on to express his astonishment–“Nom d’un Nom!” etc.–that Barlow knew nothing about it, for he insisted that a copy of this had been sent to Washington on 2 May 1811. 

But Washington had never had such a document. 

Some American historians believe it a French forgery, cooked up no earlier than March or April, with the hope of hurtling the US into war with Britain.  (Perhaps as a distraction from the fact that Napoleon was about invade Russia?) 

The British Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, Lords Liverpool and Castlereagh respectively, also believed it a forgery.  It was just a little too convenient, wasn’t it? 

But unable to prove it to be so, they promptly repealed the Orders in Council as they had pledged to do. 

But here’s the thing.  In order for it to be genuine, we would have to believe that: 

1-a letter of such diplomatic and commercial import was received in Washington, but nobody noticed.  Not anyone.   No one opened the letter.  No one saw it.  No one mentioned it.  Right…

2-that having ordered such a letter to be written and sent, with an announcement of such import, no diplomatic follow-up occurred.  No little billet doux was sent mentioning in that cozening Napoleonic manner, “Here we are, such loving keepers of the peace, and all we want is a tender relationship as between siblings, how come you have not responded to our generous offer of the 2 May…”  Something like that.  Because Napoleon was always sending such revolting tripe through the diplomatic pouch, even as he was arming his lads for some invasion or other.

3-that Napoleon, who as we all know was never one to keep quiet about how he outwitted the British (even when he had to make it up), allowed this one diplomatic coup to go unmentioned.  He didn’t blab about it to anyone.  He didn’t have it proclaimed (as a sign of his magniminity) in le Moniteur.  Nothing.   And that’s just spooky.

So…Froggie Forgery?  Probably.  

Can I prove it?  I wish…


8 comments on “A Froggie Forgery? Do you think?

  1. Eh…?
    Napoleon couldn’t have countenanced such a thing; surely? After all, such a confirmed pacifist, who only ever used force once every possible diplomatic channel had been navigated, must have been telling the truth – mustn’t he?

    Er…no. I think you’re right.

    Great post, as usual.

  2. And another thing. Was this French letter(sic) written in English? If so, maybe the Americans couldn’t understand why all the ‘s’es were written as ‘f’s – a new French code perhaps?
    Which is the crux of this comment. Why did they use such a confusing print-face? I can’t find out, and bet a friend of mine a fiver that you’d know the answer.
    Actually, that’s a little fib. There’s no money involved, but we’d really like to know. Trying to read the 1801 Cavalry Instructions and Regulations is difficult enough without all the ‘effing’ – pun intended.

    • M M Bennetts says:

      I can’t answer whether it was written in French or English. Wish I could.

      And, to ensure that I give you the best poss answer on the sses looking like effs, I have my person at the British Library checking into it for you–but the best book in the world on it is apparently in York, so the answer may take a couple of days in coming.

    • M M Bennetts says:

      My mole at the BL has come back to me…according to her, they were always endeavouring to make the printed word look like calligraphy or cursive writing. And the long s derived from italian italic hand calligraphy. Hope this helps. Well, it won’t with the reading of the thing…but at least you’ll understand they were just trying to be pretty. Ha ha ha.

  3. I’m seriously impressed you’ve got a ‘mole’ at the British Library.
    One of your ‘M’s isn’t THAT ‘M’, is it?

  4. Silly me. Just realised – you couldn’t tell me if it were.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s