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But unable to prove it to be so, they promptly repealed the Orders in Council as they had pledged to do.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