Gendarmes and the State in Nineteenth-Century Europe

By Clive Emsley | Go to book overview

4
'THE MOST EFFICIENT WAY TO MAINTAIN . . . TRANQUILLITY': GENDARMES IN NAPOLEONIC FRANCE

Napoleon's correspondence is sprinkled with laudatory references to the Gendarmerie and its various tasks. When one of the four regional directors in the ministry of police générale, André-François Miot, was critical of the corps, Joseph Fouché, the minister, was informed sharply that this was the body of men to whom Napoleon owed the restoration of order in France. Shortly after his appointment as King of Naples, Joseph Bonaparte was instructed, in the words quoted earlier, that the Gendarmerie was 'the most efficient way to maintain the tranquility of a country . . . it provides a surveillance half civil, half military spread across the whole territory together with the most precise information'. As the Grande Armée crossed the Nieman at Kovno on its way to disaster in Russia, Marshal Berthier, the able and dependable chief of staff, was reminded that the gendarme was 'not just a man on a horse', rather, his role was 'was the most important police service in the rear of the army' and his time should not be wasted on escorts and baggage security.1 Throughout the period of the Napoleonic regime the Gendarmerie fulfilled a multitude of roles within the départements of France and the Empire, and with the armies. The model was imposed on subject peoples, but it was also adopted by allies and enemies who perceived it as being efficient, effective, and adaptable to their own circumstances.

The general acquiesence over the coup d'état of brumaire owed much to the belief among the propertied classes in France that General

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1
Cor. Nap., vol. 10, no. 8,375, to Fouché, 10 ventôse Year XIII ( 1 Mar. 1805); vol. 12, no. 10,243, to Joseph Bonaparte, 16 May 1806; vol. 23, no. 18,871, to Berthier, 26 June 1812.

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