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French History Advance Access published September 18, 2015

French History
doi:10.1093/fh/crv034

BRIGANDS OR INSURGENTS?
N A P O L E O N I C AU T H O R I T Y I N I TA LY
AND THE PIACENTINO COUNTER-
INSURRECTION OF 1805–06

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D OI N A PA S C A   H A R S A N Y I *

Abstract—In December 1805 church bells ringing from village to village called to rebellion
the inhabitants of the mountainous region of the duchies of Parma, Piacenza, and Guastalla.
Due to Administrator General Moreau de Saint-Méry’s ineffectiveness, the counter-insurgency
was conducted by civilian and military officers from the department of Genoa and the 28th
Military Division which had jurisdiction over the duchies. The military phase ended swiftly
with the complete defeat of the rebellion. However, seeking common ground on which to
build new institutions, French officials went to great length to minimize violent methods and
reach out to insurgents. In this process, the discourse of criminalization proved a versatile
tool, used simultaneously to justify massive law and order operations and to exonerate the
majority of the population. Such flexibility incurred Napoleon’s wrath; still, aiming for last-
ing stability, the officials in charge found ways to steer a relatively moderate course.

I
In December 1805, an insurrection broke out against Napoleonic rule in
the Piacentino, the mountainous area in the west of the states of Parma. It
lasted about two months and did not spread beyond the Piacentino. Even so,
it attracted a lot of attention from the highest French officials in northern Italy
and from Emperor Napoleon himself: it was the first large-scale rural insur-
gency in Italy since the beginning of the Second Italian Campaign (1800) and
appeared to be a particularly brazen act of defiance in the midst of celebra-
tions for the dazzling victory at Austerlitz (2 December 1805). Napoleonic
officials, both locally and in France, presented the events as a breach of law
and order and justified the swift military repression in terms of crime control
and prevention. As the work of Michael Broers, Howard Brown, John A. Davis,
Alexander Grab, Charles Esdaile, Alan Forrest, Anna Maria Rao and others has
demonstrated, criminalization was part of a widespread strategy of suppress-
ing all challenges to French authority. In occupied lands, transforming resist-
ance to French rule into ‘pure criminality’ aimed chiefly at cutting the ties

*  Doina Pasca Harsanyi is a professor of history at Central Michigan University. She wishes to
thank Thomas Benjamin, David Laven, Dave Macleod, Sam Mustafa, Paul Schulten and the jour-
nal’s anonymous readers for taking the time to read and critique versions of this article. Much
gratitude is owed to Valentina Bocchi at the Archivio di Stato Parma and to Luigi Pelizzoni at
Biblioteca Palatina Parma for their help in locating precious primary documents.

© The Author 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for the Study of French History.
All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com
Page 2 of 26 Brigands or insurgents

between insurgents and their possible base in the countryside.1 By the same
token, I  argue, routine criminalization of any form of opposition also aimed
at fostering new ties between French rulers and communities in rebel areas.
Ending the uprising was only the first step: order had to be restored to ensure
that such turmoil would not reoccur. It was during this pacification phase that
the discourse of criminalization transformed into an instrument of collabora-
tion and even appeasement. This article draws on the case of the Piacentino
revolt to examine the calculated uses of the discourse of brigandage, under-
stood as general criminality, during counter-insurgency operations. Compelled

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to look beyond repression, Napoleonic authorities found in criminalization a
versatile tool that could alternately punish and win over the local population,
even in the face of insistent calls for intransigence issuing from Paris and from
Napoleon personally.
The Duchies of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla (less than 2,000 square miles
in area and with a population of around 300,000 in 1805) commonly designated
as the states of Parma, were not fully incorporated into the French administra-
tive system. Sandwiched between the kingdom of Italy to the north and to
the east, and the Department of Genoa (since June 1805 part of the French
Empire) to the west, they were a subject state, at the mercy of the emperor
who had yet to make up his mind concerning their final status.2 Diplomatic
considerations related to Spain’s neutrality had persuaded Napoleon to allow
them a minimal, but ever shrinking, degree of autonomy. This arrangement left
in place a few traditional forms of local government, especially the Anzianati
(Council of Elders, composed of the most prominent citizens, mostly nobles) in
the main cities, locally controlled provincial governorships and the all-volun-
teer militia organized in ten terzi each headed by a colonel.3 Moreau de Saint-
Méry, nominated Administrator General upon the death of the last Bourbon
duke, Ferdinand, in 1802, took his orders from Paris and had full control over
all local structures; but he did his best to conduct a rather benevolent policy
of ralliement.4 He coopted local elites in day-to-day administrative affairs,
1  M. Broers, ‘La Contre-insurrection et ses développements dans l’Europe Napoléonienne’, in

Police et Gendarmerie dans l’Empire Napoléonien, ed. J.-O. Boudon (Paris, 2013), 147–65.
2  Emperor Napoleon proclaimed the kingdom of Italy in March 1805 with himself as king and his

stepson Eugène de Beauharnais as viceroy, on the territory of the Republic of Italy, which had been pro-
claimed in 1802 (with Napoleon as president and Melzi d’Eril as executive vice-president). The adminis-
trative and judicial system simply replicated the French one. The Department of Genoa was created in
June 1806 on the territory of the French controlled Ligurian Republic, the former Republic of Genoa.
3  C. Ghisalberti, Le amministrazioni locali nel periodo napoleonico, in AA.VV. Dagli stati

preunitari d’antico regime all’unificazione, ed. Nicola Raponi (Bologna, 1981), 431–54. The
militia colonels and lieutenant-colonels were supported equally by the state and by the local com-
munities; all men above 14 were responsible for owning a firearm and were supposed to report
for duty when called by the colonel of their terzo. Militia dealt with common crimes in a par-
ticular area and were not absorbed into the infamous professional sbirri corps. Insights into the
organization of the the sbirri and others layers of local policing are provided in M. Broers, ‘Sbirri
and gendarmes. The workings of a rural police force’, in Corpi armati e ordine pubblica in Italia
(XVI-XIX secoli), ed. L. Antonelli and C. Donati (Soveria Manelli, 2003), 203–11.
4  I use the concept of ralliement as defined by Michael Broers: a wide acceptance, at least on the

surface, of Napoleonic values and institutions, foreshadowing integration. M. Broers, The Napoleonic
Empire in Italy 1796–1804: Cultural Imperialism in Italy 1796–1804 (Houndsmills, 2005), 123–4.
D o i n a Pa s c a   H a r s a n y i Page 3 of 26

participated enthusiastically in events such as school openings and religious


festivities, and duplicated, rather than suspended, various public offices.
To Moreau’s credit, this strategy seemed to work: prior to December 1805
the population had shown few open signs of discontent. Prominent nobles and
cultural luminaries had been courteous to the point of sycophancy; commu-
nity leaders had complied with the new laws, and even accepted with no audi-
ble murmurs the introduction of the Civil Code, which practically shelved all
remaining Parmense legislation. By the imperial decree of 8 Prairial 13 (28 May
1805) a company of gendarmes—identical to those in the imperial interior—

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was stationed in Parma, under the command of Captain Lanault. The pres-
ence of the gendarmerie foreshadowed the imposition of conscription, albeit
on a modest level: the imperial decree of 27 Prairial (16 June 1805) stipulated
that, from 1806, 100 men would be raised annually to join the battalion of the
Tirailleurs du Po. This news similarly failed to trigger discontent.5
Immediately after the introduction of the Civil Code, the states of Parma
were integrated within the 28th Military Division headquartered in Genoa
(July 1805). Henceforward, Moreau reported to Architrésorier de l’Empire
Charles-François Lebrun, Governor of Liguria, to the commander of the 28th
Military Division, General Montchoisy and further up to General Menou,
Commander of the Trans-Alpine departments. Given that he had encountered
no overt resistance in his three years in charge in the states of Parma, and since
conscription—the main reason for social disorders in France and in the neigh-
bouring kingdom of Italy—was tentatively scheduled only for 1806, Moreau
de Saint-Méry could be forgiven for being surprised by news of open revolts
erupting in the countryside. While he was informed of mutinies as early as 7
December, he waited for more than three weeks before taking any action, hop-
ing the troubles would burn themselves out. Moreau’s tardiness and indecisive-
ness cost him the respect of the senior chain of command and ultimately his
job. By not restoring order in a timely fashion Moreau failed in the basic duty
of a French imperial officeholder: legitimizing French power by efficient gov-
ernment and social stability grounded in the rule of law. 6 The states of Parma
were subject to French law, notwithstanding their token autonomy; a senior
administrator was expected to address social unrest by availing himself of the
system of law and order that operated in the French Empire and the kingdom of
Italy. This system hinged on criminalizing any form of collective resistance to
the authorities, and this is how Moreau’s superiors, once informed, approached
the matter. A  brief discussion of the language of brigandage will underline

5  Details in F. Frasca, ‘Parma’, in Reclutamento e Guerra in Italia Napolenica (Padua, 1993),

90–7. The decree was published in Parma in French the same day. A[rchivio di] S[tato di] P[arma],
Carte varie amministrazione militare 1804–1816, Busta 67. Shortly, the numbers were revised
upwards to 200 for a total participation of about 1,000 by 1809, Imperial Decree of 8 Fructidor
an 13 (14 Aug. 1805).
6  Law and order as the main claim to political legitimacy implicitly legitimized the authoritari-

anism of French rule. In practice, it justified: ‘the restoration of the law of order after the upheav-
als of the previous decade’. J.  A. Davis, Conflict and Control: Law and Order in Nineteenth
Century Italy (Atlantic Highlands, 1988), 121.
Page 4 of 26 Brigands or insurgents

the significance of the carefully chosen methods adopted in the case of the
Piacentino insurrection.

II
Italy had been the theatre of violent anti-French uprisings from the very begin-
ning of the First Italian Campaign: just one week after General Bonaparte’s tri-
umphal entry in Milan (15 May 1796), a crowd of about 700 peasants armed with
pitchforks and rusty muskets challenged the new masters in the neighbour-
hood of Pavia. At General Bonaparte’s order, the village of Binasco was sacked

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(soldiers were given free rein for an entire day) and set on fire. In Machiavellian
tones, the general in chief stated that the purpose of this exercise was to terrify
and stun the population into obedience once and for all: ‘Let the terrible exam-
ple of Binasco open their eyes: its fate will be that of all towns and villages
that persist in rebellion.’7 Binasco became shorthand for expeditious pacifica-
tion and Napoleon often used it as a template for exemplary action applicable
to all instances of anti-French unrest. Terrible as it was, the example was not
sufficient to quell popular uprisings, which continued throughout the trien-
nio, culminating with the 1799 Sanfedista insurrection in the south. French
officers and government commissaires therefore had plenty of opportunities
to develop not only rapid response tactics but a suitable discursive strategy as
well. Their causal explanations fell into two broad categories: aversion to the
numerous requisitions imposed by the French authorities, and sheer banditry
often aided and abetted by priests irate at losing their grip on the people.
The first explanatory option acknowledged the cause and effect link between
military occupation and popular hostility. As good revolutionaries, the officers
and commissaires of the First Italian Campaign may have even conceded that
these outbursts of crowd violence were a means of obtaining a measure of
popular justice against new forms of exploitation.8 In fact, General Bonaparte
and commissaire Saliceti issued pre-emptive messages meant to reassure the
public that: ‘les riches, les gens véritablement aisés et les corps ecclésiastiques’
will be made to pay.9 Throughout the triennio, the Directory was besieged by
messages from generals and commissaires worried about the simmering pop-
ular discontent caused by the burdensome presence of the French armies.10
7  Proclamation au peuple de Lombardie 6 prairial an IV (25 May 1796), Correspondance de

Napoléon Ier publiée par ordre de l’empereur Napoléon III (Paris, 1858–70) #493, I, 394.
8  A discussion of crowd violence as an expression of popular justice in revolutionary France in

C. Lucas, ‘Revolutionary violence, the people and the Terror’, in The French Revolution and the
Creation of Modern Political Culture, vol. 4: The Terror, ed. K. M. Baker (Oxford, 1994), 57–79.
9 Proclamation au Peuple de Lomabardie (19 May 1796)  Correspondance de Napoléon Ier,

#453, I, 359–61. The Bulletin d’Italie reporting on the events of 9 and 10 May 1796 clarifies that
after the victory ‘very little is asked from peasants … the wealthy and the priests are strongly
made to contribute’, A[rchives] N[ationales] AF/III/71 #288.
10  Most relevant in this sense are the numerous letters sent in 1799 by Comissaire Amelot, who

in his quality of Commissaire spécial du Directoire et Administrateur en chef des Contributions,


Revenus et Finances de la République Francaise dans toute l’Italie knew what he was talking
about: they form a long lament on the exactions imposed by the army supplemented with dire
warnings of impending uprisings. AN AF/III/71, 72.
D o i n a Pa s c a   H a r s a n y i Page 5 of 26

However, even when willing, busy generals found it harder and harder to tell
popular protest and banditry apart, especially since robbers, vagabonds and
outlaws of all sorts were harassing the army every day. Eventually, any kind of
aggression was categorized as brigandage, which greatly simplified the work of
the authorities: ‘By branding resistance as brigandage, its perpetrators became
mere insurgents and were immediately placed outside the protection of civil
war and the decencies of war.’11 Hence, the recourse to the Binasco method
presented itself as the soundest solution whenever French units encountered
resistance, that is, throughout the triennio. In addition, the religious conno-

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tations of many, though not all, anti-French uprisings reactivated the Vendée
mindset wherein revolutionary forces sought to cleanse recalcitrant territories
by stamping out religious fanaticism in the name of the republic. Alan Forrest
has shown that the process of dehumanization which made acceptable every
brutality against crowds of fanatisés in the Vendée served as good prepara-
tion for fighting opponents in Italy and everywhere.12 For the purpose of this
article, it is significant to say that, after a few brief efforts at interpreting resist-
ance to French rule by way of struggle against coercive policies, the official
discourse settled on criminalization verging on dehumanization. It was a dis-
course the French remembered well one year later, when they returned to Italy
for good.13
The First Italian Campaign had been fuelled by the passions of fervent revolu-
tionaries who crossed the Alps ready to change the world in a few bold strokes
and make a fortune at the same time—a great adventure as Guglielmo Ferrero
famously called it.14 With the Second Italian Campaign, the time for improvi-
sation and adventure was over. This time, French army and civilian officers
came to Italy to stay and govern—not to coach sister republics in revolutionary
politics, but to build a state, consolidating, as in France, those revolutionary
achievements the First Consul and his collaborators deemed worth consolidat-
ing. Accordingly, dealing with insurgency became a methodical matter, which
combined the army’s previous experiences in Italy with skills gained during
the Directory’s five year efforts at ending post-revolutionary unrest in France.
Both reinforced the policy of criminalizing popular rebellions and general-
ized the language of brigandage, a gradual development on which Howard
Brown’s work on the Directory’s and the Consulate’s efforts to maintain order
in France has shed much light. First of all, the boundaries between politically
motivated rebellions and criminal enterprises were notoriously vague. In Alan
11 Davis, Conflict and Control, 75.
12 A. Forrest, ‘The ubiquitous brigand: the politics and language of repression’, in Popular
Resistance in the French Wars: Patriots, Partisans and Land Pirates, ed. C.  J. Esdaile
(Houndmills, 2005), 25–43. A compelling examination of the ways the Army of Italy appropriated
the language of revolutionary justice employed in the Vendée counter-insurgency in H. Brown,
Ending the French Revolution: Violence, Justice and Repression from the Terror to Napoleon
(Charlottesville, VA, 2007), 152–60.
13  As Broers has shown, the French drew many lessons from the scars left by the triennio, espe-

cially on the likelihood of passive resistance exploding into violent rebellion: The Napoleonic
Empire in Italy 1796–1804, 37–71.
14  G. Ferrero, Aventure. Bonaparte en Italie (Paris, 1956).
Page 6 of 26 Brigands or insurgents

Forrest’s concise definition, brigandage was a complex reality that merged


‘the anti-revolutionary and the anti-social’. Conscription, which spared no cor-
ner of France, added to the panoply of criminal procedure since draft-dodging
and desertion were classified as criminal offences.15 Torn between the imper-
ative to promote liberty and the obligation to provide security, the Directory
ultimately came down on the side of security and strengthened the milita-
rization of the law and order apparatus. Old regime repressive techniques
and elements of revolutionary justice—both disavowed initially by the new
regime—regained the status of prerequisites for social peace. Authorities did

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not act impulsively; they took into account local realities and experimented
with different counter-insurgency methods. In the end, however, the winning
formula bequeathed to the Consulate turned out to be a mix of rapidly act-
ing army units (colonnes mobiles) and collective punishment of communities
suspected of collusion with brigands, all crowned by military commissions
set up to deliver swift justice and carry out executions within twenty-four
hours.16 Subsequently streamlined and incorporated into the Consulate’s legal
foundation, these methods formed the paradigm for counter-insurgency in
French-controlled Italy as well. 17 Even more than in France, resistance to con-
scription, first introduced in Italy in 1802, produced a mass of errant men
who joined together with thieves and vagrants and lived from the proceeds
of highway robberies and assorted criminal activities. The war on brigandage,
with its specific language and methods, thus moved from France to Italy, and
for the same ostensible reasons: to end the anarchy and establish the rational
post-revolutionary order.18

15  Forrest, ‘The ubiquitous brigand’, 31. Alexander Grab noted in his in-depth analysis of brig-

andage in the kingdom of Italy that: ‘Conscription was especially unsettling and alienating since
the poor, who shouldered the lion’s share of the draft, were unaccustomed to military service
and lacked any sense of national consciousness and military pride. Paying a substitute was legal
but only the well-to-do could afford it, provoking most peasants to be resentful at the injustice
perpetrated by the conscription law’: A. Grab, ‘State power, brigandage and rural resistance in
Napoleonic Italy’, European History Quarterly, 25 (1995), 39–70. The extensive historiography of
Napoleonic era conscription and its impact on public order includes: A. Grab, ‘Conscription and
desertion in Napoleonic Italy 1802–1814’, in Conscription in the Napoleonic Era: A Revolution
in Military Affairs?, ed. Donald J.  Stoker (London, 2009), 122–34; A.  Pigeard, ‘La conscription
sous le Premier Empire’, Revue du Souvenir Napoléonien, 420 (Oct./Nov. 1998), 2–30; A. Forrest,
Conscripts and Deserters: The French Army during the Revolution and Empire (Oxford, 1989);
C. Capra, L’Età rivoluzionaria e napoleonica in Italia (Turin, 1986), 288–321.
16 H. G.  Brown, ‘From organic society to security state: the war on brigandage in France

1797–1802’, Jl. Mod. Hist., 69 (1997), 661–95. Brown has offered a fine grained analysis of the
move towards militarization between the Directory and the Consulate in his Ending the French
Revolution, 119–358.
17  The Republic of Italy merely replicated French legislation. The Civil Code took effect in the

kingdom of Italy in 1805, to be followed by the Penal Code, Commercial Code and Code of Civil
Procedure, all translations of the respective French codes: M. Cappelletti, J. H. Merryman, J. M.
Perillo, The Italian Legal System (Stanford, 1967), 40–4.
18  In a concise analysis Brown pointed to the export of the system of repression: ‘The origins of

the Napoleonic system of repression in France were also the origins of the system used to repress
resistance beyond the frontiers’: Brown, ‘The origins of the Napoleonic system of repression’, in
The Napoleonic Empire and the New European Political Culture, ed. M. Broers, P. Hicks and
A. Guimerà (Basingstoke, 2012), 38–48.
D o i n a Pa s c a   H a r s a n y i Page 7 of 26

III
Three weeks after the first signs of unrest, Administrator General Moreau de
Saint-Méry reported the events to Arch-treasurer Lebrun at his headquarters
in Genoa, to General Montchoisy, and to Viceroy Eugène.19 Once notified, all
the above named took charge of the situation while Moreau—nominally, the
chief authority in the duchies—was reduced to hosting dinners for the military
men who shortly arrived in Parma; his office, however, still served as the main
address for reports sent from the theatre of operations, which form the bulk of
the sources for these events.

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The military side of the counter-insurrection was short, brutal and efficient.
Initially, General Marion, Piacenza’s military commander, had only 200 men at
his disposal because the bulk of his troops had been called to the Vicenza garri-
son earlier in 1805, underscoring how convinced military senior officers were
that no trouble would be forthcoming. On the morning of 1 January, only hours
after receiving Moreau’s news, Governor Lebrun and General Montchoisy dis-
patched a battalion of the 3rd regiment of light infantry from Genoa to Parma,
under the command of Montchoisy’s aide de camp Lieutenant Vivian. The vice-
roy sent about 3000 troops as well and asked General Menou to supervise the
operation. From the beginning, Menou formulated impending military raids
not as aggression but as reaction to brigandage: ‘Nous parcourrons les mon-
tagnes et nous ne laisserons pas un brigand, ni insurgé en arrière. Je livrerai à
la Commission militaire tous ceux que nous prendrons.’20
By the time this letter reached the office of the Administrator General,
General Pouget was already in Parma and so was General Pino. Some 1100
troops and several pieces of artillery urgently dispatched from nearby garri-
sons in Mantua and Pizzighettone were soon joined by the 3000 soldiers led
by Menou. General Radet, Inspector General of Gendarmerie and, as he added
next to his letterhead, ‘tasked by the viceroy to bring order to these states’,
brought in reinforcements from the Italian gendarmerie regiments to support
the 1200 gendarmes already stationed in Parma under Captain Lanault. All in
all, by the end of the first week of January 1806 about 5000 soldiers poured
into the valleys of the Apennines, especially in the region called Val di Tolla,
and their numbers grew to 10,000 by the end of the second week. Betraying
no sense of panic or anxiety, Menou, Lebrun, Montchoisy, Viceroy Eugène and
their subordinates all acted in a calm, professional way, showing to what extent
the repressive machinery had become a well-oiled routine, the success of
which depended on precise execution. They followed the proven sequence of
rapidly acting colonnes mobiles followed by the meticulous clean-up entrusted

19  The first report of rioting at Castel San Giovanni reached the Administrator General on 7

December 1805. In his diary, the entry for 16 frimaire reads: ‘Reçu (par estafette) une lettre di
Gouverneur de Plaisance pour m’annoncer le fait de mutinerie de la milice arrivé hier à Castel
S. Giovanni’: G. Tambini, ‘Moreau de Saint-Méry, Journal–III (1805)’ (Corso di Laurea in Lingue et
Letterature straniere, Università degli Studi di Parma Facoltà di Magistero, 1980/81), 904.
20  Parma, BP, Mss. Parm. 543 37, General Menou to Moreau, Turin, 11 Jan.
Page 8 of 26 Brigands or insurgents

to the gendarmes assisted by local militia.21 Minister of Interior Champagny,


kept well informed by Lebrun, wrote three reports to the emperor with sum-
maries of the military actions and assurances that the rebellion had no chance
of either succeeding or spreading. Champagny conceded that it was, of course
‘une fronde qu’il ne faut pas laisser subsister’; nevertheless, a rather minor
inconvenience.22 By mid-January Inspector of Gendarmerie Radet announced
the return of domestic peace to the Val di Tolla.23 The daily bulletins in which
Joseph Fouché summarized Lebrun’s and Champagny’s reports left no doubt
of the eventual conclusion of the insurrection; the final report on 22 January

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simply announced the publication of Lebrun’s final report ‘relatant le succès
des opérations’.24 All that remained to do was transfer all authority to General
Pouget and start setting up the military commission for trying insurgent lead-
ers, thus completing the process that proved so successful in fighting rebel-
lions for more than a decade. Two months after the first signs of rebellion, it
was over. The reports are devoid of any boasting, though; they communicate
instead the satisfaction of accomplished duty and a certain pride that good
coordination and competent leadership functioned in an Italian environment
as well as in France.

IV
General Menou made clear from the start that this was a police operation with
the goal of dismantling brigand networks. He left as soon as the insurrection
was defeated, considering his work done. Pacification, however, was far from
completed. Commanders on the ground had no choice but to try to sort out
local specifics and open channels of communication with the population.
Trouble had been brewing from some time. Several entries in Moreau’s dia-
ries for 1805 indicate that he was receiving repeated warnings about popular
discontent over new taxes. By October, discontent grew into anger on account
of the aggressive requisition of mules for the needs of the army, particularly
onerous given the essential role played by these animals in the economy of
mountainous regions.25 Nevertheless, in his report of 29 December, Moreau
tried to avoid drawing the attention of his superiors to unhappiness over
21  According to Broers, Napoleonic counter-insurgency operations were conducted in three

steps: disruption by colonnes mobiles penetrating into the territory, pacification executed by
gendarmerie units and maintaining order with the help of local police forces supervised by the
central authorities. These three main phases apply to the Piacentino counter-insurgency as well.
Broers, ‘La Contre-insurrection’, 147–65.
22  Three reports from Minister Champagny to Napoleon, dated 12, 16, and 17 Jan. 1806. AN AF

IV 1717. The last phrase is from the 17 Jan. letter.


23  ‘La battue des colonnes consolide la tranquillité; depuis trois jours les armes sont portées

de toutes parts, plus de cinquante communes les ont déposées et cela continue’: Parma, BP, Mss.
Parm. 543 39, General Radet to Moreau, 17 Jan.
24  La Police secrète du Premier Empire. Bulletins quotidiens adressés par Fouché à

l’Empereur Tome II, 1805–1806, publié par Ernest d’Hauterive d’après les documents originaux
déposés aux Archives Nationales (Paris, 1913), 235. Details were offered in the previous reports
of 13 and 18 Jan., pp. 223 and 230.
25  Tambini ‘Moreau de Saint-Méry, Journal–III (1805)’, 600–89.
D o i n a Pa s c a   H a r s a n y i Page 9 of 26

financial and military requisitions, which might have indicated his own failure
to fulfil his responsibilities properly. But neither did he claim brigandage as a
possible cause: individuals who earned a living smuggling may have joined the
ranks of insurgents, he admitted, but their presence was not a novelty in the
area. The reason for rebellion, in Moreau’s telling, came from outside his admin-
istration, namely from difficulties related to the recent call for National Guard
service.26 This was a programme the emperor had not vetted and that the vice-
roy soon regretted: the decision to establish a reserve camp between Bologna
and Modena (Viceroy Eugène’s Decree of 5 frimaire an 14/26 November 1805).

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Each department in the kingdom of Italy was expected to furnish between
500 and 1000 men; the quota for the states of Parma was set much higher,
at 12,000 volunteers to be recruited from the militia, even though the terri-
tory was not integrated in the kingdom. Lieutenant-Colonel Scipione Ferrante,
named organizzatore delle truppe parmigiane for the occasion, was sent to
Parma to organize two National Guard battalions capable of joining the vice-
roy’s reserve camp.27 It was not a success: by mid-December, there were only
700 more or less committed volunteers, including sixty-four officers and NCOs
who kept writing earnest letters to Prince Eugène assuring him that their regi-
ments would meet his expectations sooner or later. Simultaneously, Moreau’s
office was flooded with requests for exemption from National Guard duties.
Eventually, overzealous officers began to force rather than entice men to enlist.
The first spark flew at the beginning of December in the commune of Castel
San Giovanni, the main recruitment centre where heads of household and
youngsters alike were held against their will by the colonel of their terzo and
pressured to sign up. The resulting confusion between volunteer service in the
National Guard and compulsory conscription into the French army triggered
the same kind of revulsion conscription triggered everywhere and before any-
one realized what was happening, the entire region was in upheaval.28
Immediately after Moreau’s report, Governor Lebrun received a lengthy let-
ter from Pietro Cavagnari, a prominent Parmense businessman and enthusi-
astic supporter of French rule in Italy. He listed the likely reasons for revolt
that Moreau chose to leave out: hardships caused by recent taxes, uncertainty
regarding new impositions, and especially the requisition of mules. Cavagnari
did not even mention brigandage, corroborating Moreau’s reluctance to pin the
rebellion on criminal activities.29
26  Moreau de Saint-Méry to Lebrun, Parme 8 Nivôse an 14 (29 Dec. 1805), AN F/1e/ 85.
27  The viceroy’s instructions, with the quota set at 12,000 men came via a letter to Moreau de
Saint-Méry, dated 24 Brumaire an 13 (15 November 1805), afterwards included in Eugène’s let-
ter to Napoleon dated 19 November. Mémoires et Correspondance du Prince Eugène publiés,
annotés et mis en ordre par A. Du Casse (Paris, 1858) I, 445– 446. Documents regarding Scipione
Ferrante’s activities in Parma and the volunteers’ appeals to Prince Eugène in BP, Mss. Parm. 543,
passim.
28  Service in National Guard, however, did not protect from conscription at a later time. Some

of the letters to Moreau expressed concern that volunteering would be turned into conscription
once a person signed up.
29  Cavagnari to Lebrun, Parma 3 Jan. 1806 in P. Cavagnari, Alcune Particolarità storiche della

vita di Pietro Cavagnari (Parma, 1837), 83–6.


Page 10 of 26 Brigands or insurgents

Neither report changed any minds. Governor Lebrun, General Montchoisy


and Viceroy Eugène flatly dismissed taxes and requisitions as reasons for insur-
gency and fell back on the brigandage thesis, which they blamed on Moreau’s
lack of leadership: ‘C’est partout la désorganisation du pays qui a fait le mal’,
wrote Lebrun to Minister of Interior Champagny, a first impression that soon
grew into firm conviction shared by all his fellow senior commanders.30
Criminal agitation could not but thrive, so their reasoning went, since Moreau
failed to uphold the rule of law. As a matter of fact, criminality was declin-
ing in the states of Parma: just that summer, a band that had terrorized the

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Piacentino for years had been dismantled, an important law and order suc-
cess achieved with the help of the new units of gendarmerie and advertised
through the spectacular public quartering of its leader on 19 June 1805.31 Since
conscription had not started and National Guard service was supposed to be
voluntary, the customary blend of deserters and brigands was not yet an issue,
save for a few deserters trickling across the border from the kingdom of Italy.
Nevertheless, the first detailed French army report to Governor Lebrun, writ-
ten by Philippe Lacroix, aide de camp to Brigadier General Vabre, commander
of the Apennine section of the 28th Division, fit the events neatly into the
framework of brigandage, albeit abetted by British agents:
Depuis longtemps le foyer d’une insurrection couvait sous la
cendre. Les ennemis de la France que l’Angleterre avait acheté
par son or, ourdissait sourdement la trame; toute l’Italie allait
devenir le théâtre des massacres, et ce que la France avait de
cher était prêt à succomber sous le fer des assassins. Des agents
avaient été jetés sur les côtes de la Ligurie et s’étaient portés
jusque dans les états de Plaisance et de Parme, où après s’être
associés à des hommes connus pour leurs brigandages, ils
étaient parvenus à soulever les habitants des monts Apennins.
Quelques prétextes apparents tels que l’augmentation du sel et
du tabac, la levée de la conscription et les contributions avaient
suffi pour faire insurger une population ignare et lui faire pren-
dre les armes contre un gouvernement dont ils ne savaient pas
apprécier la puissance.32
This remarkable text set the interpretative framework that informed the official
narrative, centred on bands of brigands, corrupted by foreign agents, who stirred
an ignorant and easily manipulated people. As for the exasperation over financial

30  Lebrun to Champagny, Genoa, 1 Jan. 1806. AN F1e 87. It did not help that Cavagnari also

opined that Moreau was simply not an able leader of men. All subsequent reports from French
officials point the finger of blame at Moreau’s incompetence.
31  ASP Gridario 1804–1805. Details in D. Ferruccio Botti, La Forca d’Bretta. Storia del Bandito

Berretta e cenni sui condannati a morte in Parma dal 1560 a 1857 (Parma, 1958).
32  Troubles qui ont agité le Plaisantin dans le mois de Janvier 1806. A son Altesse Sérénissime

Monseigneur le Prince Architrésorier de l’Empire, Gouverneur Général de la 28ème Division


Militaire, par M.  Philippe Lacroix Lieutenant aide-de-camp du Général de Brigade Vabre. Not
dated (but surely the first week of January), AN F1e 86.
D o i n a Pa s c a   H a r s a n y i Page 11 of 26

impositions—mere pretexts, in official accounts.33 Even as he was giving orders for


military repression, Lebrun issued a proclamation posted around the Piacentino
the first days of January 1806 to clarify the French grille de lecture. He omitted
economic hardships entirely but not recruitment in the National Guard which he
portrayed, however, as a once in a lifetime opportunity for a paid vacation:
Si vuole che una debol parte della vostra milizia si associi per
qualche momento al’onore e ai vantaggi di un servizio regolare,
che alcuni di vostri figli che non sono ancora ritenuti ne da alcun
legame ne da alcun affare, vadano senza pericolo, senza fatica, ben

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mantenuti, ben assoldati sotto gli ordini di un Principe adorato da
coloro ai quali commanda, a guardare un deposito prezioso che
l’Imperatore gli confida e che ci risponda du quella pace che voi
desiderate, e voi volete rapir loro una gloria che tutti gli Francesi
invidiano loro?
[We are asking that a small part of your militia partakes for a few
moments in the honour and advantages of regular service, that
some of your sons who are not yet retained by family duties or
occupations go without danger, without effort, well maintained and
well paid to serve a prince adored by those under his command,
to watch over the precious arsenal the emperor entrusted him and
which guarantees the peace you desire—and you want to deprive
them of a glory all the French covet?]
Failing to participate in the emperor’s glory was the Piacentini’s loss; challeng-
ing French rule was a serious miscalculation and Lebrun lectured his rebellious
administrés in the voice of a grown-up talking to misled youth:
Degli impostori vi fan traviare; de’ briganti vogliono associarvi ai
loro delitti per sfuggire alla vendetta delle leggi. Separate la vostra
causa da loro; scacciatelli dal vostro seno; tornate ad essere cio che
siete stati in addietro: sottomessi all’ordine pubblico, ubbidienti alla
voce dell’onore. (…)Ah, non mi sforzate a spogliarmi del carattere
della indulgenza e a colpire coloro che ho giurato di render felici!
Pensate ai pericoli che vi minacciano! La forza armata vi circonda:
se si pronunzia una sola parola, innocenti, colpevoli, voi sarete tutti
colpiti. Rientrare, ve ne scongiuro, nelle vostre case, e finchè avete
ancora del tempo, ubbidite alla voce di un padre.34
[Impostors push you to delinquency; brigands want to associate
you with their crimes in order to escape the reprisals of the law.
33  Various reports from the field in the end failed to identify foreign spies; Fouché’s final bul-

letin stated categorically that no foreign currency could be found anywhere, hence there was
‘aucune trace d’influence anglaise ou napolitaine. La Police secrète du Premier Empire’. Bulletin
du 27 janvier 1806 #739. p. 241. The cause for rebellion, therefore, remained brigandage pure
and simple.
34  AN BB/871.
Page 12 of 26 Brigands or insurgents

Separate your cause from theirs; chase them away; be again what
you were before: submissive to the public order, obedient to the
voice of honour ... Ah! Do not force me to shed the indulgence of my
character and to strike those whom I have promised to make happy!
Think of the perils that threaten you! Armed forces surround you:
one word is enough and, innocent or guilty, all of you will be pun-
ished. Return, I beseech you, to your homes and, while there is still
time, listen to the voice of a father.]
Brigandage, therefore, after having legitimized military repression, remained at

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the core of the narrative for the pacification phase of the counter-insurgency,
which required more delicate work than the use of brute force. The paternal-
ism which imbued Lebrun’s proclamation showed the way: while leaving no
doubt about the severity of the punishment to come, he also differentiated
between active criminality and a sort of passive criminality by association,
with naive villagers trapped into lawlessness by experienced felons. This was a
sharp turn from the dehumanizing language of the Vendée and triennio years,
which in its intensity acknowledged the willpower of the fanatisés about to be
obliterated. Patronizing the rebels as dim-witted rather than fanatical removed
any aura of heroism that religious or political resistance might have carried. It
had, however, the advantage of offering an alternative to utter annihilation.
Viceroy Eugène employed the same paternalistic tone in the message to the
rebels posted in Parma by his aide-de-camp:
Popoli degli Stati di Parma!
Abbiamo sentito con sommo rincrescimento che alcuni fra voi, ecci-
tati senza dubbio, dai nemici della pace, si sono armati e radunati,
proclamandosi loro medesimi in istato di ribellione contro le Autorità
e le Leggi! Come! nel momento in cui tutti I popoli del continente
si riposano dalle lunghe loro agitazioni … voi soli frammisichiate le
grida della sollevazione ai commoventi accenti di gioaia e di riconis-
cenza in tutte le nazioni?35
People of the states of Parma!
[We have heard with the greatest regret that some among you,
doubtless provoked by enemies of peace, have armed yourselves
and gathered together, proclaiming yourselves in a state of rebellion
against the authorities and against the laws! How! At the moment
when all the peoples of the continent take a respite from strife …
only you mingle the cry of mutiny with the moving accents of joy
and gratitude coming from all nations?]
The viceroy’s open letter continued by calling on insurgents to return to their
homes, to direct any concerns to him personally and to wait until the emperor

35  ASP, Atti Francesi, busta 1. Reproduced in L. Montagna, Il dominio Francese a Parma 1796–

1815 (Piacenza, 1926), 68–9. Moreau de Saint-Méry distributed 1150 copies of the viceroy’s mes-
sage to village mayors throughout the Piacentino.
D o i n a Pa s c a   H a r s a n y i Page 13 of 26

deigned to consider their grievances. He refrained from making any firm prom-
ises. However, his letter corroborated Lebrun’s acknowledgment of possible
improper recruitment into the National Guard and was open-ended enough
to allow Piacenza’s military commander, General Marion, to pledge a general
pardon to all those who laid down their weapons. Extrapolating from this
principle, General Marion also permitted the spread of another rider to the
prince’s message: that recruitment for National Guard, and by extension even
conscription in the regular army—whenever it was going to start—would be
on a voluntary basis only and exclude married men and heads of household.

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The prince, Marion announced, wanted only willing men in his service. While
neither of these stipulations was clearly articulated, both were communicated
to the rebels and never disavowed by the viceroy’s representatives.36 These
became key elements in the strategy of pacification, often preventing armed
interventions. At the same time, these attempts at conciliation mentioned nei-
ther taxes nor requisitions: conflating rebellion with brigandage conveniently
denied the legitimacy of the rebels’ grievances. The shift towards paternalism
only allowed insurgents the opportunity to choose between active and pas-
sive criminality—as defined by the French—inferring that their fate was in
their hands.
A full discussion of the topic exceeds the confines of this article, but it is
important to note that from the beginning French officials relied heavily on
local mediators, especially clergy and nobles. Lebrun’s first move was to enlist
the cooperation of the high clergy: ‘L’évèque de Plaisance me proteste de son
zèle et de son dévouement je lui demanderai de m’en donner des preuves en
travaillant avec ses curés au rétablissement de l’ordre.’37 Indeed, the Bishop of
Piacenza, Monsignore Cerati, preached obedience at the mass of 30 December
urging his parishioners to reflect on the consequences.38 Radet, Montchoisy
and Eugène also contacted individuals likely to cooperate in restoring order.
A group of forty-four notables came forward to offer their mediation to General
Marion; of these, marchesi Scotti-Douglas, Anguissola and Castati and conte
Leoni took it upon themselves to go from village to village and talk to the
insurgents.39 In the meantime, a delegation of three noblemen nominated by
Parma’s Anzianato rushed to Padua to intercede with Viceroy Eugène. Nobles
were the main landowners in the states of Parma. The enduring noblesse
oblige ethos dictated that they protect villagers from outside dangers, but not
from exploitation: they too refrained from touching on economic grievances

36  In a short note to Piacenza’s Governor Marion writes that it is permissible to let people know

that the prince only wants in his service men willing to serve, implying, though not clearly articu-
lating the principle of voluntary enrolment. BP Miscellanea Moreau, V.
37  Lebrun to Champagny, Genoa 1er Janvier 1805, ANP AN F1e 87.
38 V. Paltrinieri, I Moti Contro Napoleone Negli Stati di Parma e Piacenza (1805–1806)

(Bologna, 1927), 67–8.


39 Details on these offers for mediations are provided in Cavagnari, Alcune Particolarità

storiche, 87–93. Cavagnari wrote to Viceroy Eugène and Governor Lebrun advising on persons
susceptible to cooperate with the French in restoring order. He especially insisted on relying on
parish priests as liaisons.
Page 14 of 26 Brigands or insurgents

and only tried to curb their peasants’ insubordinate spirit while simultaneously
taming the furia francese.40 The noblemen’s feudal paternalism fused with the
strategic paternalism of the French in a concerted effort at subduing peripheral
territories that had escaped the control of both local and imperial centres of
powers.41 The mediators’ task was to impress on the population the foolishness
of challenging the formidable French military apparatus but also to reveal the
softer side of French rule—la douceur.

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La douceur—benevolence, patience and moderation in the face of open
rebellion—­grew out of the discourse of criminalization. Clearly outlined in
Lebrun’s public statement, it constructed the narrative of an innocent good
people deceived by just a few unscrupulous elements who, consorting with
brigands, have set in motion the regrettable events that brought French soldiers
to the area’s villages. This theme was subsequently transformed into concrete
policy by the notion of a general pardon extended to all who accepted this
version of the events and gave up resistance. It was a kind of douceur that also
handed local communities an exculpatory narrative: if only a few criminals
were guilty, it followed that the majority were innocent, hence worthy of par-
don. There was, again, no hint that French government envoys were prepared
to address grievances: leniency compensated those who admitted having been
led astray, abandoned rebellion and pledged loyalty to the French authorities.42
Petitions and reports sent to the Administrator General’s office, as well as cor-
respondence between military commanders, show that most local represent-
atives eagerly seized the chance to help their commune fit the pattern of a
deluded but essentially meek and compliant people. The French decision to
categorize as brigands all those who opposed French rule created significant

40  A couple of letters listing specific grievances, which corroborate initial reports on taxes

and mule requisitions were collected by count Leone Leoni, but never sent to Viceroy Eugène
to whom they were addressed. BP, Mss. Parm. 543, fos 28–30. These documents have been pub-
lished in L. Ginetti, ‘Sull’insurrezione dell’alto Piacentino nel 1805–1806’, Aurea Parma, 9 (1913),
204–10. For quick reference on the European nobility’s traditional moral claims: J. Dewald, The
European Nobility 1400–1800 (Cambridge, 1996), 186–96. E.  Mension-Rigau, Aristocrates et
grands bourgeois (Paris, 1997), 184–93; W. Doyle, Aristocracy and its Enemies in the Age of
Revolution (Oxford, 2009), 54–5. The actions of noblemen mediators in this case fit well with
Anna Maria Rao’s analysis of Old Regime economic paternalism as a means of maintaining order;
the social transformations introduced by the French imperiled a well-entrenched sense of social
balance that local elites were still trying to preserve. A. M. Rao, ‘Folle Controrivoluzionarie. La
Questione delle insorgenze italiane’, in Folle Controrivoluzionarie. Le insorgenze populare
nell’Italia giacobina e napoleonica, ed. A. M. Rao (Rome, 1999), 17–36.
41  The dynamic centre-periphery as enabler of rural rebellions has been examined in Broers,

The Napoleonic Empire in Italy 1796–1804, 105–113. For the French, of course, the states of
Parma in their entirety were a periphery where local elites were supposed to rally and help with
establishing order.
42  French authorities made it a policy to ignore popular grievances during anti-French insur-

rections. A good overview of this issue is in Grab, ‘State power, brigandage and rural resistance
in Napoleonic Italy’.
D o i n a Pa s c a   H a r s a n y i Page 15 of 26

confusion for local administrators. It is hard to determine to what extent the


rebels were indeed universally shunned or if, on the contrary, they embodied a
wider rejection of French rule.43 Village mayors and other community leaders
typically wrote in plaintive key when reporting on bands of brigands passing
through their communes and always lamented that foodstuffs and other neces-
sities had been stolen. Whether this was actually so in every case cannot be
established, especially since such reports were drafted days after the rebels’
incursions, but it was certainly the version of events most likely to meet with
French benevolence; savvy mediators probably had a hand in shaping these

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remarkably similar narratives.
The viceroy’s offer to permit insurgents to surrender without further pun-
ishment made it possible for many rebels to cease their struggle without feeling
completely humiliated. Accordingly, one clearly relieved commissioner from
Fiorenzuola reported that news of the viceroy Prince Eugène’s pardon com-
bined with the directive on recruitment on a volunteer basis had an almost
therapeutic effect: the insurgents fell silent and then decided to yield at which
point they started to talk among themselves on how to proceed with the sur-
render (but still asked for bread, salami, and wine as sustenance during the
deliberations).44 Same report from a nearby commune: the insurgents who had
taken over one commune agreed to leave, listening to the entreaties of the
priests and confident in the promised pardon (del perdono che il Governo
concedeva a tutti gli Insurgenti).45 The inhabitants of Lugagnago, the head-
quarter of all insurgents, made a formal declaration of surrender stating their
submission to the government in front of captain of gendarmerie Lanault, the
letter being countersigned by Marquis Castati who had brought the message
from Prince Eugène.46 Citing the viceroy’s conciliatory message, priests hur-
ried to act as guarantors of public tranquility: they often took charge of collect-
ing and delivering to the authorities weapons found in their parishes. Priests
also produced certificates of good behaviour for citizens liable to fall under
suspicion, swearing that if members of their flock had taken to the hills it was
only out of fear, not defiance.47 Some communes went one better and com-
posed dramatic narratives of the hardships incurred while heroically fighting
off insurgents. All in all: ‘Je suis assommé de députations des communes qui
viennent me porter l’expression de leur repentir et me jurer la soumission aux
loix du gouvernement. La tranquillité est parfaite ici’, wrote General Marion on
43  This was part of the disruptive nature of French rule which also makes it difficult to ascer-

tain the veracity of sentiments expressed in letters to the French authorities in the middle of
insurrections. A wealth of anecdotal evidence can be found in E. Ciconte, Banditi e Briganti.
Rivolta continua dal cinquecento all’ottocento (Soveria Mannelli, 2011), 63–121. A sympathetic
account of the devastating results of the amalgam between banditry and opposition to French rule
is in C. Zaghi, L’Italia di Napoleone dalla Cisalpina al Regno (Turin, 1991), 624–6.
44 Parma, BP Mss. Parm. 543 45, Report signed by Andrea Laottice, Fiorenzuola, 11 Jan. It

describes events from the week before that date.


45  Parma, BP Mss. Parm. 543 15, Giuseppe Canesi, Console di Stato, 9 Jan.
46  Parma, BP, Mss. Parm. 543 60, Captain of Gendarmerie Lanault to Moreau de Saint-Méry,

Lugagnano, 11 Jan.
47  Parma, BP, Mss. 543 73-4, 98-9 and 108.
Page 16 of 26 Brigands or insurgents

11 January. The fear (a well-founded one, Marion underlined) of severe pun-


ishment accounted for much of the rush to lay down arms, but so far little
repression had been needed and all was perfectly quiet.48 Indeed, protestations
of devotion and ‘unalterable submission’ (‘inalterabile sommessione’) from
various communes were often accompanied by anxious requests of not to be
labelled as rebellious, so as to escape reprisals.49 Still, as Marion noted with sat-
isfaction, violence had been kept to a minimum; the reports of the gendarmes
generally confirmed that inhabitants agreed to surrender their weapons and
that the calm was returning to all formerly recalcitrant areas.

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Moreover, and signalling the terms for possible further cooperation, astute
regional representatives sought to nudge the French towards greater douceur
by literally putting words into the French officials’ mouths. The prefect of
Genoa, Bureaux-Puzy, who was touring the area to make sure the insurgency
did not spill over his side of the border, reported an intriguing encounter with
Lieutenant of Gendarmerie Paris. He found Paris very puzzled to have been
accosted by a group of self-described parlementaires who handed him a note
that read:
Noi sottoscritti d’ordine del Signore Comandante Generale di
Piacenza e del adjutant di campo di S.A.S.il Principle Eugenio come
commissionati a trattare la pace fra questi popoli vi ordiniamo a
voi altri préposés Gendarmes o qualunque Truppa regolata fosse di
ritirarvi sul momento da queste colline essendosi di già allo sismo
effeto ritirati tutti i Francesi che erano a Castel San Giovanni. Signé
Conte Leone Leoni di Riccobanno, Padre Gerolamo dalla Madonna
di Campagna, Padre Luigi dalla Madonna di Campagna.
[We the undersigned, commissioned to negotiate peace among
the people by order of the Commander General of Piacenza
and of the aide de camp of H.S.H Prince Eugène, we order you
(underlined) and all other accompanying Gendarmes or regular
troops of any sort to retreat at this instant from these mountains,
considering that, in view of the same goal (peace) all the other
French who were at Castel San Giovanni have already departed.
Signed, Count Leone Leoni di Riccobanni, Father Gerolamo dalla
Madonna di Campagna, Father Luigi dalla Madonna di Campagna.]
The delegation carried a letter written in French, allegedly from General Marion
to the Commander of the Imperial Gendarmerie (not named) with orders to
take Prince Eugène’s offer of clemency to these ‘unfortunate victims of the
error and seduction’ complete with renewed recommendations for patience
and kindness:

48  Parma, BP, Mss. Parm. 543 53, Charles Stanislas Marion, Commandant de Place to Moreau de

Saint-Méry, Piacenza, 11 Jan.


49  Parma. BP, Mss. Parm. 543 147 and 44.
D o i n a Pa s c a   H a r s a n y i Page 17 of 26

Conformément aux intentions du Prince, c’est de la douceur qu’il


faut, car il s’agit moins de vaincre les insurgés que de les détromper
pour les ramener à l’ordre. Viendra ensuite le moment où ces
hommes aujourd’hui rebelles, indignés contre ceux qui les auront
conduits en erreur, livreront eux-mêmes au Gouvernement, par
reconnaissance du pardon qui leur aura été accordé, leurs Chefs qui
méritent seuls tout le malheur dont ils auront voulu couvrir tout un
pays trompé par eux.
The letter seemed too neatly aligned with the interests of the rebels to be

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genuine and looked so suspicious that Lieutenant Paris decided to arrest the
emissaries for further inquiries, with the approval of both Bureaux-Puzy and
Piacenza’ Governor Ferrari, whose advice he sought concerning this incident.
Still, it did not escape the officials’ attention that the letter built on the preva-
lent French narrative of a misguided population, adding to it a code of conduct
for French personnel: no harshness, no punishment, but rather gently help-
ing people to see the light, while simultaneously enlisting them in the fight
against real criminals. It was a clever attempt at redirecting criminalization
towards a unifying discourse for defining and dealing with the situation, a
common ground acceptable to both administrators and administrés. Although
persuaded that he had under his eyes a clumsy forgery, Governor Ferrari inter-
preted this episode as a move by the local Italian community towards compli-
ance. In consequence, he suggested that French officials take the hint and give
leniency a chance.50

VI
The French did take such hints. Even as military units were combing the area,
French officers accepted without further scrutiny all surrender initiatives and
rewarded cooperation with prompt removal of the troops from the neighbour-
hood. Furthermore, both military and civilian commanders emphasized the need
for exemplary behavior on the side of French government representatives as key to
the success of the counter-insurgency. Talk of the need to stop abuses of authority
committed in the name of the French state takes up a good part of the reports from
the field of operations, for, like everywhere else, there were tensions between
gendarmes and local authorities who felt bullied and disrespected by all French sol-
diers.51 It bode ill that gendarmes went about their duties with a brutality that jeop-
ardized the peace brokered by local leaders: in the report declaring his commune’s
obedience to the authorities Carlo Caminati, podestà of Nibbiano, complained that

50  Parma, BP, Mss. Parm. 543 68–70, Bureaux-Puzy to Moreau de Saint-Méry, Vogherra, 11 Jan,

with copies of Lieutenant Paris’s note and the letter signed Marion.
51 A discussion of the perennial tensions between gendarmes and local civilian authorities

in A.  Lignereux, Servir Napoléon. Policiers et Gendarmes dans les Départements Annexés
(Seyssel, 2012), 221–7. C.  Emsley also pointed to inevitable clashes between the gendarmes’
activities and the local communities’ social practices in his book Gendarmes and the State in
Nineteenth Century Europe (Oxford, 1999), 67–9.
Page 18 of 26 Brigands or insurgents

gendarmes were still punishing people in spite of their explicit surrender under
the terms of the viceroy’s pardon. The podestà’s objections were echoed by the
archpriest of Vigoleno who wanted three of his parishioners freed from unjust
arrest at the hands of gendarmes unaware that these were not brigands but inno-
cent farmers who had asked for nothing, paid their taxes, and obeyed the law
dutifully.52 On 17 January, a former tax inspector named Maghella, a precious and
much beloved collaborator of the French authorities in the area, warned that gen-
darmes were antagonizing the population by arresting suspects randomly with-
out seeking proper arrest orders from their superiors.53 Bureaux-Puzy also asked

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Moreau to order the release of two men arrested by gendarmes without proof that
they were rebels.54 Not to mention how harshly gendarmes retaliated against any
resistance: in the small village of Stellini a bullet fired from a house wounded one
of the gendarmes. This angered his comrades so much that they set the house on
fire; strong winds then caused the neighbouring houses to catch fire as well, until
practically the entire village was engulfed in flames, its inhabitants left homeless
in minutes.55 Worse, some gendarmes and lower-level bureaucrats sought to take
advantage of the situation for personal gain: local custom officers were inventing
new laws as justification for soliciting certain quantities of wood for fuel from
every vehicle that came into Piacenza, while others were collecting illegal dues
called consegna, worth 5 sols de Milan, from each person wishing to spend the
night in town and another 20 sols, also illegally, from individuals who gave pri-
vate dance parties.56 Eager to defend his gendarmes, Captain Lanault forwarded
complaints against other officials, such as Parma’s Military Inspector Duplan, one
of Moreau’s most trusted employees, who allegedly kept coercing heads of house-
hold to enrol in the National Guards, against the viceroy’s specific instructions.57
This sort of behaviour aggravated the most onerous imposition of all: providing
food and board for the armies that had converged on their mountains and valleys
to repress the insurgency.58 It was all very serious, Lanault mused, echoing the
complaints he was transmitting: if subalterns behaved badly, people would end up
believing that such injustices had the approval of the administration. Bureaux-Puzy

52  Parma, BP, Mss. Parm. 543 75–6 and 98–9 respectively. Carlo Caminati to Moreau de Saint-

Méry, Nibbiano, 13 Jan. Pietro Martini to Moreau de Saint-Méry, Vigoleno, 13 Jan.


53  Parma, BP, Mss. Parm. 543 132, Maghella to Moreau de Saint-Méry, Vigoleno, 17 Jan
54 Parma, BP, Mss. Parm. 543 68–70, Bureaux-Puzy to Moreau de Saint-Méry Vogherra, not

dated (probably 11–12 Jan).


55  Parma, BP, Mss. Parm. 543 100–1, Report from Captain Lebrun, battalion commander within

the 3rd regiment of infantry to Général Pouget, Lugagnano, 14 Jan.


56  Parma, BP, Mss. Parm. 543 132 and 53 respectively, Chief Inspector of Customs to Moreau de

Saint-Méry, Vogherra, 12 Jan; General Marion to Moreau de Saint-Méry, Piacenza, 11 Jan. In fact,
Lebrun had ordered that visitors to Piacenza acquire a passport in order to control the flow of
population and avoid that insurgents disappear into the crowd, but there was no fee attached to
this obligation.
57  Parma, BP, Mss. Parm. 543 231, Captain Lanault to Moreau de Saint-Méry, Fiorenzuola, 9 Feb.

The exact same complaint against Duplan resurfaces in a letter dated Parma 8 Feb. 1806, signed
by two militia officers reluctant, after the viceroy’s message, to comply with Duplan’s urging to
enroll married men and heads of family. Parma, BP, Mss. Parm. 543 246.
58  A letter dated Val di Tolla 27 Jan. 1806, signed by Francesco Gerra in the name of several

villages (montanari di Val di Tolla) pledged submission to the government and even announced
D o i n a Pa s c a   H a r s a n y i Page 19 of 26

also demanded that all abuses stop because he believed that force alone would
not win the day. General Marion concurred: even small abuses by petty fonction-
naires would add up to real outrage and make the supreme authority look bad.
Restraint and moderation were of the essence.59
Did it matter that the supreme authority looked bad in the eyes of rebellious
peasants? Clearly, military and civilian commanders believed it mattered a great
deal. They had it in their power to crush the rebels; yet they worried about the
reputation of French power; they went to great lengths to limit violent retalia-
tion, supplied local leaders with the discourse needed to avoid punishment, and

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spent time engaging in patient negotiations. Finally, Lebrun’s short decree from
Genoa (7 January 1806, published in Parma and Piacenza on 14 January) prom-
ised amnesty to all those who surrendered their firearms voluntarily. This was
almost an afterthought considering the orderly stockpiling of weapons that was
already under way; it was certainly meant as an additional incentive to get on
the right side of the law, because the same day Lebrun also announced the estab-
lishment of military commissions. No wonder, then, that the Giornale Italiano
in Milan attributed the success of the pacification to the viceroy’s magnanim-
ity and willingness to reach out to the insurgents: ‘We hope that the paternal
admonitions of the most honorable Prince have led the wrongdoers to their
duties.’60 In his final official report published in the Courrier de Turin, Lebrun
described in detail the military operations and pronounced the rebellion van-
quished; throughout the article, he emphasized the cooperation French authori-
ties had received on the ground, reiterated the explanatory formula of a misled
population fundamentally innocent and thus forgiven, and mentioned the mili-
tary commissions organized to try the few guilty instigators. The douceur, in
other words, rooted in the assumption of the villagers’ inherent helplessness
and backed by the threat of force, proved an efficient strategy. French adminis-
trators seemed ready to start consolidating the peace they had achieved—and
maybe elaborate on the virtues of relative accommodation. This is what they
could have done, were it not for Napoleon’s belated, furious intervention.

VII
Napoleon had been kept abreast of the events by Fouché’s daily bulletins and
Champagny’s letters. The emperor seemed not to attach great importance to

the jailing of three rebel sympathizers (tre villani); however, they very much hoped to be issued
receipts for reimbursement for the goods given to the French troops. Parma, BP, Mss. Parm. 543
131. Gerra complained repeatedly that his commune (Castell’Arquato) was being forced at gun-
point to provide wine, bread, oxen and horses without compensation, for the promised reim-
bursements rarely materialized, although he had submitted all the receipts (Parma, BP, Mss. Parm.
543 131, letter dated 17 Jan.). Likewise, a letter from the podestà of Fiorenzuoula, on 26 Jan. 1806,
contains a report of the costs incurred for the stationed troops along with formal declarations of
submission to the government. Parma, BP, Mss. Parm. 543 212.
59  Letters from Bureaux-Puzy, Marion, and Lanault, notes 54, 56, 57.
60  Noi speriamo che le paterne ammonizioni dell’ottimo Principe abbiano condotto I tra-

viati al lore dovere. Front page of the Giornale Italiano (Milan) 14 Jan.1806.
Page 20 of 26 Brigands or insurgents

the story until 18 January 1806, when he learned of Lebrun’s public report, first
published that day in Gazzetta di Genova and later in Courrier de Turin. This
made him turn his eyes to the states of Parma: he summarily dismissed Moreau
and ordered General Junot, promptly nominated Governor General with full
powers, to ride to Parma and cut short any attempt at negotiations. Napoleon
too defined the rebellion in criminal terms, dispensing with his executives’
nuancing between brigands and naive innocents misled by brigands:
Vous partirez dans la journée; vous courrez jour et nuit jusqu’à
Parme; vous communiquerez sur-le-champ le décret ci-joint à

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M. Moreau Saint-Méry, et, dans les deux heures, vous ferez imprimer,
publier et répandre dans tout le duché une proclamation courte et
ferme. Vous réunirez la force armée; vous vous rendrez sur le lieu
qui a été le principal théâtre de l’insurrection. L’architrésorier n’a
rien à faire à Parme. Ce n’est pas avec des phrases qu’on maintient
la tranquillité dans l’Italie. Faites comme j’ai fait à Binasco: qu’un vil-
lage soit brûlé; faites fusiller une douzaine d’insurgés, et formez des
colonnes mobiles afin de saisir partout les brigands et de donner un
exemple au peuple de ces pays.61
To make sure he was well understood, Napoleon also reprimanded Lebrun
for showing a culpable sense of accommodation in his report, indeed for even
explaining his actions publicly:
Je viens de lire un bulletin signé de vous, intitulé Insurrection du
Plaisantin. Je ne puis que vous témoigner mon extrême mécontente-
ment du peu de jugement qu’il y a dans cet écrit; il est aussi ridicule
que déplacé. Vous n’avez point le droit de rendre compte au public,
mais à moi seul. En vérité, je ne vous reconnais plus, permettez-
moi de vous le dire avec franchise. Vous n’êtes point à Gênes pour
écrire, mais pour administrer. Quant à Parme, c’est dans la 28e divi-
sion militaire: c’était à M. Montchoisy à s’y porter et à réprimer les
germes de rébellion, ce qui eût bien mieux valu que tout ce vain
bavardage.62
Junot arrived in Parma on 25 January, notified Moreau of his dismissal, and pro-
ceeded to bark threats. His letter to the bishop of Piacenza reiterated the thesis
of brigandage, but he, unlike Napoleon, left some room for the possibility of
innocents maliciously corrupted by brigands:

61  Au général Junot, Gouverneur Général des Etats de Parme et de Plaisance, Stuttgart, 19 Jan.

1806, Correspondance de Napoléon Ier, #9678, XI, 543. The same day was issued the imperial
decree nominating Junot Governor General of the States of Parma with full powers to restore
order and set up military commissions.
62  A. M. Lebrun, Strasbourg, 24 Jan. 1806, Correspondance de Napoléon Ier, #9700, XI, 675.

The same day Napoleon wrote to Cambacères to enquire into Lebrun’s mental state (‘Dites-moi,
en confidence, s’il a perdu la tête: je commence à le croire’), which would somehow explain
his lack of severity, and also to Fouché to ask him to make sure Lebrun’s report would not be
reprinted, again worrying it gave too much credit to the locals.
D o i n a Pa s c a   H a r s a n y i Page 21 of 26

Que les curés disent aux habitants qu’il n’y aura pour eux de sauf
garde que dans l’obéissance, que je leur ai fait une proclamation
pour les engager à rentrer dans leurs foyers, mais qu’elle est accom-
pagnée de baïonnettes et que déjà leurs villages offriraient le spec-
tacle effrayant de leur désolation, si je m’étais persuadé qu’ils ont
été entraînés par qq. conseillers étrangers ou par qq brigands inté-
ressés à leur révolte.63
On 27 January Junot published a proclamation to the inhabitants of Parma and
Piacenza that opened with the ill-omened phrase ‘The emperor is displeased by

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you!’ (L’Imperatore e malcontento di voi!) and promised inflexible retribution.
Along with the proclamation came a series of decrees: interdiction to bear any
firearms, which must be collected by local priests and mayors; individuals who
still kept weapons at home shall be sent before the military commission; any vil-
lage that resisted the French troops shall be burned to the ground; any presumed
rebel caught carrying arms shall be shot.64 But Junot also carried out some investi-
gations on his own and decided to follow closely in his predecessors’ steps. He too
ended up advocating leniency because, he advised the emperor, there was no rea-
son to make too much of these events.65 It was not how Napoleon saw the matter:
Je ne conçois plus rien de ceci. Que le prince Eugène vous envoie
des troupes. Faites bruler cinq ou six villages; faites fusiller une
soixantaine de personnes; faites des exemples extrêmement
sévères, car les conséquences de ce qui se passe à Parme depuis
un mois sont incalculables pour la sûreté de l’Italie. Je vois un tas
d’administrateurs bavards et ne prenant que de fausses mesures.66
Junot continued to punish, dutifully, but he also took care to compensate coop-
eration; just three days after his arrival, he wrote a letter to Parma’s cardinal,
praising him and his parishioners for having resisted all calls to uprising, for
which he rewarded them with the permission to celebrate the carnival:
Je me plais d’avance, Monseigneur, à leur rendre auprès du respect-
able chef de leur église, la Justice qu’ils méritent; je suis très content
d’eux. Qu’ils continuent d’écouter la voix paternelle de leur pasteur,
qu’ils suivent vos sages conseils, Monseigneur, et je leur continuerai
la bienveillance que je leur porte et dont je prie votre Excellence
de les assurer de ma part. (…) théâtres, bals masqués, et autres
divertissements pendant le carnaval, dans la ville de Parme, comme
récompense pour être restés tranquilles, obéissants, et soumis. 67
63  À M. l’évêque de Plaisance, Parma 27 Jan., A[rchives du] M[inistère de la] D[éfense], C-4–41.

The role of priests as mediators is discussed in Paltrineri, I Moti contro Napoleone, 39–45; a
deeper analysis in M. Broers, The Politics of religion in Napoleonic Italy: The War against God
(London, 2002), 7–27 and 102–13.
64  All published in ASP Gridario1806.
65  Junot to Napoleon, Parma 30 Jan. and 1 Feb. 1806. AN AF IV 1717.
66  Au Général Junot, Paris le 4 Feb., Correspondance de Napoléon Ier #9712, XI, 560.
67  AMD, C-4–41.
Page 22 of 26 Brigands or insurgents

For the less compliant, the hour of reckoning came shortly. On 12 February
the village of Mezzano, accused of being the first to have attempted to restart
the rebellion, was set ablaze by Junot’s adjutant Grandseigne. The military
commissions started trying suspects and handing down sentences. Between
1 February and 1 April 1806 there were twenty-one executions including two
priests, eighty-eight different jail sentences and another nineteen verdicts of
long years of hard labour; four suspects died in custody. These must be consid-
ered lenient outcomes, in light of the pressure Napoleon kept on Junot. At vari-
ous times Napoleon asked for several hundred guilty verdicts and the burning

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of at least two villages, persuaded that only extreme harshness would secure
domestic peace:
Mon intention est que le village qui s’est insurgé pour se rendre à
Bobbio soit brûlé, que le prêtre qui est entre les mains de l’évêque
de Plaisance soit fusillé et que trois ou quatre cents coupables soient
envoyés aux galères. Je n’ai pas les mêmes idées que vous de la clé-
mence. Vous ne sauriez être clément qu’en étant sévère sans quoi
ce malheureux pays et le Piémont sont perdus et il faudra des flots
de sang pour assurer la tranquillité en Italie. …Brûlez un ou deux
gros villages, qu’il n’en reste point de traces. Dites que c’est par mon
ordre. Quand on a de grands états on les maintient par des actes de
sévérité.
As for the abuses that so concerned French officials, ignoring them was the
best policy, since no abuses could possibly mitigate rebellion:
Ne parlez qu’à moi des abus de l’administration. Tous les abus,
les excès de tyrannie même de mes agents, seraient-ils aussi nom-
breux que ceux de Carrier, sont excusés à mes yeux le jour où
les rebelles, comme ceux de Parme, courent aux armes et se font
justice eux-mêmes … Rien n’absout les habitants des Etats de
Parme.68
To sum up, Junot’s disciplinary policies fell way short of the emperor’s demands:
‘I am not at all satisfied by your extreme indulgence’, wrote Napoleon on 18
February in a letter full of reproaches that underlines the gap between his
expectations and the actions of administrators on the ground:

68  Au Général Junot, Paris le 7 Feb.1806, Correspondance de Napoléon Ier, #9772, XII, 18.

The twenty-one executions are a fraction of the 1400 executions carried out throughout the
Napoleonic occupation in the peninsula. By comparison, military commissions pronounced 150
capital and 125 hard labour sentences in nearby Bologna and Verona during a similar rebellion
in the summer 1809. Grab, ‘State power, brigandage and rural resistance in Napoleonic Italy’, 61.
Even these pale next to the 900 executions ordered during the winter 1810–11 by General Manhès
in Calabria. J. A. Davis, Naples and Napoleon: Southern Italy and the European Revolutions
1780–1860 (Oxford, 2006), 227 (the discussion of the Calabria and Basilicata revolts on pp. 212–
31). A useful survey of all rural insurgencies in Napoleonic Italy, with chronology and casualty
figures, is included in M.  Viglione, La Vandeea Italiana. Le insorgenze controrivoluzionare
dale origini al 1814 (Milan, 1995), 43–273.
D o i n a Pa s c a   H a r s a n y i Page 23 of 26

Comment pouvez-vous me dire qu’il n’y a dans l’état de Parme que


six coupables quand plusieurs milliers d’hommes ont été sous les
armes pendant deux mois, ont pendant deux mois constamment
sonné le tocsin et résisté à mes troupes? Faites-moi la chasse à 5 ou
600 brigands et envoyez plusieurs centaines aux galères. … On a
connu la rébellion; il faut qu’on connaisse la vengeance et la puni-
tion. Je réitère l’ordre au prince Eugène de faire partir le 3e régi-
ment d’infanterie légère et le 67e de ligne. … ne gâtez pas ce peuple;
je veux qu’il fournisse la conscription, qu’il soit tranquille.69

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The constant reproaches put Junot in the unlikely position of having to defend
himself against accusation of softness:
Je reçois la lettre que vous m’avez écrite le 18 février. Je m’abstiendrai
de parler du chagrin qu’elle m’a fait. … J’ai vu ou du moins j’ai cru
voir la révolte de quelques villages beaucoup moins sérieuse que
l’on me l’a présentée. … Depuis j’ai fait brûler le gros village de
Mezzano, j’ai déjà fait fusiller huit de ces brigands, plusieurs sont
condamnés aux fers; au moins douze de ceux que l’on regarde
comme chefs seront fusillés, d’autres condamnés aux fers; tout le
pays est désarmé: est-ce là, Sire, manquer de fermeté? est-ce là de la
mollesse? 70
The correspondence continued on this pattern for about one more month:
reproaches for mollesse on Napoleon’s side, systematic efforts to scale back
violent retribution and seek alternative policies on Junot’s side. Junot found
an ally in this approach in the person nominated to replace Moreau de Saint-
Méry at the helm of the administration. To further chastise the rebellious
states of Parma, the emperor detached them from the 28th Military divi-
sion and reorganized them as a separate military state (Imperial decree
of 5 February 1806).71 Junot served as military commander with the title
Governor General, while civilian day-to-day affairs were entrusted to an old
hand, Hugues Nardon, former prefect of Angers and of Montenotte, nomi-
nated on 28 January Administrator-Prefect. Junot and Nardon had an uneasy
relationship, mainly because Nardon had a hard time accepting Junot’s
authority, but they both agreed on the need to minimize violent repression.
They did so by observing judicial procedure scrupulously—the minutes of
judgments show lengthy deliberations for each suspect, although execu-
tions were carried out within twenty-four hours—and also by taking pains
to establish qualitative differences between rebelliousness and common

69  Au Général Junot, Paris le 18 Feb. 1806, Correspondance de Napoléon Ier, #9844, XII, 62.

Contemporaneous letters to the viceroy Prince Eugène are constantly asking for additional troops
to be sent to Parma. Considering his oft-reiterated exasperation, these orders were not being
executed as swiftly as the emperor desired.
70  Junot to Napoleon, Parma 24 Feb. 1806. AN AF IV 1717.
71  Notes pour le Ministre de la Guerre Paris, 5 Feb., Correspondance de Napoléon Ier, #9754,

XII, 9.
Page 24 of 26 Brigands or insurgents

criminality. Against Napoleon’s calls for blanket retaliation, they maintained


the douceur that isolated the guilty few from the deluded many, a discur-
sive change made possible by the emphasis on the local population’s quasi
childlike simplemindedness. The many reports submitted by both Junot and
Nardon for the three months or so after their nomination consistently cast
the situation in the same terms Liguria’s Governor Lebrun had employed in
his reports: a few criminal elements and reckless outlaws set against a mass
of innocent, if easily misled peasants—nothing good law and order meas-
ures could not take care of. Hence, both teams pointed repeatedly to Moreau

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de Saint-Méry’s poor governing skills which had allowed a culture of crime
to flourish and effusively extolled the spirit of cooperation displayed by vil-
lage mayors, priests, even local militia. As he took his post on 3 March 1806
Nardon wrote to minister Champagny that he wanted to keep an open mind:
‘c’est un dédale dans lequel il faut pénétrer avec fermeté mais aussi avec
reserve et prudence’.72 Later on, he assured Champagny that while bandits
still roamed the countryside, none of them harbored rebellious intentions.73
After a particularly shocking round of executions on the first of April,
when two priests were shot among others, Nardon formally asked for all
executions to stop: ‘Je désire voir finir les exécutions militaires pour cause
des derniers événements: la foudre a frappé. De grands exemples ont été
faits, et peut-être en est-ce assez.’74 This was the reiteration of the call for
amnesty he had addressed the same day to Junot, a proposal that echoed the
general pardon trumpeted by French officials throughout the first month of
the insurrection:
A présent, permettez-moi, Monseigneur, de déposer dans votre sein
une pensée qui me presse: Sa Majesté Impériale et Royale a dû être
vengée, de grands exemples ont dû être faits, mais Monseigneur,
vous l’avez dit dans votre belle proclamation: Les brigands ont été
foudroyés. De grands exemples ont été faits, et le terrible qui a
eu lieu la semaine passée et qui a eu tant d’effet sur l’opinion par
la qualité des coupables, ne doit-il pas être le dernier, n’est-il pas
temps, Monseigneur, de prononcer le mot consolateur d’amnistie?
Mon dévouement à sa Majesté, l’attachement que j’ai pour votre per-
sonne m’engagent à remplir un devoir, et j’ai l’honneur de vous faire
la proposition de demander à Sa Majesté la faculté de prononcer une
amnistie générale dans ces Etats.75
‘Une administration douce et paternelle’, this was how Nardon wished to see
his mission and the terrible Junot did not disagree: ‘Sire, les ressources de ce
72  Nardon to Minster of Interior Champagny, Parma 3 Mar. 1806, AN F1e 85.
73  Ils sont tous ou arrêtés, ou vivement poursuivis, et presque tous signalés. Nardon to
Minster of Interior Champagny, Parma, 5 Apr. 1806, AN F1e 87. Nardon was very interested in
police work and drafted a richly detailed report on the police in the states of Parma-Piacenza.
74  Nardon to Minster of Interior Champagny, Parma 8 Apr. 1806, AN F1e 87.
75 Nardon to Gouverneur Général Junot, Parma 8 Apr. 1806 AN F1e 85. The terrible event

Nardon alludes to is the execution of two priests which nearly set off another round of uprisings.
D o i n a Pa s c a   H a r s a n y i Page 25 of 26

pays seront nulles et ce malheureux pays sera dans une détresse déplorable si
Votre Majesté ne daigne jeter un regard de bonté sur sa position actuelle’ wrote
Junot concluding a long letter depicting, again, the organizational chaos which
allowed petty crime to flourish and ultimately set off the unrest that he insisted
on describing as nothing more than a minor disturbance.76 Or, as the insur-
gents’ delegation put it during the meeting with Lieutenant of Gendarmerie
Paris: ‘c’est de la douceur qu’il faut’.77

VIII

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Battle-hardened soldiers like Marion or Junot and experienced bureaucrats
like Lebrun or Bureaux-Puzy or Nardon were not soft at heart and did not
recoil from inflicting exemplary punishment on unruly peasants unable
to understand their place in the grand system of the French empire. But
neither did they wish to be instruments of a blind, hated force—satraps,
as Broers called them.78 It is remarkable that even after Napoleon’s vigor-
ous intervention, individuals hand-picked for the task refused to launch
the campaign of terror for which he called unambiguously. It was not just
a question of technical disagreement between the emperor and his subor-
dinates. Public order was the ultimate goal of all, but where Napoleon was
thinking globally, administrators were thinking locally: even the harshest
of them expected to achieve more in their districts than merely forcing
people to keep quiet and fulfil their conscription quota, as Napoleon put
it. If such men risked incurring their master’s wrath, it was because they
understood their duties in loftier terms: bringing order out of chaos, which
gave them the right to alter societies not their own, meant giving good
laws to people accustomed to bad laws and ultimately changing for the bet-
ter the places under French rule. In a recent study of Napoleonic law and
order institutions, Aurélien Lignereux formulated this ethos concisely: ‘Le
pouvoir Napoléonien est animé par la conviction que la législation, à condi-
tion qu’elle soit respectée, est capable de changer les moeurs et de tirer les
individus vers le haut.’79
Such transformative work required cooperation and a lasting stability
which, in the words of Bureaux-Puzy, could not be achieved by force alone—
a difficult message to communicate to Napoleon who preferred governing
occupied lands in the same way he made war, that is, by overpowering local
resistance completely and categorically.80 Like their colleagues elsewhere,
officials in Parma attempted to make their administrés respect—maybe even
love - the French presence in their lives without having their own loyalties

76  Nardon to Champagny, Parma 1 May 1806, AN F/1e/85; Junot to Napoleon, Parma 14 Mar.

1806, AN F IV 1717.
77  Note 50.
78 Broers, The Napoleonic Empire in Italy 1796–1804, 96–117.
79 Lignereux, Servir Napoléon, 264.
80  P. Gueniffey, Bonaparte (Paris, 2013), 585–7.
Page 26 of 26 Brigands or insurgents

called into question.81 The discourse of criminalization, with its emphasis on


brigandage, helped square this circle: it singled out for exemplary punishment
criminal elements deemed alien to the gullible, easily misled greater number
who needed French guidance, not hardhearted subjugation. The paternalistic
undertones also broke a narrow, but useful common ground as it allowed
local leaders to stress their commune’s helplessness and portray villagers as
victims rather than instigators or enablers of rebellion. This give and take did
not work everywhere in the same way, but the Piacentino uprising served as a
point of reference for subsequent counter-insurgency policies where officials
struggled to both suppress revolts and avoid alienating the local population.82

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To conclude, a close examination of the sources pertaining to the insur-
gency in the Apennines opens a window into the contradictory demands
placed on French officials posted in unfamiliar places. In spite of the military
might at their disposal, they often opted for a softer line in conducting the
counter-insurgency, readily endorsed pardons and amnesty to reward com-
pliance, and worried over abuses likely to blacken French leadership in the
eyes of an already distrustful population. They did so because they needed
both to destroy the spirit of resistance and to build a new public spirit (esprit
public) of active cooperation with the French-imposed order. If this goal was
to be achieved, the French had to offer compelling reasons for a majority of
people to transfer their favours, so to speak, from the rebels/brigands to the
French law and order authorities, and beyond that, from the old order of things
to the new French one. Simultaneously, French representatives were under
heavy pressure from their hierarchy, from Napoleon especially, to suppress
any resistance decisively and pitilessly in the interest of order and security.
The two phases of the Piacentino counter-insurgency indicate that criminaliza-
tion could function as an adaptable strategic tool, capable, on the one hand, of
eradicating the moral legitimacy of rebellion, and, on the other hand, of reach-
ing out to people governed by the French. Once pacification was achieved, the
same discourse helped justify the imposition of French rule as a long overdue
and wholly beneficial system of orderly government. This latter point found
additional arguments in the related assumption of Italian primitive political
culture and general backwardness—which, however, must be the subject of
another article.

81  Adrien Lézay-Marnésia, prefect of Rhin-et-Moselle and later Bas-Rhin, put it poetically: ‘For

any people, it is only by administration that the government can be loved.’ Quoted in Gavin
Daly, ‘Investigating prefectoral rule in the departments’, in Napoleon and His Empire. Europe
1804–1814, ed. Ph. G. Dwyer and A. Forrest (Basingstoke, 2007), 50. Exceptionally perceptive
insights into the Napoleonic bureaucrats’ self-image as agents of an enlightened political process
are to be found in I. Woloch, Napoleon and His Collaborators: The Making of a Dictatorship
(New York, 2001).
82 Broers, The Napoleonic Empire in Italy, 93. To give just one example: Viceroy Eugène,

who had built a reputation for benevolence in the Piacentino, accepted the same discourse of
naïve peasants misled by hardened bandits during the 1809 rebellion. On this basis, out of 1600
suspects, 1325 were freed even though 150 rebels were executed. Grab, ‘State power, brigandage
and rural resistance in Napoleonic Italy’, 62.