Court Memoirs of France Series— Complete

Author: Various

Letter XIII.

PARIS, September, 1805.

MY LORD:—A ridiculous affair lately occasioned a great deal of bustle among the members of our foreign diplomatic corps. When Bonaparte demanded for himself and for his wife the title of Imperial Majesty, and for his brothers and sisters that of Imperial Highness, he also insisted on the salutation of a Serene Highness being given to his Arch- Chancellor, Cambaceres, and his Arch-Treasurer, Lebrun. The political consciences of the independent representatives of independent Continental Princes immediately took the alarm at the latter innovation, as the appellation of Serene Highness has never hitherto been bestowed on persons who had not princely rank. They complained to Talleyrand, they petitioned Bonaparte, and they even despatched couriers to their respective Courts. The Minister smiled, the Emperor cursed, and their own Cabinets deliberated. All routs, all assemblies, all circles, and all balls were at a stop. Cambaceres applied to his Sovereign to support his pretensions, as connected with his own dignity; and the diplomatic corps held forward their dignity as opposing the pretensions of Cambaceres. In this dilemma Bonaparte ordered all the Ambassadors, Ministers, envoys, and agents ’en masse’ to the castle of the Tuileries. After hearing, with apparent patience, their arguments in favour of established etiquette and customs, he remained inflexible, upon the ground that he, as master, had a right to confer what titles he chose within his own dominions on his own subjects; and that those foreigners who refused to submit to his regulations might return to their own country. This plain explanation neither effecting a conversion nor making any, impression, he grew warm, and left the refractory diplomatists with these remarkable words: "Were I to create my Mameluke Rostan a King, both you and your masters should acknowledge him in that rank."

After this conference most of Their Excellencies were seized with terror and fear, and would, perhaps, have subscribed to the commands of our Emperor had not some of the wisest among them proposed, and obtained the consent of the rest, to apply, once more to Talleyrand, and purchase by some douceur his assistance in this great business. The heart of our Minister is easily softened; and he assented, upon certain conditions, to lay the whole before his Sovereign in such a manner that Cambaceres should be made a Prince as well as a Serene Highness.

It is said that Bonaparte was not easily persuaded to this measure, and did not consent to it before the Minister remarked that his condescension in this insignificant opposition to his will would proclaim his moderation and generosity, and empower him to insist on obedience when matters of the greatest consequence should be in question or disputed. Thus our regicide, Cambaceres, owes his princely title to the shallow intrigues of the agents of legitimate Sovereigns. Their nicety in talking of innovations with regard to him, after they had without difficulty hailed a sans-culotte an Emperor, and other sans-culottes Imperial Highnesses, was as absurd as improper. Report, however, states, what is very probable, that they were merely the duped tools of Cambaceres’s ambition and vanity, and of Talleyrand’s corruption and cupidity.

Cambaceres expected to have been elevated to a Prince on the same day that he was made a Serene Highness; but Joseph Bonaparte represented to his brother that too many other princedoms would diminish the respect and value of the princedoms of the Bonaparte family. Cambaceres knew that Talleyrand had some reason at that period to be discontented with Joseph, and, therefore, asked his advice how to get made a Prince against the wishes of this Grand Elector. After some consideration, the Minister replied that he was acquainted with one way, which would, with his support, certainly succeed; but it required a million of livres to set the wheels in motion, and keep them going afterwards. The hint was taken, and an agreement signed for one million, payable on the day when the princely patent should be delivered to the Arch-Chancellor.

Among the mistresses provided by our Minister for the members of the foreign diplomatic corps, Madame B----s is one of the ablest in the way of intrigue. She was instructed to alarm her ’bon ami’, the Bavarian Minister, Cetto, who is always bustling and pushing himself forward in the grand questions of etiquette. A fool rather than a rogue, and an intriguer while he thinks himself a negotiator, he was happy to have this occasion to prove his penetrating genius and astonishing information. A convocation of the diplomatic corps was therefore called, and the suggestions of Cetto were regarded as an inspiration, and approved, with a resolution to persevere unanimously. At their first audience with Talleyrand on this subject, he seemed to incline in their favour; but, as soon as he observed how much they showed themselves interested about this trifling punctilio, it occurred to him that they, as well as Cambaceres, might in some way or other reward the service he intended to perform. Madame B----s was again sent for; and she once more advised her lover, who again advised his colleagues. Their scanty purses were opened, and a subscription entered into for a very valuable diamond, which, with the millions of the Arch-Chancellor, gave satisfaction to all parties; and even Joseph Bonaparte was reconciled, upon the consideration that Cambaceres has no children, and that, therefore, the Prince will expire with the Grand Officer of State.

Cambaceres, though before the Revolution a nobleman of a Parliamentary family, was so degraded and despised for his unnatural and beastly propensities, that to see him in the ranks of rebellion was not unexpected. Born in Languedoc, his countrymen were the first to suffer from his revolutionary proceedings, and reproached him as one of the most active instruments of persecution against the clergy of Toulouse, and as one of the causes of all the blood that flowed in consequence. A coward as well as a traitor, after the death of Louis XVI. he never dared ascend the tribune of the National Convention, but always gave a silent vote to all the atrocious laws proposed and carried by Marat, Robespierre, and their accomplices. It was in 1795, when the Reign of Terror had ceased, that he first displayed his zeal for anarchy, and his hatred to royalty; his contemptible and disgusting vices were, however, so publicly reprobated, that even the Directory dared not nominate him a Minister of Justice, a place for which he intrigued in vain, from 1796 to 1799; when Bonaparte, either not so scrupulous, or setting himself above the public opinion, caused him to be called to the Consulate; which, in 1802, was ensured him for life, but exchanged, in 1804, for the office of an Arch- Chancellor.

He is now worth thirty millions of livres—all honestly obtained by his revolutionary industry. Besides a Prince, a Serene Highness, an Arch- Chancellor, a grand officer of the Legion of Honour, he is also a Knight of the Prussian Black Eagle! For his brother, who was for a long time an emigrant clergyman, and whom he then renounced as a fanatic, he has now procured the Archbishopric of Rouen and a Cardinal’s hat. His Eminence is also a grand officer of the Legion of Honour in France, and a Pope in petto at Rome.


Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options

Title: Court Memoirs of France Series— Complete

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: Court Memoirs of France Series— Complete

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Various, "Letter XIII.," Court Memoirs of France Series— Complete, ed. Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853 and trans. Holcroft, Thomas, 1745-1809 in Court Memoirs of France Series—Complete (New York: Doubleday, Page, 1909), Original Sources, accessed August 21, 2019,

MLA: Various. "Letter XIII." Court Memoirs of France Series— Complete, edited by Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853, and translated by Holcroft, Thomas, 1745-1809, in Court Memoirs of France Series—Complete, Vol. 36, New York, Doubleday, Page, 1909, Original Sources. 21 Aug. 2019.

Harvard: Various, 'Letter XIII.' in Court Memoirs of France Series— Complete, ed. and trans. . cited in 1909, Court Memoirs of France Series—Complete, Doubleday, Page, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 21 August 2019, from