After Napoleon became First Consul following the coup of the 18 Brumaire (November 9, 1799), he concentrated on consolidating his power, and in 1803 he doubled the pay of senators and established a system of sénatoreries, in which he rewarded loyal supporters with large properties. His efforts paid off on May 18, 1804 when Napoleon overthrew the Directory and the Senate proclaimed him emperor. The coronation at Notre Dame on December 2, 1804, was intended to invoke images of the Roman Empire and Charlemagne and was to include Pope Pius VII anointing and crowning Napoleon and Josephine. However, in one of the most famous events in European history, Napoleon dramatically took the crown from the pope’s hands – and with it his authority over the French Empire – and boldly crowned himself emperor and his wife, Josephine, empress, an event immortalized by the painter Jacques-Louis David whose detailed and somewhat embellished rendering of the event now hangs in the Louvre. Our letter was written just a few months preceding the coronation.
Soult was trained as a lawyer and rose through the ranks of Napoleon’s army to brigadier general, fighting in Germany and distinguishing himself during General Massena’s Swiss campaign in 1799. Following his brief confinement as a prisoner of war in 1800, Soult was appointed commander of the southern part of the Kingdom of Naples. As a reward for his loyalty Napoleon made him one of the first Marshals of the Empire in May 1804 and the first Duke of Dalmatia in 1808. Soult went on to victories at the Battle of Austerlitz and Jena, and later fought the Duke of Wellington in the Peninsular War. During Napoleon’s Hundred Days, he again declared his loyalty to Napoleon and served as chief of staff during the Battle of Waterloo. As a result, he was exiled in 1815, but returned in 1819 and had his titles restored in 1820. He became an outspoken royalist, supporting Louis Philippe after the revolution of 1830 and, for his efforts, was awarded the rare title Marshal General of France. He later served as President of the Council of Ministers and Minister of War.
Soult’s marriage to his German wife, Johanna Louise Elisabeth Berg (1771-1852), in 1796, resulted in three children. The first born, a son, was named Napoleon and succeeded Soult as 2nd Duke of Dalmatia. Our letter congratulates Soult on the birth of his middle daughter, Hortense, on August 31, 1804, named in honor of Napoleon and Josephine’s daughter, Hortense de Beauharnais. Hortense Soult married Count Jules de Mornay, a Royal Cavalry officer, in 1822.
Written on gilt-edged paper and in very fine condition. Letters signed in full “Napoleon,” are rare and the most desirable form of the emperor’s signature.