Joseph Fouché

The French statesman Joseph Fouché (1759-1820) served as minister of police under Napoleon and was influential in the return of Louis XVIII to the throne in 1815.

Joseph Fouché was born on May 21, 1759, near Nantes. He received an excellent education with the Oratorians, first at Nantes and then at Paris. He took minor religious orders and became a teacher. When the Revolution began to transform French society, he was teaching at the Oratorians' college at Nantes and became a prominent member of the local Jacobin club. Elected to the National Convention in August 1792, he voted for the establishment of the republic and the death of Louis XVI.

Upon entering public life, Fouché renounced his clerical vows and his religion. As a representative of the Convention, first in the Vendée and then at Lyons (1793-1794), he earned the name of terrorist by crushing all opposition to the Paris government. Because of a falling-out with Robespierre, he supported the Thermidorians in overthrowing the Jacobin regime on July 27-28, 1794.

During the 4 years of the Directory (1795-1799), Fouché had contacts with both the extreme left and the right while remaining on good terms with the government. In 1798 he was ambassador to the Cisalpine Republic and in 1799 to Holland. By the summer of 1799 he was back in Paris as minister of police and placed his services at the disposal of Abbé Sieyès and Napoleon Bonaparte when, on 18 Brumaire (Nov. 9, 1799), they overthrew the government and established the Consulate. Fouché continued as minister of police, with but a 2-year interval (1802-1804), until he was relieved by Napoleon in 1810 after they had a falling-out.

The creation of the empire in 1804 led to his ennoblement with the title of Duke of Otranto. Furthermore, he amassed a large fortune during his years in office. In 1810 he settled at his estate at Point Carré until after the Russian campaign of 1812, when he again served Napoleon, first as administrator to the Illyrian provinces and then as a spy on Murat in Italy. He returned to Paris in April 1814 and vainly attempted to attach himself to the returning Bourbons.

During the Hundred Days, Fouché was once again minister of police. But believing that Napoleon could not survive the approaching war, he entered into correspondence with the royalists. Upon the Emperor's second abdication, on June 22, 1815, Fouché vigorously worked for the restoration of Louis XVIII, from whom he expected a high political position in return. The royalists, however, could not forgive the regicide and terrorist of the Revolution, and he finished his days in self-imposed exile first at Prague and then at Trieste, where he died on Dec. 25, 1820.


Further Reading on Joseph Fouché

The best biography of Fouché is in French. Nils Forssell, Fouché, the Man Napoleon Feared (1928), is a good biography of Fouché and discusses his relationship with Napoleon. The Memoirs of Joseph Fouché (trans., 2 vols., 1825) was once thought to be the work of Fouché himself; it has since been attributed to Alphonse de Beauchamp, but it is based upon notes and papers left by Fouché and is worthwhile. A Sketch of the Public Life of the Duke of Otranto (trans. 1816) is a brief work thought to have been written by Fouché. See also Stefan Zweig, Joseph Fouché: The Portrait of a Politician (trans. 1930), and Ray E. Cubberly, The Role of Fouché during the Hundred Days (1969).