The conquests of the Directory

The conquests of the Directory

  • The triumph of the French armies.

    MONSALDY Antoine Maxime (1768 - 1816)

  • Speech by General Bernadotte

The triumph of the French armies.

© Photo National Library of France

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Title: Speech by General Bernadotte

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Creation date : 1797

Date shown: 1797

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Full title: Speech by General Bernadotte during the presentation to the Directory of the flags taken by the Army of Italy

Storage location: Historic Center of the National Archives website

Contact copyright: © Historic Center of the National Archives - Photo workshop website

Picture reference: AF / 3/462 / plate 2788 / piece 12

Speech by General Bernadotte

© Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

Publication date: May 2003


The conquests of the Directory


Historical context

Why the war under the Directory?

Hardly proclaimed, the Republic had to fight to survive against the united European powers. The policy of revolutionary expansion becomes even more bellicose with the doctrine of sister republics supported by patriots from various parts of Europe.

In 1796, the Directory wanted to annex the left bank of the Rhine. He launched a main attack in Germany, with the army of Sambre and Meuse, under the orders of Hoche, Pichegru and Jourdan, between Dusseldorf and Mainz and with the army of the Rhine and Moselle, under the command of Moreau, between Mainz and Basel.

Bonaparte was to carry out diversionary maneuvers in Italy. As soon as it resumes with Hoche and Moreau, Bonaparte burns the stages on the way to Austria and concludes with Archduke Charles the armistice of Leoben then the peace of Campo-Formio (April 18 and October 18, 1797): he lays the foundations of its Italian policy by creating the Cisalpine and Ligurian republics.

Image Analysis

The intoxication of young generals

Under a conventional title, the allegory humorously swings into the excitement of success. Dismantling the great powers of Europe, four young generals made conquests of unheard-of magnitude. They carry like trophies fragments detached by them from the map of Europe! Antoine Monsaldy (1768-1816) French engraver for a time living in Rome, produced an original montage of reductions of two Jean-Baptiste Poirson route maps, sold by the same publisher, Jean, in Paris, where public opinion must be convinced.

Young as ancient heroes, the victors wear the uniform of the general-in-chief: national blue coat, white breeches and waistcoat, golden belt. Everyone wears the hat as they wish, "in battle" (points on either side of the face), like Hoche, on the left, and Moreau or "in column" (points in front and behind the head), like Pichegru.

Hoche holds the detailed map of the scene of the failed emigres' expedition to Quiberon in June and July 1795. His victory in Year III is in fact closer to the aspirations of Year II - to save the Republic from its external enemies and interiors - only conquests of the Directory.

Pichegru entered the Netherlands in 1794, after the recapture of Belgium, occupied Amsterdam and The Hague, and the Batavian Republic was able to organize itself. General-in-chief of Sambre et Meuse, he is popular with the “golden youth” of the famous Muscadins and Incroyables. Moreau, at the head of the Army of the Rhine and Moselle, rolls the corner of the map to cover up England!

Bonaparte - here the most resembling of the four - tears from the Empire, in the literal sense of the term, northern and central Italy, with all the possessions of Venice. Sneering, his left arm folded behind his back, he turns to the other three: has he not alone conquered all of Northern Italy? The eagle of the Holy Empire, emblem of the Habsburgs, overwhelmed by the assaults suffered, holds in its talons a broken saber and clings to the frame of the territory that remains to it!

The pre-Italian campaign map was used without waiting for the boundaries of the Cisalpine Republic. Detaching this region from the Empire is enough to show the hold exercised by Bonaparte's troops: the map of Italy, dated to the armistice of Leoben (29 Germinal year V / 18 April 1797) already gives the possessions of Venice in the hands of Bonaparte, while the occupation will not take place until May 15. The annexation of the left bank of the Rhine also appears immediate, although planned for a later stage. With a keen sense of propaganda, the image portrays Bonaparte as an unparalleled victor and at the same time praises him as the hero who brings the peace public opinion wants.

At the same time, the speech of General Bernadotte (1763-1844, who would become Marshal of the Empire then King of Sweden and Norway) instructed by Bonaparte to hand over to the Directory the flags taken by the army of Italy on 10 Fructidor year V / August 27, 1797, aims to exalt the victories of Bonaparte and to convince the Directory and the public of his will to maintain the Republic against the royalist threat. Propaganda operation, of course, but the tone adopted by the young general is indicative of this new period. It is no longer a question of defending the motherland in the patriotic enthusiasm of the Year II. His injunctions to the Directory to suppress factions are no less firm than his conviction of the political role the army can play. From Year IV, an appetite for conquest prevails, which crystallizes around these young military leaders concerned with glory.


Propaganda in the service of conquests

Bonaparte, installed at that time in the castle of Mombello near Milan, surrounded by a veritable courtyard where scientists and artists appear, reorganized all of northern Italy. He knows that the Leoben agreements will not please the Directory, which wants above all the annexation of the left bank of the Rhine. He then instructed the couriers who took the text to Paris to proclaim all along their journey that peace with Austria had been made, so as to create a movement of opinion which brought the Directory before a fait accompli. This engraving is probably related to this context: producing a map was the best way to present the victorious situation.

The rivalry of the three young generals with Bonaparte will only last a few weeks. On September 5 of this year 1797, Pichegru, whose royalist sympathies were known to Bonaparte and the Directory from June, was sentenced to deportation to Guyana following the republican coup d'etat of the Eighteen Fructidor. On the 19th, Hoche, devoured by tuberculosis, died at Wetzlar headquarters at the age of 29. On the 23rd, Moreau was dismissed for having hidden from the Directory evidence of Pichegru's treason. Soon the way will be cleared for the exceptional genius of the latter.

  • cards
  • costumes
  • Directory
  • Bonaparte (Napoleon)
  • propaganda
  • Venice
  • Italy


Pierre-Dominique CHEYNET, National Archives (France), The minutes of the Executive Board, year V-year VIII: inventory of the registers of deliberations and minutes of decrees, letters and acts of the Directory ... Paris, Historic Center of the National Archives, 2001, volume II, p. 188.

Jacques GODECHOT, The French Revolution, commented chronology, 1787-1799, Paris, Perrin, 1988

Jacques GODECHOT, The Great Nation, the revolutionary expansion of France in the world, 1789-1799, Paris, Aubier, 1956, reissued 2001

Annie JOURDAN,Napoleon. Hero, imperator, patron, Paris, Aubier, 1998

To cite this article

Luce-Marie ALBIGÈS, "The conquests of the Directory"

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