On This Day in Napoleonic History – 12 October 1809

220px-interrogatoire_de_staps_4Friedrich Staps attempts to assassinate Napoleon

Napoleon was in Vienna not far from the horse-shoe shaped double staircase of Schönbrunn Palace when Friedrich Staps, the 18 year old son of a Lutheran pastor from Erfurt, tried to stab him while pretending to hand him a petition. Fortunately, Jean Rapp seized the would-be assasin before he had a chance to kill the Emperor. ‘I was struck by the expression of his eyes when he looked at me,’ Rapp recalled. ‘His decided manner roused my suspicions.’ A large carving knife was found on Staps and he was promptly arrested.

Napoleon hoped that the young student was insane and thus could be pardoned, but Staps was pronounced healthy. When asked by Napoleon what he would do if he was released, Staps replied: ‘I would try to kill you again.’ He was executed by firing squad on the 17th, crying ‘Long live Germany’ and ‘Death to the tyrant.’

This incident made Napoleon realise that a strong spirit of nationalism was arising in Germany. ‘I’ve always had a dread of madmen,’ Napoleon told his secretary. The fear of another assassination attempt and desire to produce an heir would soon push him to divorce Josephine and marry the Austrian princess Marie Louise.

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