The Emperor's Police

The Emperor's Police

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Joseph Fouché, Duke of Otranto (1759-1829)

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais

Publication date: January 2004

Historical context

Former pupil of the Oratorians, professor at the college of Juilly then in Arras where he met Carnot and Robespierre, Fouché was elected deputy to the Convention and played a leading role alongside Collot d'Herbois in the repression of the revolt in Lyon in 1793. Included among the suspects accused of terrorist zeal by Robespierre on 8 Thermidor Year II, he spent the night of 8 to 9 rallying the spirits who worked for the fall of the Incorruptible. Appointed Minister of General Police at the end of 1799 thanks to Barras, he actively participated in Bonaparte's coup d'etat and kept his portfolio under the Consulate. A staple since the "infernal machine" affair, he remained a minister during the Empire. Having developed formidable methods of investigation, absolute master in the field of intelligence and underground negotiations, Fouché obtained the Ministry of the Interior in 1809, while retaining the Police. But because of his too great occult power, Napoleon changed his mind and took away his ministries while making him Duke of Otranto. Struck into exile during the Restoration despite his maneuvers, he died in Trieste in 1820.

Image Analysis

It is the Duke of Otranto who is represented in this official portrait. He wears the court mantle adorned with the plaques of the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor and of the Order of Leopold II of Austria, a decoration which, moreover, fell only to Talleyrand. This portrait of a secret man, whose face betrayed ideas, is valid above all for the psychology of the model.

This table poses a problem. In the series of portraits of ministers painted for Compiègne, that of Fouché was the work of René Berthon. But the web has disappeared. By examining this painting by Dubufe, we notice that the entire background has been repainted, hiding a wall hanging and furniture. Was it restored after an accident that would have required cutting the model's legs? It's possible. Either way, the painting was donated to Versailles as a Dubufe. But it is hard to imagine that the young Claude, born in 1790, obtained such an order. Is this then the portrait of Berthon reworked?


The Oratory, through the intermediary of Cardinal de Bérulle, a friend of the Abbé de Saint-Cyran, had been one of the first Jansenist homes in the 17th century. His hostility to royal absolutism continued into the next century. Fouché was a pupil of it, which no doubt partly explains his rapid rallying to the French Revolution, which was to appear to him as an occasion of revenge for all those who had been excluded from the absolutist system. It is perhaps this original relationship to power, further accentuated by the dangers incurred during the Terror, that forged Fouché's special spirit, which is reflected so clearly in the features of his face.

  • Bonaparte (Napoleon)
  • police
  • Fouché
  • official portrait
  • Legion of Honor


Louis MADELINFouché 1759-1820Paris, Fondation Napoléon-Editions du Nouveau Monde, 2000 Jean TULARD (ed.)Napoleon dictionaryParis, Fayard, 1999 Jean TULARDJoseph FouchéParis, Fayard, 1998.

To cite this article

Jérémie BENOÎT, "The Emperor's Police"

Video: Luz Battles the Emperor . The Owl House. Disney Channel


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