I have recently come across an account, by a British frigate captain off Toulon in December 1809, of a supposed attempt to release Spain's deposed King, Charles IV, from his comfortable captivity at Marseilles, presumably in order to use him as a figurehead for the Spanish uprising. Apparently Collingwood was dubious about the bona fides of the plotters (as was the captain they had contacted), and nothing came of it. Does anyone know if this was a real attempt to 'free' the King, or was it a French ruse de guerre to obtain intelligence about the British fleet, as the naval officers seemed to suspect?
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Thanks Rob and Tom for the information and references. It sounds as if the events described by the frigate captain off Toulon were part of an ongoing series of abortive attempts to 'rescue' the King, by a varied cast of characters, rather than a deep-laid plot by the French to gain intelligence on the British fleet. Interestingly Heywood (the captain in question) refers to a general (unnamed) who is the main instigator of the plot, but who was too sea-sick to board the vessel intended to communicate with the British fleet, and sent his 19-year-old son instead!
Also found this:
"P. Bosq.- La conspiration Charabot (1811-1813).
"Barras, le général Guidai, Charabot et d'autres préparent à Marseille, en faveur des Bourbons, un complot qui réunit jacobins et royalistes. On obtient de l'argent de Charles IV et de Godoy, internés à Marseille, en promettant de les faire évader. Grâce au corsaire Charabot, on communique avec les Anglais ; un plan est formé pour leur livrer Marseille et Toulon. Le complot est découvert au début de 1812 ; pour éviter tout éclat, la police tâche de réduire l'affaire à un simple procès d'espionnage ; c'est comme espions ou complices que les conjurés sont condamnés et que six d'entre eux sont exécutés. On évite de poursuivre Barras qu'on se borne à envoyer à Rome."
"The third shock was the so-called Midi Conspiracy.There were several "rescue" attempts organized around Carlos IV and his family as early as 1808, but most were bizarre, inconsistent and, worst of all, organized by climbers and intriguers.However, in 1809, the former director Barras and the former general Guidal, both opponents of Napoleon and exiled to Marseilles, proposed to Charles IV to escape thanks to the English squadron blockading the French coast."
"Barras and Guidal were declared Jacobins who were committed to Napoléon's authoritarianism and believed that freeing Charles IV and making him land as legitimate king in Spain would be a factor that would help end the war on the Peninsula and destabilize the regime.Even so, it was very difficult to find someone who would agree to contact the English and they were also very cautious and reluctant to participate in the adventure.There were various contacts between the conspirators and the English fleet in 1809, 1810 and 1811."
"However, Carlos IV did not seem enthusiastic about the project either, he did not want more shocks in life, he also wanted to take Godoy with him and that the English would greet him with a hundred salvos when he arrived at their ships, and they refused to satisfy his wishes.The whole affair was finally uncovered by the imperial police in 1811, the conspirators were arrested and Charles IV, although accused of collusion, was considered harmless.The problem was having the Spanish royal family exiled in a city that was known for its opposition to the Empire."
El exilio de Carlos IV (1808-1819). – Patrimonio de la Corona (wordpress.com)
L'administration napoléonienne en Europe - La conspiration du Midi : une conjuration républicaine ? - Presses universitaires de Provence (openedition.org)
Plot to rescue Ferdinand
«El más amado de los monarcas todos»: historia de un plan para rescatar a Fernando VII (Nueva España, 1808-1809)
This article attempts to show, after the example of a plan proposed to viceroy Pedro Garibay to rescue Spanish king Fernando VII from his captivity in Valençay, how public support for the “Desired” king increased in New Spain shortly after the arrival of the news of his prison at the hands of the French. Part of these feelings was motivated by the belief, largely taken from Spanish peninsular press and pamphlets and official propaganda, that the king had been the victim of treason and betrayal. This in turn would result in different discourses in favor and against the king.
«El más amado de los monarcas todos»: historia de un plan para rescatar a Fernando VII (Nueva España, 1808-1809) - ScienceDirect
My point was that if one plot was considered, then others may also have been suggested.
Interesting, but I think Burke's offer was a different plot than the one I am referring to. The initiative for this escapade seems to have come from France (and the men who contacted the British fleet off Toulon were certainly French), which may explain why all the naval officers were quite suspicious of the legitimacy of the proposal. From what you say, Burke's project seems to have been offered directly to the British government. The Toulon business may well have been some kind of French false-flag intelligence operation that did not come off.
Hi Paul, the timing does fit with an offer made by army officer and spy James Burke to free the king with 40 resolute men (and £200,000 for his expenses). The offer was declined, but it does suggest it may have been under consideration. You can find out more on Burke on my blog here: https://daringdutycunningplans.wordpress.com/2016/03/29/james-burke-soldier-rogue-spy/