a detail from "Napoleon as First Consul," an 1802 painting by Antoine-Jean Gros

The Christmas Eve plot to blow up Napoleon

On December 24, 1800, monarchist rebels attempted to assassinate Napoleon Bonaparte with a bomb as he was on his way to the opera.

A detail from "Napoleon as First Consul," an 1802 painting by Antoine-Jean Gros. Musée de la Légion D'Honneur, Paris
Erich Lessing/Album

On the night of December 24, 1800, the first French performance of The Creation, an oratorio by famous composer Joseph Haydn, premiered at the Theater of the Republic and the Arts in Paris. Shortly after the orchestra began playing, a thunderous sound from outside the building interrupted the opening movement, “Representation of Chaos.” Chaos, indeed, for a homemade bomb, intended for Napoleon Bonaparte was the source of the commotion.

Napoleon had been first consul of the French Republic for almost a year. Seeking to restore order and unity to post-revolutionary France, he had instituted popular reforms, including establishing the lycée system for secondary education and creating the Bank of France to improve France’s financial stability. His rise to power had also earned him many enemies. Jacobin radicals, who were loyal to the government that had preceded Napoleon’s coup, viewed the first consul as a traitor to the revolution, while royalists sought restoration of the monarchical ancient régime and the Bourbon dynasty. (Before the French Revolution, Paris had their eyes on Marie Antoinette.)

In Napoleon’s initial year as first consul, opposition took the form of assassination plots and conspiracies against him. Malmaison, an estate west of Paris owned by his wife, Joséphine, was the site of several alleged plots, but none were carried out. In October 1800 four men believed to be Jacobins armed themselves with knives and planned to stab Napoleon to death in his box at the opera in the so-called Dagger Plot. The conspirators were caught, arrested, and later executed for plotting to kill the new French leader. (Beethoven went from Napoleon's biggest fan to his most savage critic.)

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