The Malta Independent 2 August 2021, Monday

Napoleon letter detailing Malta invasion arrives, to be exhibited during Public Service week

Tuesday, 15 September 2020, 09:58 Last update: about 12 months ago

A letter from Napoleon Bonaparte to one of his top generals detailing plans for the invasion of Malta in 1798 has arrived in Malta and will be exhibited at the National Archaeology Museum during Public Service week later this month.

The three-page letter, signed and inscribed by Napoleon himself, the then Commander in Chief of the French Army of the Orient and a young, rising star in the midst of the turbulent French Revolution, instructs General Desaix, one of his most trusted men, to “assemble the armies, impound ships, arm them, and meet off Syracuse,” so as to eventually inch closer to the island fortress of Malta.


In the letter, dated 4 May – or 15 Floreal on the French Republican calendar – Desaix was told to pass along the coast of Naples, through the straights by the lighthouse at Messina, and to drop anchor at Syracuse or somewhere nearby that affords “the best approach to Malta”- “la plus favourable pour se rendre á Malte”, as Napoleon himself hand-wrote onto the paper.

The three-page letter instructs Desaix to take Commander Ménard with him and to procure a fleet made up of a frigate, two brigs, two dispatch-boats, and two royal galleys.

They are told to sail in close formation in case the English pass through the straits and, for the same reason, are also advised to arm the convoy with “four pieces of 24 [ostensibly referring to 24-pounder cannons], two mortars, two grills for red-hot bullets with two or three-hundred shots apiece”.

Heritage Malta purchased the extraordinary letter for €60,000 last July during an auction.  The letter has now arrived in Malta, and will be exhibited at the National Archaeology Museum in Valletta during Public Service week before eventually being moved to its permanent home at the Maritime Museum in Vittoriosa.

“I fully support such acquisitions for our National Collection, for they stimulate research and debate,” Minister for National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government José Herrera said. “With this letter, Napoleon changed our entire course of history.”                                                 

“Heritage Malta is proud to participate in the upcoming Public Service week,” Mario Cutajar, Heritage Malta’s Executive Director, stated. “Napoleon’s letter, together with various unique artefacts, will be displayed in the National Museum of Archaeology for all to enjoy.” 

Liam Gauci, the Maritime Museum’s senior curator, explained this letter’s significance, which, he explains, “reveals young Bonaparte’s strategic military mind, as he gave detailed instructions to his General on how to invade the Maltese islands.”


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