Supplementary Appendix: Friedrich Müller’s Odyssey on behalf of Duke Karl August

Friedrich Müller’s odyssey on behalf of Duke Karl August
after the battles of Jena and Auerstedt [*]

It may be recalled (supplementary appendix 417g.1) that Duchess Louise remained in Weimar even after most of the court had fled in the face of French troop advancements prior to the battles at Jena and Auerstedt, and that her constancy, courage, and dignity had convinced Napoleon to give Weimar and its sovereign a second chance. The continuing story, however, was more complicated.

When Duchess Louise encountered Napoleon on the stairs of the Weimar palace, he imperiously demanded to know where Karl August was. “Doing his duty,” she replied.


To wit, at the outbreak of the war, Karl August had been assigned leadership of the Prussian avant-garde that was to advance through the Thuringian Forest toward Franconia. His troops had made it as far as Meiningen when on 12 October orders arrived for him to return toward Weimar as soon as possible.

Karl August and his troops arrived at Ilmenau on 13 October, and at Arnstadt on the evening of 14 October, where he heard the news about the Prussian defeat at the battles of Jena and Auerstedt, whereupon he set out for Erfurt and from there toward Braunschweig (Neueste Post. Karte von Deutschland und den angrenzenden Laendern [1805]):


Entering Weimar on 15 October, Napoleon, of course, was bent on revenge for this duke who had put his troops at the disposal of the Prussian army. [1] Although he initially received Duchess Louise coldly, she secured a meeting with him on the afternoon of 16 October. With dignity and unmoved by Napoleon’s threats of completely divesting her husband of all ducal sovereignty, she defended Karl August’s actions as deriving from honor, described the desperate plight of her territory, and urged a stop to the plundering. Napoleon, who remarked afterward that this was a woman whom even the “200 French cannons” could not frighten, gave Karl August twenty-four hours to leave the Prussian army and return to Weimar with his troops. The problem, of course, was that no one even knew where Karl August was at that moment, nor how to get a message to him in any case. Wilhelm von Wolzogen managed to get a message to King Friedrich Wilhelm explaining the situation and asking that Karl August be officially relieved of duty. When Napoleon left the next morning, 17 October, court officials were able to get him to agree to a three-day extension of the deadline.

On 18 October, a young Friedrich Müller managed to get authorization to accompany Dominique Vivant Denon to Erfurt, who was charged by Napoleon with, among other things, producing drawings for commemorative coins of conquests and of assessing works of art in conquered territories for French acquisition (Neueste Post. Karte von Deutschland und den angrenzenden Laendern [1805]):


Müller’s purpose was to seek advice in the matter from General Henri Jacques Guillaume Clarke, now the French Governor there. Clarke had news that Karl August had continued from Erfurt to Mühlhausen and on to Göttingen (ultimately to meet up with the fleeing generals Blücher and Hohenlohe) and could hardly be reached before the deadline expired (Neueste Post. Karte von Deutschland und den angrenzenden Laendern [1805]):


He recommended instead that the duchess send someone to the imperial headquarters in Naumburg with a handwritten request to Napoleon for an extension of that deadline.

On 19 October Clarke issued Müller a passport for just such a journey, and the latter returned to Weimar that afternoon only to discover that the duchess had already, albeit unsuccessfully, directed just such a missive to Napoleon in Naumburg. On 20 October, Denon suggested Müller accompany him to Naumburg so as not to miss the opportunity of salvaging things; the duchess agreed and wrote the missive herself, and Müller left that afternoon, travelling by way of Auerstedt, where he observed the grisly aftermath on the battlefield (PostKarte von Deutschland und den angrenzenden Laendern [1806]):


In Naumburg, however, Müller discovered that Napoleon had already departed for Halle. A French officer journeying in the same direction accompanied him to address problems Müller might encounter along the way. They departed the morning of 21 October for Merseburg, where they learned that Napoleon had already left Halle for Dessau, from where he would be travelling on to Wittenberg. The men left immediately for Leipzig, arriving late in the evening (PostKarte von Deutschland und den angrenzenden Laendern [1806]):


On the morning of 22 October, Müller bought a third horse for his carriage, which he had hired for a trip only as far as Naumburg, and promptly ran out of money, only to be helped at the last minute by a Leipzig banking acquaintance. He and Denon made it that night only as far as Eilenburg, where slept on straw in a run-down inn. A violent storm that night threatened to topple the shabby inn, reminding Müller of the ghoulish bands of nocturnal spirits that in popular folklore were thought to howl and blow through villages at night,

On 23 October, however, they discovered that Napoleon was no longer in Wittenberg either, but rather was now in full march for Berlin. Müller learned, however, that a letter from the Prussian king to Wilhelm von Wolzogen had been intercepted and translated for Napoleon in which the king declared that he was therewith relieving the Duke of Weimar (Karl August) of all duties to Prussia and advising him to return as quickly as possible to his state.

Müller set off immediately for Kropstädt, where Napoleon would be spending the night but probably departing early the next morning. Müller arrived at the French headquarters in the tiny village of Kropstädt late that night in the pouring rain, the village being so full of French soldiers and equipment that, unable to enter the village in his carriage, he had to proceed on foot through the mud and rain. He finally encountered a French officer who related to him that Napoleon was spending the night not in the village itself, but in the nearby moated estate castle (PostKarte von Deutschland und den angrenzenden Laendern [1806]):


Müller laboriously made it on foot and through all the layers of guards to the castle, which was situated on an island. [2] He entered a sparsely lit corridor on the ground floor full of sleeping imperial guards and proceeded until he came to a lighted side room with several officers on straw beds. There he was stopped by a servant who told him that he was quite close to the emperor’s sleeping quarters and that the latter was already asleep; he nervously advised Müller to leave immediately or risk being arrested. Müller explained that he had a missive for the imperial minister Hugues-Bernard Maret. The servant led him down the dark corridor to the minister’s room, who, however, was about to go to bed and indeed had already disrobed. Maret received Müller and advised him to follow Napoleon to Potsdam the next morning; because Napoleon was to depart well before daybreak, an earlier audience was impossible.

Müller did, however, receive a confirmation from Maret that the letter from the Prussian king to Wolzogen in Weimar had been intercepted, though Maret added that because Napoleon had been quite pleased by its contents, he had allowed it to be sent on to Wolzogen in Weimar.

Müller returned through the dark corridor and upon leaving the castle found himself totally disoriented in the darkness among the surrounding labyrinth of shrubbery, ditches, and ponds. Finally, with the help of a guard, he made it back to the village and his carriage, found his travelling companion Lefèbre’s sleeping quarters up a set of dark stairs, and spent the night using his portfolio as a pillow. The next morning, he inadvertently overheard two Poles speaking about Napoleon’s plans to incite an uprising in Poland; fearing for his life were he, a stranger from a hostile, conquered state, discovered as having overheard such important secrets, Müller slipped surreptitiously out of the room with the other officers who had slept there during the night.

At 4:00 in the morning on 24 October, Müller returned to the now plundered castle estate, from which the emperor had, however, already departed. He returned to the village and found that it, too, had been thoroughly plundered and ransacked. After breakfasting on potatoes found in a cellar, he gave the schoolmaster in whose house he had spent the night a Prussian Thaler, upon receiving which the schoolmaster broke down and wept, utterly incredulous that anyone amid the wild plundering would think to pay.

Müller arrived in Potsdam late that evening after journeying amid what seemed to him to be “half the world” on its way to Berlin (PostKarte von Deutschland und den angrenzenden Laendern [1806]):


At about 9:00 a.m. on 25 October, Müller entered the royal castle in Potsdam, where he was ordered to wait in a hall filled with marshals, generals, and other officers until his audience with the emperor (F. Meyer and Andreas Ludwig Krüger, Vue Septentrionale du Château Royal de Potsdam [ca. 1772–77]; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur ALKrüger AB 1.31):


Feeling unwell and with chest pains after the strenuous and chaotic journey and now the anxious waiting, he went into an adjoining room to get some fresh air. It was Napoleon’s anteroom, and the bodyguard, noticing Müller’s condition, hastened to fetch him some Eau de Cologne and orange water from the imperial apothecary. After forty-five minutes, he returned to the waiting room and after several more minutes was called into see Napoleon.

Napoleon, rather than focusing on Müller’s presentation of the duchess’s handwritten petition, kept asking about her and about conditions in Weimar. After Müller repeatedly emphasized the difficulty even in locating the position of Karl August, Napoleon merely advised Müller to remain with the French leadership, including in Berlin, and to report back as soon as he had some word of the duke’s status. Müller did learn shortly thereafter, however, that Karl August had passed through Braunschweig with his troops on 20 October, apparently heading toward Stendal (Neueste Post. Karte von Deutschland und den angrenzenden Laendern [1805]):


On 26 October, Müller was instructed to move on to Berlin and seek a second audience with Napoleon in Charlottenburg, where the new French headquarters would be located (PostKarte von Deutschland und den angrenzenden Laendern [1806]):


Müller did so on 27 October. Napoleon’s representatives related to him that Napoleon had still not authorized passports for Anna Amalia and the Crown Prince Friedrich to return to Weimar from Erfurt, where they had fled but gotten no farther, and that lack of information concerning Karl August’s direction and operations was probably the reason Napoleon was hesitating with the passports. Müller was again advised simply to await news of Karl August’s status and then report back. In the meantime, on 28 October Müller learned that Crown Princess Marie, who had fled Weimar through Berlin on her way to Schleswig (rather than Stettin or Danzig), was hoping to return soon to Weimar and had entrusted money to an administrator in Berlin friendly to Weimar to pursue Weimar’s interests in Berlin; Müller, whose trip had now been extended indefinitely, was able to access that money.

Müller also finally learned that Karl August had indeed passed through Braunschweig heading for Stendal in order to unite his troops with those of General Hohenlohe or if necessary to continue on to Harburg (Neueste Post. Karte von Deutschland und den angrenzenden Laendern [1805]): [3]


The source of this information, a Weimar officer captured trying to make his way to General Hohenlohe, had encountered the courier who was supposed to bring the Prussian king’s missive to Karl August about being relieved of his command and returning to Weimar, but the officer doubted the courier could have caught up with Karl August because all routes had been cut off, information Müller thought important enough to pass along to Napoleon.

Hence on 29 October he rather boldly announced that he desired an audience. After several hours, he was taken in. Napoleon listened patiently to his news about the impossibility of Karl August having been able to receive the missive from the king of Prussia, but then related to Müller in his own turn that Karl August was at the moment surrounded such that he could neither cross the Elbe River nor otherwise escape, and that he was expected to be taken prisoner at any moment. Müller would then be able to journey to meet him.

Müller, however, explained that these developments were less favorable even to Napoleon, since it would be better for all if Karl August could voluntarily withdraw from the ranks of the emperor’s enemies rather than dishonorably, that is, without having either the king’s official dismissal missive or any news concerning Napoleon’s will. “There is nothing I can do about that,” Napoleon responded, “the way things stand, one must above all await the capture of the duke; then one can see what is to be done.” In the meantime, news of the surrender of General Hohenlohe at Prenzlau had reached Berlin, prisoners had begun arriving, and on 2 November Müller learned that Karl August had left his Prussian army corps three days earlier and arrived in Güstrow, where he had received money to travel further, either to Hamburg or Weimar (Neueste Post. Karte von Deutschland und den angrenzenden Laendern [1805]):


In a meeting with an imperial representative on 3 November, Müller was told that Napoleon was disinclined to be compassionate with the duke of Weimar because of the latter’s unfortunate decision to take the Prussian side in this conflict and indeed even to lead an army corps, and that any decision not to be severe with him would derive solely on the impression the duchess had made on Napoleon during the latter’s earlier stay in Weimar, but that one could still not yet say what Napoleon would decide.

A courier had, however, finally caught up with Karl August in Wolfenbüttel back on 25 October and delivered Napoleon’s news to him about returning. The courier accompanied Karl August across the Elbe to Havelberg and was sent back to Weimar on 27 October with a missive from Karl August to the duchess, which the duchess then dispatched to Müller with yet another handwritten missive to Napoleon (Neueste Post. Karte von Deutschland und den angrenzenden Laendern [1805]):


Karl August’s missive, however, made it clear that he had not yet received the Prussian king’s release, but also made clear his wish to withdraw from the Prussian cause and follow Napoleon’s will as soon as considerations of honor so allowed. That is, the missive showed Karl August’s desire to leave Prussian service even without an official release from the king.

At the next audience with Napoleon, on 5 November, Müller was met with vehement reproaches concerning Karl August’s comportment. Although Müller quickly handed over the missive from Weimar, it had little effect on Napoleon’s anger, who emphasized once more than the only reason he had not yet completely divested Karl August of his sovereignty was his, Napoleon’s, respect for the duchess, whom he wished to spare further injury. “My dear Herr Rath, I am too old to trust excessively in words, I prefer facts. Does your duke understand that by all accounts I should divest him completely of his government? You, good Sir, are keen on excusing your duke; that is your duty, and you are quite right in pursuing it. My duty, however, is to depose without further ado rulers who act toward me the way yours has.”

Napoleon continued to fume, even casting his hat down to the floor and exclaiming that he wished to trample Müller’s duke like a hat and eliminate even his memory from Germany, not least because Karl August had presumed to lead such a paltry contingent against him, the emperor. “By God, unless one has at least 100,000 men and a healthy number of cannons, one should kindly refrain from declaring war on me. And though these Prussians had that many and more, what did it help them? I dispersed them as chaff in the wind and beat them down such that they will never get back up. Had your duke been smart, he would have stayed quiet, joined the Confederation of the Rhine, and then I would have dealt favorably with him. Things would stand quite differently with him now.”

Müller’s response, which especially emphasized the honor involved in Karl August’s decision, seemed to calm Napoleon, who then inquired about the duke’s whereabouts and why he had not come to Berlin. Müller responded that Karl August had neither orders from Napoleon himself to do so nor the necessary passports, whereupon Napoleon immediately ordered such to be issued, adding then yet again that Müller was to make it quite clear to Karl August that the only reason Napoleon was demonstrating any mercy at all with regard to Karl August’s political existence was his respect for the duchess. This declamation ended the audience. Müller immediately sent a courier to Weimar. The next day he learned that the emperor was definitively recognizing the sovereignty of the duke of Weimar and, moreover, had been impressed by Müller’s advocacy on behalf of the small territory.

Müller later learned, however, that a tribute of 2,200,000 francs was to be imposed on the territory as a conquered state. None of Müller’s objections with Napoleon’s representatives was of any avail. It was not, he was told, a question of how much the state could afford, but how much the emperor was demanding.

A week later, on 15 November, news came that Karl August would be journeying from Hamburg to Berlin, though no arrival date was given, and Müller began to worry that Napoleon would depart for Poland before the duke even arrived (Neueste Post. Karte von Deutschland und den angrenzenden Laendern [1805]):


Although the crown prince arrived in Berlin on the evening of 20 October, Napoleon was too vexed with the entire Weimar story to receive him until the duke himself arrived. The latter finally did so late on the evening of 23 November. The next morning, Müller hastened to the castle in Charlottenburg to request an audience with Napoleon but received no answer that day. The next morning, 24 November, he learned that, as had so often already been the case in his efforts, Napoleon had just departed, this time for Küstrin (PostKarte von Deutschland und den angrenzenden Laendern [1806]):


The emperor’s representatives, however, immediately received the duke and tried to explain the emperor’s departure as having been prompted by factors out of his control, though Müller recognized that the duke’s own delayed arrival and the emperor’s aggravation were the real reason. He was told that Napoleon was expecting him to follow to Posen, in Poland, and the representatives then advised that he be given not only the authority to represent Weimar and a handwritten missive from Karl August to Napoleon, but also a higher title and a patent of nobility. Karl August did so, and Müller left for Posen on 4 December as “Privy Governmental Rath von Müller” (Neueste Post. Karte von Deutschland und den angrenzenden Laendern [1805]):


Amid all the troop movements and circumstances of war, this journey was, of course, an adventure in itself, and with the appropriate passport from French officials Müller now traveled in uniform and armed, arriving on 10 December. The roads were terrible, he ate only what he had brought along with him from Berlin, nor was there any possibility of finding an inn at night until he encountered an adjutant of Marshall Ney with whom on the next evening he stayed in a handsome country castle owned by the family of a former student acquaintance of Müller in Erlangen, upon learning which the castle steward treated them somewhat better. He learned that Napoleon was considering having five ducal houses, including Weimar, join the Confederation of the Rhine and that Weimar was to supply a 1200-man military contingent, including 200 cavalrymen and 6 cannons. First, however, an official treaty would have to be concluded in which the contribution of 2,200,000 francs be fixed.

Again, Müller’s objections were refuted and denied by French officials; indeed, some of Müller’s careless inaccuracies led to later recriminations by these officials. Napoleon was also vexed by the fact that Karl August had not come all the way to Posen in person, and that the crown princess had not accepted his offer of a passport back to Weimar and had instead, according to the latest reports, journeyed from Schleswig to Copenhagen, from where she was planning to return to Petersburg. Napoleon’s strategy, it seems, had been to use the grand duchess (crown princess) as a means of approaching Russia.

Müller finally had his audience with Napoleon on 13 December. Napoleon, in a cordial enough mood, read over the missive from Duke Karl August, asked — yet again — about the well being of the duchess, and listened to Müller’s requests without responding, directing him to General Duroc instead. Müller managed to get Duroc to agree to an 800-man military contingent rather than 1200. A full third of the 2,200,000 franc contribution, however, was to be paid in cash two weeks after ratification, each of the next thirds in the coming months. Müller’s objections moved Duroc at least to promise to discuss these requests with the emperor.

Müller complained as well to other French officials that the duke had not authorized him to agree to such harsh conditions or instructed him concerning what to do in such an extreme situation. He was, however, advised not to take these points quite so literally, and told that the French would not be pressing Weimar to keep every single letter of the treaty. The important thing, they emphasized, was for the treaty itself to be ratified as quickly as possible so as to preserve the duke’s sovereignty and eliminate the intervention of French agents in Weimar’s affairs. Indeed, the anticipated treaty with Russia might even obviate the contributions. And finally, any hesitation on Müller’s part in signing the treaty would only embitter Napoleon more, an even more risky prospect insofar as Napoleon was again about to depart. The treaty was signed that evening, and on the morning of 16 December, after Napoleon’s departure at 4:00 a.m., Müller received his copies with Napoleon’s signature.

Müller immediately suffered an attack of “bowel gout,” which, however, quickly passed, and on 18 December he set out to return to Berlin, arriving on 21 December. Karl August, already depressed and exhausted, thought the contribution stipulation would be impossible to fulfill and that trying to do so would destroy the state financially, and now his enduring disinclination toward Napoleon was piqued even more. Müller stayed with him in the hotel room till 3:00 a.m. trying to explain how things had progressed since he himself had departed Weimar and to assuage the duke’s fears about the future. [4]

The next day he gave the duke an essay he had written with forty-four points concerning what to do next to secure Weimar’s future. The duke regained his old enthusiasm and resolved to send Müller back to Weimar after the exchange of ratified treaties with the other duchies. When Müller arrived back in Weimar on 25 December 1806, however, not everyone there was pleased with the results of his negotiations, especially the amount of contributions. Without sufficient knowledge of the chaotic, dangerous, exhausting, and anxiety-ridden journey Müller had endured since departing Weimar back on 18 October, they accused him of having yielded too easily to French demands and of having been blinded by the “luster” of French situation. His advancement to the nobility was also called into question, especially given his age, inexperience, and the fact that, according to the thinking of the time, he was a “foreigner,” coming from Saxony-Meiningen rather than Weimar-Saxony. After presenting his forty-four points to the Weimar administration on 30 and 31 December, however, he returned to Berlin on 4 January 1807. Although he was unable to effect any amelioration of the imposed contributions in discussions at Napoleon’s headquarters in Warsaw between late January and early March 1807, Müller remarks in his memoirs that the entire experience at such a young age gave him considerable confidence during his future career with Weimar.

Here an overview of the considerable distances Müller covered during this odyssey (“Central Europe: Wars of the Third Coalition 1805–7,” Cambridge Modern History Atlas [Cambridge 1912]):


It should probably also be pointed out that Weimar’s and certainly Karl August’s future would have been quite different had Müller not convinced Napoleon not to divest the duke of his sovereignty, as was originally Napoleon’s intention. And one can reasonably assume that Caroline, especially after learning the fate of the Duke of Braunschweig, whom in the end Napoleon recognized only as a general rather than a duke, was certainly aware of that danger.


[*] Abridged and summarized rather than translated from Friedrich von Müller, Erinnerungen aus den Kriegszeiten 1806–1813 (Hamburg 1906), 1–66.

Postal-coach maps: Neueste Post. Karte von Deutschland und den angrenzenden Laendern, ed. T. Molls (Vienna 1805); Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Cartes et plans; and Ignaz Heymann, PostKarte von Deutschland und den angrenzenden Laendern, 2nd ed. (Triest 1806); Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Cartes et plans, hereafter cited as Neueste Post. Karte von Deutschland und den angrenzenden Laendern (1805) and PostKarte von Deutschland und den angrenzenden Laendern (1806).

Illustration of Duchess Louise of Weimar and Napoleon: Steube (artist) and A. Zschokke (engraver), Napoleon in Weimar (1840), Stadtgeschichtliches Museum Leipzig, Inventarnummer VS 1720 GOS-Nr. gr017377. Illustration of Potsdam castle: Potsdam castle, 1773, by Johann Friedrich Meyer; Stiftung Preußische Schlösser und Gärten Berlin-Brandenburgl Gemäldesammlung [GK I 5751]. Illustration of Kropstädt chateau: Sammlung Alexander Duncker. Back.

[1] Concerning Weimar’s fate after these battles, see supplementary appendix 417g.1. Back.

[2] The estate property is located just to the west of the village. The original moated castle (Wasserburg Ließnitz) had been built in 1150, then destroyed and razed to the ground in 1358 by angry Wittenberg residents after housing robber barons for several years. It was rebuilt in 1567, and it was in this latter edifice that Müller had his nocturnal adventure with the French high command. That castle, however, was demolished in 1842, and no illustrations seem to exist. A new castle or chateau was built in a different style between 1855 and 1856 and is still extant. Here a nineteenth-century lithograph of this later chateau; the earlier edifice did, however, stand on the same location, and the moat is still visible (Sammlung Alexander Duncker):


Here ths chateau on a postcard from 1979, when it was being used as a maternity home:


Because in 1358 the original castle’s property had been plowed and salt strewn in the furrows to discourage further habitation, the locale became known as a “rough, ravaged place,” eine grobe, wüste Stätte, whence popular etymology derives the name of the locale as Kro-stedt. Back.

[3] Concerning the fate of General Hohenlohe in Prenlau, see the supplementary appendix on the flight of Generals Blücher and Hohenlohe, autumn 1806 . Back.

[4] During Müller’s stay in Posen, Karl August had dined and socialized with various prominent men in Berlin, including Johannes Müller, news of which may have prompted Caroline’s remark in her letter to Luise Wiedemann on 30 November 1806 (letter 419) that it was in fact Johannes Müller whom the duke had entrusted with representing his interests to the emperor in Posen. Back.

Translation © 2018 Doug Stott