The French politician was born at Nantes in 1759. As a very young man he was an ardent admirer of Robespierre (q.v.), touring the provinces in 1792/93 shouting the praises of the Jacobins (q.v.), and attracting fair criticism for his cruel treatment of opponents in Lyons.
Leaders of revolutions usually fall out with each other while fomenting rebellion, and Fouché fell out with his former idol – Robespierre – in 1794. It was said at the time that the latter had been suggesting that he, Robespierre, was a ‘Supreme Being’. Fouché found this contemptuous, and said so. No-one was permitted to criticise Robespierre, or judge him anything less than perfect, so Fouché had to maintain a profile so low he was almost underground, while the Revolution raged above.
Working hand-in-hand with Tallien, Fouché orchestrated the overthrowing of Robespierre in ‘Thermidor’ 1794. Nothing in this task was easy, but Fouché had a sympathetic ear in another great leader in the Directory, Barras. Robespierre was arrested, ‘tried’ and guillotined, and Fouché became Minister of Police in July 1799.
After Napoleon Bonaparte had exploded on the scene, blowing away what was left of the Revolution, Fouché survived and even held on to his job at the Ministry. Except for Barras and Fouché, the other instigators and officials of the Revolution and the infamous Committee of Public Safety were disgraced, dead or both. Fouché stayed with Napoleon and the Ministry of Police until 1802. His internal (and external) spy system proved of tremendous value to Bonaparte. His spies intrigued in the Courts of Britain, Prussia, Austria, the Netherlands and even the USA. In the last named country Fouché’s spies worked hard in Washington, Boston, Philadelphia and New York to promote the concept of a Napoleonic Europe – admittedly popular with many Congressmen and Senators.
Fouché became Minister of the Interior in July 1804, one year before Trafalgar (q.v.) but at last suffered a setback when he was accused of being in illegal contact with the English. He certainly maintained contact with his spies at the Court of St. James, but considered it his job to do so. At all events he was dismissed, but not with ignominy because Napoleon put him back in the Police Ministry during the ‘Hundred Days’ before Waterloo (q.v., 1815). During this frantic period in French history he managed to keep secretly in touch with both Metternich (q.v.) and Louis XVIII! Joseph Fouché was an acknowledged expert in hedging his bets.
After the restoration of the Bourbon Monarchy he served for a while as Ambassador in Dresden, and died (an immaculate survivor of the French Revolution) at sixty-one in 1820.