Most Serious Mutiny of the Napoleonic Wars?

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A Brief History

On April 12, 1807, the so called Froberg Mutiny came to a spectacular end on the island of Malta when the mutineers blew up the powder magazine.  A person calling himself Count Froberg from Germany (really a Frenchman named Gustave de Montjoie, a Royalist and a foe of Napoleonic regime in France) was granted the right to raise a regiment to be stationed at Fort Ricasoli on Malta.  The faux Count went about a most irregular way of recruiting his regiment, tapping men from Germany, Wallachia, Poland, Greece, Switzerland, Russia, Albania, and even Christians from the Ottoman Empire.  Froberg raised 513 recruits (the original number, some sources say a total of 700 men were ultimately assigned to the regiment or “Levy”) and had them transported to Malta for their date with destiny.

Digging Deeper

Thus, the seeds were sown for the mutiny to follow, aptly named “The Froberg Mutiny,” or alternately called “Mutiny of Froberg’s Levy at Fort Ricasoli,” an uprising of malcontent recruits that were recruited under false pretenses, promised pay and conditions not to be delivered on.  With a multitude of languages spoken and a lack of uniforms and equipment waiting for them, the motely crew was a disaster waiting to happen.  Arriving in Malta in April of 1806, the men found conditions quite different than those promised.  Discontent and grumbling began virtually right off the bat and did not abate with time.  Recruited from Constantinople and Corfu, the recruits were a long way from where they had been, and many of them decided where they had been was better than languishing in Malta under conditions of poverty.

Land front of Fort Ricasoli.  Photograph by Frank Vincentz.

The grumbling soldiers made a nuisance of themselves wandering around the Maltese capital of Valetta, causing General William Villlettes, senior British officer on Malta, to confine this scraggly band to Fort Ricasoli, further decreasing morale and increasing discontent.  On April 4, 1807, the situation boiled over when about 200 Greek and Albanian recruits decided they had had enough and were determined to return to Corfu.  Charging into the mess, the mutineers killed a lieutenant and wounded other officers.  The angry mob then tore down the British flag and declared themselves under the “protection” of Russia.  Seizing control of the cannon at Fort Ricasoli, the angry men aimed those big guns menacingly at the Maltese capital of Valletta.  Other occupants of Fort Ricasoli were held as hostages and threatened with death if British authorities refused to provide Russian vessels to transport the mutineers to Corfu.  General Villettes ordered the Fort surrounded and began a siege of the mutineers.  When only 4 days had passed under the stalemate some of the Froberg Levy men not supporting the mutiny managed to kill an Albanian mutineer before the Albanian could blow up the powder magazine.  These Polish and German men forced the gate and escaped to the British.

Despite the setback of some of their comrades having escaped and the British storming the Fort in response, a couple dozen mutineers refused to give up and barricaded themselves in the powder magazine and commenced to launch mortar shells into Valletta.  On April 11, 1807, some British soldiers scaled the walls of the Fort and captured some of the mutineers, leaving 5 hard corps mutineers still barricaded in the powder magazine and several others escaping into the surrounding countryside.  Faced with an unwinnable situation and sure execution for mutiny, the remaining 5 mutineers blew up the powder magazine along with themselves on the evening of April 12, 1807.  The mutineers that had escaped the Fort were rounded up and put on trial.

Floriana Parade Ground, where the rebel leaders were executed.  Drawing by Admiral Edward Gennys Fanshawe ( – ).

A total of 24 of the mutineers seen as ringleaders or particularly egregious in their behavior during the mutiny were sentenced to death.  Prior to the trials 4 men that had been captured almost immediately had already been hurriedly tried and hanged.  The remaining members of the Froberg “Regiment” (rag tag mob is more like it!) were now prisoners and were forced to watch as that 2 dozen or so men were executed on the parade ground of the Fort.  In a purposeful display of cruelty, the British took 15 of the condemned, and forced 5 of them to hang another 5 of their number.  Then the 5 impromptu executioners were hanged by 5 other mutineers.  The remaining 5 condemned mutineers were taken with the other remaining condemned mutineers and shot, without being provided the traditional blindfolds.  Some of the mutineers were wounded with the first volley and attempted to escape but were run down and shot again.  Other wounded mutineers were shot again where they lay.  Two of the condemned mutineers made it to the bastions of the Fort, leaping to freedom only to be killed by their injuries incurred by the fall. The main ringleader of the mutiny, Caro Mitro, and another mutineer had avoided capture for the next 2 weeks, but were finally taken into custody around April 25, 1807.  They were tried and hanged the same day.

Not surprisingly, the British authorities were somewhat unhappy with mutiny and conducted an investigation into the sad events, finding the recruiting and manning of the Froberg Regiment to be fundamentally flawed and fraudulent.  The Board of Inquiry ordered the remaining members of the Froberg Regiment be allowed to choose between being returned to their homelands or service in the British Army in other units.  The fake “Count Froberg” was in Constantinople during the board of inquiry and knew he was in dire danger of being held responsible for his fake credentials and fraudulent recruiting tactics.  Although he attempted to hide from authorities, he was captured by Russian Cossacks and “literally cut to pieces.”

Imperial Russian Cossacks (left) in Paris in 1814

Questions for Students (and others): Referred to as “The most serious mutiny of the Napoleonic Wars” by Wikipedia, we ask our historically astute readers if they agree with that assessment.  If not, what other mutiny during the Napoleonic Wars would exceed the events on Malta in April of 1807?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Ballau, Maturin Murray. The Story of Malta. CreateSpace, 2017.

[AMAZONPRODUCTS asin=”1357245416″]

Quintano, Anton. Ricasoli, Malta: History of a Fort. Publishers Enterprise Group,Malta, 1999.

[AMAZONPRODUCTS asin=”9990902437″]

Scicluna, Joe. Ricasoli Soldier: A Novel Inspired by True Events. FARAXA Publishing, 2013.

[AMAZONPRODUCTS asin=”0989302806″]

The featured image in this article, a photograph by Continentaleurope of Fort Ricasoli, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.