The decision as of 1807-1808 to reconstitute the nobility was one of the boldest made by Napoleon, whose power directly originated from the Revolution and the collapse of the society that existed under the ancien régime. The rationale for the establishment of an Imperial aristocracy was to ensure the loyalty of a new social and military elite that would guarantee the stability of the authority in place.
Although the nobility of the ancien régime had been abolished in 1789, Napoleon restored a number of its titles, creating princes, dukes, counts, barons and knights whose coats of arms were established according to strict criteria.
These letters patent are the official document through which the Imperial administration granted noble status to one of its subjects, François Valterre (1759-1837). A brigadier general, he had served in the Revolutionary Army and, in particular, taken part in the 1797-1798 Italian campaign. Along with many other officers who had risen through the ranks, he was the embodiment of the military elite that the Emperor wished to make the heroes of his reign.
The coat of arms given to Valterre is worth noting. In its second upper quarter can be seen a sword on a red field, attributes of an Imperial baron, and in the first quarter, a stylized depiction of Rome’s famous Castel Sant’Angelo, a monument that Valterre and his men, during the Italian campaign, had defended against the Austrians on November 27, 1798. That military feat had in all likelihood not been forgotten, as eleven years later it was used to “illustrate” the general’s right to ennoblement. In addition, the document’s text authorizes the new baron to henceforth be named Valterre de Saint-Ange (the French form of Sant’Angelo).
The letters patent were signed by Napoleon at the Palace of Trianon, one of the Emperor’s secondary residences, located on the grounds of Versailles. They were countersigned by the arch-chancellor, Francois-Régis de Cambacérès, and bear the great seal of the Empire.