Sunday, 22 March 2015

March 1815

I kept meaning to post this earlier, but you know, life got in the way and all that stuff. Oh well, it's still relevant, if I can say so.

So, you all know the story of how, roughly 200 years ago, Napoleon Bonaparte reconquered his throne without firing a single shot, rallying all those who were sent to stop him - or sending them running for the hills. But let's say we step out of the Emperor's Seven-league boots and look at other people's reactions...

I'm starting small, with Castellane, Lavallette, Marmont and Thiébault . But hey, that means more to come if I can remember that I've got this going! (some of these works already had an English translation, but what do I care, I've got to practice!)

February. – I was shown the manuscript of the Memoirs of the Duke of Lauzun. They will probably be printed one day. It is an account of his military and amorous adventures in France, England, Poland and the United States; he also speaks of the Queen’s favours for him. They are not very well written. I stupidly told the Viscountess of L... that they were very entertaining. There are compromising passages about her. I had not noticed; she claimed that these Memoirs were horrendous. I was greatly confused when someone who left the salon at the same time as me enlightened me about my stupidity, I had persisted in it.
6 March. – Monsieur left Lyons; yesterday, a telegraphic dispatch told of Emperor Napoleon’s landing in Cannes, near Fréjus. The government only learnt of his expedition when he landed; it is unheard of. The Duke of Berry left tonight for Besançon. The Duke of Orleans received orders to go to Lyons; he had offered the King to remain by his side. They wrote to tell the Duke and the Duchess of Angoulême to leave Bordeaux.
Rumours say that Murat is marching on Turin.
7. – The Moniteur contains a proclamation from the King summoning the Chambers of the Peers and Deputies. An ordnance declares Napoleon Bonaparte a traitor for his armed landing in the Var, urges to capture him and have him tried by a military court, as well as those who try to help them or seek to spark a civil war by speaking against the government.
Some time before, the public cheered for the eagles of Roman soldiers in the opera La Vestale, performed in Nantes. The prefect, trying to prevent a new such scandal, ordered that in subsequent representations, the Roman soldiers would enter the stage without eagles. La Vestale was performed again; the public was upset at not seeing the eagles and caused such an uproar that the actors had to bring them back.
7. – Word spreads that Napoleon has entered Gap; General Marchand left Grenoble to encounter him.
The 87th Line, led by Major d’Auge, refused to surrender Antibes to him.
8. – We received news of Monsieur’s arrival in Lyons.
9. – They say there are no more news and claim that the telegraph is broken.
10. – The telegraph announces the Emperor’s arrival in Bourgoin; a battalion of the 5th Line, a company of sappers and one of miners, the first troops sent to meet him ahead of Grenoble, defected to his side. He had entered the city on the evening of the 6th. The 5th Line, led by Charles de Labédoyère, went ahead to join him. The 4th Hussars did the same; all the troops on the Emperor’s route follow this example. Emperor Napoleon entered Lyons on 10 March. Monsieur and the Marshal of Tarentum abandoned the city on the same day.
The Chamber of Peers and of Deputies is to gather at seven in the evening.
11. – The Marshal Duke of Dalmatia, whom rumours falsely accuse of treason, resigned from the Ministry of War; General Clarke, Duke of Feltre, replacs him.
General Lefebvre-Desnouettes, along with his regiment, the Chasseurs de France (former chasseurs of the Imperial Guard) marched upon La Fère but could not enter the own. Last night, he sent an officer to the King, saying that he was deceived by false orders.
12. – The Duke of Orleans, Monsieur and Marshal Macdonald will arrive in the morning for the former, in the evening for the latter two, from Lyons where the troops abandoned them. Monsieur met a regiment that was marching towards Lyons wearing tricolour cockades; he wanted the men to shout: “Long live the King!” They replied: “We cannot do that: we are going to join the Emperor.” This regiment saluted Monsieur with full honours; they beat the drums and presented arms. They told Monsieur that they meant him no harm. When Marshal Macdonald’s troops went over to Napoleon’s side, he asked them why; this was their reply: “The Bourbons do not trust us. The proof is under our eyes: Monsieur has four aides-de-camp here, and not a single one is from our army.”
On the same day, in Lons-le-Saulnier, Marshal Ney made his troops wear the tricolour cockade and read them a proclamation urging them to join the Emperor; they were meaning to do that anyway. Upon leaving, Marshal Ney had told the King: “If I catch Napoleon, I will bring him back to you in an iron cage.” The courtiers were delighted by these fine words. After Marshal Ney left, the King and his attendants remained silence. Before dismissing them, Louis XVIII snickered and said: “What an odd little canary he wants to bring me.” Then he looked at his attendants and dismissed them. I heard this anecdote from the Duke of Mortemart, then a captain of the Hundred Swiss, who was present1.
14. – Many ladies are leaving Paris; the Countess of Blacas is going to England; the Princess of Talleyrand, the Duchess of Orleans and her children are going to Brussels; Mme de Jaucourt, the Viscountess of Laval, the Duchess of Duras are getting ready. Around the King, there are people who do nothing but cry; among them are the Prince of Poix and M. de Blacas; the Prince of Wagram whines that “the Princess has gone to see her parents in Germany.” The only captains of the Guard with a correct conduct and some character are the Duke of Ragusa and the Duke of Mortemart.
The Chamber of Deputies refused to outlaw Bonaparte, saying that he should only be considered as an enemy general. The reason for this refusal is their fear of his arrival in Paris. The Chambers decided that the Legion of Honour should be paid for in the future, as under the previous government.
Lyons was illuminated on the evening Napoleon entered this city. He appointed a new prefect and left the mayor in place. The courier who arrived in Paris saw him reviewing his troops on the Lyons Square. Mâcon and most of Burgundy have taken up the tricolour cockade. Napoleon travels in his carriage; his soldiers go on mail carts.
16. – The King comes to pledge an oath to the Charter. He makes a fin speech; here is the most remarkable part: “I have reunited with my homeland, I reconciled her with the foreign powers that will remain loyal to the treaties that gave you peace. I worked for my people’s happiness; I received and I still receive the most touching proofs of their love. At almost sixty, is there a better way for me to end my career than dying for your sake?”
His Majesty spoke in a firm voice. He was interrupted by shouts of “Long live the King!” rising from the whole room. After this speech, Monsieur pledged an oath to the Charter.
17. – The Chambers are starting to show energy; they were very vigorous against the ministers. It was about time!’

[The Lallemand brothers and Lefebvre-Desnouettes were just arrested for trying to overthrow the Bourbons. Lavallette was in on their conspiracy, but he stayed out of it.]
‘While I did not fear for myself, I lamented the fate of so many brave men who would receive death as a punishment for their loyalty to the one they still regarded as their sovereign, when all of a sudden, another news, prodigious news, a true miracle, spread like wildfire. It was on Monday 7 March; I was crossing the Tuileries around nine in the morning, when I saw M. Paul Lagarde, a former commissaire-général in Italy, on the steps to the gate of Rivoli; I waved to him in passing, and I kept walking under the trees, towards the terrace at the edge of the water. I heard someone walking near me, and I was about to turn around, when I heard these whispered words:
“Do not make a move, do not look surprised, do not stop: the Emperor landed in Cannes on the first of March; the Count of Artois left to fight him last night.”
I cannot render the disorder that these words sowed into me; I was suffocated by emotion; I walked like a drunken man, repeating to myself: “Is this possible? Is it not a dream, or a cruel joke?” When I reached the terrace, I saw the Duke of Vicenza; we greeted each other, and I repeated the news I had just heard word for word, and with the exact same tone. But with his irascible and pessimistic character, he said:
“What an extravagance! What! He landed without troops! … he is lost. But it’s impossible! Although,” he added, “it is only too true that the Count of Artois left in a hurry last night.”
The Duke’s ill humour and inauspicious presentiments hurt me. I left to give in to the intoxication I felt without constraints. It was not at home that I first found someone with whom I could share them: my wife was frightened by this news, and saw bad omens in them. I ran to see the Duchess of Saint-Leu; I found her crying with joy and emotion. After that initial outburst, we started to measure the vast distance between Cannes and Paris. “What will the generals stationed along the way do? What about the authorities, the troops? Will the Count of Artois’ arrival tip the scales?” It seemed to us that nothing could resist the Emperor, and that once he reached Lyons, nothing would stand in his way. From then on, the Duchess shut her door. The royalists’ suspicions and the police’s eyes were all focused on her. Her house was hardly crowded in the past eleven months; a few generals, a few ladies and young people of the new court came to visit her often, but the Emperor was never brought up in the conversation; only a small circle of loyal partisans expressed worry about his life and his future.
We had a vague feeling that he would be back, that a life of miracles was not made to end on a rock between Italy and France; but how and through what means? Even with all of our collective imagination, we could not tell. With each passing day, we numbered the government’s real or supposed faults, and this mass of prejudices, of complaints, of violent or derisive writings in which the royalists’ ridiculousness and the inanity of their projects were exposed in such bitterly ironic terms grew every day; but the people merely laughed and shrugged; the soldiers obeyed, and the masses seemed content with remaining quiet. How could the Emperor face a government that appeared strong, and a people that seemed to have forgotten him? And here he was, suddenly landing in France, turning all heads, and his formidable name cast all those who governed and all those who hated him into fright and disarray. We were counting days, hours and minutes. Each morning, the papers published the grimmest rumours; sometimes he was caught, sometimes he was hiding in the mountains. We received no certain news. Our distress was constantly growing. I went out for walks in the suburbs; the people’s work and habits went on unchanged, and they displayed utter indifference everywhere I went. But the police, which was carefully watching the cafés and other places of popular gathering, was frightened by the energetic words and the terrible projects that circulated underground. They did not dare arrest anyone from among the lowest ranks of the people, for fear of triggering riots with potentially deadly consequences.
But I must admit it was not the same with the bourgeoisie, which includes the merchants, lawyers and businessmen. The position of the court inspired no interest; the jokes at its expense were often successful; but the all too recent memory of the enemy’s stay sparked much worry and a sort of stupefaction at the Emperor’s arrival. However, aside from a few young people who enlisted in Vincennes as Royalists, no one came to fight. The Count of Artois came back in despair, having lost his trust in the army; all the regiments he had met, all the troops he had gathered in Lyons had refused to obey him. Even the voice of Marshal Macdonald, whom the army loved and respected so much, remained unheard. Napoleon’s great name had intoxicated everyone. The countryside’s immense population had joined the troops; it would have taken only one word and one gesture for all noblemen and priests to be murdered. Fortunately, reasonable men took the reins of the movement and directed it towards Napoleon only. “Do not taint the Emperor’s cause”, they exclaimed from everywhere; “he does not want a single drop of blood spilt.”
Days passed, and the danger grew more imminent by the hour. M. D***, the prefect of police, was replaced with M. Bourrienne. The friends of the Emperor understood what they had to fear from this man. A former fellow student of Bonaparte at the military school and since then his former secretary, he was disgraced on account of his venality and had become a fervent Royalist upon the advent of the Restoration. It was clear that he had made his choice, because he knew each of the Emperor’s supports and their habits. I knew that this man was capable of anything; I was especially afraid for the Duchess of Saint-Leu and her two children, whom they had decided to take as hostages if their mother was forced to flee abroad. She managed to find asylum on time at the house of someone who was devoted to her, an old Creole from Martinique.
In order to avoid compromising any of my friends, I went to hide in the Duchess’ own hôtel, but in the servants’ quarters. It was on 14 March; I had no news of the provinces, but through the papers’ lies, I could see that the Emperor was making his way rapidly and that nothing could oppose him. The Duke of Berry had just been given command of a camp south of Paris. The officers who had begun with assertions of their devotion ended up becoming closer, more reserved. As for the soldiers, the wind seemed to whisper the Emperor’s name in their ears; any bird that flew above their heads was the Imperial eagle. The rigours of discipline, the officers’ exhortations, even their begging could barely contain them; and in the three days that preceded the Emperor’s arrival, woe to anyone in the ranks who insulted him or expressed a desire to attack him.’

‘I had come back to Châtillon to stay with my mother, who died on 27 February, and I was intending to spend a few more days there, when a courier from Paris hastened my return to the capital. I was back on the evening of the 7th of March. I found everyone in a state of great agitation and upheaval. The news that Antibes had refused to open its gates were already known; but it was also known that Napoleon had started to cross the mountains towards Dauphiné. In Paris, the Bourbons’ enemies were intoxicated with joy. Their partisans displayed a stupid sense of security, yet it could hardly come from the heat. Some of them were so blind that they rejoiced at seeing Bonaparte handing himself over, like a moth flying towards the flame, they said.
The King’s household was made up of twelve companies. Since this corps needed a single chief in order to look somewhat coherent, I was given this command. I shall not speak of Napoleon’s march and the brilliant way he escaped danger. Indeed, for him, the critical point was the effect of his encounter with the troops. The slightest resistance would spell doom for him, while the first defection would lead to many others. Everyone knows how he offered his bare chest to the first soldiers who refused to parley, and the result of this generous move. The decision to defend Grenoble, taken by General Marchand, was thrown off by the defection of La Bédoyère, who took his regiment with him to join Napoleon. From then on, the contagion spread quickly. Only a material obstacle, which would have necessarily stopped the Emperor, favoured a long-range engagement and prevented him from making direct contact with the troops, could halt his progress.
This bold endeavour, the way it was carried out, Napoleon’s superiority in assessing the opinion’s actual state of mind, all of this was reminiscent of his finest times and of the dazzling miracles of his youth. It was the last stroke of his genius, the last action worthy of his great renown.
Monsieur left for Lyons, along with the Duke of Orleans and the Marshal Duke of Tarentum. They hurried the arrival of the corps previously put into motion towards the border. The National Guard seemed to be in good spirits, and Napoleon was coming closer. Nothing seemed more urgent than to cut off the bridges of the Rhône and to bring all the boats back on the right bank. Then it would not have been impossible to fire a few cannon shots. Ten might have been enough to change the state of the matter. Measures were taken to blow up the bridge of La Guillotière; but M. de Farges, the mayor of Lyons, went to cry at Monsieur’s feet over the damage done to a city monument, and Monsieur, with his kindness that bordered on weakness, a trait often found among the Bourbons, stopped all the works. A dam was built. Napoleon’s soldiers crossed it, after parleying for a while with those tasked with its defence. Everyone shouted “Vive l’Empereur!” and Monsieur, the Duke of Orleans and Marshal Macdonald had no choice but to hurry their retreat.
Upon arriving in Paris, I had talked to the King about the gravity of these circumstances, and he seemed to appreciate it, although he had much faith in the troops’ loyalty; but his hopes grew more fleeting by the day. The events of Grenoble and Lyons seemed decisive, and I redoubled my insistence to push the King to make a decision at once about what to do when Napoleon would be near Paris, for his arrival was inevitable and close at hand.
I went to see the King every day. I tried to awaken his mind and provoke a resolution. I kept repeating: “Sire, courage is not about refusing to look at danger. With talent, one acknowledges it early. With courage and time, one can defeat it; but this time, an essential element, must be used wisely. Do you want to leave Paris when Napoleon approaches? If so, where will you go? You must decide it in advance, for you have to plan your route, and make sure that friendly hands will safeguard it. If you decide to remain in Paris, you must provide for your safety, and make the Tuileries defensible. It would be madness to decide this without having taken safety measures in your own palace, and believing that Bonaparte would be impressed by the throne’s majesty. He would stir up a popular insurrection to make you disappear without ostensibly using his authority. If you remain in Paris, and I think it is the best course, you must arrange the palace so that it would take a battery of heavy artillery to demolish it. As an artilleryman, I swear that it will take me only five days to put the Tuileries and the Louvre in a position to withstand a siege, provided that I am given full authority to use all of Paris’ resources to do so. The castle must have two months’ worth of supplies for three thousand men. The King’s household, while it is not trained for campaigns, will be perfect for this. It is made up of brave and devoted people, and everyone will compete for the honour of participating in this defence; with enough supplies, we will not have to surrender after eight days. The King must shut himself inside this sort of fortress, along with the majority of the government, his ministers and the Chambers, but he must be the only one present out of his whole family. Monsieur and his sons must leave Paris; not stealthily, but at noon, after making a proclamation, and they must all scatter in different directions. This proclamation will announce that they are going to look for defenders, or at least, avengers. What will Napoleon do then? Will he dare besiege the King in his palace? Will the world stand by indifferently as an old sovereign remains on his throne, having resolved to be buried under the rubble of his house? No, no doubt there would have been protests and revolts, even among Napoleon’s friends; and the women of Paris, who are so markedly Royalist, would have soon seduced those soldiers still loyal to Napoleon, now turned into the instruments of his severity. The scandal of such a struggle, so far removed from our mores, would prevent its success. Such a magnanimous resolve would have the most powerful effect on the troops. One must say this, to mankind’s shame: people gladly flock to the victors; a rising power that is expected to triumph promptly gathers everyone; but if the matter remains undecided for some time, many of those who had come running walk away almost at once. In that case, the King’s noble devotion to his duties as a sovereign will make everyone go back to fulfilling theirs, and perhaps Napoleon’s forces will scatter on their own. Then, look at the state of the opinion in three quarters of France, that is, in the whole of France. Aside from the eastern districts and a few discontents here and there, everyone is on your side. The masses of the West, of Normandy, of Picardy and Flanders are utterly devoted to you. Give them time to rise, and it will not take them more than two months to come to your rescue; but you must be prepared to wait for them until then. Lastly, think of Europe watching the august sight you will give her, and moving to save you. While I know that after the decrees of Lyons, my personal position would be greatly compromised if I were to fall into Napoleon’s hands, I demand the honour of locking myself in with you, either as a commander or as a soldier. You should note, Sire, that your person is not at risk. If your enemy had the whole royal family in his power, he might make them all perish in order to destroy those rights that oppose his; but what would he have to gain by killing you while Monsieur, your nephews and your cousins are still free? If you die, your rights and your titles will be passed down to another. Thus, because of the respect you must command, because it would be useless to kill you and because Napoleon is not a cruel and sanguinary man at heart, you are in no personal danger; but, Sire, you must decide yourself, for it will take some time to carry out the plans I just outlined. To remain in Paris without these precautions would be utterly careless and foolish.”
The King replied that he thanked me for these ideas and that he would think about them. I reiterated my proposals every day, but with the same results. He always responded with a vague and evasive reply, a wretched comedy which I could not believe. I sought to convert the poor Duke of Havré, a man with a great soul but little spirit, and one of the few truly good men of the King’s entourage. He tried to convince the King; but Louis XVIII was blunter with him than with me, and he answered with those words that the Duke of Havré repeated to me at once: “So you would want me to sit on a curule chair? I do not share that opinion and I am not in that mood.”’

‘It was on the 7th of March 1815, at one and a half in the morning, that I signed the deed giving me ownership of the estate of Richelieu, and seven hours later, upon waking up, I heard that Napoleon had landed in Provence, something the King had known since the evening of the 4th. One can imagine the upheaval caused by this news, and one of its most immediate effects was a drop in land values. So it was that this deal I had concluded turned out like all the others I undertook; it might have been a sound decision, and circumstances fouled it anyway; but aside from this financial mistake, Napoleon’s return worried me greatly, and I was not the only one. I was not a partisan of the Bourbons for sure, for I was too much of a Frenchman to have any respect for people who did not care for France; but although I lamented the Emperor’s fate, I no longer trusted him enough to rejoice at his return, and I was too uncertain about his successes to predict anything but new misfortunes for France. Even assuming he succeeded, how could I believe that this would result in anything but a man’s revenge, anything that could be profitable to our homeland? Finally, stepping down from this elevated viewpoint towards more personal considerations, I could expect no more advantages from it than I received in times of greatness and prosperity, that is, at times where favours and rewards were distributed so liberally. So while the Bourbons left me no regrets, Napoleon gave me no hope; being devoid of ambitious and vengeful thoughts, isolated in thoughts and feelings, I remained equally foreign to France’s delirious enthusiasm and to the court’s terror.
What to do? were the first words that echoed in the Tuileries. If there had been a way to erase the memory of the humiliations that had been so gratuitously inflicted on so many generals, of the way the Duke of Berry among others had insulted the troops, of the epaulettes he had torn with impunity, if everyone could have forgotten the swearing and the crude manners he took on to try and look like a soldier, then it should have started with this; but they could only lament this past and not erase it. Thus they sought ways to save the present, and about this, I remember an idea that I had an occasion to submit, and which could have put an end to Napoleon’s endeavour had it been carried out on time. It was on 8 March; I was at the house of the Countess of Vaulgrenant, and, like everywhere else, we talked about this attack of one man on a great kingdom, a stunning episode even in such an extraordinary life. All the while agreeing that Napoleon was doomed if he had to fire a single shot, we started to discuss the apprehensions coming from the King’s troops and the way they were forced to fight; on that topic, I said that to put any group of men in presence of Napoleon and the men he brought with him, to put them close enough that they could recognise faces, hear voices and most of all see Napoleon, was a sure way to make them defect, so the only way to avoid the consequences of an irresistible attraction was to start with firing cannons at a long range. Indeed, once the first drop of blood was actually or reportedly spilt, there would be others, and the mere fact of having fought would have destroyed the prestige of this triumphant returner, thus depriving him of his only chance. Although I did not present this plan as infallible, I defended it as being the only one that could potentially succeed, and those present were so struck by it that one of them left at once to tell the Duke of Berry about it, which made me regret I had spoken. I was soon reassured. His Highness was probably still counting upon the inspirations of the Holy Spirit, even though it never touched anything more than his heavy shoulders; moreover, we were already on 8 March, and it would have taken four or five more days to carry out any such orders; now, contact between the troops would occur in that time span, and it was obvious that the first ones’ conduct would irrevocably determine all the others’.
Whatever could have resulted of this idea, it remained unexploited, and in trying to find the right course, they sent the Duke of Bourbon to Britanny; but there were no more Condé and no more Vendée, and this prince’s part, his lineage’s last feat of arms, was merely to capitulate to a colonel of the gendarmerie and to use the passport granted by the latter, signed by a mere squadron leader named Candel, to go to Spain. I will not speak of the Duke and the Duchess of Angoulême who were in Bordeaux; she did everything that was possible, while he did all he could; but another measure, no less useless and utterly bizarre, was to send Monsieur in Lyons. It was the fourth time that, to his great misfortune, he was called on to play a military and historical role. (…)
While the Count of Artois went to Lyons in hopes to find the cheers that were about to turn towards Napoleon and fool him in turn, while the Duke of Bourbon was at the mercy of a colonel in Vendée, while the South witnessed the pointlessness of the efforts made by the Duke and the Duchess of Angoulême, while the Duke of Berry fumed at the thought of staying in Paris, they called upon Marshal Ney to fight Napoleon. But this marshal, so splendidly brave and determined when he marched against the enemy and so weak in political and State matters, after seeing this return as nothing but an act of complete insanity and the work of an insane man that needed to be brought back in a cage, he only added his weight to the cortège and committed a betrayal that stained his life, though that does not mean he should not be pitied or his judges should not be loathed.
Despite the Charter, this marriage contract between France and him, Louis XVIII treated France like a wife that he hated in spite of her virtues and titles, while the Emigration was like a mistress he adored in spite of her faults and crimes. So the contract had already suffered quite a lot of breaches, and in order to try and conceal his infidelities, Louis XVIII renewed his oath to the Charter at the Chamber of Deputies, an oath that the Count of Artois, the Duke of Berry, the Duke of Orleans and the Prince of Condé also pledged spontaneously, and, in that circumstance, the Count of Artois signalled himself with his theatrical vehemence as he exclaimed: “It is in the name of honour that we all pledge our loyalty to Your Majesty and to the Constitutional Charter which forever ensures France’s happiness.” But given what everyone knew about that character, his dramatic scene was ill-received. (…)
Events marched quickly forwards, at the pace of the giant who set them. He reached Grenoble with his weak escort, and La Bédoyère’s spontaneous move made him the master of this place, of all the troops stationed there, and of the whole Dauphiné; he went towards Lyons, which the inhabitants surrendered with inexpressible joy, where he found a new army and from where, regarding his colossal endeavour as over, he seized and exerted a sovereign’s power and wrote the infamous decrees dissolving the Chambers, summoning the Champ de Mai, etc. Acclaimed by the citizens as well as by the troops, he continued his triumphant march with small but constantly renewed escorts, and he was almost always his own vanguard while the troops followed behind like the brilliant dots that a meteor leaves in its wake.’
1This anecdote was written later by the Marshal, in the margins of his journal.