Research Subjects: Biographies


Drouot Surrenders

The Trial

The Acquital

The King's Decision on the Verdict

The Times Opinion on the Verdict

Newspaper Accounts of the Trial of General Jean Baptiste Drouot: 18 August 1815 - 12 April 1816

By Susan Howard

These articles are taken from the archives of the The Times of London of 1815. They are mainly translations from the French newspapers with some private correspondence and leader articles. The articles were printed uncensored, though possibly shortened. There are places where the translation is clumsy: they were usually translated and printed within 24 hours of the papers being received from France. Some of the print quality is poor and I have had to guess at some words; where I have been unable to do this, I have marked them [illegible]. I have preserved the archaic punctuation and inconsistent spelling but have altered the layout to make it easier to read - the original was compressed into narrow columns. Any notes of mine are in italics in square brackets: all other italics are in the text.

The Times:

PARIS AUG 18.

General Drouot has voluntarily surrendered himself a prisoner at the Abbaye, there to await his trial, which, it is supposed, will come on forthwith.

Orders have been given to cause General Debelle to be brought to Paris, who has likewise given himself up in the department where he happened to be when the Royal Ordinance concerning him was issued.

The Times: 11 January 1816

It may not be uninteresting to state what has become of the persons comprised in the first and second articles of the King of France's Ordinance of the 24th of July.

The first article contained the following names: -

Ney, Labedoyere, the two brothers Lallemand, Drouet d'Erlon, Lefebvre-Desnouettes, Ameil, Brayer, Gilly, Mouton Duvernet, Grouchy, Clausel, Laborde, Debelle, Bertrand, Drouot, Cambronne, Lavalette, and Rovigo.

Of these Ney and Labedoyere have been shot; Lallemand is at Malta, Drouet d'Erlon is in France, Lefebvre and Gilly are arrived at New York, Grouchy has embarked at Guernsey for America, Lavalette has escaped. Debelle is in prison, Bertrand is with Buonaparte, Drouet and Cambronne are upon trial, Rovigo is at Malta. The rest are concealed.

The persons comprised in the second Article, and ordered to quit France in two months, are ;-

Soult, Alix, Excelmans, Bassano, Marbot, Felix Lepelletier, Boulay (de la Meurthe), Mehee, Feressines, Thibaudeau, Carnot, Vandamme, Lamarque (General), Lobau, Harel, Pire, Barrere, Arnault, Regnaud (de St Angely), Pummereuil, Arrighi (of Padua), Dejean jun., Garran, Real, Bouvier Dumoulard, Merlin (of Douay), Durbach, Duval, Defermont, Bury St Vincent, Felix Desportes, Garnier-de-Saintes, Mellmet, Hullin, Cloys, Courtin, Forbin-Janson (the elder son), and Le Lorgne Dideville.

Soult, Carnot, Vandamme, Lamarque, and others are still in France; Carnot, however is on the point of setting out for Russia. Several have escaped, or have been permitted to leave France, Excelmans is at Brussels; Bassano somewhere in Austria; Regnauld St Jean d'Angely is in the United States, whither, we believe, Bury St Vincent and Felix Desportes have also fled. Arrighi is in Italy.

The Trial: 6 - 7 April 1816

PARIS  April 7

FIRST COUNCIL OF WAR -(OF THE FIRST MILITARY DIVISION.) - TRIAL OF GENERAL DROUOT

Sitting of April 6

The council having met at ten o'clock, an official letter announcing the voluntary surrender of the prisoner, and the order for his trial on the charge specified in the 1st article of the royal ordinance of the 24th July last, were read; also a letter stating his adhesion to the provisional government of 1814; and another in which he announced to General Dupont, minister of war, the desertion of an officer of the guard in the same year. It was stated, that no ministerial act had ordered the erasure of his name from the list of general officers of the army, and that he had received pay up to the 10th of April, 1814. He had been erased from the control of the officers of artillery, on being appointed aide-de-camp to Buonaparte; and the provisional government of 1815, in June last, ordered the payment of his pay during the whole of his stay in the Isle of Elba, but which he refused. The treaty of the 11th of April, 1814, signed at Fontainebleau, in whch Buonaparte retains the title of Emperor, and ceding to him the Isle of Elba in full sovereignty, and allowing him to take with him a guard of 400 men, officers and soldiers, with the restriction that they shall lose their quality of Frenchmen if they do not return to France within three years, was then read.

The depositions of four witnesses followed:

Joseph Marce-Lacour, ex-commissary at war, employed in the Isle of  Elba, deposed that on the 26th of February, 1815, when Buonaparte's troops were embarking for France, he met General Drouot, who said, "The Emperor is to blame in leaving Elba, if he had listened to me he would remain." Witness had heard Buonaparte hiself use these words: " if I had listened to Drouot, this would not have happened, for he was always against my departure."

Jeanne Ferrand, wife of a domestic in the palace of Buonaparte, heard the general use the same expressions, "We shall regret the  isle of Elba," said he, on the 26th of February; "It is against my opinion, we are doing a foolish thing." - the Princess Borghese, whom she saw on the day after, was sad. The general expressed to her the same fears.

Guillaume Peyrusse, receiver of the isle of Elba, deposed, that Buonaparte having communicated to him his intentions to leave the island, he went, on the 25th of February, to the house of General Drouot, who told him that he had done all in his power to dissuade him. On the 27th, Buonaparte, when on board ship, said to the officers about him, "If I had listened to the sage (pointing to Drouot, who was on deck), we would not have set out; but there would have been more danger in remaining at Porto-Ferrajo."

The Duke of Tarente (Marshal Macdonald), the last witness, had not yet arrived at the council.

The examinations of General Drouot, taken in the prison of the Abbaye, and two editions of a proclamation, countersigned Drouot, the first published in the Moniteur of March 21, 1815, and the second printed as a placard, and differing in some respects from the former, were then read.

The general was next introduced, accompanied by his counsel, and underwent a long examination, in which he stated, that his name is Antoine Drouot, aged 42, born at Nancy, a grand officer of the legion of honour, lieutenant-general. - On the 11th of April he was aide-de-camp and major-general of the guard to Buonaparte, whom he accompanied to Elba, where he made him governor of the island, which office he held till his departure. He considered himself authorized to take this course by the treaty of Fontainebleau, which gave the followers of Buonaparte their choice, to reamain French, or cease to be so on attaching theselves to Napoleon, whose subject he was, and entirely at his command. The plan of Buonaparte was first publicly known on the 26th of February. He had mentioned it about eight or ten days previously to the prisoner. He said the people in France were discontented; that they regretted their old sovereign: that a commotion was ready to break out; and that he was disposed to yield to the wishes  of the French nation.

Being asked, why he came into France as an enemy? he answered, that he was the subject of Napoleon; he had renewed his oaths to him at Elba, and it was his duty to obey his orders. He had signed, by his command,on the passage, a proclamation, [see below 1] but not the same as the copies produced. The force embarked amounted only to 840 men, the insufficiency of which convinced him that a forcible invasion was not meditated, but a quiet submission on the part of the people. He did all in his power to dissuade Buonaparte from his enterprise, and did not follow him on his abdication in June, 1815; the provisional government havng intrusted to him thje command of the guard, and his country being in danger, he preferred remaining at his post, in hopes of rendering it some service. He was at Bourges, the headquarters of the guard, when he first heard of the royal ordinance of the 24th of July: he had a few days before brought over the guard  to the King, and had himself submitted to the orders of the King. Had he fled he would have disobeyed them, and been considered guilty. His conscience reproached him with no offence; and, as a loyal subject, he felt himself bound to come and justify himself before his judges. That his name had not been erased from the list of general officers on his going to Elba was not his fault; it ought to have been erased.

Marshal the Duke of Tarente, for whom the Court had suspended the trial, now arrived.

He stated, that he arrived at Bourges to take the command of the army of the Loire, at the time when Gen. Drouot, comprised in the ordinance of the 24th July, had resigned that of the guard for the purpose of surrendering himself prisoner.

That the guard, full of confidence in its commander, yielded itself up entirely to his direction, at the very critical moment of the capitulation of the 3d of July; and that by this salutary example, bringing with it the army, Paris was saved from the disasters which threatened it.

That the guard having been marched behind the Loire, General Drouot maintained the strictest discipline, rallying it to obedience to the King. the wild spirits he tranquillized; the dangerous, who would again have carried the guard astray, he removed; and the conduct of the guard under his salutary influence decided the submission of the army, and thus saved that part of France from foreign invasion.

The Marshal concluded with stating his conviction, that it was to the right direction given to the minds of men by the chiefs of the army - to the example given by the guard, under the influence of General Drouot, the army had resigned itself and submitted to the operation of disbanding, which he had carried into effect.

He added, General Drouot is so generally known and esteemed, that I need say nothing of his military merit. I could not speak on that subject without wounding his modesty.

The President asked whether the prisoner wished to make any observations on the Marshal's deposition?

General Drouot, with his eyes suffused with tears, and so affected as to be, for the moment, deprived of utterance, obtained, through the medium of M.Girod, permission to reply in writing. He wrote the following lines, which M.Girod read - ' I know not how to express to the Marshal the emotion his deposition has caused me to experience. All my wishes are fulfilled, since I have merited the esteem of one of the most valiant chevaliers of France.'

The Reporter (chief of battalion Delon) having reviewed the evidence, concluded by moving, that the prisoner should be declared not guilty of the crimes imputed to him.

General Drouot then addressed the Council. He went over the history of his connexion with Buonaparte, restated his having advised him not to leave Elba, insisted upon his being the subject of a foreign sovereign etc.

The General's counsel was then heard, and the Court, after deliberating some time upon the charge, viz. "Is Lt-general Count Drouot guilty of having attacked France and the government with an armed force?" pronounced him Not Guilty by three voices against four. A simple majority of one not being sufficient to convict in military courts, it being necessary for that purpose that there must be at least five to two, the general was accordingly acquitted, and orderd to be set at liberty at the end of 24 hours.

PARIS April 8

Lt-General Drouot, after being discharged, yesterday paid a visit to the Duke of Duras, first gentleman of the chamber, and to the Duke of Tarentum.

The King's Decision on the Verdict

PARIS April 9

As soon as the King learned the acquittal of General Drouot, his Majesty declared that it was not his wish that the public prosecutor should enter an appeal for the revision of the judgement. Orders were accordingly given for Count Maison to set General Drouot free before the expiration of the 24 hours which the King's attorney had reserved to himself. General Drouot proceeded immediately to the Thuileries. He was presented to the King, who was pleased to receive him graciously, thus adding to the benefit of justice the grace of an act of clemency

The Times: London, Friday April 12, 1816

[Leader Article]

...General Drouot has been set at full liberty, and immediately proceeded to pay visits to some of the chief persons about the court, particularly to the Marshal commanding the King's Guards, and to the First Lord of the Bedchamber. It seems that his conduct in promoting the tranquil disbandment of the army of the Loire, has created a general impression in his favour; but upon the principles of his defence there is great diversity of opinion. He was a natural born subject of the King of France. It is a clear principle of the French, as it is of the English law, that a man cannot divest himself of his native allegiance without the express will of his Sovereign. In April 1814, when Buonaparte abdicated his pretended imperial dignity,and went to assume an anomalous sort of sovereignty in Elba, General Drouot attended him with the tacit permission of the allied powers. This circumstance, however, could not certainly affect his allegiance to his own sovereign any more than if he had gone to America, or any other part of the world. He might, for civil puroposes, be subject to the local authority of the place where he resided; but, in case of hostilities between that authority and his proper sovereign, he was bound not to bear arms agaisnt the latter. This rule is practically enforced by all civilised states, and it  was applied with the utmost strictness by Buonaparte himself, both as Consul and as Emperor......


Placed on the Napoleon Series: September 2006

 

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