Newspaper Accounts of the Trial and Execution of Marshal Michel Ney: 3rd Day of the Trial: 4 December
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.
Trial of Marshal Ney, December 4
Before the opening of the Sitting, M.M. Berryer and Dupin, the Counsel of the prisoner, distributed a memorial, entitled "Effects of the Military Convention of the 3rd of July, 1815, and of the Treaty of the 20th of November, with reference to the accusation of Marshal Ney."
They endeavoured to show, that M.Bignon, then charged with the portfolio of Foreign Affairs, took part in the negociations relative to the surrender of Paris, and thence deduced, "that the state, the army, and the city of Paris were all parties to the Convention."
Art 12 of the Convention bears, "the inhabitants shall continue to enjoy their rights and liberties, without being disturbed, or in any way enquired after relative to the functions they exercise or may have exercise, their conduct or political opinions." - "Marshal Ney," they assert, "was evidently comprehended in the terms of art.12; he was an inhabitant of Paris; had his domicile there, there he exercised his functions, and belonged to the army."
Lord Wellington had answered Madame Ney, who presented herself at his house - "that the King had not ratified the Convention." His defenders, however, assert that such a ratification was unnecessary.
At half past ten the sitting became public. The Chancellor gave orders that the prisoner and the witnesses should be brought in.
After some new matters of form, the act of accusation was read to the prisoner by M. Couchy, the secretary of the minutes.
The Chancellor then said to Marshal Ney, - You have heard the act of accusation.
At this moment, M.de Cholet, Peer of France, spoke, and said - the trial is about to take place. I demand leave to make an observation.
The Chancellor answered - You have no right to interrupt me.
He then resumed his address to the accused - You have heard the charges preferred against you. I adjudge the right of speaking to the King's attorney; but first we must call over the names to ascertain the Members present.
M.Bellart, the King's Attorney - the act of accusation recites a true statement of the facts; it would be to perpetuate a profound feeling of grief and indignation to enter into the analysis of the matters on which it is founded. The two-fold exigency of the defence and of the prosecution requires dispatch. I therefore demand the opening of the debates and the hearing of the witnesses.
The lists of witnesses for the prosecution and for the defence were then called; among those for the defence were the Prince of Eckmuhl (Davoust), the Counts de Bondy and Guilleminot, and the Baron de Bignon, called to give evidence as to the effects of the capitulation of Paris, 3d of July, on the case of Marshal Ney.
The Duke of Albufera (Suchet), summoned on both sides, was not in attendance: he had sent letters, excusing his absence on account of severe indisposition.
The Chancellor ordered all the witnesses to withdraw to the apartment assigned to them, till they should be severally called in for examination.
The preliminary questions respecting his name, age, and conditions, being put to the prisoner, he said, - I am ready to answer all the questions that may be put to me, reserving the right to bring forwards in my defence the conditions of the Capitulation of the 3d July, and of the Treaty of the 20th November, that have reference to my case.
The King's Attorney. - I declare, in the name of the King's Commissioners, that I do not admit any relevancy in the means of defence which the prisoner now proposes to adduce; but I do not opposes his producing the witnesses.
The examination of Marshal Ney now proceeded. The particulars are the same that have been previously detailed to the public in the minutes of the previous trial of the Marshal before the Court-martial.
Marshal Ney protested, that he had the most tried and faithful intentions towards the King until the 13th and 14th of March, when the existing circumstances, and the persuasions of the emissaries of Buonaparte, induced him tojoin Buonaparte's enterprise, in order to prevent a civil war. He consulted Generals Lecourbe and Bourmont, who both advised him to march on Dijon, as General Bertrand had already desired. He then gave orders to issue marching money to the soldiers, to lay aside the badges of the Bourbons, to join Buonaparte, &c. These orders were given in the morning of the 14th. being precise in terms, he explained that they were made out according to a form established by Buonaparte. It was on the evening of the 15th that he reported his proceedings to Buonaparte. - In explanation of an order given to arrest the officers who did not declare for Buonaparte, he referred to the date, whch was the 18th of March, in order to show that it was issued under Buonaparte's authority , and by his instigation.
The President presented to the prisoner a copy of the Proclamation which was printed at Lons-le-Saulnier. The Marshal persisted in maintaining that this document was not drawn up, nor even signed by him, though he had authorized its publication. Besides, said he, at that moment all was lost; the soldiers would never have fought against Buonaparte; it was a mania, an absolute mania. They all believed that the landing of Buonaparte was an arranged affair between Austria and England; that the English cruisers had withdrawn from their station off Elba, expressly with a view to let him pass.
M. Bellart - I ask the accused whether some decorations were not brought to him by the emissaries of Buonaparte; for instance, a plate of the Legion of Honour, with the Eagle.
The Marshal - None: there might have been two Eagles brought by the Chiefs, but the troops long retained the white flag. I retained the decoration of the King; I had it even when I first met Buonaparte at Auxonne; I even retained it till I came to Paris.
The President - here is an itinerary of the route signed by you, and dated the 14th: it is inconceivable that in so short a time you could have drawn up the necessary orders for the march of the troops.
The Marshal - Your Excellency is not, perhaps, aware what precautions Buonaparte and his staff took on such occasions. above all. endeavours were made to gain, by high pay and gratifications, the good dispositions of the troops; 40 or 50 francs were given to Captains for extraordinary marches; I have even seen 200 francs given to private officers. You could not form an idea of all these prodigalities. All, however followed the impulse without opposition. A single colonel, M.Duballin, I must do him the credit to say, offered me his demission.
The President then put to the Marshal other interrogatories. he replied that he was at his estate when he received the order to proceed to Besancon, and did not know of Buonaparte's landing till he arrived at Paris. He saw the King. It is said, that I told the King I would bring back Buonaparte in an iron cage. If I said so, it was a foolish thing, but still a pardonable one. It proved that I had in my heart (striking his breast) the intention of serving the King.
The witnesses were then called in.
The Duke de Duras gave evidence respecting the interview of Marshal Ney with the King on the 7th of March, when the Marshal expressed his hope of bringing back Buonaparte in an iron cage.
Count de Secy, Prefect of Besancon, spoke to the loyalty of the town on the arrival of Marshal Ney. - I knew, said the witness, that they were stripping the fortress of Besancon of its artillery; I complained of this to the commandant, who told me it was not his business. I asked for ammunition and arms for the royal volunteers and the national guards: I was told there was none to be had. Marshal Ney required me to collect all the funds that were in the public chests. I knew not whether it was for his own private service or that of the army.
The Marshal (with vivacity) : I neither disarmed the fortress, nor demanded money. I believe Mr. Prefect, that you have been deceived relative to the pretended demand of money. It was at Besancon the infamous calumny originated, which ascribed to me that I had received 500,000 francs from the King. It is no longer talked of now, because every body is convinced of its falsehood; but had I been assassinated, as I was in danger of being, on my conveyance from the prisons of Aurillac to Paris, this lie would not have failed to be turned to account. Never did I serve for money; never was money placed by me in the balance with honour.
Col. Taverny deposed, that at Lons-le-Saulnier, he offered Marshal Ney the serviceof the guards of honour and of the national guards of the town, adding, that those of the country were not so well disposed. The Marshal received him coldly, and appeared emabarrassed. He said, as to the national guards of the country, they are fit only for keeping the police; we have no need of whimperers.
The Marshal. - The guards of honour and the national guards were summoned by my orders, but no one made his appearance.
M. Taverny. - There were a considerable number who were loyal; a great part of the guard of honour, consisting of 109 men, and almost all the officers of the national guards.
This witness also deposed to a conversation which he had at Poligny with General Lecourbe. The general said to him: "I know not what will happen under the circumstances in which we are placed. I know not what Marshal Ney will do; but I will see the Emperor, and say to him, If you wish to torment the generals, and govern like a tyrant, we shall soon know - you understand me? If Buonaparte is killed" continued General Lecourbe, "that will be so much the worse. There are five or six of them who wish to be Emperors: we resemble the Roman empire in its decline."
Lt-General Count Bourmont was the next witness, and deposed to the following effect.: -
I have already made at Lille a declaration: but the commiseration naturally attached to a great misfortune induced me then simply to reply to the questions put to me in virtue of the commission of examination. I have since learned that Marshal Ney has asserted, that I was of the opinion that it was right to read the proclamation to the troops, which was read at Lons-le-Saulnier on the 14th of March. This assertion of Marshal Ney's affects my honour, and compels me to come to explanations. If they add any weight to the crime of which the Marshal stands accused, it will have been his own fault.
Up to the 14th of March, the orders given by Marshal Ney, and by me transmitted to the troops, appeared to me conformable with the interests of the King. On the morning of the 14th, Baron Capel, Prefect of the Ain, arrived at Lons-le-Saulnier. He told me that the town of Bourg was insurgent: that the 68th regiment had assumed the tri-coloured cockade, in spite of the General who commanded the department, and of the superior officers of the regiment, who, up to the last moment, opposed it with all their force. We went to communicate this news to the Marshal; he said little to us.
In the morning of the 14th, the 8th regiment of horse chasseurs having arrived, the Marshal ordered me to draw them up in the square, and to put all the troops under arms, because he wished to speak to them. I returned to the Marshal's lodgings, and being alone with him, he said to me, Very well! my dear General, you have seen these proclamations of the Emperor; they are well done; they must produce a great effect. Without doubt, replied I; care must be taken that the troops be not allowed to read them: there are phrases in them which would have great influence on the soldiers: for instance, this one: victory marches at the charge-step. The Marshal said to me. But comrade, were you not surprised at seeing yourself deprived of one half the command of your division? At seeing that the troops were made to march by two battalions and three squadrons? Very well! the case is precisely the same throughout all France. all this was arranged, we were all agreed about it, three months ago. Had you been at Paris, you would have known it as well as myself; all the troops are disposed in their march in such a way, that they will successively arrive tosupport the Emperor. the King must have quitted Paris: if he does not quit it, he will be carried off. However, continued the Marshal, no harm shall be done to the King; woe to him who shall harm the King! He is a good Prince, who never injured any one; woe to him who should do him injury!
I said to the Marshal: Whatever happens, nothing shall induce me to fight against the King. He replied: I insist upon your doing it: I am certain that the Emperor will treat you well: however, you are at liberty to decide for yourself; if you will not, General Lecourbe will go with me.
General Lecourbe then came in: the Marshal said to him, I was telling the Count de Bourmont that all was prepared in such a manner that the troops might reach the Emperor: the King had quitted Paris: no harm was to be done to him; woe to the man who should do any; he is a good Prince, but he will be sent on board a ship. What now remains for us to do? Join Buonaparte.
What! said Lecourbe. I have no reason to rally under that .... The King never did me anything but good, and the other nothing but harm. beside, I have honour, and therefore will not join Buonaparte: and I too said the Marshal, and therefore I will join him. No more humiliation for me. I will not have my wife come back every night with tears in her eyes, on account of ill treatment.
At last, after a discussion of about half an hour, he took up the proclamation from the table, and said, This is what I am going to read to the troops.
General Lecourbe and myself felt assured,that the troops, who hitherto had no intention of rejoining Buonaparte, would be much shaken when the Marshal should propose to them to pass over to his side; for he was one of the men who inspired the soldiers with the greatest confidence and attachment. We resolved therefore to go upon the parade, to see the effect it would produce. in fact, the troops shouted 'Vive l'Empereur!" and dispersed themselves over the town in disorder.
I should add, that it appeared to me the Marshal must have been quite determined beforehand to take the part of Buonaparte, because half an hour after having read the proclamation, he wore on his breast the plate of theLegion of Honour, with an eagle, and besides, the great decoration witht the effigy of Buonaparte. as the Marshal can hardly pretend he brought this to Lons-le Saulnier for the King's service, it must be evident that he had decided beforehand.
The President - Prisoner, have you any observations to make?
Marshal Ney, with warmth. - It would appear that Count Bourmont has learned his theme extremely well. He probably imagined that we should never see one another again, and that I should be disposed of with the same rapidity as Labedoyere. I have no oratorical talents, but I speak the truth. it is unfortunate for me that Lecourbe is not here, [Lecourbe had died] but I appeal to him, in a higher place than this, before God, who hears us. These gentlemen, Lecourbe and Bourmont, stood opposite to me: I said to General Bourmont, "I invite you, in the name of honour, to state what you think of this proclamation." General Bourmont, without any preface, took up the proclamation, and said, "Marshal, you may read this to the troops." (Here General Bourmont made a sign with his hand that the assertion was false.) General Lecourbe merely said, "There have long been rumours of all this." If M.Bourmont had thought that my conduct was criminal or impolitic, he could, on leaving my house, have posted a guard at the door and made me his prisoner: I was quite alone, I had not even a saddle horse to save myself. M.Bourmont came and dined with me the same day, with the superior officers; it must be acknowledged that I was grave and silent at table. It is usual, on such occasions to give toasts; I said nothing, though there was much gaiety at table. I bid these gentlemen good afternoon, and shut myself up in my house: this is the exact truth.
The President (to the witness).-Why, knowing as you did the proclamation, did you collect the troops for the purpose of having it read to them?
M. Bourmont. - The order for assembling the troops had been given me previously.
The President. - How happened it, that, being animated with fidelity to the King, you were present at the reading of it?
M. Bourmont. - Because I wished to witness the impression it might make on the troops, and render an account of it to the King. On the other hand, it was not in my power to prevent the Marshal from reading it to the troops except by killing him myself.
(Here the witness entered into long details, and shewed how, after a circuitous journey, he arrived at Paris on the 18th or 19th of March and gave an account to the King of what had passed.)
M. Berryer. I ask of M.Bourmont, how he can ascribe to Marshal Ney the division of the troops by echelons.
M. Bourmont. -In all the military divisions, two subdivisions had been established: for instance I remained Commandant of the Departments of the Doubs and the Upper Saone, and genral Mormot had been sent to the Departments of the Jura and the Ain. The Marshal told me that all this had been done on purpose, as well as the scattering of the troops, in order to favour Buonaparte's enterprise.
M. Dupin, Advocate - M.Bourmont is incontestably the most essential witness, and who, it is most important, should be made to explain himself : His answers should, therefore, precisely apply to the questions put to him. He makes ground of reproach to the Marshal, that he had so disposed his troops, that they could not present an imposing mass.
M. Bellart, - The witness did not say this.
M. Seguier, Reporter - It appears from the preliminary process, that the troops were so disposed, that those comanded by General Mormot held, so to speak, as prisoners those under General Bourmont.
Marshal Ney - Such a disposition would have been impossible.
M. Berryer. -Feelings of curiosity might have brought M.Bourmont on the ground at the moment when the proclamation was read; but I beg of him to explain the feelings which led him, after it was read, to the banquet.
M. Bourmont - I was under the necessity of avoiding suspicion, lest I should be arrested, or watched in such a way as to be unable to execute my intention of proceeding to Paris.
Marshal Ney - I arrested no one. (To the witness) You said lately, that it would have been necessary to have killed me: had you killed me, you would have done me a great service; it was, perhaps, your duty.
The Duke de Fitz-James. -The Marshal said to the witness on the 14th of March, that the King had already left Paris: I ask the Marshal, who gave him that information?
Marshal Ney. - It was a rumour in circulation: the Moniteur of the 15th or 16th shewed its falsehood; but I might have believed on the 14th that it was true.
M. Berryer - What impression did the proclamation make on the troops?
M. Bourmont - Almost all the troops, and particularly the cavalry, shouted Vive l'Empereur! The greater part of the superior officers, on the contrary, were thrown into consternation; they said to me, "My General, this is a horrible affair; had we known this, we should not have come hither."
M. Berryer - I ask of Count Bourmont, whether he cried Vive le Roi! (violent murmurs). it has been stated, that shouts of Vive le Roi were uttered on one wing, and shouts of Vive l'Empereur on the other.
Count Mole - Questions like this are quite disorderly.
Count Frondeville, another Peer, reprobated the introduction of such personalities; and M.Bourmont then returned to his place.
A Peer. - I ask of the prisoner, the names of the emissaries who came to him on the part of Buonaparte?
Marshal Ney - I will implicate no one.
M. de Vaulchier. Prefect of the Jura, deposed in detail as to all the events that passed between the 11th and 15th, and the connections he had with the accused. I refused, said the witness, to retain the administration of the Department, after the defection of the Marshal. He said to me, "You do an act of folly." he then added various insulting expressions respecting the Bourbon Princes. What had taken place, he said, was inevitable and long foreseen; the greater part of the Marshals and the Minister at War had organised the plan which brought back Buonaparte. The Marshal added, that he had been in correspondence for three months with the Isle of Elba; that the Duke of Berry had been detained at Paris, because it was feared his presence would excite enthusiasm among the troops; and that Monsieur had been sent to Lyons, because he was incapable of directing so important an operation.
Marshal Ney - M.Vaulchier came to my house, and our conversation did not last 10 minutes. He asked of me a safe conduct, and I told him he might retire when he pleased. As to the insulting language respecting the Bourbon princes, which he has ascribed to me, they are calumnious and absurd. I must have remained a month at Lons-le-Saulnier, to be able to give him all the details he has related.
M. Baron Capel, formerly Prefect of the Department of L'Aisne, and now Prefect of the Doubs, deposed to the communications he had had with the accused, when the insurrection of the 76th regiment had forced him to quit the city of Bourg. He informed the Marshal of the events which had taken place at Grenoble and Lyons, and of the arrival of Buonaparte, or of his advanced guard, at Macon. This news appeared to astonish the Marshal: he even shewed some indignation, and said, "This will resound as far as Kamskatka." The witness repeated this expression of the Marshal,because it was that which first made him conceive uneasiness as to the Marshal's disposition.
M. Bourmont afterwards told witness, that Marshal Ney had assured him, that all that had been agreed on some time back, between him, some other Marshals,and, as the witness believed, the Minister of War. their first project was to change the dynasty. They had, for a time, thought of the Duke of Orleans, but they were persuaded, or even positively informed, that he would not lend himself to the project. in the meantime, the conspirators learned, that Madame Hortensia had begun an intrigue for the purpose of bringing Buonaparte back to France; and they were, in spite of themselves, obliged to join that party. The Marshal himself had held a similar language to the witness. The witness thought that the Marshal added, that, at the time they were conversing, the Duke of Dalmatia was making a movement at Paris. Among other observations the Marshal said to me, "If foreigners interfere, the Royal cause is lost. The King has only one part to adopt: let him cause himself to be carried on a litter, at the head of his troops, - then they would fight." He also invited me to resume my prefecture, and added, "You should, in preference to any thing else, be a Frenchman; I myself would not have abandoned the cause of the Bourbons, had it not been irrecoverably lost."
The President - Did you remark the decoration which the accused then wore?
Witness - I think I am pretty certain that he wore the plate with the eagle.
Marshal Ney. - It would be difficult for me to answer, in every point, a witness who has made a very long deposition, and who has had abundance of time to compose his theme: if I have said that it was a concerted affair, it could only be from conjecture that I spoke. I cannot conceive what has indisposed the witness so much against me; for, from the reputation he bears, he has done me a great deal of mischief.
M. de Grivel, appointed to organise the national guards, deposed that on his arrival at Lons-le-Saulnier he presented to the Marshal a statement of the national guards of the Jura. Next day, said the witness, having learned the arrival of Buonaparte at Lyons, I offered to put the national guards in motion. he replied to me abruptly, "we will cause them to march when necessary." On the evening of the same day I wrote to theKing, that the disposition of the troops were far from satisfactory, and that they would pass over to Buonaparte when he made his appearance. I witnessed the Proclamation, but I did not hear it read, the Marshal having caused me to leave the square, where I had taken my station.
The witness concluded by stating the conversation he had had with M. de Vaulchier, in which the latter stated the particulars of the interview he had had with the Marshal.
Marshal Ney. - I have one remark on the deposition of the witness. If I ordered him out of the square, it was only that he might be spared any disagreeable circumstances that might result from his being there. As to his hearsay evidence, I have only to oppose to it my positive denial.
Count Gennetierre, who acted as chief of the Staff to Ney's army, deposed as to the events of Lons-le-Saulnier. When the proclamation was read, Generals Bourmont and Lecourbe appeared in consternation. Col. Duballin expressed to the Marshal his astonishment that he should thus change, after the disposition he had shown the evening before to encourage the troops in the King's service. He gave in his resignation, which the Marshal accepted. Witness, as Chief of the Staff, accompanied the Marshal's corps as far as Dole: but, having there reflected on the illegitimacy of the cause he had embraced, he wrote to the Marshal a letter of resignation, and proceeded to Besancon.
The Marshal - I will makeonly one remark on the conversation ascribed to Colonel Duballin. He said nothing to me in the square and it was at my house that he gave in his demission, which I refused to accept. As to the pretended letter of M. Gennetierre, I never received it.
Witness - Your receiving and reading my letter are perfectly true: for you sent it to M.Bourmont.
M. Bourmont, when asked as to this fact, declared that, in fact, this letter was sent to him at Dole, on the night of the 15th, by the Marshal. Marshal Ney exclaimed in his turn against this declaration. How was it, said the Marshal, that General Bourmont, who had disappeared, should be at Dole to receie that letter.
The witness, in answer to several questions from M. Berryer, stated, that even on the 13th the arrangements made by Ney in support of the King were prudent and favourable. On the night of the 15th [or 13th?] witness saw, in the Marshal's hands, a letter from General Bertrand. On this occasion the Marshal observed to him, "The whole affair is a very extraordinary one, but it was all settled long ago: this is what Bertrand writes me."
Baron Clouet, formerly Aid-de-Camp to the Marshal, was next examined. he deposed in substance that, at Dole, on the 15th of March, he requested of the Marshal leave to return to his family. This he granted witness without difficulty, who accordingly set out for Paris with General Bourmont, who was of the same mind with himself. Some months before, the Marshal appeared to witness sincerely attached to the Bourbon family. The character of the Marshal always appeared to him liable to be influenced by sudden and lively impressions. This witness was much affected in giving his evidence.
The deposition of the Duke of Reggio, and that received by writing from the Duke of Albufera, indisposed, only related to the letters addressed to them by Marshal Ney, before the 14th of March in order to concert military arrangements.
The Sitting was closed at half-past five o'clock.
© Copyright 1995-2009, The Napoleon Series, All Rights Reserved.