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Newspaper Accounts of the Trial and Execution of Marshal Michel Ney: 4th Day of the Trial: 5 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.

 

Sitting of the 5th of December

The thirteenth witness, M. Magin, Commissary of the Navigation of Paris, was then introduced.

M. Magin. - On the 20th of March, I received from M. de la Boulaye, Chevalier of St Louis, Inspector of Navigation at Montereau, a note, in which he tells me Marshal Ney is now at Montereau, lodging with an innkeeper of the name of [illegible], where he had said, " the return of Napoleon has been decreed at the Congress of Vienna; everything was arranged by the care of Prince Talleyrand, who brings back to France the Archduchess Maria Louisa and her son."

The President asked the accused, if he had any observation to make on this fact; and the accused replied in the negative.

Marshal Ney afterwards said: - I saw nobody at Montereau; I do not even know the inn that has been mentioned; that is to say, I have seen the Sub-Prefect, but only relative to the boats for transporting the troops to Paris.

Many witnesses, who were officers in the garrisons in the North at the end of March, and throughout the month of April, deposed to the outrageous speeches which the Marshal had made in his military tour from Lille to Landau. The following are some of the particulars: -

M.Ballincourt, Captain of Infantry - The officers of the garrison of Landau were called together by the Marshal at the inn Le Mouton d'Or. When the officers were assembled, he locked the door, and asked if there were amongst us any intruded persons, that is to say, of the ancient nobility. He addressed himself particularly in this question to M. M.. [illegible], who was an intruded person, according to the acceptation of the Buonapartists. The silence of the chief made him think that the whole regiment was devoted to Buonaparte.

Marshal Ney - I believe that Monsieur has been mistaken in saying that I locked the door. Never did a Marshal of France, or general-in-chief, receiving a visit from officers, think of locking the door. You have, without doubt, been sent here on  a deputation to denounce me.

M. Balincourt - I have no interest in accusing you; the fact is, that you did lock the door, and used a thousand horrid expressions to us about the Bourbon family, so far that the Buonapartists themselves were indignant at it. You went so far as to say to us in confidence, "there were many Marshals who for a while inclined to the Republic." Have you said that; I ask you, yes or no? I add, that the tri-colour flag was then flying a league off, but had not then been hoisted at Landau. General Girard did not declare himself until after your arrival.

M.Grisolles deposed, that on passing through Philippeville about the same time, Marshal Ney boasted that, before his departure from Paris for Besancon,  he had in his carriage the proclamation which he read to the troops on the 14th of March.

M.Batardi, notary of the accused, deposed, that he arrived at the Marshal's hotel in Paris at the moment of his arrival from his estate at Condreaux. TheMarshal only spoke to him about business, and not at all about political news. Judging this silence very extraordinary, he spoke to him on the subject, and asked if he had not heard of Buonaparte's descent at Cannes, in the neighbourhood of Frejus, that Monsieur had set out for Grenoble, and that he himself had been sent for to go to his government with the Duke of Berri? The Marshal appeared quite ignorant of these things, but upon being informed that they were in the Moniteur, he exclaimed, "My God! What a misfortune! What  a dreadful thing! What will they oppose to this man? He would not have set his foot on France, if he had not relied upon our divisions." In quitting the Marshal, I remained convinced, and shall be so through life, that not only he did not know the Buonaparte was landed, but that he did not desire it.

The Duc de Maille had been sent by Monsieur from Lyons to Besancon. On his arrival he questioned General Bourmont about the disposition of the Marshal, and was informed that he was very well disposed.

M. Philippe de Segur, marechal-de-camp, declared that all that he had heard from the Marshal before the 14th of March was worthy of the general who was the glory of the French arms for twenty campaigns.

The Marquis de Sauran, First Aide-de-Camp of Monsieur, deposed to meeting Marshal Ney in company with General Bourmont at the time that they read the proclamations of Buonaparte. Marshal Ney thought the following expressions very fine: "The eagle should fly from steeple to steeple to the towers of Notre Dame." "That," said he, "is the way to write to please soldiers." The Marshal, in other respects, appeared to have a great deal of confidence. He said, "The troops will march; I will fire the first musket-shot; and if a man of them shrinks, I will run my sabre through his body; the guards will be sufficient to keep them together." He added - "It is cannon that makes soldiers march, and I have an Aide-de-camp that knows well how to apply them."

Lt-Gen Count Heudelet was called, and declared that he served under the Marshal's orders.

The President invited him to give his deposition upon the facts of the accusation.

Witness - What facts?

President - On those contained in the accusation, and which may be personal to you.

The witness deposed, that he had received but one letter from the accused on the 13th, on quitting Dijon, where the insurrection had broken out, and where it was impossible to stop it. There was a bad spirit in the troops; even the gendarmerie was bad.

M. Berryer requested the President to ask the witness what was the political situation of his command, and of that of Marshal Ney.

Witness - The insurrection of Buonaparte's partisans was general, and the minority of the good servants of the King was evident. it was the same in the country parts, which openly announced the intention of joining Buonaparte.

M. Berryer - Do you think Marshal Ney, with the forces he had, could have successfully opposed the progress of Buonaparte?

Witness - No: with  the four incomplete regiments he had, it was not possible.

His Excellency Marshal Davoust was now called in.

M. Berryer - Marshal Davoust, Prince of Eckmuhl, was charged by the Commission of the Provisional Government to stipulate the Convention of the 3d July. He may have important recollections on that head.

The Prince of Eckmuhl - in the night of the 2d of July all was prepared for fighting; the Commission had sent an order to come to an understanding with the Allied Generals; firing had already begun; I sent to the advance posts to stop the effusion of blood; the commission had remitted the project of a Convention; I added to it all that related to the demarcation of the military line; I added to it articles relative to the safety of persons and property, and I specially charged the Commissioners to break off the conferences, if those dispositions were not ratified.

M. Berryer - I entreat his Excellency to state where were the head-quarters of the Allies.

The Prince - Marshal Blucher was at St Cloud, the Duke of Wellington was, I think, at Gonesse. He had repaired to St Cloud when he was informed of the conferences. it was there the Convention was signed.

M. Berryer asked the Prince, if the Convention had not been granted in the manner in which it was demanded for the advantage of Paris, what were his hopes of resistance.

The Prince - I had 25,000 cavalry, and from 4 to 500 pieces of cannon; and if the French had been quick in flying, they had been quick in rallying under the walls of Paris.

M. Berryer - I beg the Prince to state, what was the sense which he and the Provisional Government attached to the 12th article.

M.Bellart (the Attorney General). - The King's Commissioners object to this indiscreet question. The discussion, I see it well, will turn upon the capitulation. but the act exists as it exists. The opinion of the Prince cannot change it. An act cannot be altered by declarations.

Marshal Ney - The convention was so protecting, that it was upon that I relied. Without it, is it to be believed, that I would not have preferred dying sword in hand? It is in contradiction of this capitulation that I was arrested, and it was on the faith of it that I remained in France.

President - The meaning of the Capitulation is to be found in the document itself. The opinion which each individual may have of its sense, is of no importance. In virtue of the discretionary power conferrred upon me, I decide that the question shall not be put.

Count Bondy, formerly Prefect of the Seine, was the next witness.

The President - You are called as to your knowledge of the facts relative to the military included in the Capitulation of Paris.

Witness - The principal basis of the Convention was the public tranquillity, the security of Paris, the respecting of persons and property. It was with a view to those objects that it was drawn up and proposed to the Generals Blucher and Wellington. There were some discussions on these points, but no difficulty was made relative to the 12th article, which was accepted in a manner calculated to give the most complete assurance to those comprehended under it.

A Peer -I beg the President to ask the Prince Eckmuhl and M.Bondy, to state on their honour, whether they think that immediately after the Capitulation it was in the power of the King to enter his capital, because, if it was not,  he could not have entered in virtue of the Capitulation, and in that case cannot be bound by it.

Another Peer - This is not the period for considering that question. it ought to be postponed for another time and another place. Such questions ought not to be agitated in a public sitting.

M.Guileminot, the 36th witness was called in.

President - You are called to depose to the part you had in the capitulation of Paris relative to the military.

Witness - As Chief of staff, I was charged with stipulating for an amnesty in favour of persons, whatever might be their opinions, their offices, or their conduct. This point was granted without any dispute. my orders were to break off the conferences had any refusal been made. This article induced him to lay down his arms.

M.Dupin - This Convention was military. Why were Messrs. Bignon and Bondy joined with you?

Answer - They stipulated for the civil persons as I did for the military.

The evidence being closed, the Attorney-General, M.Bellart, addressed the Chamber to the following effect:-

When, in the depth of deserts, formerly covered by populous cities, the traveller, conducted by curiosity, perceives the sad remains of the celebrated monuments constructed in remote ages, in the false hope of escaping the scythe of time, and which are now only shapeless ruins or fleeting dust, he cannot avoid feeling a profound melancholy on thinking of what becomes of human pride and its works.

How much more cruel is it then, for him who loves mankind to see the ruins of a great glory fallen into disgrace by its own fault, and which took pains to tarnish, by crimes, the honours with which it was before surrounded?

When this misfortune arrives, we are instinctively indignant at the caprices of fortune, and we would wish by an unreflecting sort of contradiction, to contimue to honour that which once shone with such brilliant lustre, and, at the same time, to detest and despise that which caused such frightful evils.

Such is the two-fold impression whcih his Majesty's Commissioners confess that feel, on the occasion of this deplorable trial. Would to God that we could recognise two distinct persons in the accused! That, however, is impossible. He, who for a time, had covered himself with military glory, is the same who has become the most guilty of citizens. what signifies to the country his fatal glory, which he has entirely extinguished by a treason, followed by a catastrophe to our unhappy country, on which, even now, we hardly dare rest our attention? He has done the State service: it was he, also, who contributed most powerfully to its destruction. There is nothing which can extenuate a crime of this nature. there is no feeling that ought not to give place to the horror which such an enormity inspires.

Brutus forgot he was a father, in order to see nothing but his country. The sacrifice that a

father made to his country, which was revolting to the feelings of nature, the government which is the protector of the public safety, is more bound to make in spite of the murmurs of an old admiration which had been mistaken in its object.

The facts to which your particular attention is called, unfortunately for the accused, unite a great simplicity with an entire proof. I shall run over them rapidly, without observations: and such is their nature, that, from a  rapid expose, the most imposing mass of charges will result.

I am ready to give him this advantage on the present discussion. All that he has not confessed in the amplest manner, we consent to abandon. It is from his own words; and his own confessions, that we are content to demand of you to judge the accusation and the accused. (The Attorney-General here rapidly retraced the events which took place since the 7th of March, and noticed the generous concession which had been made of not examining into the circumstances preceeding the night of the 13th.)

If we are to believe him, he had not even formed his decision on that fatal night; he had taken some time to deliberate, as if to deliberate in such circumstances was not the commencement of crime!

He calls General Lecourbe and General Bourmont; he consults them. Those two generals endeavoured to dissuade him, but could not succeed.

You remember the contradiction which he gave to General Bourmont. you remember the solemn tone with which he appealed to the declaration of General Lecourbe. he has said, "Above, where we shall all meet, I will not fear to call on his testimony."

Well - this testimony was reduced to writing; it has appeared, you have seen, that General Lecourbe agreed with General Bourmont. General Lecourbe declares that he made reflections to the Marshal on the part which he had taken.

But there are still other witnesses who confirm the veracity of M.de Bourmont. There exist very material proofs. If M.de Bourmont had had the disloyalty to advise him to march in a perfidious course, how did it happen that they separated? How did it happen, that 24 hours after, General Bourmont quitted Marshal Ney?  Why did Marshal Ney himself, five days after, comprehend this faithful friend, this devoted confidant, in the order of arrestation which he signed the 19th? If they had been agreed, the Marshal would not have promulgated the order to arrest M. de Bourmont, wherever he was to be met with.

However that may be, on the morning of the 14th, a General in Chief, a Marshal of France, covered with the favoursof his King, who received so important a proof of his kindness, caused an insidious proclamation  to be read to the troops: he excites his whole army to a perfidious step, to a base desertion: he causes it to pass over to the ranks of the Usurper, whom he had promised to bring alive in an iron cage.

Whatever explanations may be given to such an action, the existence of it is sufficient to constitute a crime.

The accused has said that he suffered himself to be carried away by an invincible torrent. You have not forgotten a deposition, which penetrated me with respect: a deposition, such as that if the success of the charge depended on putting questions to the witness, I do not know if those questions would not have died upon my lips.

The first aid-de-camp of the Marshal told you, with  a piety that could not have escaped you, that having long served under the eyes of Marshal Ney, owing him great gratitude, and his entire affection, he arrived on the 14th at Lons-le-Saulnier. He dined with his General; but not being able to approve of his conduct, he feigned a sickness, and retired. Have you entirely appreciated the language of honour breathed in such a deposition?

The aid-de-camp retired ; what was then to have prevented the Geenral from at least doing what his Aid-de-Camp was able to do? What! such a seducer was not able to draw along the aid-de-camp: he never hesitated: he did not yield to the influence of his Chief; and had not Marshal Ney the power, in the night from the 13th to the 14th, to resist the suggestions of strangers? He did not imitate the example set by a simple officer.

Let the Marshal no longer speak of the danger there might be in endeavouring to restrain his army. Danger, however imminent it may be, is no excuse for a French soldier.

Shall I speak to you of that order of arrest issued by the Marshal against officers and faithful functionaries, in which order he comprehended General Lecourbe, Count de Bourmont, Generals Delort and Jarry, Messieurs Gennetiere, Durand, Dubarel, Comte de Secy. and M. Clouet, his own Aid-de-Camp.

I am far from wishing to make detailed charges against Marshal Ney, of all posterior acts whcih were the necessary consequence of the first act committed by him on the 14th.

Once he committed that act, once he had formed his resolution irrevocably, it became a matter of necessity to him to continue to march in the paths of rebellion.

Whatever may become of the question of premeditation, nevertheless, it is certain, that afterwards the Marshal gave himself up to the cause of Buonaparte with an entire devotion. As soon as he had rejoined him at Paris, he received a mission to examine all the fortresses of the north. There, in every place he loudly declared hs sentiments in favour of the Usurper; not content with speaking of his fidelity to his person, and of propagating disloyalty towards the legitimate sovereign, he allowed himself to make use of the most outrageous expressions against the King. It must be confessed, that into this act of treason he has thrown a great frankness of manner; for long after this time, he took delight in indulging himself in similar effusions against the Prince, who had honoured him with his confidence.

I shall here conclude my first statement. It is because I feel the most profound conviction that it is impossible to say anything which can justify Marshal Ney: it is because I am unable even to conjecture what arguments his defender can bring forward.

I am ignorant of what palliatives the counsel for the Marshal will bring forward, to endeavour to explain an action that is, in its nature, inexplicable, and on which I could have wished that the accused had spoken with an entire sincerity, and a contempt for that species of chicane which has been used, both on the account of the situation that he has filled in the world, and the character that he has formerly displayed.

I wait for the observations that shall be made, and I think there can be none whch will not admit of any easy refutation. I shall then demand the privilege of replying.

After a few observations from the defenders of the accused, the Sitting was adjourned to the next day.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: July 2006

 

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