Research Subjects: Biographies


Newspaper Accounts of the Trial and Execution of Marshal Michel Ney: 5th Day of the Trial: 6 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 December 6

M. Berryer, Advocate of the accused, then began his pleading;

In spite of the brilliant facility which the eloquent organ of the public ministry yesterday displayed, in defining the points of view under whch he thinks that the present accusation ough to be discussed, it is, unfortunately, impossible for me to circumscribe myself within the circle which he appeared to trace.

I propose to myself, not, indeed to incur the reproach of evincing a spirit of chicane. I have hitherto defended the laws in their uncorrupted text, without chicanery; but I am now to defend the law from the violent application which it is wished to be made of it beyond its terms, and contrary to its spirit. I will speak with all the freedom which becomes the duty I have undertaken. sure only of my sentiments as a Frenchman, I cannot promise that I will be equally sure of all the expresions which I may employ. I am not, then, contrary to my custom, subjected to trace in writing all that I might have to say upon a subject that required the greatest reserve and management. I will free myself from these chains when it will be necessary to come to the discussion of the point of right, and to enlighten your opinions on the precise enactments of the laws.

I should first of all return the most respectful and public thanks to his Majesty for permitting the defence to be free, public, and invested with such solemnity. Could his Majesty declare in a more open manner his unvarying love to that justice, the reign of which he endeavours to secure? Could he show more his wisdom and his magnanimity superior to all the passions which his heart endeavours to suppress and extinguish? I shall likewise pay the tribute which I owe to the generous concessions which you have afforded to the counsel of Marshal Ney, of a delay which was indispensable for his defence.This delay is not lost to justice. We owe to your equitable prolongation of time the seeing of this capital accusation of high  treason disengaged, by the accusers themselves, of that overwhelming mass of suspicions, even of reproaches, with which Marshal Ney had been loaded in the beginning of this melancholy proceeding. We hear no more of premeditated revolt before the 14th of March.

No, the Marshal has not been made guilty of any of those fixed meditations which conduct a base and false spirit to betray its duties. No, the Marshal, in setting out to engage the enemies of his King, did not defile his hands by the acceptance of a shameful salary, nor his lips by the most sacrilegious demonstrations. A second advantage, not less important, which is due to your liberal adjournment of the opening of the pleadings is, that precious discovery of the sentiments with which the Allied Cabinets of Europe have shown themselves animated on the 20th of last month. This is the display, in the face of Europe, of that profession of European faith, which reposes with the greatest security upon those dispositions, so wise, so generous, declared at all times by his Majesty, to put an end to the hatreds, divisions, alarms, and discontents, inseparable from so many calamities; and to recall only the good which may result from them.

You perceive, my Lords, that I put a liberal interpretation upon the expressions of the Allied Plenipotentiaries. At this touching expression of the wishes which Europe forms for us, who have so long tormented her, more than any other, Marshal Ney has felt himself all on a sudden relieved from one of his most severe sufferings: he has received the most soothing and salutary consolation.

It would have cost too dear to that spirit which always overflowed with compassion for the sufferings which his arm had been compelled to inflict on the enemy, to find that this same enemy, become victors in their turn, did not think him deserving of pardon in the midst of victory, for advantages now more than compensated: and that they were so intent upon his ruin, that they demanded aloud his condemnation before the French tribunals. Thus, then, the heart-rending picture of accusation ceases to be darkened witht the hideous colours of a crime coldly calculated, and with the presence of Europe united to demand its expiation. In the development of my means, I shall not forget that which the ministers have proclaimed aloud within the precinct of this House - that you were a jury whose consciences could not be subjected to so many forms. I shall not relinquish the idea that I speak before a grand national jury, - before the choice of the French nobility, convened specially to pronounce upon a fact committed in one of the most violent crises which a State ever experienced; that, in a word, you are required to examine a political event, originating in our civil  disorders. Having submitted these matters to the supreme arbiters of the intention, the enlightened judges of the real causes of the event which we all deplore, to the loyalty of a French Marshal so strangely compromised, and I beg likewise to add, to the dignity of the throne and the reigning family, it will remain to the counsel of Marshal Ney to prove, that the crime of which he is accused was not foreseen by any of the existing laws.

In this second part of the defence, you will be convinced, that the deplorable events of the month of March have been owing to a fatality without example; and which, happily, will never again recur. I shall then examine, if these events of the month of March, are of a character to fall upon Buonaparte, their detestable author, or intermediately upon Marshal Ney in particular. I shall examine if Europe, which armed against this great criminal having renounced the right which it had of striking, how Marshal Ney, who is said to be his accomplice, should be treated with less indulgence; if any of the circumstances whcih specifically characterise this most unexpected political crime will incur the penalty pronounced by the penal laws, civil or military.

I shall examine whether to these events in March there has not succeeded an order of things sufficiently recognised to render impracticable the criminal prosecution of Marshal Ney, in short, whether, from the Conventions between France and the Allied Powers, on the 30th of March, 1814, the 3d of July, and 20th of November, 1815, it does not result that all faults arising from errors in judgement should be pardoned.

I shall conclude by a respectful appeal to the goodness of the King, which permits us to hope that his Majesty will recognise that Marshal Ney has been deceived as to the true interest of France, but was far from wishing to attempt or execute any thing contrary to it.

M. Berryer, after this opening, proceeded to refute the different charges.

How happened it, he said, that Buonaparte, in less than 10 days passed from Cannes to Lyons, a distance of a hundred leagues without resistance, everywhere adding to his numbers and receiving from the multitude almost phrenzied demonstrations of the blindest enthusiasm? It was because the minority, (ifyou please), but certainly the active minority, had risen in his favour; while the indolent majority, which ought to have acted, suffered every thing to be acted by others. On one side all was delirious enthusiasm: on the other, stupified silence.

The Advocate the proceeded to show, that Marshal Ney had everything to apprehend form the vindictive disposition of Buonaparte, whom he had concurred in dethroning in April, 1815. Did not M.Bourmont (he exclaimed) himself say, that he had told the Marshal that he had everything to fear from Buonaparte's enmity? Has he not declared, that the Marshal said that Buonaparte hated him (him, Ney), that he would never forgive his abdication, that he would cause his head to be cut off within six months?

Had not, then, the Marshal an immense interest to prevent the re-establishment of Buonaparte on the French Throne. Still, it is said, that, from personal views, the Marshal took part with the invader. "His vanity," it is said, "was flattered, his ambition was awakened, the crime was accepted." To what posts of honour more eminent that those of Peer of France, of Marshal and Prince, could Buonaparte elevate him?

The correspondence of the accused with his Royal Higness Monsieur, with the War Minister, the Marshals Dukes of Reggio and Albufera, and several Generals; in short, the depositions of the witnesses least favourable to the Marshal, furnished the Advocate with  proof, that up to the 20th [sic]  of March, the accused took no measure whcih was not in harmony with the instructions of his superiors, and with his duties.

Many of these witnesses, continued M. Berryer, have told you, that when they repaired to the Marshal, they found him surrounded with geographical charts, consulting the means of employing, in his feeble condition, his troops in the most useful manner.

Ah! It is not the first time that Marshal Ney has been so surprised! Perpetually occupied with the military art, the excessive rigour of the Russian winter, could not prevent him, even in the midst of snow, and of a horrible night, from meditating, behind a bank formed by the snow, the means of passing the Dnieper, to save the rearguard of the army, and with it six thousand individuals unable to continue their march, and among whom were many persons, illustrious throughout Europe, who would never otherwise have been able to vote for the trial of Marshal Ney as a traitor to honour, as having compromised by his treason the safety of humanity.

On the night of the 13th, all the reports received by Marshal Ney confirmed the mournful details of the occupation of Lyons. He learned that Buonaparte had openly seized the reins of government, had issued orders and decrees, and that his delegates were in march to enforce the execution of his decrees.

He learned that the colours of usurpation, mounted at Macon, Chalons, and Autun, had excited in those places the dregs of the people to revolt. His army existed no longer; there were men in it, but not a single soldier; for the spirit of insurrection was manifest in the highest degree.

It was under such circumstances that the Marshal received numerous emissaries: not two or three individuals arriving secretly at his house, but his camp was inundated with them. He yielded to an irresistable influence: he read to this troops the fatal proclamation.

But the contents of this proclamation, except some phrases in common witht  the other proclamations distributed, had nothing in it fundamentally dangerous. It might be compared to a newspaper, - a kind of gazette - a simple order of the day. (Murmurs of disapprobation from the whole assembly.) This reading could not alter the disposition of the soldiers.

M. de Bourmont, who pretended to have dissented from the reading, did not, however, hesitate to assist at it. What motive does he give? Curiosity, - a desire to know the spirit of the troops. He said himself, in his deposition, that the spirit of the troops was well known.

General Lecourbe gives a more plausible reason for the presence of the two generals, at the reading of the proclamation. he said in that declaration, which may be considered as his dying testament, - "There was, in fact, danger in doing otherwise, and the Marshal had so informed us." It was, then, a sentiment of personal tranquillity that induced these generals to accompany Marshal Ney. There was, then, a moment when fear prevailed, not only with the Marshal, but existed every where.

M. Berryer concluded this first part of his argument, by examining the fruit which his client could have derived from the defection with which he was charged.

They have dared, said he, to carry licentiousness so far in this matter, as to lend to the Marshal a proposition which would tend to compromise his respectable companion, in putting into the mouth of the Marshal complaints which his wife should have made to him on the reception which she met with at Court. There is evidently here a confusion on the part of the witness. Buonaparte, whom the witness perhaps approached, said, that in fact, before his return, the wives of the Marshals had not been respectfully treated; but the Marechale Ney, the issue of a family which our princes have considered faithful, has no other recollection than those of acknowledgement, and of respectful gratitude for the reception which she experienced from the House of Bourbon.

How was the Marshal paid for the part which he took on the 14th of March? - By a banishment of two months and a half on his estate of Condreaux. Afterwards he received an order to repair to the plains of Belgium: an order which at least furnished him with an opportunity of proving that the defence of the territory was dear to him.

Here M. Berryer interrupted his pleading. M. Dupin, his colleague, demanded an adjournment to the next day.

The President - The adjournment is impossible. Take only an hours rest. The Chamber of Peers cannot prolong the debates indefinitely.

(The sitting was suspended from three o'clock to half past four.)

At that hour M. Berryer resumed his speech: he retraced the proofs of attachment which the Marshal had given to his country. The forms of government had successively changed: a defender of the territory, he remained the same in the most violent commotions.

Nevertheless, in this very assembly, and after the battle of Waterloo, he tore away the veil, - he dissipated all the illusions, - he disclosed the losses which the national forces had sustained, - he announced that the country was threatened with a second invasion.

It is again this friend of his country, that you find in the severe truths which he published in his letter to the Duke of Otranto, on the false manoeuvres of the man who had so unhappily seduced the imagination of the French.

This is the division of the means of defence which I still have to present to you.

I begin by establishing that the criminal accusation cannot be instituted against Marshal Ney, without examining into the nature of the qualification of crimes, because, in admitting that qualification, the penalty would be remitted.

I shall superabundantly establish that the criminal action can no longer be pursued, in consequence of what all Europe has thought proper to execute against the great, the only criminal; in consequence of the great and overwhelming influence which other auxiliaries exercised before Marshal Ney over the success of the enterprise of Buonaparte; in consequence, that the nature of the pretended commission of crimes, in matters of political opinion, affords no possible application to the common dispositions of our criminal laws: finally, in consequence, that our law offers altogether a mixture of dispositions which render the process impracticable.

The defender cited the celebrated declarations of Vienna of the 13th ? and 25th of  March, to prove that the Allied Powers made common cause with France, and acted in the interest of his Majesty Louis XVIII.

"Some of our contingents, which were to be furnished by the different powers (and our King was not exempted from this obligation) arrived later than others. Their efforts could not be simultaneous; but the most active were necessarily delegates in  a common interest.

Buonaparte having been beaten, the English and Prussian troops approached Paris. you have heard the Prince of Eckmuhl in his declaration. How did the foreign armies treat? -

M.Bellart, Attorney General, desired to speak. a profound silence reigned in the chamber.

The Attorney General - I have considered it my duty to save the counsel of the accused from one disgrace in an affair which is already but too disgraceful. We are Frenchmen, and we have French laws; and it is singular, when a Frenchman is accused, that a Convention, signed by English and Prussians, should be appealed to. The King's Commissioners ought to have already opposed the pleading of this defence; but they did not, because they hoped that the defenders of the accused would, upon better consideration, have abandoned it. They have acted otherwise. It is now clear to every one that they mean to rely on this military convention, and the moment is therefore arrived for the King's Attorney General to make a formal opposition to such a proceeding. this military convention was the work of foreigners. it was not ratified nor even approved by the King. Besides, had the defenders of the accused wished to plead their defence, they were restricted even by the decision of the Court to do so cumulatively. The only thing now to be considered is the substance of the question on which the pleadings can alone be admitted.

On these grounds and considerations, the King's Commissioners require,

1) For the national dignity, which would be wounded by givng any consistency to a treaty concluded by the agents of a party in rebellion against the King, with the foreign armies which beseige Paris.

2) From respect for the Decrees of the Chamber, one of which,of the date of the 24th of November last, directs the accused to produce all his objections at once.

3) From respect for the Criminal Code, one of whose most imperative regulations is, that the substantial matter shall not be mixed up with discussions concerning rights which there is no longer time to establish, at the moment when the conscience of juries cannot be occupied with the question of fact.

They, therefore, formally oppose the reading of this military convention, as being irrelevant to the main question, and pray, that his defenders may be confined to the discussion of the facts charged against him.

The President. - I might have taken it upon myself, in virtue of the discretional power with which I am invested, to oppose the introduction of an objection which should have been brought forward at the commencement of the trial, and at the time pointed out by the Chamber of Peers for presenting all the objections cumulatively; but I thought it right to consult the Chamber, in order that I might be supported by its opinion. That opinion, by a very great majority, concurs with mine in the impropriety of appealing to a Convention purely military, absolutely foreign to the King, who never ratified or approved it; - a convention by which his Majesty considered himself so little bound, that, twenty-three days later, he issued the ordinance of the 24th of July, by which he referred to the Tribunals, several of those who were to have profited by this Convention. An ordinance issued, while the troops and Ambassadors of the Allied Powers still occupied the capital, and countersigned by the Minister of the King, who was President of what was called the Provisional Government at the period of the 3d of July. [Fouche]

Consequently,  continued [?] by the opinion of the peers, and the sentiments of my duty, I interdict the defenders of the accused from making any use in their pleadins of the pretended Convention of the 3d of July.

M.Dupin, Advocate, - I desire to make a single observation in point of fact. The Marshal is not only under the protection of the French laws, he is under the protection of the law of nations,-

(Murmurs.) - I speak not of the Convention, but of the limits traced by the treaty of the 20th Nov. which certainly is an act solemn and legal, which we may invoke, since it is to that we owe the happy peace we now enjoy.

The Treaty of the 20th of November, in tracing a new line round France, has left on the right, Sarre Louis, the country of the Marshal. The Marshal, Frenchman as he is at heart, is no longer a Frenchman since the Treaty. The moment a portion of territory is separated from a kingdom, the inhabitants, like the ground, become foreign: we saw examples of this last session. Several illustrious personages could not preserve the qualities of Frenchmen , without having letters of naturalization. These letters, which were necessary to enable them to retain possession of their dignities, are still more necessary to those who are in misfortune.

Marshal Ney, much affected, and with vehemence - "Yes, I am a Frenchman, and I will die a Frenchman! I beg his Excellency to hear what I have to say. (He spoke the rest from a paper). Hitherto my defence has been free; I perceive it is wished to restrict it. I thank my Counsel for what they have done, and are still ready to do; but I desire them rather to cease defending me at all than to defend me imperfectly.

I would rather not be defended at all, than to have the mere shadow of a defence.

I am accused against the faith of treaties, and they will not let me justify myself. I will act like Moreau: I appeal to Europe and to posterity!"

M.Bellart.- If the Ministers and the Commissioners of the King deserve to be reproached, it is for having suffered to long what their duty, as subjects, ought to have made them put an end to. What! After having used, not the liberty of defence, but a real licentiousness; after having established principles destructive of all civilised society, - principles which would induce a belief that a general of an army, at the head of the troops he commands, is bound by duty to desert with his whole troops, and to pass over to the enemy rather than preserve his fidelity to his Sovereign, if he find too many obstacles to the fulfilling  his duty as a subject; after all this, I say, they hold this intolerable language. We have suffered this out of respect to the liberty we would allow the Marshal. But under pretext of defending him, ought it to be allowed that notions most foreign to the trial should be introduced? We have given the accused all the time, and more than the time, necessary to bring forwards his means of defence.

The President. - Gentlemen, defenders of the accused, continue the defence by confining yourselves within the circle marked out for you. The Chamber of Peers in its wisdom will appreciate the means you shall deem to be most suitable.

Marshal Ney. - I forbid my Counsel to speak any farther. Your Excellency will give what orders you think proper. The Chamber will judge me. I forbid them to speak, unless they are permitted to employ all the means in their power.

(A profound silence reigned, for a short time, in the Chamber).

M. Bellart, after a conference with the King's Ministers, rose. - We have a right, and it is our duty to refute the captious means that have been resorted to; but since the Marshal renounces all further defence, we renounce the right of reply. I shall now present the requisition, upon which the Chamber shall retire to deliberate.

The Commissioners of the King require of the Chamber of Peers, in consequence of the proofs furnished, to declare Marshal Ney guilty of having kept up with Buonaparte intelligence calculated to second the progress of his arms on the French territory on the night of the 13th of March; - of having furnished him succours in soldiers and men, - of having passed over to the enemy with part of the troops under his orders, - of having by discourse, in public places, placards, and printed writings, directly excited the citizens to arm against each other, - of having excited his soldiers to pass over to the enemy, - in a word, of having committed treason against the King and the state and of having taken part in plots and attempts, whose object was to destroy the government, and to change the order of succession to the throne. All these crimes being provided against by the 77th, and seven other articles of the Penal Code, and by the Military Law of Brumaire, year 5, (all which articles inflict capital punishment), they, in consequence, require the Chamber to condemn Michael Ney, Marshal of France, Duke of Elchingen, Prince of the Moskwa, to the punishment prescribed, and to all expenses of suit.

President. - Accused, have you any thing to say on the application of the penalty?

Marshal Ney - (rising as if to bid adieu to this august assembly, and with a firm voice)

Nothing at all my Lord.

President. - Let the accused and the audience withdraw, the Chamber is about to deliberate.

It was now five o'clock. The tribunes were evacuated, and the Peers immediately entered upon deliberation in secret.

Placed on the Napoleon Series: July 2006


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