Research Subjects: Napoleon Himself


s soon as the government of France had changed its form, its leader also changed his manners.  A severe and careful etiquette was introduced to the interior of the palace.

The chumminess of some of his former comrades in arms had already injured Consul Napoleon; this brand of familiarity was not allowed in the least by Emperor Napoleon, who wanted to only to be treated as the sovereign in person.   The severe thoughts of men jealous of his fame were succeeded by the poisoned flattery of the former aristocracy, who made every effort to renew the scenes of the small apartments of Versailles (palace intrigues). The service room was now the Bull’s Eye of these gentlemen; back corridors, hidden stairways, anti-rooms where meetings were held.  One wanted to be the squire, the chamberlain; one asked a place for his wife with a princess, sisters of the Emperor; one asked to honor his son by allowing his entrance among the pages that we took care of organizing.  Therefore it was a very difficult and an especially very sensitive choice to make.  However, in opening the Imperial Almanac in 1804, he believed he would keep the old directory of the court of Versailles.  Napoleon made this remark while laughing to Josephine, who seemed delighted.  The Emperor had wanted the staff of his house trained and fully complete for the day of his coronation. He succeeded beyond even his expectations.

The announcement of this great solemnity was greeted with joy everywhere, mainly by the commercial class in Paris.  The influx of foreign luxury came back and occupied a large number of artists and workers, who, for many years had found little to exercise their talent and industry on.  These positive interests in the capital did more to support the Empire than opinions and thoughts.  They pressed in droves to admire in Biennais, at Odiot and in Foncier, the jewels which were to be used for the coronation: the scepter, the hand of justice, and especially the crown, whose light and gold leaves were less reminiscent of the ancient head bands of the kings of France than Caesar.  The deposit of such rich objects was made on the eve of the ceremony, to the Achevêché (archbishopric).  Napoleon had already sent to the metropolitan church many albs embroidered in gold and lined with lace, beautiful tablecloths, sacred vases, priestly chandeliers and ornaments in vermillion and exquisitely worked; which reminded one a little of the custom of the kings of the first and the second race, which sent in advance to the bishops clothes and some of their dish plates when they wanted to feast and joyously frolic (s'esbattre), with the difference that they would take this all back after all their festive feasting, while Napoleon gave everything away and left.

The Pope was expected at Fontainebleau on November 20, Napoleon left the 19th to receive him.  It was the first voyage he made from the royal residence, completely restored and refurbished by him.  He went to meet the Holy Father on the road to Nemours, and at this time, to avoid ceremony he took the pretext of joining a hunting party.  The new master of the hunt with his crew was in the forest.  Napoleon arrived on horseback and wearing hunting clothes with his suite.  With the half moon situated above them, he joined His Holiness, who had stopped his carriage and wanted to get off; but there was plentiful mud on the road, he hesitated a moment, with his white satin slippers embroidered with gold.  It was a wise decision; as Napoleon had already alit.  The two sovereign embraced one another, and the carriage of the Emperor was advanced a few steps.  The footmen were posted to hold the two doors open.  When getting in, the Emperor took the right; one of the squires told the Pope to take the left, so they climbed in together.  The Emperor naturally took the place on the right, and that first step decided the etiquette, which gave rise to no difficulties.  The short journey remaining before arriving at the château offered this note that the squad of Mamelucks of guard immediately fell in behind the carriage in which the Pope was head to head with Napoleon.  It was quite curious to see the Turks’ compete zeal and respect for the Vicar of Jesus Christ.

All the bishops of France and Italy met in Paris, where they had been called; each of them had brought with him many clerics, so that we encountered strolling at the Royal Palace almost as many as one might meet in the streets of Rome.  Napoleon had placed before the Holy Father, upon his arrival at Fontainebleau, a service of honor composed of the principal officers of his house including MM. the senator from Viry, from Luçay and General Durosnel, to act as chamberlain, the prefect and master of horse of the Pope.  After resting for two days in the palace, His Holiness came to live, at the Tuileries, in the Pavilion de Flore.  The Empress, followed by almost all of her ladies soon came to visit him.  The Pope provided all his blessings, and rewarded them with a rosary.  Starting this day, the garden and courtyard of the Tuileries were filled, from morning to evening, with a huge crowd.  Josephine was delighted by this scene.

The actions and speech of the Holy Father had become the subject of all conversations in the capital.  He exuded his goodness, his simplicity; everyone wanted to receive his blessing.  The malignancy had not been lost yet. A hundred puns, were forged daily and repeated everywhere, even in the palace.  We will not repeat them here, for the very reason that they were execrable.  An old Marquise of the suburb of Saint-Germain had written, it is said, on learning that the Holy Father came to bless the Emperor: The pope’s charitable stain.  However this behavior may have been seen by the world, nothing was more suitable than was the Holy Father.  For his part, Napoleon’s attention to him was most respectful.

Twenty thousand letters of closed invitations to all civilian and military officials who were attending the coronation ceremony had been dispatched by the Emperor to all the departments of France .  The letter, puzzlingly strong because of the form of language that was used for the first time, was as follows:

“Divine Providence and the constitutions of the Empire, which placed the imperial hereditary dignity in our family, we have designated the eleventh day of Frimaire next (2 December 1804, old style) for the coronation ceremony of our sacrament and crowning.  We would have liked to, on this august occasion, gather at a single point in the universe the citizens who compose the French nation, all at once, and something which was unable to be attained that would have been so dear for our hearts, wishing that this solemnity receives its main basis from the meeting of those whose dedication to the State and our sacred person is known to us, we are making out this letter to find you in Paris before the 7th of next month and to make known your arrival to our grand-master of ceremonies.  Of this, we pray to God that you are in his holy and dignified care.”

“Written in the Palace of Saint-Cloud, 4 Brumaire year XIII.”

“Signed NAPOLEON.”

And far below:

“The Secretary of State, H, MARET.”

In the last days of November, the carriages of Their Majesties, those princes and princesses of the Imperial family who would form the procession were conducted empty every morning, harnessed with six or eight horses to the front of Notre-Dame and the surrounding area by coachmen, postillions and stable grooms.  These carriages, numbering fifty, executed several rehearsals deemed necessary to know exactly the space offered by the square of Notre-Dame and its environs, so their placement would be carried out smoothly.  For his part, Mr. de Ségur, Grand Master of Ceremonies of the Palace, began staging the metropolis for this great solemnity, for which Isabey had a lot of sketches and drawings commissioned by Napoleon.  To this effect, Mr. de Ségur gave several appointments in the same city to all of the high persons of rank or function who had been called upon to play a role in this solemn representation; but the most illustrious players, especially the great dignitaries, did not rush to get to these appointments.  The Grand Master of Ceremonies had feared for a moment that things would go all amiss.  Upon pointing this out to Napoleon, one evening where this had been repeated at the chateau, he replied in a completely serious manner:

—Do not worry; is making my marshals follow their lines, like a lead actor, a most difficult task?  Well! Rely on them for skillful and speedy maneuvers; they intend on it, I promise you.

While being prepared and on the eve of the coronation, the Emperor, preceded by his service of honor, and followed by a large number of officers of his civil house visited in the late morning to the pontiff for him to check on the ceremony, to honestly recommend whether it was good for the next day.  The visit lasted only five minutes. Napoleon had withdrawn; the Holy Father gave, as usual, his blessing to everyone.  It was his sole occupation: he gave it in his bedroom, in his office, in his chapel, on the stairs, in his carriage through the window, and so on.  We would be tempted to believe he gave more benedictions, in the short time he spent in Paris, than he had received himself throughout his pontificate.  Finally the big day arrived! ...

The day before there had been terrible weather: it was hoped that the processional march would not be troubled by the wind or rain; but by a kind of special protection that Providence seems to give all emerging powers, along with the coming day, the sky took a shade less dark and the sun illuminated the huge crowd which, from eight o'clock in the morning, bordered the route from the Tuileries to Notre Dame.  That day, which was a Sunday, the windows overlooking Rue Saint-Honoré were leased for one hundred francs each.  The cheers that erupted from all sides, had this spirit of truth that can be easily distinguished from these clamors paid for in advance and which was so often able to appreciate the value.

Long before that day came, the greatest activity had prevailed in the Tuileries Palace.  One was complemented in turn on his new costume, on asking for advice, on advice being received, and everyone felt the time was not moving fast enough because of general impatience.  Especially those that the nature of their functions called near the Emperor whose impatience had expired long before.

Most of the ladies who had accompanied the Empress had the courage, after getting their hair done at two o'clock in the morning, to remain seated in front of their fire until the moment came to appear in the grand apartments.  Napoleon, too, was starting at seven o'clock in the morning; because it was not a small matter for him to don the costume that had been created for him.  After taking a half-cup of coffee at eight o’clock, he ordered all the civil officers of his house, and in their presence, the chamber valets began his grand toilet.

Previously, in similar circumstances, this would have been a prince of the blood, or at least a first gentleman, in the absence of a great master of the wardrobe, who would pass on the shirt of the sovereign.  It was nothing of the sort: Napoleon, who had not yet thought to completely restore the old etiquette, took the shirt from the hands of his first chamber valet, to fill himself that office; but it took them so precipitously he tore it from top to bottom on the side.  This disaster repaired, he began to dress.  It was then on his part that a long string of curses and apostrophes were let loose against the tailor, the hosier and the cobbler.  As he passed a piece of his costume:

—That is too large! He cried. This is too heavy! ... This rises too high! ... This shoe is too tight! ... These people have no common sense!

Here, for the rest, was the makeup of this whole costume, dazzling in gold and precious stones:  white velvet boots, laced  in front and dotted with gold glitter; knit trousers of close fitting silk with embroidered corners edged in gold, surmounted by an imperial crown, highlighted by small pearls, by turquoise and garnets; vest of white satin, with diamond buttons; short coat, in the Polish style, of crimson velvet, with lapels and cuffs of white velvet embroidered with gold on all the seams and the half-coat of arms of Henry III, also of crimson velvet, lined with white satin, covering the left shoulder, and held, on the right chest by a double clip of sapphires and emeralds; a collar of muslin throughout; a collaret and a band (rabat) of lace of an invaluable price; finally a black velvet toque recalling that kind of cap sometimes called pouf, that women of the court wore before the Revolution.  This cap had in the front a diamond plume topped by a huge white feather, drawn together by a cord of large brilliants as big as your thumb, with the diamond the Regent for a button.  Gloves, entirely, were of white silk knitting. Above all, the Grand Ribbon of the Legion of Honor past over the shoulder, with silver plate and the cross of a simple legionnaire on his chest.  Finally the sword, in the form of a glaive, sheathed in green velvet and with a gold handle, a very valuable work, was attached to a belt of black velvet, four fingers wide, embroidered with gold and beads, with a multitude of small stars in diamonds.

Napoleon, dressed and went at ten o’clock to the gallery of Diana, where the Empress waited, surrounded by the princess sisters of the Emperor, and all the wives.  Madame de Larochefoucault, her lady of honor, bore the tail of her mantel.  In general clothes (as is the expression), Josephine had a full appearance of nobility and grace.  We had seen in that time many queens and princesses; but no sovereign sat on the throne better without being taught.

However, at the time fixed for the departure of the Pope from the Tuileries, the cortege experienced a rather long delay.  In Rome, when the Holy Father left his palace to officiate in any church like St. Peter or St. John Lateran, one of his chamberlains left alone before him, mounted on a donkey and bearing a large processional cross.  It was at the moment when His Holiness went out of his apartment and went to the Archdiocese that M. de Ségur became aware of this custom.  The chamberlain stubbornly refused to take a more noble mount even a mule, he was forced to put all the stable grooms in search of a donkey and it was fortunate to find a fairly presentable one at a fruitier of the Rue du Doyenné.  Gasparini, the first groom of the Emperor, hastened to curry, to cover with a very rich velvet horse blanket, embroidered with braids and tassels that hung to the ground, and lead it to the foot of the grand staircase of the Pavilion de Flore. The overly sensitive chamberlain climbed on, and armed with a large cross, that he carried like a knight’s lance, he traveled alone, with imperturbable coolness, through the double hurdle of soldiers and countless multitude along the docks, that could not help but laugh at this show, all the more strange because the donkey was small and that its rider had legs that were too long.  The Pope came out almost immediately from the Tuileries court, and went to Notre Dame.  Their Majesties began their procession an hour later.

At the Archbishopric, cells were prepared of various types, so everyone could remediated the disorder of his toilet or make up.  It was here that Napoleon completed his costume in the great mantle of coronation, of crimson velvet, full of golden bees and sheathed in ermine and white satin.  It was held on his shoulders by gold twisted cords with clasps of brilliants, this mantle that was 22 yards in circumference, weighed 80 pounds.  Although consistently supported by five major dignitaries, this kind of chlamys crushed the Emperor by its weight. These preliminaries completed, they headed for the cathedral.  When the cortege came under the portal, a dizzying cry of Vive l'Empereur! Came forth with the same impetus and such unison that we would have called it an explosion: the windows of the church shuddered, the walls were likewise shaken.

When the procession came to the area halfway between the portal and the church choir, the pope came down from his dais: all the metropolitan clergy preceded him, led by M. de Pradt.

His Holiness, followed by cardinals in red and on the bottom purple, came out to Their Majesties and accompanied the processional to their seats, before which were devotional chairs (prie-dieu) placed at the entrance to the choir.  Here, all the cortege paused.  Their Majesties knelt and sang on the Veni Creator; then the Holy Father who was kneeling in turn gave a short prayer, had them stand and returned to sit under his canopy to the left of the altar.  The procession having retreated arrived at the great throne, where Their Majesties rose.  So each took their place for the ceremony and, as the pope approached the altar, the officiating began.

It was celebrated by the Holy Father in person, and listened to by all the assistants with the most perfect recollection.  We had witnessed many anniversaries for forty years, we have seen many solemnities of all kinds, but the spectacle offered inside Notre-Dame, the day of coronation, will never leave our memory.  Restoration and painting had been going on until nine in the whole church.  Tunnels and platforms decorated with incredible richness had been built.  From eight o'clock in the morning, they had been overrun by an impatient crowd.  The sacred songs resounding in this huge vault, called benedictions from on high, onto the glorious head of Napoleon, in the presence of the sovereign pontiff; these walls covered with resplendent curtains; all the major bodies of the State, members of all cities of the Empire; thousands of floating feathers which shaded the hats of Senators and the High Courts of Judicature with their costumes at once vivid and severe; this multiplicity of brilliant uniforms of gold and silver; and in the midst of choir, the countless clergy in all their priestly pomp; and then, at the spans of the upper floors of the nave, these women young and beautiful, sparkling with flowers and stones; all the celebrities of the Empire, a crowd of distinguish foreigners coming from the bottom of Germany and to the ends of Italy; finally the sound of cannon, the sound of bells, the acclamations of this delirious multitude; all this, we say, formed a gathering pompous, brilliant, charming and sublime, which touched everyone with a profound emotion, whom was evidenced by some with tears, others by only a kind of stupor, and by all with a more religious silence.

Once Napoleon was seated, everyone carefully looked at him trying to guess his secret impressions.  He appeared to us constantly calm; only the length of the ceremony seemed tiring.  At the offertory began (in the words of men the military) the grand evolutions.  M. de Pradt gave the signal that M. de Ségur repeated, and everyone willing went to the offertory.  Five ladies of the palace left their seats and opened the walk; carrying: the first a candle along the length of which were inlaid with gold, the second, the bread in silver; the third, the bread in gold; the other two sacred vases.  All the cortege defiled in the same order and with the same regularity as before.  After this second ceremony, the Pope recited a prayer that the Emperor listened to, as all the others, with respect; the Holy Father continued the mass.

Napoleon finally descended from his throne and came alone to kneel on his prie-dieu; then suddenly we saw him get up at the moment when the Pope went to take the imperial crown placed on the altar, advancing quickly, removing it from the hands of the Holy Father and placing it proudly on his head.  At this moment his face flushed, his eyes sparkled with an unaccustomed brilliancy; he appeared to be more than ten feet tall! ... But the moment that excited most strongly the attention was that when Josephine received the crown from the hands of Napoleon and as his sacred Empress and Queen.

When it was time for her to appear in this great drama on a warning from M. Pradt, she descended from the throne and advanced to the steps of the altar, where the Emperor and the Pope were waiting.  Josephine walked slowly, eyes downcast, with a collected air, followed by her service of honor.  Arriving before Napoleon, trembling with emotion, she knelt; and, raising her eyes and her soul to him rather than God, one saw distinctly large tears flowing and rolling from her eyes onto his hands.  The Emperor was no less moved; but he continued and did not lose his seriousness.  He slowly took from the altar the small crown surmounted by the cross, to the Empress, at first placing on his head in place of his own, then on that of Josephine with such majesty, that we would have said he had spent his entire life placing a crown on his head and that of others.  Finally, he took her two hands, and raised her up with perfect dignity.

The Holy Father gave a little sermon to fit the circumstances to the Empress, she then returned to sit on the grand throne, and Napoleon join her there, the clergy and all the beautiful voice chosen by the Abbot Rose intoned  Vivat in excelsis, then the Te Deum, which was sung by the Holy Father.  After the Ite missa est, His Holiness disturbed one last time to come and present the Gospel to the Emperor, who took all the pains of the world to withdraw his glove before pronouncing his oath, which he did with a bare hand extent on the holy book.

Meanwhile, M. Maret, Secretary of State, had established the record of this oath, M. de Ségur called M. de Talleyrand, the grand chamberlain called the Arch-chancellor, as well as, the president of the Senate, those presidents of the Legislative Body, among the latter those of Tribune, and so on, to make them sign the minutes. The Arch-chancellor then presented this document to be signed by Napoleon himself.  This done, Their Majesties returned on the route to the Archdiocese, then the Tuileries, amid the same cheers.

In the evening, all the streets of the capital were illuminated.  Flames of Bengal were lit on all the public buildings, but nothing was more beautiful than the Tuileries gardens: the long row was lined with garlands of colored glass; each tree on the cross rows was lit by myriads of lights; finally, a huge star, erected on the Place de la Concorde, dominated all these lights.  As for the chateau, we would have said the palace was in flames.

The ceremony was particularly long and tiring; it lasted more than five hours, including the return.  It was half past six when Their Majesties returned to the Tuileries.  Everyone was dying of hunger, of cold, of fatigue.  The first thing Napoleon did was to quit his beautiful costume to put back on for his modest uniform; he ate lightly and went to bed at a respectable hour.  It is likely that everybody in the palace had to do the same.  The Holy Father set the example: he almost immediately returned to the Pavilion of Flora, having gained like all there a concordat and an aching back.

But amid such high fortune, Napoleon did not lose sight of the tremendous preparations that had increased in all ports of France , Spain and Holland, for the defeat of England or to force it to peace.  He had placed on his head the Iron Crown of Italy (June 26 1805, in Milan), as if to tell the world that Charlemagne had a successor.  But also, that this second crown on his head could be affirmed, he thought that peace with England was necessary.  He wrote a letter directly to King George on June 10 that was dated from the Camp of Castiglione.  It was there that  forty thousand men were waiting, as at the Camp Marengo, to be seen giving, in his former dress as a general, by Empress Josephine a facsimile of the battle he had won nine years ago.  The letter read as follows:

“Sire mister (monsieur) my brother, I do not attach dishonor to taking the first steps.  I have enough evidence from Europe, I think, that I do not fear any chance of war.  Peace is the wish of my heart, but the war has never been contrary to my glory.  I therefore urge Your Majesty not to deny the happiness of peace in the world.  A coalition will never gain the continental dominance and the greatness of France.

And here, Sire mister my brother, I pray to God that Your Majesty will always be found in his dignified custody.”


But the king of England that the Emperor had felt obliged to call monsieur my brother, seemed unwilling to recognize this political kinship.  Distaining to correspondence as an equal with a newly created monarch, George conveyed to M. de Talleyrand by Lord Mulgrave a note that began as follows:

“His Majesty received the letter which was addressed by the head of the French government, Bonaparte, etc.. etc.”

In the letter, the English Minister only escaped through diplomatic circumlocutions a clear and positive response.  When Napoleon was apprised of the note, he contented himself by saying:

—Well! this peace, I will obtain by the force of triumphs, and then England will know what it will cost them; in the meantime, I want the unbecoming epistle of the king placed before the three bodies of the State; I want it to be printed in all the newspapers, without editing, to give France the freedom to make up its own mind and to see for itself what to do with such people.

The frankness of this communication excited public sentiment to highest levels, already sympathetic by the generosity of the approach that the Emperor had made to the Prince Regent, and war against England was again sanctioned by their opinion.

However, a disastrous event deprived Napoleon of the man on whom he had counted the most to affect it: the Vice Admiral Tréville died.  The choice of a successor to command the expedition that was to leave Toulon, was important; the Emperor, this time, did not want to take it upon himself to decide alone, and proposed some candidate of from his Minister of the Navy in this letter of remarkable brevity:

“Monsieur Decrès, for the squadron commander of Toulon, it seems that there are only three men. Bruix, Villeneuve and Rosily. Which of the three need I take?  Answer me by my return to Fontainebleau, where I will be around 10 July and on this, Monsieur Decrès, I pray God holds you in his dignified custody.”

Venice on 30 June 1805.”


Unfortunately, the Minister appointed Villeneuve.  This choice, who had missed the English expedition, was later the cause of the loss of our navy.

On 11 July, Napoleon was back at Fontainebleau.  He had left Turin on the 8th, three days earlier in the middle of a maneuver that was executed by the garrison; and, 14th, he arrived at Boulogne, where, as elsewhere, he excited enthusiasm.  Each day we eagerly reexamined the smallest circumstances of his public or private life, each paid tribute to his justice, his generosity, his exquisite politeness that he put into all his relationships; but one day he forgot his generosity and was unfair to one of the men who could have provided him exceptional service: we are talking about in the scene that took place between him and Admiral Bruix, about an order which he believed he did not have to obey.  The despotism that Napoleon exhibited proved on this occasion to be without reason since events soon justified the resistance of the Admiral.  The Emperor did not talk of it, except once at St. Helena; in a moment of effusion and abandonment, in his heart imposed silence of self-esteem, he said painfully to Count Bertrand, who, without having intended, recalled this event:

—Yes, that one has come to curse me ... Poor Bruix! if all those who surrounded me had had the same frankness and the same courage as he, then  perhaps I would not be here today.  Destiny has been well avenged!

It was the morning of his grand start off.  The Emperor announced to those present on that day he would review the military shipbuilding, and before riding to his daily tour, he told the aide-de-camp service:

—Savary, go find me Admiral Bruix in his barrack; you tell him to change the position of boats that form the battle line, because I want to hold a review of crews in the open sea.  Tell him to act so that all arrangements are completed when I return at noon.

Napoleon left only followed by Roustan, his mameluck, and a groom.  Savary, knowing better than anyone else that the desires expressed by the Emperor were a positive agenda, went to find the Admiral and perform his commission.

—General, replied Bruix after listening without interrupting, I'm sorry, but the review planned by His Majesty cannot take place today.
—How is that, Monsieur Admiral? Savary asked to such an amazing response. And fearing he had poorly explained it, he added: Your Excellency may not have understood?
—Excuse me, General, I understood you very well, answered Bruix with imperturbable coolness, and that is why I repeat that this review will not happen.

Indeed not a single boat moved in the port.  At midday, the Emperor, returning from his tour, was going to the table for lunch, when saw his aide-de-camp; said with an air of satisfaction, slapping the handle of his whip in the palm of his left hand:

—As I asked, is all about ready? Did you get a response from Bruix?

Savary faithfully reported the response from the Admiral.

—Come on!  Napoleon made with a movement with his shoulder, you're not even awake, Savary.  You say so ...

And he repeated a second time word for word the statements of the Admiral.

—What does this mean?  Napoleon exclaimed with a burst of an extraordinary voice, being accustomed to more punctual obedience; is it therefore always the same thing?  …M. Admiral thinks he is still before the Tour de Croï! ... Savary, return to the Admiral, and tell him I ordered him, are you listening well?  I order him (he rested on the word) to come to explain now! ... Leave me, gentlemen! He added while making a sign with his hand to the group that accompanied him.

And he returned in his barrack.  Ten minutes passed during which Napoleon seemed very agitated.  The Admiral did not arrive quickly enough to meet his desire, he beat his whip on the edge of the table on which his lunch remained intact, and exclaimed:

—Is it too much for me to know where Monsieur Admiral has gotten; I will go find him myself!

At the same time Napoleon thrust his hat on his head, and, followed by some of his officers, hastily left his barrack; but barely had he just stepped outside than he saw Bruix together with the Rear Admiral Magon and followed by Savary, who were heading towards him.  When he saw Napoleon, Bruix quickened his step.  The Staff of the Emperor gathered silently around him; the eyes of Napoleon flashed with lightning.

—Monsieur Admiral, he said in an altered voice, why did you not execute my orders this morning?
—Sire, replied Bruix in a respectful tone, because a terrible storm is forming; Your Majesty can see it as well as I.  I thought not to be exposed to it unnecessarily, neither your life, which is so valuable, nor that of all the brave officers who surround you.

Indeed the gravity of the atmosphere, the rumbling of thunder which was distinctly heard in the distance, and the absence of the slightest wind, did not justify very well the extreme fears already expressed by Bruix.

Sir, resumed Napoleon, that the calm that the Admiral showed seemed to increasingly irritate, I had given orders; again, why do not you have them done!

—Sire, I do not want to be reproached all my life for the death of the brave seamen and soldiers of Your Majesty.
—Monsieur, replied Napoleon while stamping his foot, which in these cold talks exhibited the highest level of anger, the consequences of my orders are solely my own; again immediately, obey, I order it for the last time.
—Sire, I will not obey.
—Sir! ... Napoleon stammered with lips trembling with anger, you are ... an ... insolent! ...

And with saying these words, the Emperor, who was still holding his whip in his hand, moved toward the Admiral and made a threatening gesture.  Bruix fell back two steps, and instinctively placed his hand on the hilt of his sword, replying palely:

—Sire, I suppose that Your Majesty does not want my shame, nor to dishonor himself!

Although Bruix was of a delicate complexion and very small, making this gesture by saying these words, he seemed a giant.  All the assistants were frozen with dread.  The Emperor, motionless, hand convulsively agitated, threw a terrible glance on the Admiral, who retained his noble attitude.  Everyone thought that Bruix was a man lost forever.  Finally, Napoleon threw his whip away from him; Bruix then brought his arm to its natural position, and the head uncovered, eye always calm, waited in silence the result of this terrible scene.

—Monsieur Rear Admiral Magon, coldly said the Emperor, you will instantly execute the movement that I ordered this morning.  And you, Sir, he added with a step towards the Admiral, you should leave Boulogne even today.  Before twenty-four hours are up you will know the decision of how I'll deal with you.

And the Emperor was away, some general officers, among others Rear Admiral Magon, clasping the hand of their brave Bruix offered on parting.  This event did not escape Napoleon, who nevertheless did not seem to see it.  The famous Admiral died the following year in Paris, leaving the entire fortune to his widow and his children, that the memory of his glorious services and one of the most noble characters of which the French Navy could boast.

However, the fatal movement of the fleet demanded by the Emperor was carried out; but hardly had the first provisions been taken, that the sea has become frightening to see.  The sky charged with dark clouds, was crisscrossed by incessant and continuous lightning; the thunder seemed a long roar, and winds that had suddenly, strengthened had severed all lines.  Finally, what the Admiral had predicted happened, several hours after when it arrived: the most furious tempest scattered the ships here and there, so as to despair for the salvation of their crews. From the window of his barrack, Napoleon saw all this; believing he could hear the cry of sailors who called for help, he took his hat without a word, rushing out and soon coming onto the shore.  There he found a trembling and worried crowd worried that the storm would come up the cliffs.  The Emperor walked so as not to rush, arms crossed on his chest; he spoke to no one.  His officers, the heads of the corps, some of his Guard, came there and considered in silence: no one dared give an order nor give up the example of dedication, so great and general was the stunning. Suddenly the cries he believed he heard arrived becoming more distinct and lamentable with every moment.  Several gun-boats, loaded with sailors and soldiers, had just been thrown to the shore and the unfortunate that it carried, struggled against the waves, begging for relief that no one felt the courage to take them.

—This spectacle is awful! Napoleon said with despair, we cannot coldly let the brave men perish.  Where are the boats? he cried; why are not all the boats putting to sea?  A dingy, a dingy fast!  I want to go myself to the rescue of these unfortunate!

There was no movement.  A dreary indecision reigned overall.  Napoleon was irritated especially with the Naval officers, who said in his ear:  “The sea is not tenable ... It's crazy to want to save men for whom there is no salvation… Hopefully we will all perish ... etc.”  So Napoleon said with an accent mingled with bloody irony:

—Ah! Ah! Mister Seamen! You are afraid of the sea? ... Fortunately I know people here who do not frighten so little! Thank God! I have my grenadiers of Arcole and Marengo here!

Then returning quickly making the sublime gesture of his hand:

—Commandant Gros! He said to him, move forward the first company of your battalion!  These, gentlemen, are not seamen, they are not afraid of the sea!

At these words, the face of everything changed, everything was in an uproar, and everything was activated.  It rained down, on all sides quickly.  Many boats were put afloat as if by magic.  Meanwhile, an admirable grenadier company moved at double time, proud and obedient, and seemed not to wait for a glance from their Emperor to launch themselves in the frail craft.  Here he had guessed what was happening in the heart of his soldiers:

—Follow my example, my brave!  He shouted to them and save the shipwrecked!

A boat much larger than others, and already loaded with twelve vigorous rowers, had been brought. Napoleon launched first; alone, he jumped on the board that served as a bridge. Vive l'Empereur! All the grenadiers cried with one voice that followed in two ranks, weapons in arms and in the most perfect order.  They passed over this fragile bridge, following emotionless, without worry, without even looking at the unfathomable depths under their feet.  All had entered the boat when a furious wave hit, breaking in, engulfing the Emperor, who stood with one foot resting on the edge of the boat, looked fixedly ahead of himself, shouting to the rowers in a ringing voice:

—Push off!

The rowers had to work vigorously to struggle against the waves; but the boat did not move, it was thrown back at every turn by waves, which rose against the boat.

—We do not move! Napoleon repeated with impatience to the pilot who held the rudder.  Then, addressing the rowers: Come on! Do you not hear the cries of your brothers who agonize out there?  The sea is in revolt but we can overcome it.

At the same time the boat was pushed violently by the waves.  It seemed to be a response from the Ocean to the words of the Emperor.

—Sire, said the pilot, the sea is no longer tenable.  Your Majesty sees our efforts can do nothing against it.  If we persist on wanting to go further, I cannot answer for either the salvation of Your Majesty or that of his soldiers.

Napoleon turns and sees his impassive grenadiers, somber looking and held tight against each other like a bundle of weapons.  He responds with a sign.  Then the pilot focuses on the rudder and he makes a movement that turned the prow of the boat.  Moments after it touches the shore.

—Everyone on land! Napoleon said.

The grenadiers jump out; the Emperor leaves the boat last while sea water fills it up.

—Land!  The earth!  He repeated; it never fails the foot soldiers! It does swell up, nor turn over; it is docile, it will always be for us a battlefield, and we will win!

In saying these words, he moved slowly towards his house.  The rain fell in torrents; Napoleon was without a hat: a final wave, more angry than others, he had taken it from off his head, as if the ocean had wanted to retain a token of his recklessness.

We could only save a few who manned the shipwrecked gunboats; and over the following day, the sea had already rejected on the beach more than 200 corpses.  It was a day of mourning for the camp and residents of Boulogne.  There was no person who ran to the shore to look anxiously if, among Corps shipwrecked, it was not a relative or friend. During the day, Napoleon came to sit on a piece of rock beside the sea in one eye looked dreary debris of all kinds that the waves pile in front of him, when suddenly, extending the arm as to describe something, he turned the side of his aides-de-camp, left standing a few steps back, and told one of them:

—Savary, see what this all black object may be that I see floating on the water; could it be the head of a man?

The aide-de-camp approached the shore and looked carefully:

—Sire, he said after a moment, I cannot distinguish it perfectly; but it to me it gives all the appearances of being the cartridge pouch of a soldier.

Impossible said the Emperor; it could not have floated so long unless it had it been empty.

At the same time a wave came in a sheet onto the shore; on receding it left on the sand and nearly at the feet of Napoleon, the object that he had sought to identify; he got up immediately and lowered himself for a closer look:

—Ah! Ah! He said with surprise, I well thought I’d never see it again! ...

It was his old hat.  We hazard to guess what state it was in when Napoleon raised the fingertips, because it resembled a dripping sponge.  After shaking it lightly he returned to his barrack while holding it in his hand.

But soldiers and sailors waited to embark for England .  One morning, although the sea was a little rough, the winds were favorable and the sky serene, no sight of the enemy had been reported during the night making everything seemed favorable to attempt the crossing.  Napoleon gave the orders: the semaphore signals began, and both camps rang with the shouts of: “We will embark!”  And while the quarters was beating in every direction and the sails are lifted on all the boats in the fleet, the army headed in divisions over to the port, a thousand times repeating the cries of Long live the Emperor!

Napoleon, mounted in a small boat, accompanied only a few rowers and a few flag officers of the Navy, went back and forth continuously from one end to another of the port; he monitored all, and the troop’s embarkation progressed in perfect order.  The operation began at seven o'clock in the morning and was over at five o'clock in the afternoon.  In less than ten hours, one hundred and twenty-seven thousand soldiers, horses and luggage was boarded.

The troops, on their barges and their gun boats, were standing, heads uncovered, and waiting for the signal that will enable them to rush onto an enemy land.  The Emperor also was standing in his boat and his army seemed to be on review one last time.

Suddenly a boat from shore is seen and heads, by strong rowing, to that of Napoleon.  An officer is in this boat; he rustles a paper, it is a dispatch: it is submitted to the Emperor, who opens it hastily: eagerly his eyes scan, crushing the paper in his hands, returning to shore, placing his feet on land, and retraces in extreme agitation, the path to his barrack.

A moment later, the semaphore transmits the order to the fleet to unload all troops who are aboard, and before midnight, are back in Boulogne and in the various cantonments that held them that same morning.  As for Napoleon, he withdrew at an early hour and had requested none of his marshals.  This mysterious dispatch that arrived from Bayonne informed him that Villeneuve, instead of following the instructions he had given earlier through his Minister of the Navy, had entered with his fleet into the port of Cadiz.  So to Napoleon, his grand project against England vanished like a dream.

The next day, at his grand wakening, he seemed somber, and quickly heading toward his office, he called Daru.

—Do you know where Villeneuve is?

These were the first words that Napoleon addressed to the Administrative General of the Army.

—No, Sire, he responded coldly to him.
—Well! He is in Cadiz. What shyness! We have never seen such ineptitude!  If I did not know it, I would  think he was treasonous ...

The heart of Napoleon was full of bitterness.  His anger erupted first in short sentences, in strong exclamations; then it overflowed.  The words of Villeneuve, of England, of Boulogne, of fleet, of posterity, thrown out at random and disconnected, barely able to Daru, stupefied, to understand that the entry of Admiral into Cadiz and the fear that in doing so he was left blockaded by Admiral Collinwood was the subject of so great an outburst. Finally the outpouring took its course; Napoleon felt the relief that comes along with weariness.

—Sit down there, he said to Daru and write.

And Napoleon dictated to him that:

“Mister Decrès, send me in the day tomorrow, a memorandum on this question:  In the state of things, if Admiral Villeneuve remains in Cadiz, what should we do?  Raise yourself to the occasion and the situation where France and England now find themselves.  Above all, do not send me more letters like the one you had written before yesterday; the sycophancy does nothing: I do not like it. When I ask your counsel, it was not for you to be my advice, it is to have yours.”

“In my Camp of Boulogne on August 25 1805.”

After reading this letter, the Emperor affixed to the bottom a hieroglyph for signing in exclaiming:

—For me to lose a huge work, and, moreover, two whole years! ... The lost time lost cannot be recovered.

Here there was silence.  Then the Emperor, coming upon a new idea, added with an expression quite different:

—Write-again, Daru.

And he coldly dictated to the Administrative-General of the Army the plan for the Austerlitz campaign; a hypothetical plan, whose execution should be postponed until the solution of the great maritime question:
this solution was not expected.

This dictation of Napoleon lasted two hours.  The absolute empire he had created in himself had allowed his powerful intellect to resume its growth; he embraced both the overall and the details; he had omitted nothing, all obstacles had been resolved, and this was subsequently such violent jolt to morale that he prepared six months in advance, this wonderful battle of Austerlitz.

When Daru had finished writing, Napoleon said:

You will leave for Paris this very moment.  You will have everyone believe that you simply intend on going to Ostend.  Immediately after arriving, which I hope will take place this night, you will engage with Dejean;[1] you will prepare all orders for corps’ marches bodies that are there in Munich; you will organize all the suspected expenses for food and supplies, so that I did will just sign these documents when I arrive in Paris.  Do all this work between you two.  I am only willing to commit to that put there by hand.  As for me, he added, dropping his arms with sorrow, I will join you soon.  Adieu, Daru.  After tomorrow, I too will bid farewell to my soldiers, but it will not be for long.

The same day Napoleon spoke to his first chamber valet while preparing for his departure, and gave orders to the Grand Marshal of the Palace to settle and pay the expenses that could have been made by him during his various stays in Boulogne.  He recommended, as usual, to be prudent and to pluck his memory.  In the afternoon, all the troops of the camp had been met, the Emperor went to the middle of them, and had read in their presence following the proclamation, which was displayed, everywhere:

“Soldiers of the Camp of Boulogne! ... The wishes of our eternal enemies are made clear; Austria and Russia are reunited with England ; our generation is again to experience all the calamities of war.  There are few days, I hoped that the peace of the continent would not be disturbed; threats and insults found me impassive; but the Austrian Army crosses the Inn; Munich is invaded; the Elector of Bavaria, our ally, was ousted from the capital; all my hopes have evaporated.  I lament for the blood it will still cost Europe; but the French name will obtain a new luster.  Soldiers of the Camp Boulogne!  In this circumstance so important for your glory and mine, you deserve the name of Grand Army[2]  which I have welcomed in the middle of the battlefield, and the French people continue to deserve one of Grand Nation, as its Emperor will do his duty, and you, soldiers, you do yours!”

An unanimous transport greeted these words of flame, using here the term of Marshal Soult, and cries of Long live the Emperor! echoed from one end of the camp to the other.


[1] Then Director-General for the Administration of War.

[2] Here is what the Grand Army was composed of:

Corps of Hanover. Bernadotte: infantry divisions, Drouet, Rivaud; cavalry, Kellermann.
Corps of Holland. Marmont: infantry divisions, Boudet, Grouchy, Dumonceau; cavalry, Guérin.
3rd Corps. Davoust: infantry divisions, Bisson, Friant, Gudin; cavalry, Fauconnet.
4th Corps. Soult: infantry divisions, Saint-Hilaire, Vandamme, Legrand; cavalry, Margaron.
5th Corps. Lannes: infantry divisions, Suchet, Gazan, combined grenadiers Oudinot.
6th Corps. Ney: infantry divisions, Dupont, Loisoa, Mahler; cavalry, Colbert; foot dragoons, Baraguay-d'Hilliers.
7th Corps. Augereau: infantry divisions, Desjardins, Mathieu.
Reserve. Murat: Cuirassier divisions, Nansouty, d’Hautpoul; dragoon divisions, Klein, Walter, Beaumont, Bourcier; light cavalry division, Treilhard.
Imperial Guard: foot guard, Mortier, 8 battalions; horse guard, Bessières, 14 squadrons.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2008


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