Research Subjects: Napoleon Himself


“I want the peace negotiations not to take place in Vienna but at Presbuorg, which is equidistant from Halistch where you will find Emperor Francis, and Schoenbrunn, where I have made my headquarters.  Presbourg will become the battlefield of diplomacy.  Moreover, the presence of my victorious army will shorten the operations of the foreign gentlemen diplomats, who will, if necessary, cut their pens off with their swords.”

These were the first words of Napoleon coming to Schoenbrunn, and from that day, all diplomacy was set in motion.  Despite the reluctance of Austria, the slowness of Russia and the ill will of Prussia, the famous Treaty of Presbuorg was signed on 26 December 1805.  It is true that Napoleon significantly simplified the negotiations by reducing any diplomacy with these two words: my wishes or war.  Then, having nothing to do at Schoenbrunn, he moved to Munich, where he arrived early in January 1806.

Already the Imperial Court had met there for the marriage of Prince Eugene, Viceroy of Italy, with Princess Auguste of Bavaria.  The day of his arrival, Napoleon had sent, to the Tyrol, a courier who carried the orders to his adopted son to come find him on the spot.  Five days later, Eugene arrived, not questioning the reason for which he had been called.  His stepfather told him that marriage, usually improvised, this time he had arranged.  On this occasion there was a series of brilliant parties.  It seemed that they knew by what tributes to attest to the admiration of Napoleon that inspired his military genius.

On the day of the religious ceremony, which was celebrated at eight o’clock in the chapel of the chateaux, the first Prince, former Elector of Mainz, and all the nobility of the country had been invited to dinner; the instruction was for ten o’clock.  Place settings for three hundred people were prepared in a huge gallery of the palace.  A table shaped in a horseshoe, which dominated much of the three hundred place settings, where were seated the members of the two families, French and German, had been arranged so that Napoleon could be seen from all points of this gallery.  The services were of great magnificence, and the masters of ceremonies had put everyone at the table, while Their Majesties and the newlyweds were still in the chapel.  Immediately they came, Napoleon sat at the table and remained there nearly a half-hour, which was never reached; but rising suddenly, the noble guests had to do the same.  In returning to his inside apartment, Napoleon recommended to M. de Ségur to remove everyone.  This grand master of ceremonies came back therefore to prevent the guests from returning to the table of three hundred seats.  This table was not yet fully served, and it was only as if most of the guests had time to unfold their napkins.  Nevertheless, these good Germans, who expected to have what is called a meal of kings, were forced to have dinner at home.  We know the short time that Napoleon would sit still at the table: also the people he invited to share his meal learned that they had to prepare in advance.  The proof is shown on a day, being at Malmaison and dining intimately with Eugene, he rose from table five minutes after sitting there, telling the prince, who usually had a good appetite:

—Stay, you have not had time to dine; you will join me in the garden in a while.
—Forgive me, Sire, said Eugene, who had risen along with his stepfather; I am finished.
—I assume therefore you are not hungry today?
—I had dinner before coming.
—Bah! ... expressed with Napoleon. So it's different, he added cheerfully; you come walk with me, this will give you an appetite for tomorrow.

Those who ate with Napoleon for the first time and were not aware of his habits, died of hunger, though his table was extensively supplied, if they had objected that they were returning home immediately; but no excuse could be given to stay a moment longer.  This manner, in the beginning of her marriage, disturbed Josephine greatly, and it caused her to take up the practice, later, to make every day, an hour after noon, a substantial lunch, it was, indeed, her only meal.

Eugene and Princess of Bavaria had never seen each other before their marriage but they soon loved one another as if they had known each other for a long time. Never, perhaps, had two people been better suited for each other.  There was no mother who watched her children with more tenderness and care as the vice-queen of Italy, worthy to serve as a model for all women.

It was at Munich, and in the midst of the celebrations, that the Emperor received the news of the entry of English into Naples.  Queen Caroline had declared war on France when the Grand Army flooded into the Austrian provinces.  Napoleon was on the spot marching troops to Naples.  He had an old hatred against the sovereign, because he repeatedly had to deal with her acts; so receiving this news, he said with humor to those around him:

—Ah! From that one, nothing should amaze me!  But beware of her ... If I go to Naples, this woman will never set foot there.

And later, when we wanted to intercede for her, she was content to answer dryly:

—She has ceased to reign.

At the end of January, Napoleon left for Munich to return to the midst of his court, then so bright and magnificent.  He had expressed the intention to personally direct the pleasures which made it for five years the most beautiful Imperial court of Europe.  He stopped at Strasbourg, where he remained twenty-four hours, and then wanting to proceed directly to Saint-Cloud, without requiring the same speedy postillons that they had requested four months earlier, when he was with Josephine.  The municipality of Saint-Cloud, so favored because of the almost habitual residence that the Emperor and Empress maintained at the castle, wanted to enjoy the return of Napoleon by giving him a testimonial of affection and respect.  Accordingly, the municipal council, after the suggestion by its President, Mr. Barré, then mayor of Saint-Cloud, sought to raise in the middle of the avenue leading to the palace, that Napoleon must pass, a triumphal arch on the front which read the inscription, along with a host of ornaments and all the emblems of the time:

For our beloved sovereign,
The happiest of Communities!

The day the Emperor was to arrive, M. the mayor, armed with the usual speech and escort of notables, waited until the evening at the foot of the monument, which encompassed the entire width of the road; but finally at midnight, Mr. Barré, very advanced in years, retired while recommending to his first deputy, to place a sentinel at the window of a house nearby, and to come as a warning on seeing the first courier; and so that no one would pass under the arch of triumph before His Majesty, he laid across the entrance a large ladder attached with ropes. Unfortunately, the municipal Argus (spy) fell asleep in the morning, during which time the Emperor arrived; the carriage suddenly stopped:

—What is this? He asked, why are we not going through?

He learned there was a surprise intended for him, and what constraints there were for going further.

—Let the devil take their surprise! He cried putting his head out the door, it is found out, my faith!

And on the proposal to wake some people:

—Hey! No! He replied with a smile, let them sleep; I will surprise them instead tomorrow, turn around in the place because we are not allowed to go through.

The carriage, having backed up, passed by the gate of the small park at the bottom of the avenue, and came to the palace through the courtyard of the Orangery.  The same day, a drawing was passed through the salons of the palace of the municipal authorities of the city of St. Cloud asleep at the foot of the monument, before which we saw a ladder that blocked the passage with these words written below: The Arch Barré, referring to the name of the person who had this original idea, that had undergone this slight variation:

For our beloved sovereign,
The sleepiest of Communities!

Josephine showed this drawing to Napoleon, who found the joke amusing, and even confessed that the pun was not too bad, but to console Mr. Barré for the grief he expressed on failing to find him in position when he arrived, Napoleon sent him an invitation to lunch with a recommendation to make a personal speech, and welcomed the mayor of Saint-Cloud with the kindness he never ceased to provide the staff until the time of his death, which came soon, much to the regret of many people.

A few days later, Napoleon returned to Paris.  Everywhere there were cries of joy and enthusiasm which took on a form of delirium.  The following week, the Old Guard, which he would not be separated from, also made its return in the capital; coming through the barrier of the Star, and, at the head of the heroic phalanx, ninety grenadiers, in three ranks, paraded at an accelerated pace, each one with the flags taken from the enemy; then, changing direction, they went to install in the church of the Invalides the trophies taken from the Austrians and Russians.

We mentioned above the text of the decree dated from the battlefield of Austerlitz, which provided new rewards for fatal courage.  Napoleon, who already had formed the destiny of France as he settled with the sword those of Europe, probably driven by one of the great and sublime thoughts that were usual for him, decided that the state would raise at his expense daughters, sisters and nieces of those who he had already decorated with the star of the Legion of Honor.  The children of warriors killed in fighting with valor would find the care of the paternal family at Écouen, in this ancient home of the Montmorenci and the Condé: these heroes could not have been able to choose a more noble destination.

Used to gathering around him all those with special talents, without fear, Napoleon long sought the person whose experience, whose name, whose talents could be, placed at the head this new facility; finally he chose Madame Campan.  Écouen was to create a whole.  The new director began this great work, therefore, along with the advice of the student, a friend of Buffon, the Count of Lacépède, and then the Lord Chancellor of the Legion of Honor.  The monitoring required for health, education and games of the students, the religious principles that form the basis of education, the gradual and orderly distribution of time for each special study, all the care of the complicated administration was carried out by Madame Campan with such happiness that it was readily apparent. Napoleon, who descended from the highest political thoughts to the consideration of every detail, inspected a boarding school for girls as he would have passed in review his old grenadiers, demanded that the internal rules of the house were submitted to him in advance.

In the report that Madame Campan wrote him about this, it had said: “Students will hear Mass every Sunday and Thursday.”  Napoleon read these last words, and wrote in the margin: Every day.  Then he added at the bottom of the report: It is very good. Later, in a conversation that the director had with him for the same purpose, she asked him, what provisions should be made to prevent a fire.

—Your surveillance should suffice, said Napoleon.
—Yes, Sire, in ordinary cases, but can I prevent lighting?
—A good point, you're right.

And Napoleon, who always accepted the truth when he knew it had been presented to him, decreed that in the future four firefighters would be on call, day and night at the castle.

According to the regulations of the house, each student should take care of a younger companion, and keep her, so to speak, instead of a mother.  They could not be admitted unless they were twelve years old; after reaching eighteen, they were returned to their families, unless they preferred to be attached to the house as novices.  They never came out.  A student of the week, chosen from the large ones, was to show the establishment to strangers, when they had obtained the permit issued by the Lord Chancellor.  They were only allowed to write to their parents, their uncles, their aunts and their grandparents.  They received letters from the hands of the director.  At six o'clock in the morning in Summer, seven o’clock in Winter, the bell called them to the church, and from there to lunch.  Then they went to recess. At ten o’clock they went into their classrooms.  Study was interrupted for the second breakfast, which consists only of a piece of dry bread; then they repeated studying up to three o’clock.  Then they had dinner and recreation up to five o’clock, and then working with the needle until seven.  Recess until eight; dinner and evening prayer.  At nine o’clock, all the students were abed.  No one was left alone or abandoned to their selves for a moment, neither day nor night; the ladies were never left unguarded: they slept with them in the dormitories, where other ladies were also making rounds by the hour.  Each of the students marked her trousseau, made up her clothes; they began the day by making their beds.

For the studies, students were distributed into sections, each section consisted of two classes; each class was indicated by the color of the sash.  Every three months, inspections took place; and twice a year, under the name of major competition, chaired by the Lord Chancellor, the students were gathered in a huge room called the Hortense Room, where prizes and new sashes were distributed.

Until 1809, the organization of the institution Écouen was only provisional, but in March of that year, a new decree issued by Napoleon permanently stopped it.  He gave the Queen of Holland (Princess Louis) the title of Protector of the Imperial Houses of the Legion of Honor, and exchanged its head for the Superintendent.

In a visit that Napoleon made to the Écouen students, he found them together in the classroom, dealing with needle work.  Having addressed each of them with an obliging word, he suddenly asked the young Brouard how long she thought it would take to use a needle to sew a shirt:

—Sire, she replied, if I do not use one, it could take quite a long time.

This response, if so correct and naive at the same time, earned the young student a chain of gold which the Emperor gave her.  In her enthusiasm, she swore not to be separated from it forever.  Six weeks after the visit of Napoleon, which took place in the first days of January 1814, while passing by Écouen to go to headquarters, the post master of this village, who knew that the students were still waiting for the candy that the Emperor had promised last year for their gifts (the post master was a former lieutenant of the guard who had his daughter added to the number of students), had the boldness to tell him:

—Sire, your little protégés always remember the candies of Your Majesty.
—Ah! ah! I remember, replied the Emperor, laughing, well! I will tell Lacépède to send them.

Maybe he thought it got there, but it is likely that it was the Cossacks who enjoyed them because, while they awaited this new promise, the orphans of the Legion of Honor did not partake of these goodies, because soon after, from the windows of the chateau which served as an asylum, they were able to distinguish, in the plain that stretched before their eyes, the fires of the Russian and Prussian camps.

After the restoration, the Grand Chancellor of the Legion of Honor commanded the Superintendant of the Royal House of Saint-Denis, who replaced Ms. Campan, to eliminate everything that could recall to memory the usurper, including all small gifts they had received.  Brouard always kept her chain down on her chest, although the rules forbade students to wear any jewelry.  One day she was bathing, a supervisor noticed the chain and wanted to confiscate it.  With this intention she ordered the young person to deliver it.  She refused objecting as she kept it hidden under her clothes, and that this wasn’t reprehensible.  A complaint was brought by the woman, to the Inspector General; a new refusal on the part of Miss Brouard.  This led to an immediate visit before the Superintendent; again the same resistance.  She was threatened that they would bring two men in punishment to strip her and remove it by force as she would not give it up voluntarily; Miss Brouard, determined not to obey, said it was a gift from the Emperor, and she would keep with her till death.  She was placed in the correction room, where she remained for several days, still firm in her resolution.  Finally there was a report to the Chancellor on the conduct of the student, and he came to Saint-Denis, where he was given an appointment with her mother, Madam Baroness Jubé, married for the second time.  He ordered that all persons of the house be gathered in the inspection room, and there, in the presence of all her companions, he degraded the young offender, that is to say, make her remove her sash; and then in an address to students, in which he described as insubordination that was a natural feeling of honor, he advised them to take advantage of the lesson; after which Madame Baroness Jubé was charged to take her daughter, who , from that day, would no longer be a part of the Royal House of Saint-Denis.

It was a great desolation among the companions of the poor Brouard, who was generally beloved; all cried en masse as if this could return them because they shared the same sentiments; so some time after, on the first visit of the Duchess of Angouleme to the royal house, which she wanted to be the new protector, she had no opportunity to be satisfied with the feelings that students showed: the ladies who were ordered to shout Long live the King! All the residents cried long live the Emperor! which justified the sort of coldness that the Princess always expressed to the establishment of Saint-Denis, and the enthusiasm that the former students still manifest and burst out today with only the name of Napoleon, although from that moment it would have been forbidden, on pain of dismissal, to grant even a memory to the man who was their benefactor and their second father.

The Winter and Spring of 1806 was spent entirely at the Imperial Court, in performances, in balls, in celebrations, and especially in hunting, though Napoleon was not a born hunter; because if he partook in this pastime as often as did the rest, perhaps it was to comply with any etiquette of his position, that made hunting a royal hobby; indeed the Imperial hunting was organized economically under the staff report, to rely on the state name, which was composed as follows, namely:

Marshal Berthier, Grand Hunter; M. d’Hanneucourt, Commander of the Hunt; MM. de Bougars and Caqueray, his two lieutenants; M. de Girardin, Captain of Hunting Shoots; a lieutenant of Hunting Shoots, who also served as the gun bearer of the Emperor.  M. de Beauterne completed what was called the Hunting Officers; there were then six captains of forestry.

When Napoleon went to one of his hunts (hunting shoots, for example), he left the palace with the people he had invited, the Grand Hunter, the service aide-de-camp, sometimes the grand squire, two pages , Roustan (the mameluck), one of the service Surgeons of his quarters, two stable grooms and a half-dozen foot valets.  The day before, Berthier had passed the orders of the Emperor to the master of the forest area where he had planned to go.  All measures were taken to gather in some localities as much game as possible.  The guards return, continuously beating, in an enclosure that then was surrounded by poles.  The enclosure was little more than a league square area. Several hours before the arrival of Napoleon, three small paths were drawn through the heather vulgarly called the trotters, which were sanded after and leveled as much as possible: one for the Emperor (the middle), one for the Grand Hunter (the right) and third (to the left of His Majesty) to the persons to whom he gave the hunt for and to keep them close to him.

It was easy to provide at the Imperial residences, such as Fontainebleau, Rambouillet, or Compiegne, that Napoleon would come out to hunt, by the multitude of people of all kinds, day workers and peasants from the neighborhood, who flocked from all quarters to volunteer to the orders of the hunt officers.  Fitted on each of a pair of buffalo gaiters which came up almost to the hips and for the reconnoitering elite gendarmes who formed a sort of cordon around the area where the hunt was to take place, they presented a plaque to affix on the left arm; after which armed with a cudgel or classic broom stick, they were placed in a radius and distance enough to be out of sight of the hunters, in order to frighten the game running from the approach of the Emperor, and to return them to the places where they tried to escape.

In the woods of Versailles, in the forest of Saint-Germain, the soldiers of the garrison were preferably employed, who were decked out and armed in the same way.  These beaters were sometimes so many that they formed a chain and advanced thus as Napoleon marched in the opposite direction of the sand path.

M. de Beauterne was charged with keeping his eyes on the fusils of the Emperor, and handed them over to the first page, who immediately passed them to Napoleon; it was almost always the armourers of the guard who loaded these guns concurrently with the stable grooms and Roustan.  The duty of the armourers consisted primarily of ensuring the state of the barrel and the flint hammer of the arms after the shot was fired.  Napoleon did not like fusils with two shots; he usually was not without small simple fusils, short barrels and very light, which belonged to Louis XVI, and which, he claimed, that monarch had worked with his own hands.  The Emperor aimed poorly, because he didn’t give himself time to adjust, and he did not place the fusil up to the shoulder.  However, as he wanted his guns to have a forceful exit velocity, sometimes after hunting his shoulder and arm were hurt.

The hunting enclosures were usually filled with nets suspended from poles placed apart in the distance.  The game was roused into the arena, which was blocked in this space by this type of netting; at the end of the hunt, the beaters closed in a circle, to imprison all that had survived a real massacre, and the last were shot, everything that fell was still put in a pile: this was called the bouquet of hunting.

If the Emperor had his collectors, likewise the hunter had his own.  M. d'Hanneucourt, a notebook and pencil in hand, marched at the head of small carts in the form of wheelbarrows, dragged by the collector and destined to receive the game killed.  He wrote all the parts and said at the end of the hunt: “Sire, so many parts killed by Your Majesty, so many by the Grand Hunter, so many by Mister so and so.  The number was sometimes up to one thousand or twelve hundred pieces: rabbits, hares, pheasants, quails, partridge, etc.  While Napoleon was himself the distributor of the game he had killed with his hand. I must admit, his shares were often shipped to Paris and sold.  The best suppliers were Chevet and Corcelet who at this time were high dignitaries of large shoulders (of meat), great schemers, if any there were, and the merchants of consumables paid cash money for the beautiful game which the Emperor had given as their gift to decorate their tables.

Napoleon was not happy in the hunt: once he a fusil burst in his hands; another day, sighting a wild boar with his carbine, he very badly hurt the thigh of a poor devil hunting valet.  Finally, another time, Marshal Masséna and Berthier walked forward and not far from Napoleon: a company of partridge, the honor of the first shot belonging to the Emperor: he shoots, and Masséna received in the eye a lead shrapnel; rushing to rescue him, Napoleon exclaimed:

—Berthier! You have just hurt Masséna!

The Grand Hunter defended himself, the Emperor insists, Berthier is silent, and everyone comes back in very bad mood.  Soon arriving at Malmaison, Napoleon requested the aide-de-camp of the day.

 —Go on the spot to Paris, and tell Larrey to go to Rueil without losing a moment, because Masséna is sick he will give him at the same time this memo.

The order is executed. Larrey reaches Rueil:

—Mister Marshal, the Emperor has just told me that you were indisposed; I have arrived...
 —Parbleu! He should know well, see!
—This is not dangerous, Mister Marshal, but the eye seems to me very sick.
—Will I become blind?
—I would not say that, but it will take a lot of care ... By the way, my lord, I forgot to give you this note from His Majesty.
—Read, my dear Larrey, because I cannot see at all.

And Larrey, who broke the seal, read aloud:

“My cousin, as soon as your health allows you, for you will go to take over as Commander and Chief of the Army of Portugal. And on this, I pray that God has you in his holy and dignified care,


—The devil of a man! Masséna said with a smile that disguised evil joy, always you throw smoke and mirrors!

That was the real reason why Masséna became blind and ordered to be the Army Chief of Portugal. 

However, in another circumstance, Napoleon was quite happy to save the life of a child.  He was hunting deer in the woods of Ville d'Avray.  The pack turned around, in a rush on, a little girl who bore in her arms a child of six months, the life of the girl and child were in great danger:  Napoleon jumped down from his horse, rushed amidst the dogs, picked up the child, and handed it safely into the arms of its mother.

When the emperor was hunting deer or wild boar, he left the chateaux at the break of the day.  The Prince of Neufchatel indicated in advance the hunting rendezvous to the people Napoleon had designated to hunt with him. Nothing distinguished the costume of the Emperor from the simplest stable groom, unless it was the hat, which was the same as the one he usually wore, and which, therefore, was all one piece.  Sometimes it was covered by his hunting attire: a riding coat in blue or very dark iron gray; but then he only did this when it was very cold or raining a lot.  As for the princesses and ladies who were with him, they left for the rendezvous point generally in a barouche drawn by four horses (only the Empress had six to hers).  Their dress was an elegant Amazon-blue or green, with a cap topped by a white or black plume.

At one of these great hunts in which the Emperor was attending (it was at Fontainebleau), the deer pursued by the Emperor, having jumped under the wheels of the carriage of Josephine, provided it with asylum: the Empress, touched by the alarm of the poor beast, took it under her protection.

—Bonaparte, she said to Napoleon, who, having followed the deer very close, almost immediately arrived at the same time, I beg your pardon, do not kill him: he is so beautiful!

The Emperor ordered that it be pardoned, and the Empress removed from her shoulder-a very beautiful gold chain, and wanted it was put around the neck of the deer:

—At least, she said, this will certify its sanctity and protect it against the hunters.
—Against hunters, maybe!  Napoleon said with a smile, but against the thieves, I cannot answer thee.  I bet that the beast will no longer exist tomorrow.

At the grand hunts of Rambouillet, the rendezvous was always at the pond of the Tour, where a rich pavilion, beautifully decorated, was prepared.  Accordingly, two tables were prepared for lunch: the first for the Emperor, the Empress and those who were asked (the ladies going on the hunt always on the right); and the second for senior officers of the hunt and of the house both civil and military.  The stable grooms, the food valets and the elite gendarmes who had followed the hunt, stood outside the tent.  The meal lasted only a little while, as always.

Napoleon tried once falcon hunting in the plain of Rambouillet. The hunt that had been ordered to put to the test the falconry that his brother Louis, the King of Holland, had sent as a present. This hunt does not go well, and the Dutch falconry was shared between the Jardin des Plantes and the menagerie of Malmaison.  At the same time, there was in the forest of Compiègne great hunt of wild boar, to which was invited the ambassador of the Porte, recently arrived in Paris.  His Excellence of Turkey hunted without any muscle in his face giving the impression that it caused by this kind of entertainment.  The beast was forced out, Napoleon presented one of his fusils to the ambassador, so he had the honor to shoot first, but he refused; not only giving up, without doubt, the fun found in killing a poor exhausted animal point blank, and one that there was not even the resources to flee or to defend itself.

By the beginning of 1813, we point out that Napoleon, it not go hunting very frequently.

—It is well, he replied, that I remain active and that the newspapers talk about it, since the English gentlemen repeat every day in their pamphlets that I can no longer move and I'm good for nothing. Patience! When I join my headquarters, I will make it clear that I am healthy in body and mind.

Napoleon Himself Index | More on A Popular History of Napoleon ]

© 1995 - 2010, The Napoleon Series, All Rights Reserved.

Top | Home ]