Research Subjects: Napoleon Himself


While Napoleon distributed crowns around him and his brothers were seated on the thrones of Naples, Holland and Westphalia, Russia and Austria were involved in repairing the disaster of Austerlitz.  In the meantime, a note from the Cabinet of Berlin, comparable to the extravagant ideas of the famous manifesto published by the Duke of Brunswick in 1792, was addressed to M. de Talleyrand, then Minister of Foreign Affairs.  The note began with a preamble in which it was said, speaking of Napoleon: “... Who has reached this level of ambition that nothing can satisfy, and who constantly marches from usurpation, to usurpation, etc..”  It ended with a summons made to the French army, on behalf of the Prussian army, demanding their evacuation of Germany by day stage.

When M. de Talleyrand informed Napoleon of this ultimatum, driven by pride in a moment of delirium and attributed, again, to the old Duke of Brunswick, the Emperor did not allow the reading to end and tearing this paper from the hands of the former Bishop of Autun and convulsively crumbling it in his:

—Enough! Enough! He said with a terrible glare.  Then he added with a bitter smile: I pity the King of Prussia not to hear the French, as it certainly is clear that he did not read this rhapsody that one has had the audacity to send me in his name!

From that moment the Emperor was solely occupied with preparations for the campaign that was to open. When he looked carefully on the map, at the positions of the enemy, who already occupied the whole of Bavaria, he said:

—My army will be in the presence of the Prussians the 8th.  I will do battle the 10th in Saalfeld; they will withdraw on Jena or Weimar, where I will do battle again.  The 14th or 15th, the Prussian Army will no longer exist, and from the 20th to 25th, my victorious eagles will soar over the steeples of Berlin.

Napoleon had the gift of second sight such that he could not have guessed better.  On 13th he was in Jena, where he established his headquarters.  However, at four o'clock in the evening, the first companies of our scouts, coming out on the top of the dominating mountain, first discovered the enemy lines.  The Emperor went to reconnoiter; the sun hadn’t set yet.  He dismounted and went until he had drawn the fire of several fusils.  Then he returned to urge the march of his columns, indicating in an animated voice the position that each of his generals should occupy.  He then left the home of the Princess of Rens-Lobenstein to establish his bivouac in the midst of his Guard, and invited to dinner of the heads of those corps that were present.  Before going to bed, he wanted to assure himself that no ammunition caissons were still below.  Having descended the mountains, he found all the artillery of Marshal Lannes stuck in a dark ravine that had to take that path.

The defile was so tight that the axles of the pieces were caught on both sides of the rock.  In this position, the artillery could not advance or retreat, because there were two hundred wagons in the wake of each other; and that artillery was precisely the one he had thought the next day, to use first, the very corps that remained behind.  This was an irritation.  He asked at first for the general who commanded the convoy, being very surprised not to find him there; then, without spreading unnecessary accusations against the head of the corps, being the real artillery officer that he was, he gathered the gunners, made them take the tools of the park, light lanterns, and he even took one with which he illuminated the gunners who, under his leadership, worked to deepen and broaden the ravine until the suspended axle slipped through the rock.  He did not leave until the first wagons made it through, which took place about one o'clock in the morning; then he thought to return to his bivouac.  But before returning, he wanted to give a last glance at most of the neighboring outposts.

At the beginning of the night, there had been a white frost with fairly thick fog.  This condition of the atmosphere met Napoleon while forming his troops in large masses that were almost touching, in the end allowing the overnight deployment easier.  The vast plateau occupied was no more than 200 toises (400 yards) from the position of the Prussians.  The sentinels could distinguish nothing to ten paces around them. The first, heard someone walking in the shadows and approaching the lines, cried twice Who goes! and was preparing to fire, at the third question.  The Emperor, deep in thought, did not reply. A bullet whistled past his ear and pulled him from his reverie.

Then realizing the danger he had just run into and that which was immediately threatened, he threw himself down on his belly.  This precaution was wise, because just as he had been in this posture for a few seconds, another ball whistled over his head.  The first shooter came, Napoleon got up, called to him, went to a neighboring post and was recognized.  It was when the soldier who fired the first arrived, that the alarm was halted.  He was a young voltigeur of the 12th Line.  The Emperor ordered him to approach, and taking an ear, pinched him strongly:

—Your name? He asked him.

—François Morissot, replied the stunned soldier, because he just recognized the Emperor.

—How! Funny, you take me for a Prussian?  Then addressing the soldiers around him, he added, smiling: Mr. Morissot, it would seem, you shouldn’t waste your powder on sparrows: it won’t catch the Emperor!

The voltigeur was so disturbed by the idea that he could have killed the Little Corporal, it was only with great difficulty he managed to stammer out the words:

—Well nay! My Emperor ... excuse me! ... it was the order ... If you did not respond, it's not my fault ... You should at least tell me that you do not want to answer.

Napoleon reassured him and said leaving the post:

—Morissot, I was in the wrong, so I do not blame you.  Your aim was pretty well adjusted for a sudden shot in darkness, but listen: in a few hours it will be day, shoot straighter, and I'll prove that I have no grudge.

It was nearly three o'clock in the morning when Napoleon returned to his bivouac.  He wrapped himself in his coat and went deeply to sleep.  On 14 October 1806, at the break of the day, he was on horseback: the Grand Army was at arms an hour before.  He passed by all the lines while reminding the soldiers that it was only a year ago at this time, they had taken Ulm.

—The Prussian army was surrounded, he said, it would have to do battle if it wished to retreat.  The corps that would allow them to pass would lose its honor ... Soldiers, he added, raising his voice, I will take away  its eagles!

—March!  March! Long live the Emperor! Cried out from all sides.

Immediately the army spread out in all directions, and the action commenced with a terrible firing along the whole line.  In the middle of the fray, the French retained their national gaiety.  A soldier of the 45th Line (the children of Paris), that his friends called the Emperor, because in fact he was small and he had some resemblance to Napoleon, impatient with the obstinacy of the Prussians, exclaimed:

—To me, grenadiers! Forward! Follow the Emperor!

And he was thrown into the thickest part of the action.  His comrades followed by example and the guard of the King of Prussia was crushed.

The evening after the action, Napoleon appointed his namesake corporal on the battlefield, and gave the accolade of the decorating to himself.  From that day, soldiers of the 45th never called that grenadier any other than the grand corporal to distinguish him from the small, he had the honor of kissing.

The day of the battle Napoleon mounted in a small uncovered carriage, moved to Weimar.  He was going through Mersburg on the Halle when he crossed the battlefield of Rosbach.  As if he had in mind the dispositions of the army of Frederick the Great and those of ours at Rosbach at that that, he told Savary:

—Gallop in that direction and you find a quarter of a league away the column that the Prussians raised in memory of this event.

If the harvest had not been over, Savary could never have discovered this column.  Placed in the middle of an immense plain, it was no higher than the markers that you see on our road to show distances.  Once he had found it, the aide-de-camp tied his handkerchief to the end of his sword and waved it in the air to serve as a director to the Emperor, who soon came to join him.  All the engravings on the monument had been erased by time.  After circling all around in silence with his arms crossed over his chest, Napoleon became overcome with emotion and gave a vigorous blow with the heel of his boot to the column to knock it down. He did this several times, saying:

—Come on! This should not hold up! This should yield to a foot!

But as the column did not move and that these unsuccessful attempts had run out of steam, having seen in the distance the Suchet Division that had resumed the march, he said to the general to send for a few engineers. It took them no time to dig up the column and have it loaded on a cart that was to leave immediately for Paris.  Then he went back on route for Berlin, where he made his entrance.  The first order he gave to Savary, on arriving at the palace, which he found intact, was to go immediately seize the letters that were found to be mailed.

Among those that were intercepted, he was one sent to the King of Prussia, written and signed by the Prince of Hatzfeld, who remained in Berlin as a member of the provisional government of Prussia.  In that letter, he reported to his sovereign of all that had happened in the capital since his departure, and he added to the reflections that were not flattering to Napoleon, a list of our troops, the number of pieces of artillery that was parked in the city, etc..  This letter was immediately sent to the Emperor: there was obviously an act of high treason.

Napoleon repeatedly read the letter from the prince, and with every sentence, he uttered these exclamations:

—But it's abominable!  One can only imagine ideas of such effrontery! ... It is bloody well: he did not disappoint!

Then having put the letter in his pocket, he added, shaking his head:

—When I go to shoot this man there, I sure hope we discover that he didn’t get away with it ... Well! I will do it today, and without remission.

And he gave the order to arrest Mr. Hatzfeld on the spot.  Fortunately for the prince, Napoleon forgot to include in his order the letter that was the only piece of evidence to put before the military commission set to try the case.  General Savary, in his capacity as commander of the imperial police, was usually responsible for these kinds of arrests; but Napoleon had sent him on a commission in the morning, and he had not yet returned; Rapp, to his great regret, was obliged to compensate for that absence.  Napoleon, remained alone with Berthier, telling him to sit down to write the order under which Mr. de Hatzfeld must be brought before a military commission.  The Chief-of-Staff wrote out several drafts.  Napoleon losing patience, struck on the desktop at which the major-general was seated, with such force, that everything jumped in the air, even the heavy writing set.  Berthier rose quietly and left the salon.  Then the Emperor, ashamed of his outburst and not finding more than words on his lips, sat back and followed Berthier with his eyes remaining still.  Becoming a little calmer, he called Rapp, who was held entrenched in the next room.

—Rapp, he said, put yourself at this table and write.

And, without interrupting his walk, Napoleon dictated the following:

“Our cousin Marshal Davoust, upon receipt of this, will immediately appoint a military commission composed of seven colonels of his army corps, which he will chair, to try, as convicted of treason and espionage, Prince of Hatzfeld.  The verdict will be rendered and executed today, before six o'clock in the evening.  The troops of the army corps of our cousin Marshal Davoust will stand at arms, and will attend the reading of the trial proceedings and execution.”

Napoleon took the pen from the hands of Rapp, read aloud in whispers what he had to dictate, then, after signing, changing tone, he said with feigned sweetness:

—Always eager to please, you! You obey me, you have faith in your Emperor, and you do not feel mistreated like some others.  Well then!  He continued by presenting him with the letter of Mr. de Hatzfeld, deliver this on the spot, which you will attach, the letter here.

Rapp did all of this.  Although trembling for himself and for the prince, because instead of having gone to the headquarters of Davoust he had left the palace, despite the formal order that the Emperor had given him.  He was content to put both letters in his pocket.

However, an unofficial notice warned Madame Hatzfeld of the arrest of her husband, she was hastening to the Grand Marshal, when suddenly the cry was heard: To arms! And drums were heard outside.  Napoleon had returned to the palace.  The Grand Marshal left the Princess and ran to meet the Emperor, who, followed by Rapp and Savary, had already reached the top of the stairs.  Duroc was not in the habit of being in such cases in his path, his presence made the Emperor say:

—Ah! Ah! Mr. Grand Marshal, he said, is there something you need again?

—Yes, Sire, said Duroc.

—In that case, follow me, said Napoleon in not pressing him, we will see attend to it.

But hardly had he first entered the salon, when a woman appeared from an adjacent door, just to throw herself at his feet all grieving, and exclaiming:

—Justice! Sire, Justice!

Napoleon overcome with kindness, made a sign to Savary, and went into his office, followed by Rapp, who had offered the help of his arm to Madame Hatzfeld, whose emotion and her pregnancy could hardly be supported.  The Emperor could not help repeating several times:  “Poor woman! Unfortunate woman!” And, believing that the orders he had given in the morning had been executed, he directed the Princess to sit in an armchair placed near the fireplace, and then approaching Rapp said, without emotion and to be heard only by him:

—Write to the Marshal at once to suspend the trial.

In response, the aide-de-camp looked down and handed him a paper.

—What is this? Asked Napoleon.

Having unfolded the paper, he recognized the letter from the Prince that he had surrendered to Rapp sometimes hours before.  He cast a glance that seemed to forgive their disobedience:

—I don’t see anything, he said quietly then raising the voice: Madam, he said kindly, talk, I will listen.

Madame Hatzfeld in all the honesty of her soul, complained at length of who unjustly slandered her husband, and ended by asking for justice against his accusers.  Napoleon, placed in front of her, had listened patiently, elbows supported on the arms of his large armchair; he had ceased to look at his thumbs that he was turning over one another.  When she had finished, he rose, saying with care:

—Well! Madame, you know that your husband has been involved in an affair so serious that, according to the law, he deserves death. Here, read this.

And at the same time he gave her the letter from the Prince.  Madame de Hatzfeld laid eyes on this piece of accusation.  As she read, fear manifested itself in all her appearance; and in her amazement, she could not stop from stuttering these words:

—Ah! Sire ... It says it all ... I admit it.

The Princess watched Napoleon with an immobility that came from her delirium; she fell on her knees, and with haggard eyes, stretched her arms towards him.

—Grace!  Sire ... grace for my children! She cried with an emphasis of deep despair.

—Madam, continued Napoleon on approaching her, without the letter there would be no evidence against your husband.

—Alas! Sire, it's the truth!

—So I see no other way than to burn it. What do you think?

The princess still had the fatal paper in her hands, in a rough convulsive tremor; and not fully understanding the words of Napoleon, she did not understand or what she had to say or what she had to do. The Emperor, noting that indecision came closer to her, and indicated with his eyes and a gesture the sparkling fire burning in the fireplace:

—Come, Madame, he said in a penetrating tone, act as if you were alone ... You do not see? Come on!

With one hand he had taken the arms of the princess and had headed to the hearth of the fireplace, while with on the other hand he had seized letter and threw it into the fire while saying:

—Now, Madame, I have no evidence: Mr. Hatzfeld is not guilty.

Then, having helped the princess to rise, he charged Savary to return her to her home.

Two days after this scene, Josephine told her maids at the Tuileries:

—It will soon be midnight, and I haven’t yet decided whether you should leave, convinced that tonight I would have news of the Emperor.

Hardly had she uttered these words, when the gallop of a horse was heard in the court of the Tuileries.

—Ah! She clapping, a letter! A letter! I was certain.

Indeed, it was again Moustache, who, after having gone to Constantinople, Saint Petersburg and Madrid came this time from Berlin at full speed, after crossing two hundred and forty-five leagues in sixty hours.  After a few minutes, a chamberlain entered the salon with a serious step and presented to Josephine the following letter:

Berlin, 6 November 1806, nine o'clock in the evening.

“My dear friend, I received the letter in which you seemed upset with me for speaking evil of women.  It is true that I hate above all those that are intriguing and lead their husbands by the nose; I'm accustomed to good and conciliatory women: they are the only ones I love.  If they spoiled me, this is not my fault, but yours.  Moreover, you will learn that I have been very good to a woman who was sensitive, tied to her husband, and whose focus was the soul; if she had come two hours later, it would have been all over for, while at this moment he is resting peacefully with him, and this woman is happy.  You see, therefore, that I love naïve and sweet women, but there are only a few like you. Farewell to you all.”


This was the Emperor with regard to Madame  Hatzfeld.

The Court of Prussia had fled with such haste that it was unable to take anything away from the palace. Napoleon went on to visit the vault where the coffin rested, unadorned of cedar, containing the ashes of the Frederick the Great. Then he walked through the castles of the great and small Sans-Souci; the latter especially was of great interest.  He wanted to see the apartment that the King of Prussia lived in.  It had always been religiously maintained; no furniture had been either changed or moved.  The Emperor curiously looked, undoing the locks, opening cabinets and touching everything he found with his hand.

—My word! he said in a tone of surprise sitting on an old sofa, it is certainly not as magnificent for his household that this apartment could buy, because there is little thrift shop in Paris where could find nicer furniture.  I do not even think there an old dowager in the Marais, which isn’t better accommodated.

But what charmed the most, he found in the bedroom where the Prussian monarch died, the sword, the belt grand ribbon and the orders he carried: he quickly took them up.

—Ah! Ah! Gentlemen, he cried enthusiastically speaking to those around him; I prefer these trophies to all the treasures of the King of Prussia.

All of the Guard having arrived at Charlottenbourg, when it was collected, he gave the order to put it in full dress, because Napoleon wished that it, himself included, make a triumphal entry into the capital of Prussia.  However, in the main square of Berlin was a column bearing the bust of the great Frederick.  Reaching this place, Napoleon circled around the column at a gallop; then standing fifty paces before it and he lowered the tip of his sword he had in hand, took off his hat, while the drums beat “aux champs” and the troops began to defile at an ordinary step, music in mind, between him and the column, and presented arms while passing the bust of the king.

This maneuver, if consistent with the character of the Emperor, was not the taste of some old grognards who still had their mustaches blackened by the powder of Jena, who would have preferred a good housing billet than a truly sublime ceremony of this kind. Also they did not cover their bad mood.  One in particular expressed his displeasure loud enough so that his words reached the ears of the Emperor:

—Oi! The bust!  Who cares ... not bad, for a bust ... said the soldier using a more forceful expression.

With these words, Napoleon made a sudden movement on his horse, and, extending his arm to designate the company defiling, he cried. with a ringing voice:

—Stop! Grenadiers! ... Captain, go through the ranks of your men and sort out who was allowed to speak ... This must be the number eight or nine of the second rank. Have him come here and repeat to me what he said just now!

A corporal of grenadiers soon was sorted from the ranks and, without changing from port arms, he advanced with lowered eyes to the Emperor, and stopped indifferent in front of him.  Napoleon knows that the non-commissioned officer is one of those he calls the old ones.

—Ah! Ah! While torturing the little whip he held in his hand; that is to say that it is always the same ... those who have no discipline, those who spoil my guard ... of bad soldiers!

At these words of bad soldier, a slight tremor shook all parts of the Corporal; he straightened his head and grumbled a few inarticulate sounds; but soon he backed down and became motionless.  Napoleon then asked in a more concise but less severe tone:

—Come on! You had to growl just now? Do you know just who this bust is?

—Know it! Whispered the Corporal very softly.

—Ah! You do not know! Napoleon replied by stressing each of his words; very well!  I'll teach the ignorant! This bust is that of a king, a captain who was more severe than me on discipline because he would have mercilessly shot the first soldier of his army who, in his presence, was be allowed to speak being under arms. Speak of it with your friends, so they do not forget.  Return to your company, you deserve that I take away all your lace, because you are not worthy to carry the grenade!  This non-commissioned officer, if he had had the choice, would have liked to it better to have been shot in the chest than to hear such words. When he had left, the Emperor said in a low voice to the General Staff placed beside him:

—I am convinced now that this guy it will never open his mouth in ranks again.  I feel it was too painful to have to punish when I do not want that reward; I would have liked him better to wash the head; this will serve as a lesson to talk and make reflections at memorials.

The other regiments continued to march in the most perfect order and with the utmost silence, but in the evening, the soldiers could not account for the deference that the Little Corporal, they said, had shown in the morning for the head of a monarch who had been crushed like the others.

After the parade, the troops were quartered in the vicinity of Custrin and Stettin, and the Guard was housed in the middle of Berlin.  All the rest of the day the Emperor was besieged by deputations: they came from Saxony, Weimar, everywhere.  He received almost all with kindness; but it was not the same for the Prussian diplomats. In revenge, having seen in the surrounding crowd a priest he knew at Jena had taken great pains to care for the wounded, without distinction of their flag, he went to him, thanked him profusely, and at the same time gave him a magnificent gold snuffbox decorated with his portrait, while adding most graciously:

—Monsieur reverend, this is in remembrance of the French military that you have relieved.

In the evening, the emperor withdrew at an early hour.  Arriving in his bedroom, followed by Rapp, who was on duty with him:

—Look at the alarm clock of the great Frederick what is the time, he asked his aide de camp.

—Nine o’clock, Sire.

—It is precisely the time when he died twenty years ago, he added with a pensive air.

And as Rapp, having hooked the large watch by the bedside of the bed of Napoleon, in which the sword of the Prussian monarch was also suspended, looked with curiosity at a pair of horse pistols that belonged to him, he guessed the thought of his aide-de-camp, and said:

—Mine are the most beautiful, are they not?  But that’s not important!  These guns are, with this sword, a precious monument.  Do not you know that the Spanish ambassador brought to the Tuileries the sword of the François 1st for me?  The tribute was great: it had cost the Spaniards.  And the envoy from Persia had not also presented to me a sword which belonged to Genghis Khan!  Eh Well! Richer than all these weapons are, I wished for the blade of the sword so lowly, judging by the handle; well, look!

Napoleon had taken the sword of the great Frederick, had carefully examined, then, having pulled it out of the sheath:

—Oh! Oh! He made out while putting a fingertip on the tip of the blade; it is old, but it still stings!  I will send it to the Governor of the Invalides:  my old soldiers from the Hanover campaigns will keep it as a testimony to the great victories of the army and the revenge she has drawn from the disasters of Rosbach.

—Sire, Rapp ventured to say, in the presence of Your Majesty, I do not remove this sword, I keep it on me.

With these words, Napoleon threw his aide-de-camp an indefinable look and, taking his ear, told him gently with that beautiful voice of a legitimate pride:

—Don’t I have my own, mister giver of advice?


Placed on the Napoleon Series: February 2009


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