Research Subjects: Napoleon Himself


When Napoleon took possession of the General Staff of Paris, then located on the Rue des Capucines near the Place Vendome, he brought with him Junot and Marmont, who had come to join him in the capital.  A few days after, the young Lemarrois that Letourneur de la Marche had warmly recommended, came to take his place among the aides-de-camp, which he had to increase in number, as well as his younger brother Louis Bonaparte, sub-lieutenant of the dragoons, "with which, he said, he had shared his bread and his pay when he was only an artillery lieutenant. "  A little later he attached Murat to him. The sixth aide-de-camp position was reserved for Muiron.

"The citizen Muiron, he wrote thereon to the minister, has served since the earliest days of the Revolution in the arm of artillery. He specifically distinguished himself at the siege of Toulon, where he was wounded by entering among the first, by an embrasure, the famous English redoubt.  The 13 vendémiaire, he commanded one of the artillery batteries, which defended the Convention.  He has been very useful to me up to this day:  I want to make him my sixth aide-de-camp, and I ask him be made a brevet captain. "

The father of Muiron had been imprisoned as a farmer.  Still covered in the blood that had spread to the motherland, the son had presented himself to the revolutionary committee, and was quite pleased to get his freedom. As for Murat, this infallible instinct of Napoleon which allowed him to judge at first glance what services he could draw from a man, had also cast its eyes upon him to make him one of his aides-de-camp on the day of 13 vendémiaire.  He had already guessed as much as could be expected from a young man whose ardent courage asked for that risk.  Since that time the name of Napoleon had become renowned.  In charge of keeping the peace in Paris, he had to frequently mingle with the People traveling to the halls and the suburbs, and sometimes haranguing the multitude, eventually to influence their acquiescence; but sometimes he had to fight difficult circumstances.

An extreme poverty afflicted the residents of the capital and often caused severe troubles.  One day, among others, when the food distribution had failed, and he had formed a number of troopers at the door of the bakers, Napoleon visited the city to ensure that the orders of measurement he had prescribed were properly executed.  Suddenly he and his staff were surrounded by a tumultuous group.  Furious women seeking bread cried loudly, the crowd grew, the threats were increasing, and the situation was becoming increasingly critical. One of these women, monstrously large, stood out in the middle, the most excited by her actions and by her strong words:  she was without a doubt someone notable in the halls.

—Nothing but a bunch of épauletiers, she cried, threatening and atttacking the general and his officers, make fun of us, so while they eat and fatten themselves, they remain strong while the poor people die of hunger!

Napoleon turned to her and replied with a smile:

—My good woman, look well at me, and tell me who is the most plump of us?

This simple observation, made in a quiet tone, was greeted with universal laughter.  The female orator was cut short, happy to escape an early retirement to boos from the multitude who, overcome by a joke, soon dispersed and left the General to continue peacefully on his route.

Among other operations that he had been charged with, once the insurrection of 13 vendémiaire was slightly relieved was one where he had been instructed to proceed with the disarmament of the sections of Paris, it was to be executed immediately by delivery of all weapons found in possession of the people.  Madame de Beauharnais, who wanted to keep the sword of her husband, having asked for a second time, decided to send her son Eugene to the headquarters, claim it again.  A young man of twelve to fourteen years of age presents himself one morning at sunrise to Napoleon, and he exposed his complaint in the following terms:

—My name is Eugene de Beauharnais, he said with a kind of assurance; I am the son of the noted former, General de Beauharnais, who had served the Republic on the Rhine.  My father was denounced by the Committee of Public Safety, as a suspect, and referred to the Revolutionary Court, which assassinated him two days before the fall of Robespierre ...

—Assassinated? ... Napoleon cried.

— Yes, citizen General! Repeated Eugene with fire, I call this a murder conviction ... On behalf of my mother, he continued, I just ask you to use your influence with the committee, to make them return my father’s sword to me, I want to use it now to fight the enemies of the motherland and support the cause of the Republic.

These words, both full of nobility and pride, appealed to Napoleon. He looked over Eugene carefully:

—Good! Young man, very good! He said I admire your courage and tenderness as a son. The sword of General de Beauharnais, the sword of your unfortunate father, you will be made available to you. Wait.

And immediately, he called one of his aides-de-camp, and said a few words in hushed tones.  The officer left and soon returned with a sword that he placed in the hands of Eugene.  This, his eyes wet with tears; he pressed to his heart and covered with kisses.  Meanwhile, Napoleon has continued to level his gaze on Eugene; he felt doubly emotional, due to his age and the frankness of his approach.

—My young friend, he said with kindness, I would be happy to do something for you, or at least for your family.

—So, citizen General, my mother and my sister will bless you.

This naivety made Napoleon smile. He continued to promise goodwill to the young man and hired someone to see him back.  Madame de Beauharnais, learning of the gracious reception that the General had given her son, felt obliged to go thank him.  Napoleon allowed her this visit, and, gradually, their relationship became more intimate.

Napoleon was twenty seven years old, and Josephine thirty-three.  Born in Martinique, June 24, 1763, into a wealthy and well regarded family (Tascher de la Pagerie), she came very young to France , and had married Viscount Alexander Beauharnais, an infantry captain.  In 1789, the Viscount was appointed Deputy to the General States; he was nominated for the Popular Party, and several times chaired the National Assembly.  Having obtained the command of the Army of the Rhine in 1792, he led them with a moderation which began to make him suspect, and eventually became fatal, exposing him to denunciations so absurd, he believed it better to tenure his resignation than to explain, but this condescension led to the scaffold, where he expired with a sincere dedication to the freedom of his country.[1]  Madame de Beauharnais, herself imprisoned for eighteen months, first in Saint-Pélagie near the Jardin-des-Plantes, then in the prison of the Carmelites on the Rue de Vaugirard, fell seriously ill, when his indictment, that is his death sentence, was announced to her.  Fortunately for her, a brave and generous Polish doctor, with responsibility for care, said that her illness was going to punish her as well, and she did not have more than four hours to live if kept a prisoner any longer.  She obtained her freedom.  At her release from prison, Josephine would have been reduced to poverty with her two children, Eugene and Hortense, if her friends were not eager to come to her rescue.  Of this number were the ladies Tallien and Récamier.  Subsequently, all three became inseparable.  At that time, Josephine sometimes went to Chaillot to visit Barras, who was one of the great honored lords of the Republic.  Napoleon also saw the director, but rarely.  From the moment he visited the home of Mrs. De Beauharnais, his visits became more frequent.  Finally he decided to offer his hand and his future to the widow of Viscount de Beauharnais.  Their marriage took place a few months later.

By marrying Josephine, Napoleon combined his fortune to that of two powerful protectors: Barras and Tallien. The first ruled France , the second, through his political connections, not the less influential, but although the young general had already provided an immense service on the day of 13 vendémiaire, he needed their support more than ever.  So, on Friday, 19 ventôse year IV (March 8, 1796), an act of civil marriage between Napoleon and Josephine took place in the presence of Tallien, Carundel, Hortense and Eugene de Beauharnais, and some other people among them Barras and Lemarrois, aide-de-camp to Napoleon.  Collin, notary public, received the oath of the spouses.  It is noted, however, that union took place at ten o'clock in the evening, because the bride had been waiting at the municipality.  There, Collin, could not be awaken from an overpowering sleep.  Napoleon knocked him warmly on the shoulder to awaken him.

All formalities completed, the newlyweds went to live in a small hotel on the Chaussée d'Antin, located on the Rue Chantereine, that Napoleon had recently bought from Talma, after the death of his first wife, Julie Vanhove, to whom it had belonged.  Before his marriage, Napoleon had been occupied with the formation of the Guard of the Directory.  This elite troop later became the Guard of the Consuls and the core of the Old Imperial Guard, which was always so dignified, so heroic in triumph, if so firm and calm in our setbacks.

At the same time, Lucien Bonaparte, after being incarcerated in the prisons of Aachen, was released, thanks to the steps that his brother had made in Paris with Carnot.  After his deliverance, Lucien, having no further employment, had retired to a farm near Marseille, with the intent to engage exclusively in the work of agriculture, when his brother got him brevet as a Commissioner of Wars.  He came to Paris, where he found Napoleon at the hotel of the commandant of the division.

— Well! He said to this last, it wasn’t too long ago, that you told us not to come here; two years ago you told my mother and I to be patient. You see, I thought I would like Paris!

Immediately after her marriage, Napoleon, who already treated Eugene as a son, put him on his staff, among his aides-de-camp.  The young man performed these functions even though he had neither been appointed nor commissioned as such by the Committee of War, and further he had held no rank in the army.  In his capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Interior, Napoleon would never emerged from the hotel to the headquarters, he lived with his aides-de-camp, was not seen unless accompanied by young officers, although he was himself only twenty-seven years old, but his brother Louis Bonaparte was only twenty-six, Murat twenty-eight, Junot twenty-four, Muiron twenty, Marmont nineteen, Lemarrois seventeen, and Eugene less than fifteen.  As soon as this little cortège got under way, it was immediately followed by workmen who, having nothing to do, were left idle and preceded by a veritable host of kids of Paris, which came from the Place Vendôme their regular meeting place, one with a paper hat on his head, the other with a wooden sword at his side.  All marching and tapping their fingers on the debris of broken pottery that the children vulgarly called cascarinettes, and imitating with their voices the rrrlan-plan-plan of the drums.  Napoleon smiled at their games and said nothing, but he had a task to guide his horse, with the end of his whip, especially out of fear that they approached too close to him and that their feet be crushed.  But his aides-de-camp, some of whom were hardly older than most of those who formed the escort laughing and noisy, did not share the same moderation nor the same patience; they would have willingly chased this gang of brats using instead their sabers, if not their general had specifically defended this method of punishment.  At this grotesque spectacle, everyone stopped smiling, some even shrugging their shoulders.

—This is the famous headquarters that protects the Republic! They said in a tone of pity.

But when, twelve years later, these same people saw the same cortège leave the Tuileries and travel with  pomp to Notre Dame, to celebrate the commemoration of a great victory won by those they had once watched with pity they wouldn’t dream of the idea of shrugging, because Napoleon, the first of all, became Emperor,  his brother Louis, King of Holland; Eugene de Beauharnais, Viceroy of Italy; Murat, King of Naples; Junot, Governor of Paris; Marmont, Grand Officer of the empire; Lemarrois, division general ...

This cortège grew up in glory of the age, and their children had become the first soldiers of the world!



[1] Here is the letter that the Viscount de Beauharnais wrote to his wife just hours before his death:

Night from 6 to 7 thermidor an II, at the Conciergerie.

A few minutes of tenderness and regret, then the all great thoughts of immortality.  When you receive this letter, dear beloved, your husband rests, at the bosom of God, the true existence ... You see, although it does not require you cry.  I just suffer a cruel formality ... But why quarrel against the need?  The reason we want to make the best out of this. My hair cut, I thought about taking one portion, in order to allow my Josephine, my children, a token of my last memories ... The idea of this is breaking my heart I feel. Adieu therefore everything I love! Love, talk to me, and never forget the glory of dying a martyr to freedom illustrated on the scaffold. "


Placed on the Napoleon Series: January 2008

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

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

Top | Home ]