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The Napoleon Series > Biographies > Biographies



Newspaper Accounts of the Trial and Execution of Marshal Michel Ney: The Execution

By Susan Howard

These articles are taken from the archives of the The Times of London of 1815. They are mainly translations from the French newspapers with some private correspondence and leader articles. The articles were printed uncensored, though possibly shortened. There are places where the translation is clumsy: they were usually translated and printed within 24 hours of the papers being received from France. Some of the print quality is poor and I have had to guess at some words; where I have been unable to do this, I have marked them [illegible]. I have preserved the archaic punctuation and inconsistent spelling but have altered the layout to make it easier to read - the original was compressed into narrow columns. Any notes of mine are in italics in square brackets: all other italics are in the text.


The Execution of Marshal Ney

The sentence was carried into execution this morning at 20 minutes past nine o'clock. From three in the morning the guard of the condemned Marshal had been given up to the Count de Rochechouart, commandant of Paris, who had been charged by Lt-General Despinois, commander of the first military division, by the orders of the King's Commissioner, to make the necessary dispositions for ensuring the execution of the sentence. The internal and exterior safety of the Luxembourg was confided from that moment to M. de Rochechouart, and the Usher of the Chamber, in whose custody the prisoner had been, was discharged.

On leaving the Chamber of Peers, Marshal Ney called for dinner, and seemed to eat with a good appetite, perceiving that a small round pointed knife which he used excited some apprehension in his guards, lest he should employ it to kill himself, he threw it down. After dinner, he smoked a segar[sic], and then fell into an apparently sound sleep, from which he did not wake till M. Cauchy, Secretary Reporter of the Chamber of Peers, came to read his sentence to him. Before he commenced the reading of it, M. Cauchy endeavoured to address to him a few pathetic words, to assure him how painful it was to be obliged to perform so melancholy an office. "Sir," said the Marshal, interrupting him, "do your duty, as every man ought to do: read."

Upon the preamble being read, he said impatiently, "to the fact, to the fact at once."

When he came to the article of the law respecting the succession of the Crown - "That law," cried the Marshal, cannot be applicable to me; it was for the Imperial Family that it was made." When his titles weredetailed, he observed, "What good can this do? Michael Ney, - then a heap of dust; that is all."

The reading being finished, the Secretary told him that he had no time to lose for his testamentary dispositions. " I am ready to die," he said, "whenever they wish."

M. Cauchy then told him, that if, in these last moments, he wished for the consolations of religion, he might send for the Rector of St Sulpice, who was himself come to offer his services: "That is sufficient," replied the Marshal, "I will think of it." Upon M.Cauchy's observing, that in case any other Clergyman should be more agreeable, he might send for him, the Marshal said, "once again, I say, that is sufficient; I want no Priest to teach  me how to die."

Upon it being observed that he was at liberty to take leave of his wife and children, he desired that they should be written to to come between six and seven in the morning. "I hope," he added, "that your letter will not announce to my wife that her husband is condemned. It is for me to inform her of my fate."

M.Cauchy then retired, and the Marshal appeared to retire within himself, and threw himself in ihs clothes on the bed. It is right to state that he fell asleep immediately.

At four in the morning he was awakened by the arrival of the Marechale, his wife, with her children, and Madame Gamon, his sitser. The unfortunate wife, as soon as she entered the chamber, fell in a fit on the ground. The Marshal and his guard raised her. To a long fainting fit succeeded tears and groans. Madame Gamon, on her knees before the Marshal, was not in a less deplorable condition. The children, silent and sad, did not weep. The eldest appeared to be about eleven years of age. The Marshal spoke to them a long time, but in a low tone of voice. On a sudden he rose and intreated his family to withdraw. at this moment the despair of Madame Ney became inexpressible. The children, hitherto silent, burst into piercing cries.

Left alone with his guards, he walked up and down the chamber. One of them, a grenadier of Laroche Jacquelin, said to him, "Marshal, in the situation in which you are, should you not think of God? It is always good to reconcile oneself to God. I have seen many battles, and every time I could I confessed myself, and found myself always the better for it."

The Marshal stopped, looked at him with a certain interest, and then said, "You are in the right; yes, you are in the right. We ought to die as honest men, and as good Christians. I desire to see the Rector of St Sulpice." The brave grenadier did not want to be told twice. The clergyman was forthwith introduced into the chamber of the condemned. He remained shut up with him three quarters of an hour. When he retired the Marshal expressed a desire to see him in his last moments. The virtous priest kept his word. At half past eight he returned, and at nine, being informed that all was ready, the Marshal gave him his hand to help him into the coach, saying to him, "Get in first, M. le Cure, I shall be above sooner than you."

Just before the Marshal left his chamber, he changed his dress, put on a waistcoat, black breeches and stockings, blue frock coat, and a round hat.

It was in the carriage of M. the Grand Referenderie that he was carried across the garden of the Luxembourg, to the extremity of the grand alley that leads to the Observatory, the place appointed for his execution.

A small detachment of gendarmerie, and two platoons of veterans, were there waiting for him. On seeing that they stopped, the Marshal, who probably thought they were conductiong him to the plain of Grenelle, expressed some surprise. He embraced his confessor, and gave him his snuff box, to be delivered to Madame the Marechale, and some pieces of gold which he had in his pocket, to be distributed among the poor.

Arrived at the gate, the carriage turned a little to the left, and stopped about forty paces from the gate, and thirty paces from the wall, near which the execution was to take place. A picquet of veterans, sixty strong, had been on the spot since five o'clock in the morning. At the moment when the carriage stopped, the platoon arranged itself, an officer of gendarmerie got out of the carriage first, and was followed by the Marshal, who appeared to ask him if that was the place of execution. After embracing the Confessor, who remained near the coach, praying fervently, the Marshal proceeded with a quick step and determined air, to within eight paces of the wall, and turning round upon the soldiers with vivacity, and at the same time, facing them, cried out with a loud and strong voice, "Comrades, straight to the heart - fire." While repeating these words, he took off his hat with his left hand and placed his right hand upon his heart. The officer gave the signal with his sword at the same moment, and the Marshal instantly fell dead, pierced with twelve balls, three of them to the head.

After remaining exposed a quarter of an hour, the body was placed upon a litter, covered with a cloth, and carried by the Veterans to the Hospital of Foundlings.

At half past six next morning (Dec.8) it was conveyed to the burying ground of Pere la

Chaise, in a hearse, followed by a mourning coach and several other coaches. it had been inclosed in a leaden coffin within an oak one.

During the whole night the religieuses of the Hospital prayed near the body.

Paris Nov.[sic] 9

We are assured that on the day of Marshal Ney's execution, Madame Ney, still ignorant of its having taken place, went to the Thuileries at ten in the morning to implore the King's clemency, and the Duke of Duras, to whom she addressed herself in order to be introduced, was obliged to inform her that the Marshal no longer existed.

When the Chamber of Peers deliberated on the Decree, condemning Marshal Ney, there were five nominal calls of the Peers.

The first call decided by a majority of 113 to 47, the question relative to the reception given by the Marshal to the Usurper's Emissaries in the night between the 13th and 14th of March.

The second decided unanimously, with the exception of one Peer, who did not vote, the question relative to the triple fact of having, by the proclamation of the 14th, excited his army to rebellion and desertion; of having ordered his troops to join the Usurper; and of having, himself at their head, effected that junction.

The nature of the crime resulting from these acts was the object of the 3d call, and it was in the same manner almost unanimously decided to be high treason, and an attack on the safety of the State.

Finally, two calls took place on the application of the punishment. the result of the last, in which several voters availed themselves of the power inclining to the mildest opinion, was a majority of 139 for the punishment of death, to be applied according to military forms.

The numbers of voters on each call were 161. the results stated above are independent of the reduction to be made for conformity of opinion between persons related and allied.

Sufficient justice cannot be done to the zeal manifested by the national guard of the interior and exterior police of the Palace of Luxembourg, during the trial of Marshal Ney. Discipline and countersign were as perfectly observed by this body of citizens as could have been done by the best roops of the line. No person was admitted to the palace, whatsoever his rank or quality, without a particular ticket, according to the rank of each person.

The Times, London Wednesday December 13 1815

The French papers to the 10th instant, whch have at length arrived, bring the interesting news of the condemnation and execution of Marshal NEY. This circumstance is of importance, inasmuch as it establishes the fact, that the laws are still superior to private and particular influence in France. The existence of NEY, a known and notorious traitor, furnished a problem, whether the established authorities were yet strong enough to execute justice on those who braved their powers. The Chamber of Peers has decided on the side of law and justice; and the Executive power has followed up that decision by a speedy execution of justice.

NEY was shot on the avenue of the Observatoire, at nine in the morning of the 7th of December. He desired to be attended in his last moments by a minister of religion. He was so; and at  a signal given by himself, he fell dead. Thus perished a traitor, in whose crime ingratitude was a feature no less prominent than folly. This person, sprung from the lowest class of society, and raised to a lofty height by the favour of the Despot whom he served, was maintained in his high rank by the (perhaps injudicious) liberality of the King; and in return for such benevolence, he engaged in a rebellion, calculated to shake his country to its centre, and to affect Europe in its most essential interests. When we see a man so selfish in his views, so little affected by the extensive consequences of his actions to mankind, we cannot regret his fate, if the course of his crimes is overtaken by justice.

 The sacrifice of NEY will produce a great effect on the French nation in general; because he was a Marshal - because he was of a rank which it was conceived the established Government would fear to touch. However, the Government has shewn itself strong enough to set aside all such considerations; and it is in this, as in most other cases, the boldness of the attempt has carried with it the approbation of the act. when the guilt of the offender was established in proof, still there were several persons who laboured hard to save him from the adequate penalty of the law; but the majority was too clearly the other way. Out of 161 votes only 22 voted for  a punishment lighter than death. The wonder is, that so many should have thought such a crime deserving of any minor penalty.

Private Correspondence,

Paris, Dec. 11.1815

[this gives a slightly different, but second-hand version of Ney's last hours.]

..... So fell a man,who would have been honoured for his valour in the field, had he possessed what is equally essential to the character of a soldier, - devotion and fidelity to his sovereign.

There were one hundred and sixty Peers who were present. One hundred and thirty-nine voted for the punishment of death; seventeen for banishment (deportation), and four refused to vote at all: three on the principle that it is not lawful for one man to decide upon the life of another, and one (the Duke de Choiseul) said, that having himself been more than once condemned to death during the revolution, the horror of that situation was so strong upon his mind, he could not bring himself to place any other human being in a similar one.

Publicly, the execution of Ney seems to have made no particular impression in regard to conversation; but it is something remarkable, that previous to his trial the funds here were at 52 and I believe, 51 and a fraction, and immediately after his execution they rose to 59, and on Saturday left off at 58 and a fraction. The anti-royalists and Buonapartists say, that this has been entirely owing to the means employed purposely by the Government. But will they say the same of a fact somewhat similar during the usurpation? Just previous to the commencement of the campaign, the funds were a t 51 also: and as soon as the news of the defeat of Waterloo was ascertained, and the safe return of Buonaparte, with a chance of his abdication, they rose to 59, as may be ascertained by the journals of the time.

Placed on the Napoleon Series: July 2006


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