Poor, poor, poor, poor Napoleon.
I mean, look at him, poor fellow, sent by that nasty-wasty British Government (what a pack of Grinches, eh?) to that pestiferous outcrop of black rocks in the middle of bally-nowhere, a.k.a. the island of St. Helena, and all because he’d been just a little naughty and had the bad luck to lose at Waterloo. I mean, are they a bunch of bad winners or what? Meanies.
Yes, yes, yes…of course I’ve made the mistake (again) of reading a blog by someone or other about poor, poor, poor old Boney. And how he was forced into surrendering to the Brits, blah-di-blah…
Uhm, could we just go over a fact or two here? Like about how he came to be in that position in the first place?
So, in the spring of 1814, after having run rampant over the Continent since roughly 1796, slaughtering some 5-6 million people in the process, all the way from the coast of Portugal in the west to the Kremlin in the east, Napoleon (poor fellow) had been beat to a standstill by the Allied forces of the Prussians, Russians and Austrians at the gates of Paris.
And following the Battle of Paris, when the Russians whooped those French troops who were meant to defend the capital, having drained the country of every ounce of anything resembling food or fodder or hard cash, Napoleon who was hanging out at Fontainbleau, was urged, advised, encouraged by his advisors and marshalls and generals, for the sake of the country, to abdicate power.
Which he did. But not before he had attempted suicide, swallowing a delicious concoction of opium, belladonna and white hellebore, which he’d carried on his person for some time. But he apparently had the constitution of an ox. Or the poison had lost its viv during the disastrous Russian campaign, so he, er, was soon found sitting at the table (which I have seen) signing his name to the abdication papers.
So, what to do with the troublesome teen, eh? Bootcamp? Outward Bound? Betty Ford?
The Tsar of all Russia, Alexander I, because he still rather liked and admired Napoleon, conceived of the clever plan to ship him off to the island of Elba in the Mediterranean, where he could still have his own little kingdom and be happy making daisy-chains and frolicking in the sunshine and things.
The French, like Talleyrand, thought it was a bad idea. The Austrians thought it was a disastrous idea. The Prussians wanted him executed by firing squad. And the British refused to have anything to do with it because they heartily disapproved–they thought it was asking for trouble.
Nevertheless, it fell to the Brits to get him there and keep him there by virtue of the fact that the Royal Navy rules the waves of the Mediterranean and elsewhere and nobody else had any ships to speak of. So on 4 May 1814, HMS Undaunted delivered him to the 16-mile-long island of Elba.
Hence, during the ensuing months, everyone across Europe heaved a collective sigh of relief, ate food, slept in their beds without worrying about their villages being pillaged and shelled, and then met in Vienna to try and sort out some kind of modern peace plan for the much-trampled-on peoples of Europe. This lasted for months.
During which time, Napoleon, down on his island poverty-dise constructed a new palace, furnished it, taxed the population, came up with various schemes, waited for his wife and son to arrive (they never did) and got bored. So, on 26 February 1815, Napoleon slipped his lead, boarded the 16-gun brig, Inconstant, and made for France.
Where he proceeded to raise a new army.
The restored Bourbon King Louis XVIII eventually skedaddled and headed for Belgium.
The Duke of Wellington, who’d been busy at the Congress of Vienna, also headed for Belgium where he was to be Commander in Chief of the Allied Army; the Prussian Army under General Blucher also got moving in that direction.
Meanwhile, the crowned heads of Europe had put together a statement which read “The Powers declare that Napoleon Buonaparte has placed himself outside all human relations and that, as the enemy and disturber of the peace of the world, he has delivered himself up to public justice.” And for good measure they claimed that he had forfeited “his sole lawful right to exist.”
It was the 1815 equivalent of the United Nations declaring someone an international war criminal, really.
And some 100 days following his escape, Napoleon was beaten, rolled up, squashed, creamed and otherwise defeated at the 4-day event now known as the Battle of Waterloo (18 June 1815).
But what happened then? you ask. Didn’t poor, poor, poor Napoleon just get snatched up by those clamouring bullies the English and thrown higgledy-piggledy onto the HMS Bellerophon without so much as an embroidered imperial hanky?
Er, no. Not really.
The British were kind of busy, er, mopping up at Waterloo and in Brussels, you might say. Total casualties of the days’ fighting were something in the region of 115,000 men. Napoleon’s losses were approximately 41,400 killed or wounded, 7000 captured and 10,000 missing.
Those are big numbers.
Nevertheless, having just inflicted this new grievous loss upon France, Napoleon headed back to Paris, determined to raise yet another army–he had a plan to use General Grouchy’s troops as a core, combine them with the reserves of the National Guard and…and…impose a new round of conscription (also known as the blood tax) in order to take on the Allies with a new army of 300,000 in order to avenge Waterloo.
(I kid you not. That was his new plan.)
But others in France…well, this time they weren’t so keen. Or maybe they’d finally worked out that he was stark, raving bonkers and a power-junkie megalomaniac. So, these fellows, including many within his own government, got to work to undermine him. They included his former minister of police, Fouche, and several prominent men in the French legislature, including the Marquis de Lafayette, a former Bonapartist and hero of the American and French Revolutions.
Napoleon’s brother Lucien spoke to defend his brother as did the author of the novel, Manon Lescaut, Emmanuel Sieyes.
But it was Lafayette’s words which carried the day in response to a cry to rally the French to “drive the barbarians from our country.”
“Have you forgot where the bones of our sons and brothers whiten? The deserts of Egypt, the snows of Russia, and now the plains of Belgium–Will it also be the streets of Paris? France,” Lafayette lamented, already had a few million victims “of this one man who wanted to fight all Europe! Enough!”
While the French legislature debated, Napoleon’s friends and advisors (including brother Lucien) were urging him to send in the army in order to seize power. Advice that, for once, he did not take.
On 22 June–four days after the catastrophe at Waterloo–the French legislature ordered him to step down from the throne of his own free will or they would remove him. They gave him an hour to make up his mind. At 3.00 in the afternoon, therefore, for the second time, Napoleon Bonaparte abdicated.
And with the Allied powers now heading for or encamped in Paris, Napoleon decided the best plan was to scarper. Note that–it was his idea.
He first headed out to Malmaison, the home he’d shared with Josephine on the banks of the Seine, until he’d divorced her. And now she was dead, though he felt her presence there…
Still, with the Prussians closing in–for the Prussians, whom his troops had brutalised for years and years, it was payback time–and the French unable or unwilling to guarantee his safety, the government ordered him out of France.
Ever the helpful one though, Napoleon offered to resume his post as general and rally the remaining army, then defeat the vicious invaders and cast them out, etc.
Strangely, this generous offer was declined. So he left for the port of Rochefort secretly, where he trusted he would find a ship bound for the United States, or barring that, one bound for Mexico or South America.
He’d been told that there were two French frigates awaiting his pleasure, but, uh, when he got to Rochefort, they’d been joined by two of the Royal Navy’s finest, including HMS Bellerophon. Ehem. He toyed with the idea of escape, possibly in a barrel or on a small fishing boat, but then decided it was beneath his dignity, and so, on 15 July, he surrendered to the British and boarded the Bellerophon.
He still had a plan. This time it was that the British would offer him asylum. (He seems to have missed that all that stuff about killing 5-6 million people and being a war criminal. Or maybe he thought it was irrelevant.)
The British Government declined to take him up on this–I can’t possibly imagine why–and since the island-paradise-close-to-Europe plan hadn’t worked out so well for them, they opted for the island-hell-as-far-away-from-civilisation-as-possible (nearest neighbour 700 miles away) plan.
And so, on 17 October 1815, still protesting that he’d been tricked and cheated by the British Government (yuh, like that’s credible) he was landed at Jamestown, St. Helena…where he died, in May 1821. But not before he did his best to rewrite history and claim that all he’d ever really wanted was peace…
Yuh, right. Poor baby.
Romantic hero? I don’t think so…