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A PICTURE PAINTS A THOUSAND WORDS
Meissonier- Campaign of 1814
It is the winter of 1814 and an Empire is dying – besieged by the baying hounds that the divine right monarchies have unleashed upon Napoleon. That same year a baby is being nurtured in a French womb. Jean-Louis Meissonier would be born on February 21st 1815, two months before the catastrophic Tamboran explosion that would rock the world and help the Allies defeat the Emperor at Waterloo in the following June.
Meissonier’s painting is small yet it brilliantly encapsulates and reflects the epic events that were taking place at the time of his birth. Napoleonic France was in its death throes as privilege and reaction prevailed in the courts of Europe. The self-appointed ‘elites’ of the Continent were determined to destroy the one man who had welcomed ability wherever he found it and instituted the careers open to talent that he made manifest in his own Army and Government.
Behind Napoleon in this famous painting rides red-headed and hot-blooded Ney. The Marshal was the hero of 1812,
the man of whom Napoleon had said he would give up all the gold in the Tuileries just to see him again after news arrived that Ney had been cut-off with his men behind the Russian lines.
He is not a man he is a lion, Napoleon declared when Ney reappeared, but the Marshal was not very forgiving, thinking that he had been abandoned in the Russian snows. Perhaps it was a result of that feeling and the subsequent brooding it led to that would lead Ney to betray his Emperor shortly after that winter of 1814?
He would not be the first man to betray Napoleon. Talleyrand was a past master at it and Fouché was a fellow ingrate along with Marshal Bernadotte. The daggers were well and truly out that treacherous winter. Even Marshal Marmont, Napoleon’s oldest friend, would succumb to the temptation to betray his master – the only thing he failed to do was to kiss the Emperor’s cheek en passant. Heroes are rare and singular: traitors are two a penny.
In the English Civil War it was the Earl of Strafford who was sacrificed on the altar of reaction and envy. When he died in 1641, Charles Ist lost the one man who could have saved his King. In 1815 it was Napoleon who was to be sacrificed by the Kings because he was the one man who had dared stand up to them on the field of battle. Much worse in their eyes, he had a tendency to win those battles no matter how many times they declared war on him in 1803, 1805, 1806, 1807, 1809, 1814 and 1815.
The British had earlier failed to assassinate Napoleon, but it wasn’t through lack of trying. Pitt had found plenty of gold to pay for the secret agents of the Chevalier de la Foi (Knight of the Faith) who worked for the loathsome Comte d’Artois, brother of Louis XVIII. The British Navy had ferried them across the Channel often enough – there were plenty of tars with the same brush. But they couldn’t sweep Napoleon from power with Infernal Machines or those daggers in the hands of maniacs.
. It was the British Cabinet that behaved like brigands – to them there was always an ‘open season’ on the ruler of France. but it was Pitt who sunk to the depths of infamy.5 Napoleon treated these acts of nefarious ‘diplomacy’ with the contempt they deserved and he would not retaliate in kind. not Napoleon. He is often accused of being little more than a Corsican bandit.
The Bowes states that: “his strong belief in aristocratic rights and privileges made him a particularly hated figure by revolutionaries… he became king aged 67. He behaved as if everything Napoleon earned by dint of genius and hard work should have been his by divine right. This painting of d’Artois by Gérard was displayed at the Salon in 1825. His implacable and adamantine hatred of Napoleon was perversely reflected when he had himself crowned in the very robes Napoleon had worn when he was made Emperor. From his coronation onwards. the future Charles X of France. Wellington made do with bedding some of Napoleon’s former mistresses.6 Comte D’Artois – Bowes Museum. public revolts forced him to abdicate. England . Charles’ attempts to reverse the ideals of the revolution made him deeply unpopular and in July 1830. four years after the death of Napoleon on Saint Helena.” . His air of consummate self-importance is clearly shown in this portrait. It seems that even Napoleon’s worst enemies wanted to be him at heart.arrogance personified In the Bowes Museum in Northern England there is a portrait of the Comte’ d’Artois.
7 Louis XVIII had been brought back in the baggage train of the Allies. If having the last vain peacock of the ancien regime restored to preen and coo from the Tuileries Palace wasn’t bad enough for the ordinary French citizen. In effect. he saw it as a moral duty to grind him into the earth and finish him off tout de suite. not the lives of millions of people who would suffer by their arbitrary whims and penchants. D’Artois was an enthusiastic supporter of Prime Minister Liverpool’s bloodthirsty purges against former soldiers of the Emperor – the White Terror. courtesy of m’lud Wellington – no one deigned to ask the French people who they wanted as their Head of State. As David Hamilton-Williams has written: “In 1813-15. The pair of them seemed to believe that what mattered was what they wanted. Liverpool didn’t just believe in kicking a man when he was down. the French army was closer to its civilian roots than at any . it was also that Irish-Englishman who bequeathed D’Artois to the reluctant French nation.
8 time since the Revolution. The police reports showed that nearly 80 per cent of the population supported Napoleon and didn’t want the Bourbons. .”1 But what did Wellington. “D’Artois used both the police force and his agents to terrorize and murder Bonapartist officers and supporters as requested by British Prime Minister Lord Liverpool. Liverpool or D’Artois care about that? While Wellington saw to the important task of massaging his ego at grand receptions and balls in Paris.”2 On what bliss was it to be alive at the renaissance of Bourbon Monarchy – but some did not live long enough to appreciate the fact. and bedding the former mistresses of Napoleon.
Some 80. he allowed Oudinot’s rearguard to keep his overwhelming forces at . entitled 1814 was commissioned by Prince Napoleon.9 1814 Meissonier The above painting. In awe of Napoleon’s genius.000 Austrians had fought 28.000 French soldiers and had been unable to defeat them!3 Field Marshal Schwarzenberg was no Schwarzenegger. It shows a dour Napoleon after the battle of Arcis-sur-Aube when the French were truly at bay. the Emperor’s nephew in 1862.
1808 by Gérard In 1795 the future Marshal Joachim Murat had brought the .10 bay. But Talleyrand’s machinations in Paris made all the efforts of his glorious and valiant countrymen useless – he told the Allies to march on the capital and Napoleon was not able to get back to Paris in time to save either the city or his throne. Murat c.
Dashing and handsome.11 cannons that enabled a wiry and threadbare Napoleon to put down the royalist insurrection of Vendémaire. he was the epitome of a resourceful cavalry officer and only a few others like Lasalles came anywhere near him. It was as a result of his crass incompetence that the reinvigorated Russians caught him off guard at Winkovo in . He was a Casanova on horseback. The ladies fell for him like Autumn leaves. Napoleon once said of him that Murat needed women like other men needed bread. he was notoriously negligent of his horses and men. However. But Murat was also incredibly vain. In 1812 Murat was observed alone at the head of the Grand Army surrounded by Cossacks. designing his own uniforms and ever ready to strut his stuff. His staff flocked to the rescue only to find the Marshal being admired by those denizens of the Steppes. Murat was adored by most of the cavalrymen in Europe and the Russians retreating before their beloved Moscow lamented that they wished they had a commander like him.
Lasalles died at . Napoleon said in 1814 that the bullet that would kill him had not been moulded as he personal organized his cannon close to the enemy. Men such as these could look death in the face without flinching. The Great Retreat had begun. Coignet sent on a mission to the Marshal saw some of his soldiers escaping from the trap by riding bareback.12 1812 and only his own brilliant rallying charges saved his troops from annihilation. a pupil of Meissonier Lasalles like every good officer led from the front. Lasalles by Detaille.
At Waterloo. although he had a revitalised cavalry. To attack the unbroken British squares with mounted troops alone was against one of the basic tenets of military command. Almost inexplicably Napoleon appointed Ney his battlefield commander despite his uncharacteristically timid and poor showing at Quatre Bras.13 Wagram in 1809 and was sorely missed. Napoleon was always fighting at a great disadvantage. Napoleon could have done with an experienced cavalry commander. Such superb leaders of men were always in short supply but so were their potential mounts after the huge losses of horses in Russia in 1812. Thus it was that he decided to use some of the still uncommitted cavalry arm. As the Prussian menace grew off to the east of Placenoit on June 18th. Because of the torrential downpours consequent upon the distant volcanic eruption of Tambora back in April of that year which had changed weather . Without a strong cavalry arm in 1813 and onwards. Ney found himself bereft of reserves.
There were also so many riders crammed together that some horses were lifted completely off the ground! Similarly the French cannon had not been as effective that day as the balls sank into the clinging earth rather than bouncing as they would normally have done. the battle had been delayed and the ground was still sodden. causing many more casualties thereby. Murat and Lasalles would never have committed such a jejeune error. When Ney finally brought up some horse artillery he began to do serious damage to Wellington’s Army. but by then the Prussians were debouching from the woods in force before Placenoit and all the French reserves had to be sent by Napoleon to keep them at bay. . until the finest cavalry in Europe was moiling around some of the finest infantry – both sides unable to deal a crippling blow. more and more French cavalry joined the attack. The French cavalry were able to do little more than trot towards their enemy. many without orders to do so. Anxious to join in the fray.14 patterns across the world.
So why did he leave him in charge on that fateful day? As both political and military head of the Army and as Emperor as well.000 men as he had shown. unfortunately for the French. all types of men. including former aristocrats and erstwhile enemies might return to the fold.15 Philippoteaux .Napoleon knew that Ney was unable to command more than 20. perhaps Napoleon hoped by publicly ‘forgiving’ Ney for his treachery and his infamous “I’ll bring him back in an iron cage” remark the previous year. Murat had offered his services to the Emperor after his . in 1813 and 1814. Whatever the reason.Waterloo The fact remains . it was a bad mistake.
Murat had led another victorious charge at Aboukir. Gros – Battle of Aboukir July 25th 1799 Years before. Napoleon did not reply. Murat would have known the exact moment at which to strike against Wellington and had he been able to. More than twelve years later in the freezing hell of Russia. On that occasion he received a wound on his cheek. but as he had betrayed him as well in 1814. Sergeant Bourgogne noticed the residual scar that had been revealed by the exceptional . in the Egyptian sands.16 return from Elba. he might have repeated his glorious exploits at Eylau when he led a cavalry charge against overwhelming Russian numbers and saved the day. Ironically.
17 cold. Napoleon said he was the most virtuous man he had ever met. And many of the wounded soldiers who owed him their lives would have been happy to concur. Few people realize that it was Napoleon who instituted the first effective medical train in the history of modern warfare. Girodet – Baron Dominique Jean Larrey Above is a portrait of the noblest man of his age – Larrey. Napoleon was a . surgeon to the Guard and the Emperor himself. As Coignet repeatedly makes clear in his Memoir.
As he famously said: “After the victory there are no longer enemies.6 Napoleon had ruled his tiny kingdom of Elba well. As Larrey had saved the life of the Old Thunderer’s son.”4 Larrey treated both sides after the carnage of Borodino. Larrey was captured after Waterloo and was about to be shot by the vengeful Prussians when a German doctor and former student of his. but only men. The Russians had simply left their wounded by the roadside or even burnt the dwellings in which they sheltered to deny them to Napoleon’s troops.5 even the famous French-hating Prussian Marshal had the grace to spare this one enemy life. He was not a prisoner on that small island. recognized him and saved his life by begging Blücher for mercy on his behalf. Coignet who had seen so much suffering was nevertheless horrified. he was still a legitimate Emperor who had voluntarily ceded power on .18 stickler when it came to proper medical assistance for his troops – and often those of his enemies. abandoned by their own Royal retinues and kinsmen.
Napoleon planned his return. But the Allies reneged on the agreed settlement and Louis XVIII refused to pay Napoleon the 2. Karl Stenben . men flocked to the .000 francs that was his due. Not surprisingly. when the so-called Allies began to fall out amongst themselves at the Congress of Vienna. The Eagle began to flap his wings as he prepared to leave the nest.19 the mainland in France.000.Napoleon returns from Elba The Eagles flew from steeple to steeple as Napoleon had predicted and after a slow start.
The romantic Jewish poet. Heinrich Heine certainly preferred him to those others: “Heine unconditionally admired Napoleon for his contribution to enlightenment which. 8 When he fell from power the reactionaries jumped in and made the Jews second-class citizens again. All of Heine’s publications in Germany were subject to state censorship…”7 Further. He was a far more rational. Francis of Austria. but he did allow men who had spurned and betrayed him to return to his Court. the Frenchman had installed in occupied German areas. He was also the first person to suggest . Napoleon was no fool. The Dreyfus Affair of 1894 would have been impossible under Napoleon. as Cameron Reilly and David Markham have made clear in their excellent Napoleon Podcast series – whereas Hitler murdered the Jews. or Frederick-William of Prussia. decent and forgiving monarch than the likes of Tsar Alexander. Even Ney swallowed his pride and returned reluctantly to the side of his former master. Napoleon gave them equal rights.20 colours. George III of England. for some time.
. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so pathetic. In Earnest Crofts’ atmospheric painting some members of the Old Guard stem the tide of terrified refugees as one soldier – in the bottom left of this cropped image – looks over his shoulder at his Emperor. Forced to abandon his carriage. Yet some mischievous and poor historians still insist in equating the Emperor with Hitler.The Evening of the Battle of Waterloo We shall leave the ever-fascinating events of Napoleon’s life late in the evening of June 18th 1815. Earnest Crofts .21 that the Jews be given their own territory in the Holy Land.
but delve deeply enough and the real light will shine through. They have weaved a web of lies.22 Napoleon is about to vanish from the living pages of history. These non-entities will now re-write history and cast Napoleon as the reincarnation of Lucifer himself. A giant is leaving the political stage to the Lilliputian midgets that have brought him down. © John Tarttelin 2010 . Ahead there is only Saint Helena and the reptilian Hudson Lowe.
Arms and Armour Press. From Journal of the Medical Association of Georgia (JMAG) September 1990 pages 693-695 . Faria.napoleonicsociety.com and see The Prussian Campaign of 1806 – The War That Napoleon Did Not Want by JeanClaude Damamme 5. David Hamilton-Williams The Fall of Napoleon (London.. Go to the International Napoleonic Society Website at www.D. I have called Blücher the Old Thunderer because it seems very apposite for his personality. 6. His men called him Alte Vorwards. 308 3. Ibid. See article Dominique-Jean Larrey: Napoleon’s Surgeon from Egypt to Waterloo by Miguel A. Jr. M. See Wikipedia under Arcis-sur-Aube 4.. 1994) 318 2.23 Notes and Bibliography 1.
See http://napoleon. See Wikipedia under Heinrich Heine 8.com/ .the podcastnetwork.24 7.
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