Napoleon and the Garde

After the Battle on the 18th of June, Napoleon tried  unsuccessfully to re-group. Unable to sort out the demoralized and scattered sildiers, he turned over command of his armies to General Soult and fled to Paris. The armies had about 150,000 troops stationed around France, including General Grouchy’s 60,000, who returned to Laon by June 26. Another 175,000 (?) conscripts were in training. There were also General Rapp’s Armee of the Rhine and General Lamarque’s Armee of La Vendee, still in place waiting for the Austrians and Russians. Napoleon wanted to continue the war, but he needed political and financial support. 

Rowlandson on Napoleon’s Legacy

Napoleon was unsuccessful in getting the Chamber of Deputies  — or anybody else except his closest confidantes — to agree to renew the war. 

Marquis de Lafayette, 1790
Lafayette, 1825

The hero of the American Revolution, the Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834) spoke against Napoleon in the Chamber, in answer to pleas of the disgraced emperor by his brother Lucien Bonaparte.  Lafayette said:

“By what right do you dare accuse the nation of…want of perseverance in the emperor’s interest? The nation has followed him on the fields of Italy, across the sands of Egypt and the plains of Germany, across the frozen deserts of Russia. … The nation has followed him in fifty battles, in his defeats and his victories, and in doing so we have to mourn the blood of three million Frenchmen.”

Lafayette’s views prevailed and Napoleon was rejected.  His attempted abdication in favor of his four-year-old son on June 22 (and by some reports, a failed suicide) was ignored by the Allies.

Marie Louise had fled to Austria with her son.

Fouché, president of the new provisional government, sent word Napoleon should leave Paris. Napoleon stayed for a few days at his late first wife’s chateau, Malmaison, just west of Paris. Here he and Josephine(who died in 1814) had enjoyed happiness and success. How he must have yearned for those days to return.

Malmaison, 2014

The Prussians were approaching by June 29, and he did not want to be captured. When he got word from the provisional government that he was not be issued any safe conduct by Blücher or Wellington, Napoleon decided to travel to the Atlantic coast and find a ship to take him to the United States, where he hoped to find refuge; he arrived in Rochefort on July 3. However, the British blockade, in effect again since his escape from Elba, made that impossible. Instead, he negotiated his surrender to Captain Frederick Maitland aboard the HMS Bellerophon on July 15.

An amusing aside:  Upon boarding the HMS Bellerophon, Napoleon took over the cabin of the Captain and invited him and others to breakfast with him.  Captain Humphrey Senhouse, captain of another ship in the fleet, later wrote to his wife: “I have just returned from dining with Napoleon Bonaparte. Can it be possible?”

Napoleon Aboard the Bellerophon, by Sir Charles Lock Eastlake

Napoleon appealed to the Prince Regent: “the most powerful, the most constant, and the most generous of my foes.” But the Government of Lord Liverpool was not inclined to make any allowances, and Prinny had enough troubles of his own.

Napoleon Aboard the Bellerophon 
by Sir William Quiller Orchardson (1832-1910)

In the meantime, the Allies had entered Paris on July 7, 1815, and successfully arranged for Louis XVIII to take the throne, which he did on July 8.

The Bellerophon sailed to Torbay arriving July 24 and on to Plymouth where Napoleon became a sort of tourist attraction as people hired boats to go out and see him aboard the Bellerophon where he was kept.

Tourists seeking Napoleon aboard the Bellerophon
painting by John James Chalon, 1817  

On August 7, he was transferred to the HMS Northumberland for the voyage to his imprisonment on the Island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic, arriving August 17.

Remoteness of St. Helena in the South Atlantic

St. Helena is more than 1,200 miles from the nearest landmass.  He lived there, until his death on May 5, 1821.

Napoleon on St Helena
The island was small, wind-blown and not particularly pleasant.  The ex-emperor was accompanied by a few companions. The British governor of the island, Sir Hudson Lowe, was determined there would be no second escape from captivity.
Longwood, Napoleon’s residence on St Helena
On St Helena, Napoleon composed his self-congratulatory memoirs. He found excuses in the mistakes of his generals and others for all his defeats and shortcomings. But however shallow these justifications, many of his observations are applauded by the devotees of the cult which has grown around his memory.  He never stopped complaining about the conditions of his captivity, but none of the far-fetched schemes for his rescue ever materialized in the face of the British navy and the remote position of St. Helena.

Death of Napoleon by Carl von Steuben

Napoleon died in 1821 of a stomach ailment, probably cancer.  He was 51 years of age. A similar disease had caused his father’s death at the early age of 40. Napoleon in middle age often complained of stomach problems. Many believe he was poisoned, as large amounts of arsenic were found in his remains. Nothing can be disproven about the poison as arsenic was often found in various ointments and lotions of the day, as well as in the formula for the green inks and dyes in the wallpaper of his living quarters.

He was buried on St. Helena until his remains were returned to France in 1840.

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