January 22nd, 2021


The Napoleon Diaries 11

France itself is now under attack. The great fortresses in the north east (e.g. Verdun) are besieged. Unlike the Spanish in the Peninsula, the French don’t take to guerrilla warfare but remain passive under the onslaught. Napoleon burns his private papers and sets of for the front. He will never see his wife and son again. Fickle Marie Louise embarks on an affair within a year. Not much use as an Empress, was she? The allies now have a million troops available and Napoleon is vastly outnumbered. Nevertheless, he defeats Blücher (whom he respects) at Brienne and almost captures him. The gap between the Austrian and Prussian armies allows Napoleon to operate between them in his old, dashing style, winning four battles in five days. Wellington greatly admired this campaign, saying it showed Napoleon’s genius.

At the Congress of Châtillon, the allies draw up plans for France’s frontiers to be restored to those of 1791. Napoleon refuses this, despite advice to the contrary. In Paris Talleyrand and Fouché (the former head of police) are planning a coup against him; at last Napoleon sees through Talleyrand. In spite of Napoleon’s victories, morale in France is low and many towns and cities surrender without resistance. Paris is poorly defended and the royal household and friends retreat to Blois. Paris falls without a struggle. Roberts says there is no evidence ‘that Parisians were willing to burn down their city sooner than cede it to their enemies, as the Russians had burned Moscow.’ Why doesn’t that surprise me?

Talleyrand launches his coup and begins negotiating with the allies. The emperor is to be deposed and the Bourbon heir Louis XVIII declared king. Napoleon has the option of abdicating, which he does, after a failed suicide attempt. Under the terms of the agreement, he is to be given the island of Elba and an annual pension. Many of his troops remain loyal and some even shoot their officers. Roberts quotes de Gaulle saying that, ‘those he made suffer most, the soldiers, were the very ones who were most faithful to him.’ Napoleon sails for Elba, accompanied by a British officer, Sir Neil Campbell. He was appointed by Castlereagh, who told him that Napoleon was to have complete freedom on Elba. The allies now assemble at the Congress of Vienna, which is supposed to resolve all disagreements over territory and establish a permanent peace. They reckon without Napoleon.

Oh, Jimmy, Jimmy!

Although I get up very early, it’s usually lunchtime in Sri Lanka by the time I start following the cricket. Earlier, James Anderson’s figures were 3 – 6 off eight overs. The man is amazing.