January 25th, 2021


The Napoleon Diaries 12

On Elba, rather than have a rest, Napoleon shows his usual energy and begins a programme of reforms such as paving roads and building a hospital. Campbell and visiting British dignitaries are impressed by his conversation but Campbell is suspicious when he asks searching questions about allied troops in France. In truth, Napoleon is convinced that the Bourbons will be unpopular, outrage France and pave the way for his own return. He’s not wrong. He starts to feel confined and bored on Elba and he’s not being paid the pension he was promised. Campbell warns Castlereagh that this is dangerous. The Bourbons are trying to turn back the clock too quickly and, dangerously, offend the regular army by changing its flags and downgrading Napoleon’s Légion d’Honneur which the soldiers were so proud of. Many in the army celebrated Napoleon’s birthday, which had become a tradition.

Campbell leaves the island for a trip to Europe and Napoleon seizes his chance of escape. With just a few ships and a small force of men, he plans to invade France. What confidence! Once landed in France, he decides to take the Alpine route to Grenoble, to avoid royalist areas. Since 1934, the Route Napoléon has been a tourist attraction and is said to be great for cyclists and motorcyclists. It sounds absolutely terrifying. Napoleon met little resistance, cleverly playing on people’s fears that the Bourbons would reintroduce feudalism. On one occasion, near Laffrey, his party met a battalion of the regular army. Accounts vary as to what really happened but no soldier fired on Napoleon and the men joined him. News of his return had reached Vienna, where it was said that Napoleon had ‘delivered himself up to public vengeance’.

Marshall Ney, having promised Louis that he would deliver Napoleon to him, defects to the other side. Louis flees to Ghent. Napoleon continues his swift advance and enters Paris as virtual emperor again. As someone said, ‘without spilling a drop of French blood’. What next?