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France can’t cancel Napoleon How will Emmanuel Macron mark the general's difficult bicentenary?

Napoleon Bonaparte won the PR war. Photo by: Giuseppe Masci/AGF/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Napoleon Bonaparte won the PR war. Photo by: Giuseppe Masci/AGF/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)


February 26, 2021   7 mins

Paris may have avenues, boulevards, bridges and a railway station named after their most famous military leader’s armies, battles and treaties. But nowhere will you find an Avenue or Place or Boulevard named after Napoleon Bonaparte himself — apart from a narrow Rue Bonaparte on the Left Bank.

In 21st century France, Bonaparte is everywhere. And nowhere.

The Napoleonic Code of 1804 remains the basis of French law (and that of several other European and Latin American countries). He created the baccaulaureat, the départements, the prefects, investigating magistrates, lycées, the Banque de France, the légion d’honneur.

And, yet, there are no public buildings or institutions named after him. His body lies in Les Invalides, but there is no statue of him anywhere on the streets of Paris or any other large French city except, for some reason, Rouen.

So, as the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s death approaches, President Macron (whose own brusque rise to power before the age of 40 has been described as Napoleonic) is faced with something of a dilemma. Should France commemorate the Emperor on 5 May? And if so, how? The President has already delayed making an announcement several times.

Napoleon is a problematic figure. Currently, there is a strong campaign running to deny him a bicentenary celebration because he re-instated slavery in the French West Indies in 1802 (quite apart from his various other acts of racial discrimination).

It is a valid criticism and is one of the greatest stains on a pretty disreputable record. But France’s ambivalence about Napoleon goes back much further than these voguish protests might suggest.

True, the Emperor inevitably tops French historical polls of the “Greatest Frenchman or woman”, and popular media dwells on the glorious or visionary parts of the Napoleonic story. But “official France” and French politicians of all stripes have long questioned the legacy and legend of this man whose insatiable ambition killed millions of people. Former president Jacques Chirac detested him, and in 2005 refused any state celebration of the 200th anniversary of Austerlitz, the emperor’s greatest military victory.

So how should we remember Napoleone di Buonaparte?

Was the obscure Corsican of Italian extraction who became emperor of France and briefly master of Europe the father of modern times? Or was he an old-fashioned despot? Was he a genius, a charlatan, a monster and a butcher? Or a man of peace and a pan-European idealist?

Did he, by accident or design, shape the world we live in? Or was he the man who buried two centuries of French dominance at Waterloo while “modern times” were forged in the factories of the English Midlands and spun in the mills of Lancashire?

Scores of private initiatives — exhibitions and books and documentary films — to mark the bicentenary are already under way. The most spectacular (Covid restrictions permitting) will be a €5 million Napoleonic grand spectacle or “living biopic” at an exhibition hall near Charles de Gaulle airport from 14 April. To prevent the hall’s many staff of French West Indian origin from boycotting the event, the organisers guaranteed that the spectacle would include Bonaparte’s decision to rescind the Revolution’s emancipation of slaves.

Meanwhile, Macron’s decision on the scope of French state observance of the bicentenary has been affected by the coronavirus epidemic. There are obviously limits as to what is possible, but Macron does not share Chirac’s distaste for Napoleon, and is convinced that he, and the French state, must “do something”.

Elysée officials hint that the President is leaning towards a speech or colloquy which will attempt to re-examine Napoleon’s legacy without celebrating or denigrating him. “Classic Macron”, some say: “Centrist history.” Not so, retort Elysée officials. The President is no statue-toppler; nor is he a flag-waver. “He likes to face up to history and he is not afraid of complexity.”

A state-sponsored opportunity to look afresh at Napoleonic facts and myths might be an excellent thing and not just for the French. The Brexiting British, also, might learn a great deal from revisiting the received wisdoms of 1799-1815. Napoleon was said to have been obsessed by Britain, and two centuries later, Britain remains obsessed by Napoleon. The British Library catalogue lists 13,000 works on the Emperor — from the laudatory to the slanderous.

So with that in mind, here is a modest proposal for Macron — some briefing notes for his “complex” Napoleonic speech. I can’t imagine the President will let the occasion pass without taking the podium himself.

In one respect at least, Napoleon was a very modern figure — rather chillingly modern. He was one of the first great figures in world history to understand the importance of spin.

A man without wealth, or even a nationality, he reinvented himself several times before he became Emperor at the age of 35. He was obsessed with the way others saw him and how history would portray him.

As early as 1796, when he was an obscure 27-year-old general, Napoleon created two newspapers that glorified and exaggerated his exploits in Italy. (“Bonaparte flies like lightning and strikes like thunder…He knows that he is one of those men whose capacity is limited only by his own willpower… an immense genius.”)

He employed teams of writers and historians to laud his military and political expertise after seizing power by coup in 1799. Later, exiled in Saint Helena, he dictated a sprawling memoir of his life to the Comte de Las Cases, which remains to this day the principal source for the view that Napoleon was a misunderstood man of vision and peace — and a great “European”.

While he was a great opportunist, his motives were not purely selfish — not at the beginning at least. He convinced himself that he was the only man capable of rescuing the legacy of the Revolution from the murderous chaos of the 1790s. He believed in egality and democracy, as principles to be fought for, even though he imposed himself as consul, then emperor, and installed his feckless relations on the thrones of Italy, Spain, Germany and Holland.

The administrative structure created in Napoleon’s first four or five years in power has survived for more than two centuries (and counting). Though many of his institutions or texts had already been discussed or half-completed, he had the vision and the willpower (and simply the power) to apply them.

As Thierry Lentz, prolific Napoleonic historian, says: “He pulled together a great synthesis, by merging old institutions with the national ideals born from the Revolution… In that respect, Napoleon could have died in 1804 [after the Code was published] and his legacy was already assured.”

The American historian Robert B. Holtman describes the Napoleonic Code as one of a handful of documents which changed the world. It stands, according to Holtman, alongside Magna Carta and the founding texts of the United States, as a step-change towards the rule of law and respect for property and individual rights. It still provides the basis for the law of many European and Latin American countries.

Wherever he went — Italy, Germany, the Low Countries, less so in Spain — he brought his code and hastened the end of feudalism. By doing so, he laid the foundations for modern economics and politics.

“It is no accident that the bourgeoisie was most attached and the nobility most hostile to his regime,” Holtman wrote.

Hence the frequent view, expressed not just by French historians, that Napoleon may have been a brute but he was the brute who helped to found Modern Times. Other stubborn historians, not all of them British, suggest that Modernity was born not at Austerlitz but in industrial Bolton and Birmingham. In truth, the two interpretations aren’t mutually exclusive.

Then there is the suggestion — first suggested by Napoleon himself over a glass of wine, and possibly arsenic, at the end of his life in Saint Helena — that the emperor was the first “European”; that his intention, all along, had been to create a Europe without borders and without “civil wars”. To do that, he had to defeat Perfidious Albion by imposing a single European market — “the continental system” – from which the incorrigible and un-European British would be excluded.

This theory may be attractive to French romantics, and British eurosceptics, but it makes little sense. Indeed, Napoleon was, at various points, hopeful that he could do a deal with “les Anglais”. The European dream was a justification, invented later, in the long, boring hours of imprisonment in Longwood House on Saint Helena.

He did have a chance to create a loose European political system but botched it. After Austerlitz, Napoleon was advised by his foreign minister, Talleyrand, to treat the Austrians magnanimously, encouraging a kind of exhausted peace in Europe in which France would be the dominant but not the overwhelming, imperial power.

The British, without a serious army, would be powerless to intervene. Instead, Napoleon imposed humiliating conditions on Austria, consolidated his control of Italy and broke up what remained of the Holy Roman Empire. In doing so he awakened national hatreds which brought about his downfall, nine — and again 10 — years later. He also, accidentally, helped to create the antagonistic, European nation-states which dominated the next 150 years and generated two world wars.

Napoleon lost his final battle, in June 1815, to a European army, led by an Irish-born general, with troops from Britain, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands and what later became Belgium. Britain fought Napoleon partly as the logical continuation of a 200 years war to prevent domination by France, the greatest continental power. But Britain also fought to maintain untrammelled access for British goods to the continental market.

After 1815, the restored French royalty and the British government copied Napoleon’s strategy in one respect. They employed pamphleteers and historians — sometimes the same historians previously paid by Napoleon — to reverse the imperial propaganda.

L’Empéreur was ferociously belittled as the upstart “Bonaparte”: cowardly, superstitious, irreligious, sadistic, sexually depraved, incestuous, impotent, a man who cheated at chess, insane and small (even though he was in fact around five feet seven inches tall, which was above average for the period).

It was precisely because he was a man without pedigree who achieved extraordinary things, that the degenerate royalties who ran the Continent, and the arrogant aristocracy and squierarchy who ran Britain, were determined to deflate him.

To them, meritocracy was the most terrifying of all the ideas thrown up by the French Revolution and its Napoleonic aftermath. Napoleon must not only be beaten; he must be exorcised (or in modern jargon “cancelled”). No Napoleonic myth must be allowed to survive and thrive.

Two centuries, 80,000 books and 100 movies later, it is clear who won that battle.

It is, therefore, much too late to cancel or de-platform Napoleon. It has been tried before.

What will Macron do? It remains to be seen. The President is right, though, to contemplate “something complex”. Napoleon did many wicked things; they should be remembered in May. He also achieved many things. These should also be remembered. History is rarely as clear-cut as the present might like to paint it. This bicentenary could be an opportunity to contemplate the tangled roots of our common European past. And an attempt to understand our present.


John Lichfield was Paris correspondent of The Independent for 20 years. Half-English and half-Belgian, he was born in Stoke-on-Trent and lives in Normandy.

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J Bryant
J Bryant
3 years ago

It’s a shame there’s no way to up-vote an article here on Unherd, in the same way we can give a thumbs up (or down) to a comment.
I have little knowledge of French history or Napoleon, but this article provides a nice summary of the emperor’s achievements, his failures, and the current status of his legacy in French society. If I was so motivated, I could easily use this article as a starting point for further research into Napoleon and his legacy.
Good job, John Lichfield. Now I’m going to check out your other article, “How Macron made France a Laughing Stock.” Sounds like something the pamphleteers employed by post-1815 French royalty might have written. 🙂

Fraser Bailey
FB
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

This is indeed an informative and balanced article which, unusually for one of John Lichfield’s articles, does not contain endless digs at England and the English.
Interestingly, one of the best wine makers in France once thanked me – as an Englishman – for getting rid of Napoleon. Of course, I had nothing to do with it, although some of my more militarist ancestors probably did. One of them was even awarded the Legion d’Honneur or some such, albeit somewhat later, in the late 19th century.
Either way, it seems to me that France is already commemorating Bony’s (or is it ‘Boney’s’?) death by reviving attempts to prevent the import of British goods into Europe.

G Harris
GH
G Harris
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Given how he famously ripped into a teenager on camera for calling him by his nickname, I wonder how ‘Manu’ might feel about being called ‘Boney M’?

It has a certain ‘gang-staah’ ring to it, I would say.

Last edited 3 years ago by G Harris
Chris Mochan
Chris Mochan
3 years ago

Discussions around Napoleon are similar in many ways to discussions around the British Empire. An enormous, far-reaching, complex, contradictory and world-changing phenomenon reduced to a binary twitter spat about whether they were a ‘good’ thing or a ‘bad’ thing.
Perhaps it reflects our dumbed down era, where everything has to have a Disney movie version of morality with easily recognised heroes and villains, rather than the blurry reality of history with its countless factors at play.

Ferrusian Gambit
SS
Ferrusian Gambit
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Mochan

Basically.
Although hasn’t history always been treated like this by the majority of the non-thinking and non-reading public? I remember Adam Curtis saying that the episode of his documentary series The Living Dead about the complex way veterans of WW2 processed the events they lived through and some of the moral ambiguities that always arise in war (and that came up in the Nuremberg trials, regarding for example US eugenics laws, or Soviet Gulags) and was branded a Nazi by certain outlets in the UK media.

Last edited 3 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
William Murphy
William Murphy
3 years ago

If you want an enthralling British link to Napoleon, I recommend a trip to St Michael’s Abbey in Farnborough, a few minutes walk from the railway station. It contains the sarcophagi of Napoleon III, his wife the Empress Eugenie and their only child Louis, who died in Africa while serving in the British Army. In one of history’s countless jokes, Bonaparte’s great nephew is entombed wearing a British uniform. The sarcophagi were provided by Queen Victoria, who was friendly with the last Empress of France.

The tour starts on Saturday at 300pm. Free admission, donations accepted. A few minutes walk north of the Abbey, you will find Napoleon Avenue.

Last edited 3 years ago by William Murphy
Richard Audley
Richard Audley
3 years ago
Reply to  William Murphy

Killed by Zulus, body recovered wearing only one sock?

William Murphy
William Murphy
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Audley

Yes, what a way for a possible future Emperor to go. His mother, for the rest of her life, declared that she had died with him. The Chapel at Farnborough contains several French features such as the impressive gargoyles.

Richard Audley
Richard Audley
3 years ago
Reply to  William Murphy

The girth of his saddle broke as he tried to flee as I recall.
There was then quite a controversy as to whether he was abandoned to his fate by his small British
escort.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Audley

Crikey – it can’t even be said of him that ‘He died with his socks on’. I like to think there is somebody still walking around South Africa wearing his boots.

Richard Audley
Richard Audley
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

They’ll still be around as they were made by Lobb!

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
3 years ago
Reply to  William Murphy

Queen Victoria had a soft spot for Napoleon III. Given how much of Britain’s aristocracy had been infiltrated by captains of industry at that point the Bonapartism was no longer so toxic to conservative opinion, given the alternatives such as socialism that were starting to emerge.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

In 2017 an Economist cover, with characteristic inanity, featured Macron walking on water. Perhaps Macron could mark this anniversary by walking on water all the way to St Helena, or at least Elba.

James Bramble
JB
James Bramble
3 years ago

Excellent piece by John Lichfield. Regarding the British plans to mark the bicentenary, a new charity has been set up by the Government of Saint Helena for just this purpose, of which I’m the Director. The planned commemorative event may be delayed as a result of Coronavirus restrictions but we have a range of online events in the pipeline. Please visit http://www.napoleon200.org for details and sign up to the mailing list.

Richard Audley
Richard Audley
3 years ago

This is an age of politically inspired corpse desecration so perhaps Macron should have Napoleon’s corpse exhumed from Les Invalides and retuned to Corsica?

Such behaviour was recently executed on the corpse of Francisco Franco without too much drama.

The late Richard III also ended up being dumped in a English provincial city, rather than the correct option of Westminster Abbey, as recently as 2015.

Miro Mitov
Miro Mitov
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Audley

This is an age of politically inspired corpse desecration so perhaps Macron should have Napoleon’s corpse exhumed from Les Invalides and retuned to Corsica?

A good idea, but will have to be done soon, lest his remains are exhumed by a righteous mob…pardon! I meant a group of mostly-peaceful protesters- spray-painted red and thrown in the river, while in place of his tomb a resin and papier-mâché statue of Amedy Coulibaly is erected. But that is probably too far-fetched to happen in reality, isn’t it?

Philip Burrell
Philip Burrell
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Audley

I think you will find that he was “dumped in a provincial city” as you put it a lot earlier than that and with good reason. We have got him and we are very happy to keep him just as his successor wished.

Richard Audley
Richard Audley
3 years ago
Reply to  Philip Burrell

His ‘successor’ as you politely put it should have dumped him in St George’s Chapel, after a suitable pause.
Richard had done the very same to his former enemy Henry VI, when he had had him dug up from Chertsey and dumped in Windsor next to his brother Edward IV.
Had Leicester still possessed its magnificent Augustinian Abbey I think you would have a stronger case.

David Zersen
David Zersen
3 years ago

The article invites a discussion for Americans who prefer to act before they think. The last couple years have seen the destruction of statues remembering Lee and Jackson and the renaming of schools remembering Washington and Jefferson. Like Napoleon who reinstated slavery in the French West Indies in 1802, all four men had ties to slavery in eras that were beginning to reject cultural views that are now considered unacceptable. However, like Napoleon, each man brought visionary changes in the society of his day which should be lauded by those willing to think before they act. Cancelling culture is one of the more ignorant activites of those who think they are enlightened because they reject aspects of the “brutes who also participated in founding the modern world”. Rejecting out of hand a full personality because one aspect of it is objectionable is the same tactic used by those who pursue divorce because one trait among many offends them. Americans (I’m one of them) would do well to participate in discussions like this before they bring out the rope and axe.

David Platzer
David Platzer
3 years ago

I know more British fans of Napoleon than French ones. My ex-wife who is French hates him and I remember the Princesse d’Arenberg’s dismay when I told her of an English devotee of the Emperor: “Oh no!” Philo d’Arenberg said. “it was he who began all the mass murders!” In fact, the French Revolution really started them but she was right in essence. From Napoleon to the Communists and Nazis of the twentieth century is no great jumo.

David Saw
David Saw
3 years ago

There is a statue of Napoleon on top of the Vendôme Column in Place Vendôme right in the centre of Paris. So you will find a statue of Napoleon on the streets of Paris and if you look hard enough there are plenty of other references to Napoleon in the city.

Jonathan Ellman
Jonathan Ellman
3 years ago

Thomas Paine suggested a united, republican Europe before Napoleon, while Burke predicted the rise of a dictator. Pragmatism proved more beneficial than idealism. The world might well be pretty much the same without the Magna Carta or the French Revolution.

Jean Fothers
Jean Fothers
3 years ago

For their celebrations of 200 years since the Corsican’s death, I propose the UK govt donates a copy of the book “The Bellerophon” (aka The Billy Ruff’n”) to every French household.

Geoffrey Simon Hicking
GH
Geoffrey Simon Hicking
3 years ago

Ah, the Tipoo Sultan of Europe!
It is difficult to admire a man that threatened British liberty and who crushed so many nations.
As for his legacy, did not France remain incapable of controlling parts of Paris? How many riots and revolutions did they suffer? If an Asian polity had gone through what France experienced across the entire 19th century, they would have been subjected to direct British rule.
If the French want to look for the good things in Napoleon, a man who ran millions of horses to an exhausted death, threw away his naval advantages and maybe even had Villeneuve murdered, fine. As far as I am concerned, we should have subjected France to a little direct rule. Why should such a warlike nation be allowed to go free when infinitely more stable and peaceful kingdoms in the east were subjected by the EIC? What makes continental Europe so special?
“Ah,” you say, “but that was then and this is now, move on from the past”. Absolutely, as soon as they stop talking down our vaccines, oppressing our fishermen, and blockading Northern Ireland.
The greatest tragedy of the modern world, is that Europe was not made part of the British empire. We could have allowed Barroda, Travancore, Botswana, and a good deal of other civilised places to get on with their lives and just focussed on Europe, Northern India, and all the other places where conquest and tyranny are a way of life.

Richard Audley
RA
Richard Audley
3 years ago

It had a very long war, more than twenty years.
One of the greatest infringements of liberty ever, the imposition of Income Tax had been required to achieve victory.
We would have been better off to have continued the War of 1812 and finished off the embryonic USA, and recouped our European losses from American plunder.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Audley

Britain was no more capable of ‘finishing off’ the USA in 1812 as it was in 1777 when it was in a far superior position given it controlled much of New York and didn’t have to worry about events in Europe so much (except in Gibraltar) and that given the 13 colonies contained at that point maybe 1/3 of the population who were still loyalists whereas in 1812 virtually none of the population would be willing to accept British rule. Not to mention the disaster at the Battle of New Orleans. The sheer logistics and impossibility of subjugating such a large territory thousands of miles from the UK with early 19th century logistics and a population in the UK increasingly resentful of taxes to fund any such operations make this idea a pipe dream.
The real opportunity the UK had to blunt the rise of the US was in the American civil war, where a two-pronged attack on the USA would have had difficult to estimate consequences given how much the USA made hard work of defeating the South. Although equally a large scale war may have enflamed tensions in Canada where the population was increasingly divided and restive about British rule before the Confederation compact of 1867 which converted it to a dominion.

Last edited 3 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
3 years ago

Maybe France under Napoleon was particularly warlike. France had been threatened by the old monarchies and there was always going to be conflict after the Revolution, but France by dint of finding a military genius (at least Wellington thought so) had the tragic and possibly illusory prospect of complete European dominance. However many other nations had been pretty warlike as well in the recent past, especially expansionist Russia and Prussia.

The failure to achieve a complete historical impossibility can hardly be called a tragedy. The East India Company and other similar European trading companies wanted to trade spices and textiles etc from the East – for profit! Small companies of well trained Europeans later were able to make a big difference to the military balance of power in India and other Asian societies, and eventually enable European powers to gain dominance.

None of this applied in Europe itself. An attempted British conquest of Europe would have been anything but profitable, as well as being impossible given the size of the armies involved. It would have meant having a large standing army, contrary to well established British policy, thus making Britain a very different country, ironically a far more ‘European’ one. Many hundreds of years before, you may recall that the English lost the Hundred Years War despite some spectacular victories. And national sentiment including a strong Anglophobic element was much stronger by the 19th century.

An occupation of France was undertaken after the fall of Napoleon for a while but could only be done in conjunction with Russia, Austria and Prussia. The rather successful long term British policy was instead to maintain a balance of power in Europe, so that no single power could achieve dominance. It was the rise of a United Germany and in particular the erratic rule of Kaiser Willhelm 2 which threatened, and eventually overturned
this settlement.

Last edited 3 years ago by Andrew Fisher
Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Well, even at the Congress of Vienna, the seeds of the 19th century rivalry between Russia and Britain were being sown, and the British were very suspicious of Russia’s territorial grabs, especially in Congress Poland, where a distinct proportion of political opinion remained sympathetic to the Poles. Ultimately the British started to realise then, and fully a few more years later that Russian growth was inimical to the interests of the new British Empire that was emerging and this prevented Britain from fully participating in the Quadruple Alliance. The full break of course was when the conservative absolutists among the congress of nations wanted to send a monarchical mission to Latin America to impose monarchies there, whereas Britain was actively encouraging and even covertly supporting these countries to break off and declare themselves as independent republics for the mercantile benefits it would (and did!) bring them. Britain was also very lukewarm about doing anything to prevent the full of the warn-out Bourbons in the July Revolution of 1830, the Belgium revolution in the same year or indeed the waves of revolution in 1848 – as long as the Chartists at home were kept under control, or trying to reimpose absolutism in Spain against the liberal constitutionalism that had, deliberately or not, grown to fruit under their control of the isolated island of Cadiz during the peninsular war.

Last edited 3 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Geoffrey Simon Hicking
GH
Geoffrey Simon Hicking
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

“The failure to achieve a complete historical impossibility can hardly be called a tragedy.”
Wile I see your point, I would have thought it would only enhance the sense of tragedy. 6 million Jews gone because Germany did not have a proper British constitution imposed upon it after 1918.

George Bruce
George Bruce
3 years ago

Former president Jacques Chirac detested him
I agree it is not grammatically incorrect, but it seems a kind of bizarre phrase to use.
I may think Hitler and Stalin were evil dictators but as they were long dead before my appearance, do I detest them? Not really the word I`d use.
I detest Tony Blair – now that makes sense.

Giles Chance
Giles Chance
3 years ago

It is shameful and even, pathetic to try to brush Napoleon out of French and European (and world) history. To ignore him, as Chirac did, just diminishes Chirac (further). No one can deny that Napoleon was one of modern history’s greatest figures – and he only operated for less than two decades. France needs to fully recognise its great figure. An exhibition, or some other demonstration, which examines both the great and the awful in Napoleon’s history is indeed a good idea. It’s impossible to comprehend modern France without understanding what Napoleon did.

Last edited 3 years ago by Giles Chance
Sean MacSweeney
Sean MacSweeney
3 years ago

I have often wondered (sometimes longingly) how much better it would have been if Bonaparte had won at Waterloo, if only Prussian soldiers had not turned up in time to save Wellington from defeat ‍♂️ ah well, it’s good to dream

Richard Audley
Richard Audley
3 years ago

He would still have had to beat the Russians and Austrians and presumably the temporarily absent Prussians, all paid for by GBplc!

Last edited 3 years ago by Richard Audley
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
3 years ago

It was far too late for Napoleon by then. Hundreds of thousands of Russian, Prussia, Austrian, British and Dutch troops ensured that the ‘100 days’ were always going to be a rather quixotic, if bloody, final stand.

I think it is interesting to speculate might have been possible if Napoleon had earlier, perhaps after the Battle of Leipzig, been willing to make peace. He had been offered reasonable terms. More of the beneficial aspects of his civil system might have been retained, with – just maybe – greater consensus in France itself, rather than the pretty awful reactionary Bourbon restoration which did in fact take place. With their complete inability to understand that a return to the Ancien Regime was not possible, the Bourbons didn’t last long – but the ongoing conflict between monarchists, Bonapartists and liberals led to constant instability in French politics for decades.

Last edited 3 years ago by Andrew Fisher
Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Metternich at least by all accounts was prepared to offer it to him. He only went full in against Napoleon when it became clear he was losing control of the situation in the German states because of the German nationalistic uprising he had provoked.