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Napoleon: King of Elba

Berline With Six Horses



Norwood Young's Napoleon in Exile at Elba (1814-1815) was published five weeks before the hundredth anniversary of Napoleon landing at Elba and five months before the beginning of the Great War when a different nation replaced France in British perceptions as the big, continental villain. We are now nearly a full century on.

Because Young is writing from a British perspective his book is less reverential of Napoleon than Paul Gruyer's Napoleon: King of Elba which broke new ground twelve years before by for the first time comprehensively drawing together all the threads of Napoleon's stay on the isle and recounting it in one history.

Drawing about half from English sources and half from French and other sources, the upshot is more balance, albeit weighted to some derision and similar sentiments, and quite a lot more detail which plays to advantage if studying particular aspects like how Napoleon moved about the island.

Napoleon: King of Elba with its story of Napoleon's sojourn is reviewed elsewhere on this site. This review concerns itself principally with providing some information about Napoleon's horses and carriages on Elba from Young's book which is probably no more accessible or read than Gruyer's.

An English caricature of 12th April 1814 entitled: Bloody Boney the carcass butcher left off trade and retiring to Scarecrow Island (Elba)

The Treaty of Fontainebleau signed on 11th April 1814 made Napoleon an independent sovereign so as Young writes:

He called himself with more right than humour, "Napoleon, Emperor and King of the Island of Elba." As an independent monarch he was, in theory, entitled to complete freedom of action.

So though he may have been said to have usurped a crown or as he said: "I found the crown of France lying in the gutter; I picked it up with my sword," and called Bonaparte or Buonaparte in England (and an Italian at one point by Young), following that date he probably should have been referred to as Napoleon. Certainly he had as much right to this designation as Talleyrand, formerly the Prince of Benevento, to call himself Prince de Talleyrand following the collapse of Empire.

In all events he chose a British frigate, the Undaunted, to convey him to Elba, where he arrived on 3rd May 1814, in preference to a French one, for reasons of personal safety.

With him came the dormeuse de voyage which he had used to travel from Fontainebleau to Fréjus.

With the arrival of the Guard, which Young totals as 671 men, on 26th May 1814 came thirteen more carriages:

There was the berline de voyage, in which the Emperor had made many journeys, and two berlines de ville, used by him in Paris. Of the remainder Napoleon kept two calèches in use at Elba, having them out on alternate days; one was painted yellow and red, and the other all yellow. To these were subsequently added the barouche made for the ascent to San Martino, and a calèche de chasse. Madame Mère brought from Rome a cabriolet, and Pauline (his sister) brought a low carriage and two small horses. Madame Bertrand also had a carriage.

Madame Bertrand, née Fanny Dillon, was the half-sister of the marquise de la Tour du Pin (see the review Berline and Six Horses).

With the Guard also came an artillery wagon and six other wagons which Napoleon used to transport building materials on the island.

Of Napoleon's riding horses the Guard brought eight, listed by Young:

"Wagram" was a small Arab, dappled grey, which carried him at the battle of Wagram.

"Tauris" was a grey Persian with white mane and docked tail, given by the Czar Alexander at the Congress of Erfurth. The horse suited Napoleon exactly, and carried him, during the Russian campaign at Smolensk, Moscowa, and the entry into Moscow, and also in part of the retreat.
On one occasion, on the 25th October 1812, when Napoleon and his staff were nearly captured by Cossacks, the speed and spirit of this horse were of great service. Napoleon rode it across the bridge over the Beresina, at the battles of Dresden, Leipzig and Hanau, in the campaign of 1814, on the march to Paris, 1815, and finally, at the battle of Waterloo. Though not as famous as "Marengo," another grey which was at Waterloo, Tauris was associated with Napoleon in all the later campaigns and battles.

Napoleon Crossing the St Bernard by David, believed to be riding Marengo

Another grey, familiar to Parisians, was "Intendant," a big Normandy horse, of quiet manners, ridden by Napoleon at most of his great reviews, and on ceremonial occasions on parade, such as the triumphal entry into a captured foreign capital. "Intendant" was destined to be much in evidence again in Paris during the hundred days. These grey horses became as closely associated with the fame of Napoleon as his grey overcoat and his hat. In battle pictures the Emperor is usually on the back of a grey horse. Napoleon was a master of the art of theatrical display, and would always use a grey horse when he wanted to make an impression.

A horse which carried him often and well was a big chestnut "Roitelet," from an English sire and a French dam, given to Napoleon by his stepson, Eugène de Beauharnais. Napoleon at first took a dislike to this horse because at Schönbrunn in 1803, at a review, it carried him into the ranks of the Guard, causing injuries to some of the men. But during the retreat from Russia he was glad to ride it, as it did not slip on the ice like the other horses. At Lützen, when Napoleon was on its back, a bullet shot off some of its hair, which never grew again over the spot. When Napoleon visited his stables at Elba, he would look at the place and, giving the horse a lump of sugar, say: "Eh, we escaped nicely that time, both of us."

"Montevideo," a bay from South Africa with flowing mane and tail, had been used in Spain. Well-mannered, this horse was reserved at Elba for Marie-Louise.

"Emir," a Turk, with flowing mane and tail, had been used in Spain, and in 1814.

"Gonzalve," a big Spanish bay, with flowing mane and tail, was ridden by Napoleon in Spain, and in 1814.

When he travelled in State he went in his gilded carriage with six horses, though the distances were usually very short and he said to Bertrand on the occasion of a ball in his honour that he would have preferred to go on foot.

On the fête day of San Cristino, 29th May, the patron saint of Portoferraio, the capital of Elba, his carriage went with postilions and outriders, an escort of Lancers and his staff on horseback in their best uniforms with the Guard lining the short route.

Usually he was driven about town in a calèche and four when he was not on horseback.

When his mother, Madame Mère, arrived at the port his grand carriage and six horses awaited to take her to her new home although it was only a few minutes' walk straight up a stone staircase. Dignitaries used the second carriage and six to follow and soldiers lined the route. This in a town unaccustomed to seeing more than one horse pull a carriage. A team of eight was never used. When he was in the capital the harnesses were kept ready for two berlines to depart with teams of six though they would not have been able to go far given the nature of the roads and he never required them just for himself.

On the fête of his birthday, 15th August, a racecourse was prepared just outside the town for a race meeting and horses for it imported at great expense from the Continent.

Much of the show was so that the Elbans would accept his sovereignity unquestioningly.

To go to his country house at San Martino two small Corsican horses were imported to allow him to ascend up the difficult terrain and he issued a regulation that they should only be fed half the rations of the larger horses. There are many other such examples of pettiness in administration that Young mocks and they do nothing for Napoleon's reputation in the face of later assertions that he was the progenitor of authoritarian centralisation.

He was mean in household expenditure, perhaps understandable given Josephine's extravagance when she was his Empress, but generous in buying political support from his marshals and others with titles, territories and money. This did not prevent him from abusing them later, to others, for their greed. As Young perceptively points out, rather than getting angry he had a tendency to quickly say wounding things in difficult situations which he could not unsay and which made him lasting enemies. He was personally quite kind within his household, given the necessity to maintain his dignity, and his wish to dominate all men, so his horses probably escaped lightly. One regulation, inter alia, awards a horse an extra day's feed for its work in the area of the mine workings.

We hear of the carriages and horses again when his escape from Elba is finally underway a little over nine months from arriving:

On the 20th two berlines which had come from France with the Guard, and had already been demounted and packed by Vincent the groom, with the coffee-coloured landau and several cases of silver, were carried on board the merchant ship Saint Esprit, of 200 tons. This vessel had arrived from Genoa, and was promptly commandeered - with proper financial compensation.

On Sunday 26th February 1815 Napoleon announced the departure would take place that evening.

At five the embarcation commenced. At seven Napoleon embraced his mother and sister, and then drove down from the Mulini Palace in Pauline's small carriage with its low wheels and two ponies; they went at a walk in order to enable the followers to keep pace on foot.

The flotilla took about 1150 men including about 100 civilians. On the Russian campaign he had had about a million men under his command.

The Inconstant carried the Emperor, his Staff, the superior court officials and chief domestics, and the grenadiers of the Guard. The chasseurs and gunners of the Guard, the Poles, four field-guns, Napoleon's carriage, the saddle and harness horses and the horses of the Polish lancers, went on the Saint Esprit. The sailors of the Guard and the bulk of the civilians and domestics went on the Caroline; and the Corsicans and gendarmes were distributed among the other vessels. Each ship carried Napoleon's Elban flag, with the red stripe and three golden bees.

"I shall arrive before any plan has been organised against me," said Napoleon.

"I shall arrive in Paris without firing a shot."

"We will be in Paris on the birthday of the King of Rome" (his infant son who was sequestered in Austria and whose birthday was on 20th March).

In these things he was proved right. The Bourbons fled Paris and France ahead of his advance.

The instinct for situation (like a jockey's perception of pace) was one of Napoleon's most valuable gifts. He saw with wonderful prescience the kind of reception he would be accorded - at first. He would be at the Tuileries on the 20th March, a remarkable prophecy.

With very few horses and very few men, Napoleon was put back together again - for a while.

Marengo passed into British hands after Napoleon was sent to St Helena and died ten years after his famous rider in 1831 when he must have been at least 37. His skeleton went to the Royal United Services Institute.