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Marie-Louise and the Invasion of 1814

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Marie-Louise and the Invasion of 1814
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Author(s): Imbert de Saint-Amand
Date Published: 2010/01
Page Count: 232
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-949-7
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-950-3

The agony of Napoleon's family as Empire ends

This is a riveting book. Those interested in—and to some degree knowledgeable about—the Napoleonic age know of the Emperor's inspired military prowess as he fought, with ever diminishing resources, to avert defeat at the hands of the advancing imperial forces within the France of 1814. History, perhaps justifiably, has concentrated on the great man, his politics and military manoeuvres. Meanwhile, in Paris, his wife, the Empress Marie-Louise of Austria and her infant son, the King of Rome, heir to the Imperial throne, lived in anguish as it seemed their lives were about to be overturned, wrenched from the most elevated positions in Europe and imminently torn down and apart. This book charts the inexorable progress of these momentous events within a world far removed from the sharp end of the struggle. The text also chronicles the military campaign as it drew closer towards the battle for Paris itself and to the imperial family within its defences. The end inevitably came and the Empress now found herself in the forefront of events and forced to flee with her child into a hostile night and country filled with enemies. These events and those that followed make vital reading and complete the picture of Napoleon's downfall from the most intimate of perspectives.

The night of March 28 was one of gloom; all sleep in Paris was broken by anxiety and alarm. Belated passers crossing the courtyard of the Carrousel saw in the windows of the Tuileries moving lights, which betrayed the preparation for departure. These preparations were made with eager haste. The bullion in the Treasury and the most precious objects were packed on wagons which were to follow those of the Empress. The morning breeze extinguished the dying lights, when at dawn the early risers noticed with sad surprise the crowd of horses, carriages, and servants. The ladies of Marie Louise wandered distractedly from one room to another. Some old retainers were in tears.<br>
At eight everything was ready for the departure. The travelling-carriages drew up before the Pavilion of Flora, and the rumour quickly spread abroad that the Empress was about to leave. A crowd gathered, and the Place of the Carrousel was soon filled with a multitude of men and women who asked nothing better than to cut the harness, send back the carriages, and to see the Regent share with the Parisians the last chances of fortune. Yet, as the Duke of Rovigo says in his Memoirs, so great was still the respect felt for the Empress and for her wishes, that in the whole vast throng all eager to retain her, not one person ventured to express the wish. Yet everyone was thinking:
The departure of Marie Louise is our ruin. Her presence would have guaranteed us against the barbarism of the foreigners. They would never think of sacking, or burning, or bombarding a city in which were the daughter and the son of the Emperor of Austria.<br>
Yet the departure which had been set for eight in the morning did not take place. Marie Louise still hoped she would not have to leave. She was waiting in her room, dressed for the journey, with her son and her ladies, eluding the questions of the little King of Rome, who was much disturbed by the unusual bustle. She expected every moment the report she was to receive from King Joseph, but it did not come. Every sudden noise, a horseman’s entrance into the courtyard, the opening of a door, set all hearts throbbing. King Joseph, or one of his messengers, was expected every moment, but no one appeared.<br>
Suddenly the officers of the National Guard, on duty at the Tuileries, and a few other officers—for etiquette could not control the general emotions—burst into the room where was Marie Louise and besought her to remain, promising to defend her and her son to their last breath. Their devotion and earnestness deeply touched the Empress. She felt that they were right in urging her to stay at the Tuileries; she had a foreboding that if she were once to leave the palace she would never enter it again. Her intelligence and common sense told her that this fatal departure was the greatest and most irreparable of faults, and that the fall of the dynasty would be the immediate result. All that she knew, but how could she withstand the Emperor’s formal orders, and the insistence of the Minister of War, who sent her word that there was not a moment to lose. Marie Louise thanked the officers of the National Guard, but was obliged to decline their patriotic offers.<br>
Meanwhile, she was waiting most anxiously, fearing both to stay and to go, hoping for another order from the Emperor, a few words from Joseph that the danger was not imminent, and that she might remain a few hours. But nothing came, except a message from the Minister of War saying that she must leave at once; for if there were any delay, she might fall into the hands of the Cossacks.<br>
Eleven struck, and Marie Louise hesitated no longer, but descended the stairs. There her son resisted, and the child of three clung to the doors and banisters, shouting in boyish wrath:<br>
I don’t want to leave this house; I don’t want to go away; now that papa is away, I’m master here.<br>
The equerry in waiting, M. de Canisy, took him in his arms. He kept struggling and crying: <br>
I don’t want to go to Rambouillet; it’s an ugly castle; I want to stay here!<br>
And M. de Canisy was obliged to help Madame de Montesquiou to carry him to the carriage in which he was to travel to the first halting-place in his long exile. What is stranger than this child’s instinctive repugnance to this journey which was in fact his political death?<br>
The fugitive Empress was accompanied by a numerous suite, comprising the Duchess of Montebello, Madame de Castiglione, Madame de Brignole, and Madame de Montalivet, Count Claude de Beauharnais, Messrs. de Gontaut and d’Haussonville, Prince Aldobrandini, Messrs. d’Héricy and de Lambertye, de Cussy and de Bausset, de Guerehy, Drs. Corvisart, Bourdier, Lacourner, and Royer. The King of Rome was attended by the Countess of Montesquiou, his governess, Madame de Boubers, and Madame de Mesgrigny, M. de Canisy, and Dr. Auvity. The Archchancellor Cambacérès and the President of the Senate followed the Empress. About twelve hundred men, from the reserves of the grenadiers, chasseurs, dragoons, and lancers of the Imperial Guard and of the gendarmes formed the escort. They got into their carriages, and the procession started slowly, going out through the gateway near the Pont Royal.<br>
It seemed like the funeral of the Empire! Ten heavy coaches, adorned with the Imperial arms, led the procession, followed by the state coaches, among which was the coronation coach; and then came carts containing rich furniture, records, bullion, silverware, and the crown diamonds. The crowd, which had been dense in the morning, had scattered under the impression that the departure was postponed, and only a few curious idlers lingered near the Tuileries in gloomy silence. When they saw the mounted guards escorting the carriages, they said those men would have been of use in defending the capital, so meagrely garrisoned. The Regent’s departure was looked upon as a crime, as a sort of abdication, although it could not properly be blamed, because it was in obedience to orders. But there was no cheering, no expression of sympathy, devotion, or sorrow, as the young and unfortunate Empress was leaving.