Napoleon, from Elba to Paris

Napoleone, dall’Elba a Parigi (Leggi versione in italiano)

Napoleon, defeated at Leipzig, became prince of the isle of Elba, retaining the title of emperor with an income of two million francs. He did not give up. He returned to France to live his “100 days“, making triumphant entrance in Paris on March 20, 1815.

The failure of the aspirations of Napoleon Bonaparte in the Russian campaign, due to the superficial assessment that the emperor had done about the difficulties that would be incurred for the vastness of the territories and to the severity of the winter weather, was followed by debacle in the peninsular war in Spain, where the coalition Spain, Portugal and England defeated the French army, bouncing him back beyond the Pyrenees.

In the autumn of 1813 Napoleon tried his revenge restoring his power over Germany. He faced on German soil the sixth coalition of Prussia, Russia, Sweden and Austria in addition to the already mentioned Great Britain, Spain and Portugal and small states of Germany and Italy.

After the first two victories of Lutzen and Bautzen, Napoleon had one of his worst mistakes giving a truce to the opponents. The truce was used to reorganize the coalition forces. The Swedish army was led by Charles XIV of Sweden, namely Jean-Baptiste Jules Bernadotte, who had been one of the most talented general of Napoleon, called by the Swedish royal house and adopted by King in charge, without heirs, to take his place at his death. Joachim Murat, King of Naples, was faithfully lined up alongside his emperor.

The decisive battle was in Leipzig between 16 and 19 October of 1813. The coalition forces avoided, in the first instance, direct confrontation with armed guided by Napoleon, concentrating efforts against the detachments led by his generals. Once it had defeated the wings of the deployment, the coalition concentrated his forces against the main army, commanded by the Emperor, determining the defeat. This was facilitated by the treachery of some Saxon troops deployed with the French but during the battle they turned the backs to the enemy firing at their comrades.

This debacle was followed by the “six days’ campaign”, in which the armies of Russia, Prussia and Austria invaded France and Paris. Napoleon took refuge in the castle of Fontainebleau, where he remained during the time in which the negotiations of surrender took place between the victorious powers and his representatives. At first Napoleon was willing to abdicate in favor of his son Napoleon Franz Joseph, had with his wife Marie Louise, daughter of the Austrian Emperor Francis II. The victorious powers were adamant, they demanded and obtained the abdication without conditions by the Emperor.

In return Napoleon was appointed ruler of the principality of the isle of Elba (created specifically separating the island from the Grand Duchy of Tuscany) and two million francs as an annuity were assigned to him. His wife Maria Luisa had the Duchy of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla. The little Napoleon Francis Joseph, only three years, was intended to be raised and educated within the Austrian court. At first it was planned to give the isle of Corsica to Bonaparte, but it was not possible because of the firm opposition of the authorities of Paris, instead it was decided to give Sardinia, finding in this case the opposition of Savoy. A small piece of the Kingdom of Naples is entrusted to Napoleon with Elba, since the location of the island Portolongone (today Porto Azzurro and Capoliveri) was part of the Stato dei Presidi, under the sovereignty of Naples.

Napoleon arrived on Elba aboard the British ship Undaunted on May 3rd of 1814. The next day, after some doubts on the type of reception of the Elba inhabitants, he landed on the island with the enthusiasm of the crowd. The keys to the island were handed and he was hosted in the town city for the first nights in Portoferraio. Napoleon officially took possession of the Principality of Elba with the edict of May 4, with full dynastic rights reserved his wife Maria Luisa and his son Napoleon Franz Joseph.

He immediately wrote his wife a letter full of affection, describing the house where he was staying as very modest, and he intended to take immediate action to find a worthy house in which to host her, because he was waiting impatiently her. Despite the rumors describing the relationship between Napoleon and Maria Luisa made of ill-treatment and contempt towards his wife, the same Maria Luisa in some letters addressed to his father, while admitting the absence of love in the relationship with her husband, threw into relief the fairness and kindness of Napoleon with her, that due fairness in a political marriage, as in their case.

Napoleon ruled the island with prudence and spirit of innovation, although his intentions were to move away from Elba for France as soon as, it was possible. He established his residence in the Palazzina dei Mulini, in the Portoferraio city. The building was immediately restored and was created a large living room, while the old barn was converted into a small theater.

Immediately began improvement work throughout the island, the conduct of the sewers and new roads were built, the administration was reformed, he imposed to the owners to provide the their property with adequate toilets. Napoleon created a small army and a small navy. The island suddenly turned into a big construction site. They was the best days for that location asleep which until then had been forgotten by its rulers of Florence and Naples.

The two forts on the island, connected by an underground passage, were occupied by faithful General Cambronne with Mameluk and Polish troops to defense Elba. The various ministries of the government of the island was entrusted to the Grand Marshal Bertrand and to Antoine Drouot, the military governor was the same Cambronne.

The emperor chose Villa San Martino as a country residence, located five kilometers from Portoferraio; also it was the subject of major restructuring. On August 2 Napoleon was joined by his mother Letizia Ramolino accompanied by his sister Pauline Borghese; the two women took lodging near the Palazzo dei Mulini, in Voncini House. Madame Mère and Pauline remained in Elba until the departure of Napoleon for France.

Palazzo dei Mulini a Portoferraio – Marco Ferrero 2007 CC BY 3.0

Maria Luisa never went to Elba, despite calls and the wishes of Napoleon, who had prepared Villa San Martino. Immediately after the surrender of Fontainebleau she had fled to Vienna with her son, staying in the Habsburg capital until after the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, although in the meantime she had assigned the Duchy of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla. Maria Luisa settled in the duchy only after 1815, changing her name in Maria Luigia for italianizzar its. She, despite the separation, supported her husband even after the defeat, inviting the father Francis II, Emperor of Austria, to work towards Napoleon had reserved a treatment worthy of a member of the royal house.

On September 1, 1814 Maria Walewska landed in Portoferraio, mistress of Napoleon, accompanied by her sister and brother as well as by Alexander, her son had with Bonaparte. After a first tour that was dedicated to the visit of the hermitage church of Nostra Signora del Monte where the two isolated themselves to gather in prayer, the two lovers spent together two days and two nights in the Palazzina dei Mulini transformed into a small royal palace.

Maria Laczynska Walewska belonged to a noble Polish family, counted among his ancestors also Stanislaw Leszczynski, the eighteenth-century Polish king. With the untimely death of her father Maciej in a battle against the Russians, the family missed its wealth. Nevertheless the mother, Eve Zabrowska, used all the resources left to give proper education to two sons and three daughters. Daughters, including Maria, had as tutor Nicolas Chopin, father of the famous composer Fryderyk Chopin. Maria, married with Count Walewski much older than her, met Napoleon at a dance party. The emperor, just opening their campaign in Russia, had stopped his army on Polish lands divided amang Austria, Prussia and Russia, waiting for the spring. After some insistence of Napoleon, Maria Walewska, for patriotic spirit, became the his mistress. In short it lit a true love between the two, love that increased with the birth of the son Alessandro in 1810. Maria divorced from Count Walewski in 1812.

Two days later Maria and her family sailed for France, driven to this by Napoleon, who did not want the news of the visit of Walewska came to the ears of his wife, he was still hoping in the arrival of Maria Luisa to Elba. But maybe this hasty departure was also due to gossip of a new relationship of Maria Walewska with General Philippe Antoine d’Ornano, first cousin of Bonaparte.

Meanwhile, his sister Pauline began to organize beautiful parties in the hall of the Palazzo dei Mulini and in the rural villa of San Martino, to which the officers who had followed Napoleon on Elba with their families, the notables of the place and often ordinary citizens were attended.

The beautiful Pauline Bonaparte, Duchess of Guastalla, after marrying the General Leclerc, which was widowed after a few years, since the general died to have contracted yellow fever during an expedition to Haiti, married the Roman Prince Camillo Borghese. With her unconventionality She shocked the whole of Europe with her unconventionality. She posed naked for the sculptor Canova who represented her as “Victorious Venus“. It was said of her that she was a generous and democratic woman: she lovemade with all the men, sometimes even with her husband. She lived several years in Turin, where Camillo Borghese had been appointed governor general by Napoleon. During her stay in Turin she had as a Room Lady Adele di Sellon, mother of Camillo Benso di Cavour. In 1810, when the son of Adele and her husband Michele Benso di Cavour was born, the name Camillo was given to son in honor of Prince Camillo Borghese. Pauline served as godmother to the future Piedmontese politician.

As the months passed, more the project of Napoleon matured to return to Paris to resume in full his functions of emperor, despite the surveillance that was reserved to him for the English navy, always present in the sea surrounding the island, and even with the physical presence on the mainland of a British Commissioner, Sir Neil Campbell.
From time he was preparing his departure, the French ship “Incostant“, present in the bay, was meanwhile prepared for the flight. Sir Neil Campbell was not aware of the preparations that were taking place before his eyes. He was suspicious, but Napoleon assured him: “Why should I leave this island where I am so well?”

The time of departure was the departure of Sir Campbell who had to go in Florence. February 26, 1815 Napoleon left the island after greeting his mother and his sister Pauline, through a moved crowd of people that had very well understood the emperor’s intentions, he embarked on “Incostant”. He was accompanied by a little army and generals Antoine Pierre Drouot and Cambronne. He landed on March 1 near Cannes. His march on Paris began from Cannes, it was called “Eagle’s flight.”

General Andrea Massena, stationed in Marseilles, although formally moved his troops to stop Napoleon, he did his best not to clash with the small army of Bonaparte, who had taken the path of the mountains focusing on Grenoble. Napoleon “met” other French army detachments deployed to block his way near Genoble. An emperor’s speech persuaded the soldiers to join to the Napoleonic troops. On March 14, the French troops, under the command of Marshal Michel Ney, sent by King Louis XVIII, brother of the guillotined Louis XVI, to stop Napoleon, joined the Bonapartist forces. There were many men who had deserted in favor of Napoleon, that a inscription in big letters appeared to Place Vendome which read: “Message from Napoleon to Louis XVIII: not to send more troops, I already have enough soldiers.” On March 20, 1815 Napoleon Bonaparte entered Paris triumphantly welcomed by the entire population, Louis XVIII and his dignitaries had fled the day before.

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Luigi Mascilli Migliorini 500 giorni. Napoleone dall’Elba a Sant’Elena, Laterza