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 Post subject: Waterloo @ 200 - The Flight of the Eagle: Lyons
Unread postPosted: 15 May 2015, 00:13 
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Waterloo @ 200

The Flight of the Eagle Pt 3: The March on Lyons

By Matthew Groves

"My friends, we shall go to Paris with our hands in our pockets"

Emperor in Grenoble
Five regiments had swarmed to his side and a great city was his. Napoleon had covered 200 miles in six days, after forced marches over mountains he decided to pause for thirty-six hours in Grenoble whilst the troops rested and he began to reassume his imperial role. He reviewed the officials of the city and the men of the garrison, all of whom wore the tricolour cockade. He wrote to Marie-Louise and to her father, the Emperor of Austria, announcing his return to France and asking her to resume her place at his side.
He reviewed the local dignitaries, charming them and reassuring those who feared recriminations for taking office under the Bourbons. ‘The abdication had no binding force’, he declared in a statement that fused his own dynastic claims with the rhetoric of the Revolution and the resentment against the way the Allies had reinstated the Bourbons, ‘since it was never accepted by the people and it was imposed by foreign bayonets.’
During the reviews of his soldiers he received loyal addresses from those who had just joined him, some spontaneous, some state-managed by Bertrand, who had been assigned to organize the troops who defected and to use them as an example to others who might be thinking of breaking their oaths to the king and rallying to the tricolour and the eagles. Before leaving Grenoble Napoleon held a review in the Place de Grenette. This was the most familiar act of all, with the crowd singing ‘La Marseillaise’, the drums beating, and the veterans shouting ‘Marengo!’, ‘Austerlitz!’, ‘Eylau!’, ‘Friedland!’ and other battle honours as they paraded past him.
Napoleon’s next target was Lyon, the second city of France. It seemed likely that Lyons would fall even quicker than Grenoble, the civilians seemed infected by a revolutionary fever which ran through the countryside and crossed over into the streets of Lyon itself. When Napoleon left Grenoble riding in a carriage with only a few Polish lancers and staff officers to escort him, the journey was beginning to look more like a royal progress than a military adventure. Sightseers were everywhere, enthusiasts ran beside the cavalcade and when Napoleon stopped for the night at the town of Burgoin the town filled with people who danced and cheered in the streets.

Lyons Welcomes Napoleon

The city of Lyons was so important that the King had despatched the Comte d’Artois, the duc d’Orleans, and Marshal Macdonald to hold it, but none of these leaders could make up for the lack of reliable troops or persuade the citizens to make a stand for the failing Bourbon cause. The Comte d’Artois reached Lyons first and had expected to find 30,000 troops promised to him by Marshal Soult, but there was no army waiting for him when he arrived. The garrison at Lyons was larger than the force Napoleon had sent on from Grenoble and the city was in an easily defended position, but the garrison was sullen and unsupportive. On 8th March Artois turned them out for review he gave each man a crown piece and still he failed to raise more than a few feeble cries of support for his royal brother. The governor of Lyons said frankly that the isolated cheers didn’t convince him, and he pointed out to Artois that a company of dragoons were scowling at him. Barricades were built at the Morand and Guillotiere bridges over the river Rhone but there were only two worn-out guns to support any resistance, and the local people seemed as keen to pull down the barricades as they were to stop the army engineers demolishing the bridges.
Marshal Macdonald, made a marshal in 1809 during the Austrian campaign

The next day the Duc d’Orleans arrived and, seeing the situation with fresh eyes, quickly decided the situation was hopeless. He said to Artois ‘It seems to me that the only thing you can do is to withdraw.’ Artois was indignant, but both agreed to wait for Marshal Macdonald who would be able to provide better advice. When he arrived at nine o’clock in the evening he immediately held a council of war, he came to the same conclusion as Orleans when the senior officers told him that their men would not fire on Napoleon and their comrades. All the same, Macdonald decided to make a last attempt to save the city. Macdonald was a tactful and trusted commander, one of the few of Napoleon’s marshals to be given his baton on the battlefield and he hoped the soldiers of the garrison might listen to him if he talked ‘to them in their own language’ at six o’clock the next morning.

That night there were meetings in taverns and barrack rooms, General Brayer reported ‘The officers are as excited as the men. As for me, I agree with them.’ Although Macdonald himself was greeted with shouts of welcome in the morning parade the troops received his appeal in hostile silence. They were on the borderline between duty and desertion, and when the Comte d’Artois came to walk through the ranks he almost pushed them too far by vainly trying to bully one dragoon into crying ‘Vive le Roi!’ After this, the ardent reactionary Artois realised there was nothing to be done and left for Paris after the Duc d’Orleans.
Macdonald was not quite prepared to give up, he went back to the Guillotiere bridge in the hope of finding a score of volunteers who would help him man it and thus provide a rallying point for loyal troops, but the royalist mayor told him bluntly that there was no one in the whole city who would be willing to risk his life for the King. As a last resort, Macdonald decided to take a musket n his own hands to set an example but this failed to win over anyone to his side. Before he could reach the barricade he saw the leading files of Napoleon’s hussars, surrounded by rejoicing peasants and silk workers, troops from the garrison in Lyons began to run out to fraternize with the hussars, in this excitement Macdonald made his hasty escape and rode for Paris.

The Emperor arrived at around nine o’clock in the evening and went straight to the apartment in the archbishop’s palace which had just been faceted by the Comte d’Artois. By this time the city was in a complete state of celebration, huge crowds welcomed Napoleon but later went on to maraud the streets, breaking the windows of known royalists and chanting slogans that soon moved on from the customary ‘Vive l’Empereur!’ to more older and more sinister cries. ‘Down with the Priests!’ ‘Death to the Bourbons!’

Emperor in Lyons

Napoleon immediately began assuming the formalities of ruling, he received the usual deputations, collected petitions and made public addresses and new appointments. He ordered Bertrand to continue organizing the soldiers from Elba, Grenoble and Lyons, by this time he had seven seasoned infantry regiments, two cavalry regiments, one of artillery and one of engineers, he had fifty guns at his disposal. There were also many ad hoc formations of half-pay officers and men who had returned to the colours as the column had marched to Lyons.

The Emperor also set about forming a provisional government and issued a set of decrees which effectively dismantled the Bourbon system. Marshal Davout, perhaps Napoleon’s most brilliant marshal, was to be Minister of War. The lawyer Jean Cambaceres, who had drafted much of the Code Napoleon, was to be Minister of Justice. Joseph Fouche was to become Minister of Police once again.

Davout was made a marshal in 1804, he never lost a battle during his career and is considered to be equal to Napoleon in terms of military genius, possibly greater. He was also an excellent administrator. He earned his greatest victory in 1806 at the battle of Auerstadt against the Prussians, where he defeated the main Prussian army led by the King of Prussia despite being outnumbered by two to one. In 1814 he defended the city of Hamburg to the last, only surrendering the city after Napoleon’s abdication, he lived in exile during the Bourbon restoration and immediately returned to France when Napoleon was restored.

Napoleon issued the following decrees. The Bourbon flag and cockade were suppressed, along with the old titles of nobility, the royalist orders of chivalry, all army and navy commissions granted to returning emigres, all military promotions made in the past year, and all the nominations of the Legion of Honour which Bourbon princes had scattered with such prodigality that it had been a prime cause of discontent in the army. The changes which the Bourbons had made in courts of justice were withdrawn. Property which had been given to its former royalist owners was again sequestered, while those who had acquired national lands during the Revolution and the Empire were confirmed in their possession. To replace the Chamber of Deputies and the Chamber of Peers an assembly was to be created called the Champ de Mai which would draft a new constitution.

The Congress of Vienna Outlaws Napoleon

After receiving the news from Genoa that Napoleon had escaped, Metternich gave Talleyrand the task of drafting a document which would justify a war and make another peace with Napoleon impossible. The declaration was signed on the 13th March and read: ‘The sovereigns of Europe would be ready to give the King of France and the French nation the assistance necessary to restore peace...The powers declare that, by breaking the agreement which had established him on the island of Elba, Napoleon has destroyed the sole legal title to which his existence was bound; that by reappearing in France he has placed himself beyond civic and social relations; and that, as an enemy and disturber of the peace of the world, he has delivered himself up to public vengeance.’

The claim that Napoleon had lost his ‘sole legal right’ to existence by flouting the 1814 Treaty of Fontainebleau was tactically clever but morally shaky, since Talleyrand and his colleagues in Vienna had been contemplating removing the Emperor from Elba by force for several months, and the French had already ignored or deliberately violated every clause of that treaty. As Britain had never signed the treaty in the first place there was significant opposition in the House of Commons to starting another and costly war with France.

The declaration was signed by Metternich, for Austria; Talleyrand, for France; Wellington, for Great Britain; Palmella, for Portugal; Hardenberg, for Prussia; Razumovsky, for Russia; Labrador, for Spain; and Lowenhielm, for Sweden. All were determined, they said, ‘to guard themselves against every attempt which shall threaten to re-plunge the world in the disorders and miseries of revolution’. To consolidate that purpose, on the 18th March they signed a new treaty of alliance in which all the allies pledged themselves to stay in the field as long as Napoleon was capable of resisting. The United Kingdom of the Netherlands then subscribed to the treaty; so did Sardinia, Hanover, Wurttemberg, Baden, Hesse, and Brunswick. Napoleon would have almost all of Europe arrayed against him, despite this Lord Clancarty, who took over the British delegation in Vienna when Wellington left to take up his command in Brussels, was distressed by signs of panic. He wrote ‘It is not difficult to perceive that fear was predominant in all the Imperial and Royal personages.’ Even when the odds were against him, the spectre of Napoleon still haunted the throne rooms of Europe.

France in Euphoria

When first hearing the news that Napoleon had escaped, King Louis XVIII had appeared unworried, declaring that the affair would have little effect on the tranquillity of Europe and it would be all over within a week. That was until the defection of regiments and the fall of Grenoble and Lyons, then the Bourbon government began to hastily prepare to defend itself against Napoleon. On the 12th March a royalist manifesto was posted in Paris which declared that ‘France will never be defeated in this struggle of liberty against tyranny, of loyalty against treason, of Louis XVIII against Bonaparte!’ Louis set about forming field armies to crush the rebellion, called for the raising of almost three million National Guards to preserve order and it was decreed that anyone who recruited troops for Napoleon would be liable to the death penalty. When news that more regiments were defecting to Napoleon reached Paris some unknown Parisians hung a placard on the railings of the victory column in the Place Vendome, it read ‘From Napoleon to Louis XVIII, My good brother, there is no need to send me any more troops. I have enough.’

By the time Napoleon left Lyon on the 13th March, the country north of him was in a state of chaos which came with military collapse. The French army was full of soldiers who had felt like prisoners in their own barracks under the Bourbons, and now saw themselves as ‘the liberators of the motherland.’ Historian Norman Mackenzie states that the French army was gripped in a united euphoria which made anything seem possible, that for the mass of soldiers, peasants and artisans the return of Napoleon was a kind of second coming which would again illuminate France with the glow of glory and fraternity they had known in their youth.

In many places in France, the news that Napoleon had landed in France and was marching northwards was sufficient encouragement for risings. An insurrectionary mob seized control in Dijon, the same thing happened in Dole, in Beaune, and in a hundred villages of Burgundy and France-Comte, which had suffered a good deal under the recent Austrian occupation. In Clamecy on the 15th March the retired General Allix cried out in the square ‘In the name of the Emperor, I assume command of the town.’ One the same day there was a bloodless rising in Nevers, and at Auxonne, where the Emperor had served as a young lieutenant, the soldiers took over the artillery depot as the people took over the streets. In the chain of towns along the Saone and the Loire where the two main roads ran towards Paris and Napoleon might soon pass, officials began to fetch busts of the Emperor and Marie-Louise which had been stored in attics since the Restoration and the ordinary people made sure that the tricolour flew from one steeple to the next.

Across France the authorities reported criminal acts and even the National Guard refused to do anything more than maintain order. Commanders of troops reported that they could not predict what their troops would do if their loyalties were put to a serious test, the men were eitger mute with hostility towards the Bourbons or they were openly mutinous, throwing away their white cockades and shouting for the Emperor. Many army units near Napoleon’s expected route set out to join him. Between Moulins and Bourg, the 3rd Hussars, the 23rd, 36th, 39th, 72nd, and 76th Infantry regiments brought out their hidden eagles.

Napoleon Marches North

At Villefranche, where Napoleon paused after leaving Lyons, there were fifty thousand people gathered to cheer him. Tricolours were everywhere and eagles of gilt paper in the windows, there was a similar crowd at Macon that night, at Tournus the next day, and again at Chalon on the following night. On the 15th March, when Napoleon stopped at Autun, the townspeople were burning royalist flags and posters.

Napoleon decided to travel by the easterly route through Burgundy, by this time he covered stages of fifty miles or more a day, overtaking units which had recently defected. Ahead of him travelled officers sent to convert any French troops who had not already defected, a couple of these officers were arrested by commanders loyal to the King. It was impossible for the original column of troops to keep up with Napoleon, the grognards from Elba only marched as far as Chalon, where they and around three thousand other soldiers were loaded on to river-boats to sail part of the way on the river Saone. When Napoleon reached Avallon on the 16th March the infantry divisions and artillery were strung out over a hundred miles of bad road. If not for the high morale of the troops, the scene would have seemed more like a retreat than triumphant march to restore Napoleon upon the throne of France.

Before leaving Lyons, to show his gratitude and adoration to the people of Lyons, Napoleon issued a proclamation to them which ended with the words "Lyonais, I love you."


Coote, Stephen, Napoleon During the Hundred Days
Mackenzie, Norman, The Escape from Elba: The Fall & Flight of Napoleon 1814-1815, (Oxford University Press, 1982).

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