20 March 1815

It was on this date that Napoleon returned to Paris at the beginning of the "Hundred Days" ending in June with the Battle of Waterloo.

"..On February 26, 1815 Napoleon Bonaparte, some generals and about a thousand soldiers of his personal guard boarded ship for their voyage from the island of Elba back to France. On this little island not very far from Corsica, the Emperor had stayed since his abdication. Napoleon Bonaparte considered it was time for his return. He was ready to put everything on the line in one last, big gamble.

The French were very displeased with the political leadership of King Louis XVIII. Although the King meant well, he proved to be incompetent.

In the King's wake the "émigrés" had returned to France: nobles and members of the clergy that had fled the country during the French revolution. Now they where back and they claimed, with a loud voice, their former privileges and the lands the owned before the revolution. The peasants who bought these lands for very low prices where of course very suspicious of a possible division of the lands amongst these "émigrés". France was mainly an agrarian nation in those day's and the mistrust of the largest part of the population undermined the King's position.

The mediocre attempts of the Bourbons to revive the unstable economy had no effects. The situation was far from good; the prices of food were sky-high because of a hard winter and a dry and very hot summer. The middle-class, that did so well under Napoleon's rule, was complaining about the bad economic situation and the poor and the needy had to live trough some very rough times. *

Another large group of malcontents was the ex-soldiers. After their demobilisation in 1814, many of these men were able to continue their normal civilian lives. For a sizeable group of veterans, officers on half pay and ex-professional soldiers there was no place in the with inflation stricken society. Once they were conquering hero's bringing glory to France, now many of them were starving to death, deserted by that same France. It's only logical that they where unhappy and agitated.

On the international scene, everything looked favourable also. At the Vienna congress the understanding among the Powers was far from good and none of them really liked the French Bourbon government.

On March 1, 1815, Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte set once again foot on French soil at Golfe-Juan, between Cannes and Antibes. A more appropriate place to land would have been the valley of the Rhone river. From there the march to Paris would have been far easier and a lot faster. Bonaparte feared the royalist sentiments of the inhabitants of that region so he took the more difficult road through the Alps to Grenoble.

His arrival took the French authorities by total surprise. It took four day's for the news to reach Paris. The irresolution of the local authorities gave Napoleon the time to act without interference. The population, on whose reaction everything depended, reacted with calm and resignation.

On March 7, 1815 the small Imperial column met the 5th Regiment of the Line, not far from Grenoble. Napoleon stepped forward and faced the muskets alone. With a remarkable mixture of exaggerations and lies and by using his charisma and personal power over soldiers, he managed to persuade the Regiment. With the cry: "Vive L'Empéreur" the 5th changed sides as one man. The gates of Grenoble opened and the Emperor received a warm welcome.

On March 8, the 7th Regiment of the Line and its commander, Napoleon's future Aide de Camps: Colonel Charles Huchet, Count de la Bédoyère changed sides too.

On every stop on his march to Paris Napoleon addressed the people. He promised everybody exactly what they wanted to have being the opportunist that he was. Peasants he assured that they would not lose their lands to the émigrés, city people he seduced with promises of fiscal reforms. Everywhere he went he promised peace and prosperity.

In the mean time the Bourbons issued a warrant for his arrest. They send increasing numbers of troops to intercept him. Marshal Ney promised Louis XVIII he would bring Napoleon to Paris "in an iron cage". When he met his former master eye to eye on March 18, 1815 the attraction proved to be too great and he defected also together with the 6.000 men in his command.

In Paris, a practical joker had put up a message on the Place Vendôme. It read: "From Napoleon to Louis XVIII: my dear brother, it is not necessary to send me more troops, I already have enough of them!"

Meanwhile, the mob became very restless. Revolutionary song's and slogans began to reappear. On March 19, 1815 Louis XVIII took the safe way out. Pressured by Napoleon's unstoppable march to Paris and the growing anti-royalist mood in Paris he ran in the middle of the night to Gent, Belgium (then still the Netherlands). Here he started a voluntary exile that would last for more than a hundred days.

Napoleon knew that war was inevitable but he did not proclaim a general mobilisation as off yet. It would only be a matter of time before his former enemies would turn on him but he desperately needed to get the French public opinion behind him so he pleaded for peace. He had hoped that at least some of the Powers would accept the fact that he was once again in charge in France, but that did not happen.

The representatives of the Powers met in Vienna on March 13, seven day's before the Emperor reached Paris. They declared him an outlaw and an enemy of world peace. They pledged to assemble armies to take care of him for once and for all.

On March 25, the Seventh Coalition was formed with the signing of a formal defence treaty between Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia. While Britain and Prussia had already troops in the field, the other nations prepared themselves. All Powers broke of their official relations with Napoleon's France.

In France Napoleon's position was a very weak one. He had to make lots of compromises to maintain himself. He nominated several members of the old nobility and even people that betrayed him in 1814 in high positions to get their much needed support. Off the about 730 députées in the chamber of representatives, only about 100 were on his side. The others watched his every move with eagle's eyes. This of course limited his freedom of actions a lot. In large parts of France, rebellion ruled. In the department of the Vendée an armed uprising broke out ..."
(once more)
-Alfons Libert, FINS


* It would get worse, a climate anomaly thought to have been caused by a combination of a historic low in solar activity and a volcanic winter event; the latter caused by a succession of major volcanic eruptions capped off by the Mount Tambora eruption of 1815, the largest known eruption in over 1,600 years. These eruptions had already built up a substantial amount of atmospheric dust. As is common following a massive volcanic eruption, temperatures fell worldwide because less sunlight passed through the atmosphere. 1816 was called the year without a summer.

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