He was at St.-Dizier, 150 miles from Paris, when the news reached him (March 27) that the Allies were investing the city. He set out with his army the next morning. That afternoon he received a more urgent message: “The presence of the Emperor is necessary if he wishes to prevent his capital from being delivered to the enemy. There is not a moment to lose.” He left his army at Troyes and rode most of the remaining miles on horseback, ailments notwithstanding. Nearing Paris (March 31), he said to Caulaincourt, “I shall put myself at the head of the National Guard and the Army; we shall reestablish things.” He was shocked to be informed that it was too late; the capitulation had been signed that morning. He sent Caulaincourt to Paris in the hope that this “Russian” might persuade Alexander to a compromise settlement. Fearing arrest if he himself entered the city, the Emperor rode on to Fontainebleau. There, that evening, he received word from Caulaincourt: “I am repulsed.”31 On April 2 he learned that he had been deposed. He thought for a moment how pleasant it might be to yield. “I do not cling to the throne,” he said; “born a soldier, I can without complaint become a citizen.” But the arrival of his army, still numbering 50,000 men,32 struck a more congenial chord in his nature. He bade it pitch its camp along the River Essonne (a tributary of the Seine), and hold itself ready for further orders. To this camp Marmont led the survivors of the troops that had defended Paris.
On April 3 Napoleon reviewed the Imperial Guard in the court of the Fontainebleau Palace. He told them, “I have offered the Emperor Alexander a peace sought by great sacrifices…. He has refused…. In a few days I shall go to attack him in Paris. I count on you.” At first they made no answer, but when he asked them, “Am I right?” they responded, “Vive l’Empereur! À Paris!” and the grenadiers’ band struck up the old revolutionary anthems “Le Chant du départ” and “La Marseillaise.”
The generals were skeptical. In private conference with them he found them opposed to a Bourbon restoration, but cold to an attempt to drive the Allies out of Paris. On April 4 Marshals Ney, Oudinot, Moncey, and Lefebvre entered his room uninvited, and told him that since the Senate had deposed him they could not follow him in an attack upon the Allied forces and the Provisional Government. He answered that he would lead the Army without them. Ney retorted, “The Army will obey its leaders.” Napoleon asked what they wanted him to do. Ney and Oudinot answered, “Abdicate.” Napoleon wrote a conditional abdication, leaving the throne to his son under the regency of Marie Louise. He sent Caulaincourt, Macdonald, and Ney to Paris to present this offer. On the way they stopped at the Essonne camp to consult Marmont, and were startled to find that he had been negotiating privately with Schwarzenberg for terms of surrender. That night (April 4–5) Marmont led his 11,000 men across the city line in full acceptance of Schwarzenberg’s easy terms. On April 5 the Allied leaders notified Caulaincourt that there would be no further dealings with Napoleon until he had abdicated unconditionally. Meanwhile they sent troops to surround Fontainebleau and prevent his escape.
Alexander graced these severities by protecting Paris from pillage, and paying courtesy visits to Marie Louise, Josephine, and Hortense. The Russian was the most civilized of the conquerors. He persuaded his colleagues to sign with him the “Treaty of Fontainebleau,” which offered Napoleon an island in the Mediterranean as a spacious prison, brightened with an Italian sky and a French income. The essential text:
His Majesty the Emperor Napoleon on the one part, and their Majesties the Emperor of Austria,… the Emperor of all the Russias, and the King of Prussia, stipulating in their own names and those of all their Allies on the other…
Article I. His Majesty the Emperor Napoleon renounces for himself, his successors and descendants, as well as for all the members of his family, all rights of sovereignty and dominion as well in the French Empire as… in every other country.
Article II. Their Majesties the Emperor Napoleon and Empress Marie Louise shall retain their titles and rank to be enjoyed during their lives. The mother, brothers, sisters, nephews, and nieces of the Emperor shall also retain, wherever they reside, the titles of Princes of the Emperor’s Family.
Article III. The Island of Elba, adopted by his Majesty the Emperor Napoleon as his place of residence, shall form during his life a separate principality, which shall be possessed by him in full sovereignty and property.
There shall besides be granted, in full property to the Emperor Napoleon, an annual revenue of 2,000,000 francs in rent charge, in the great book of France, of which 1,000,000 shall be in reversion to the Empress.33
Napoleon signed this on April 13, and signed his First Abdication; the Allies then signed the treaty. He had hoped for Corsica as his island of exile, but knew that this, a very incubator of revolt, would not be allowed, and Elba had been his own second choice.34Marie Louise was not permitted to go with him there. She had tried to join him at Fontainebleau, but the Allies had forbidden this, and Napoleon had discouraged it.35 On April 27, unwillingly, she and her son left Rambouillet for Vienna.
Perhaps Napoleon had dissuaded her from coming to him because he had decided to kill himself. As before noted, he had been given a phial of poison by Dr. Yvan on the return from Russia. On the night of April 12–13 he swallowed the contents. Apparently the poison had lost efficacy; Napoleon suffered, but recovered, much to his shame. He excused his continuance by proposing to write an autobiography that would give his side of the story, and would celebrate the deeds of “mes braves.”36
On April 16 he wrote a farewell to Josephine: “Never forget him who has never forgotten you and will never forget you.”37 She died a month later, May 29. On April 19 he bade goodbye to his valet Constant and his Mameluke bodyguard Roustam. On the 20th he delivered les adieux to the soldiers of the Old Guard, who had remained with him to the end:
“Soldiers, I bid you farewell. For twenty years that we have been together your conduct has left me nothing to desire. I have always found you on the road to glory…. With you and the brave men who still are faithful, I might have carried on a civil war, but France would be unhappy. Be faithful, then, to your new king, be obedient to your new commanders, and desert not our beloved country.
“Do not lament my lot. I will be happy when I know that you are so. I might have died;… if I consent to live it is still to promote your glory. I will write the great things that we have achieved.
“I cannot embrace you all, but I embrace your general. Come, General Petit, that I may press you to my heart. Bring me the Eagle [the standard of the Guard] that I may embrace it also. Ah, dear Eagle, may this kiss which I give thee find an echo to the latest posterity! Adieu, my children; the best wishes of my heart shall be always with you. Do not forget me!”38
Four hundred of the Guard chose to accompany him to Elba.
He stepped into a carriage with General Bertrand, who would stay with him to the end. For assurance’ sake he was accompanied by four Allied officers—Russian, Prussian, Austrian, English; and, for protection, a small escort of French troops.39 He needed protection as he passed through Provence, where the population, strongly Catholic and partly royalist, hurled insults at him as he passed. At Orgon, near Arles, he saw himself hanging in effigy, and was threatened by a crowd; it commanded him to say “Vive le Roi!” and he obeyed, as Louis XVI, contrariwise, had done. Thereafter, for safety, he disguised himself with a uniform and cloak lent him by Austrian and Russian officers. His spirits were raised, April 26, by finding his sister Pauline waiting for him at Le Luc. She had abandoned the French Riviera, and an invitation to Rome, to stay at a little farmhouse. “The Emperor will shortly pass through here,” she wrote to Felice Bacciocchi, “and I wish to see him and offer him my sympathy…. I have not loved him because he was a sovereign, but because he is my brother.”40 She refused to embrace him in his humiliating disguise; he discarded it, and for four hours basked in her devotion.
On the 27th he proceeded to Fréjus. There, on April 28, he was received, with a salute of twenty-one guns, on board the British ship Undaunted, and sailed for Elba. For the next nine months he would try the healing simplicities of peace.