Memoirs of Napoleon— Volume 8

Author: Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne

Chapter XXIX. 1804.

England deceived by Napoleon—Admirals Missiessy and Villeneuve—
Command given to Lauriston—Napoleon’s opinion of Madame de Stael—
Her letters to Napoleon—Her enthusiasm converted into hatred—
Bonaparte’s opinion of the power of the Church—The Pope’s arrival
at Fontainebleau—Napoleon’s first interview with Pius VII.—
The Pope and the Emperor on a footing of equality—Honours rendered
to the Pope—His apartments at the Tuileries—His visit to the
Imperial printing office—Paternal rebuke—Effect produced in
England by the Pope’s presence in Paris—Preparations for Napoleon’s
coronation—Votes in favour of hereditary succession—Convocation of
the Legislative Body—The presidents of cantons—Anecdote related by
Michot the actor—Comparisons—Influence of the Coronation on the
trade of Paris—The insignia of Napoleon and the insignia of
Charlemagne—The Pope’s mule—Anecdote of the notary Raguideau—
Distribution of eagles in the Champ de Mars—Remarkable coincidence.

England was never so much deceived by Bonaparte as during the period of the encampment at Boulogne. The English really believed that an invasion was intended, and the Government exhausted itself in efforts for raising men and money to guard against the danger of being taken by surprise. Such, indeed, is the advantage always possessed by the assailant. He can choose the point on which he thinks it most convenient to act, while the party which stands on the defence, and is afraid of being attacked, is compelled to be prepared in every point. However, Napoleon, who was then in the full vigour of his genius and activity, had always his eyes fixed on objects remote from those which surrounded him, and which seemed to absorb his whole attention. Thus, during the journey of which I have spoken, the ostensible object of which was the organisation of the departments on the Rhine, he despatched two squadrons from Rochefort and Boulogne, one commanded by Missiessy, the other by Villeneuve—I shall not enter into any details about those squadrons; I shall merely mention with respect to them that, while the Emperor was still in Belgium, Lauriston paid me a sudden and unexpected visit. He was on his way to Toulon to take command of the troops which were to be embarked on Villeneuve’s squadron, and he was not much pleased with the service to which he had been appointed.

Lauriston’s visit was a piece of good fortune for me. We were always on friendly terms, and I received much information from him, particularly with respect to the manner in which the Emperor spent his time. "You can have no idea," said he, "how much the Emperor does, and the sort of enthusiasm which his presence excites in the army. But his anger at the contractors is greater than ever, and he has been very severe with some of them." These words of Lauriaton did not at all surprise me, for I well knew Napoleon’s dislike to contractors, and all men who had mercantile transactions with the army. I have often heard him say that they were a curse and a leprosy to nations; that whatever power he might attain, he never would grant honours to any of them, and that of all aristocracies, theirs was to him the moat insupportable. After his accession to the Empire the contractors were no longer the important persons they had been under the Directory, or even during the two first years of the Consulate. Bonaparte sometimes acted with them as he had before done with the Beya of Egypt, when he drew from them forced contributions.

—[Lauriston, one of Napoleon’s aides de camp, who was with him at
the Military School of Paris, and who had been commissioned in the
artillery at the same time as Napoleon, considered that he should
have had the post of Grand Ecuyer which Caulaincourt had obtained.
He had complained angrily to the Emperor, and after a stormy
interview was ordered to join the fleet of Villeneuve—In
consequence he was at Trafalgar. On his return after Austerlitz
his temporary disgrace was forgotten, and he was sent as governor to
Venice. He became marshal under the Restoration.]—

I recollect another somewhat curious circumstance respecting the visit of Lauriston, who had left the Emperor and Empress at Aix-la-Chapelle. Lauriston was the best educated of the aides de camp, and Napoleon often conversed with him on such literary works as he chose to notice. "He sent for me one day," said Lauriston, "when I was on duty at the Palace of Lacken, and spoke to me of the decennial prizes, and the tragedy of ’Carion de Nisas’, and a novel by Madame de Stael, which he had just read, but which I had not seen, and was therefore rather embarrassed in replying to him. Respecting Madame de Stael and her Delphine, he said some remarkable things. ’I do not like women,’ he observed, ’who make men of themselves, any more than I like effeminate men. There is s proper part for every one to play in the world. What does all this flight of imagination mean? What is the result of it? Nothing. It is all sentimental metaphysics and disorder of the mind. I cannot endure that woman; for one reason, that I cannot bear women who make a set at me, and God knows how often she has tried to cajole me!’"

The words of Lauriston brought to my recollection the conversations I had often had with Bonaparte respecting Madame de Stael, of whose advances made to the First Consul, and even to the General of the Army of Italy, I had frequently been witness. Bonaparte knew nothing at first of Madame de Stael but that she was the daughter of M. Necker, a man for whom, as I have already shown, he had very little esteem. Madame de Stael had not been introduced to him, and knew nothing more of him than what fame had published respecting the young conqueror of Italy, when she addressed to him letters full of enthusiasm. Bonaparte read some passages of them to me, and, laughing, said, "What do you think, Bourrienne, of these extravagances. This woman is mad." I recollect that in one of her letters Madame de Stael, among other things, told him that they certainly were created for each other—that it was in consequence of an error in human institutions that the quiet and gentle Josephine was united to his fate—that nature seemed to have destined for the adoration of a hero such as he, a soul of fire like her own. These extravagances disgusted Bonaparte to a degree which I cannot describe. When he had finished reading these fine epistles he used to throw them into the fire, or tear them with marked ill-humour, and would say, "Well, here is a woman who pretends to genius—a maker of sentiments, and she presumes to compare herself to Josephine! Bourrienne, I shall not reply to such letters."

I had, however, the opportunity of seeing what the perseverance of a woman of talent can effect. Notwithstanding Bonaparte’s prejudices against Madame de Stael, which he never abandoned, she succeeded in getting herself introduced to him; and if anything could have disgusted him with flattery it would have been the admiration, or, to speak more properly, the worship, which she paid him; for she used to compare him to a god descended on earth,—a kind of comparison which the clergy, I thought, had reserved for their own use. But, unfortunately, to please Madame de Stael it would have been necessary that her god had been Plutua; for behind her eulogies lay a claim for two millions, which M. Necker considered still due to him on account of his good and worthy services. However, Bonaparte said on this occasion that whatever value he might set on the suffrage of Madame de Stael, he did not think fit to pay so dear for it with the money of the State. The conversion of Madame de Stael’s enthusiasm into hatred is well known, as are also the petty vexations, unworthy of himself, with which the Emperor harassed her in her retreat at Coppet.

Lauriston had arrived at Paris, where he made but a short stay, some days before Caffarelli, who was sent on a mission to Rome to sound the Papal Court, and to induce the Holy Father to come to Paris to consecrate Bonaparte at his coronation. I have already described the nature of Bonaparte’s ideas on religion. His notions on the subject seemed to amount to a sort of vague feeling rather than to any belief founded on reflection. Nevertheless, he had a high opinion of the power of the Church; but not because he considered it dangerous to Governments, particularly to his own. Napoleon never could have conceived how it was possible that a sovereign wearing a crown and a sword could have the meanness to kneel to a Pope, or to humble his sceptre before the keys of St. Peter. His spirit was too great to admit of such a thought. On the contrary, he regarded the alliance between the Church and his power as a happy means of influencing the opinions of the people, and as an additional tie which was to attach them to a Government rendered legitimate by the solemn sanction of the Papal authority. Bonaparte was not deceived. In this, as well as in many other things, the perspicacity of his genius enabled him to comprehend all the importance of a consecration bestowed on him by the Pope; more especially as Louis XVIII., without subjects, without territory, and wearing only an illusory crown, had not received that sacred unction by which the descendants of Hugh Capet become the eldest sons of the Church.

As soon as the Emperor was informed of the success of Caffarelli’s mission, and that the Pope, in compliance with his desire, was about to repair to Paris to confirm in his hands the sceptre of Charlemagne, nothing was thought of but preparations for that great event, which had been preceded by the recognition of Napoleon as Emperor of the French on the part of all the States of Europe, with the exception of England.

On the conclusion of the Concordat Bonaparte said to me, "I shall let the Republican generals exclaim as much as they like against the Mass. I know what I am about; I am working for posterity." He was now gathering the fruits of his Concordat. He ordered that the Pope should be everywhere treated in his journey through the French territory with the highest distinction, and he proceeded to Fontainebleau to receive his Holiness. This afforded an opportunity for Bonaparte to re-establish the example of those journeys of the old Court, during which changes of ministers used formerly to be made. The Palace of Fontainebleau, now become Imperial, like all the old royal chateaux, had been newly furnished with a luxury and taste corresponding to the progress of modern art. The Emperor was proceeding on the road to Nemours when courtiers informed him of the approach of Pius VII. Bonaparte’s object was to avoid the ceremony which had been previously settled. He had therefore made the pretext of going on a hunting-party, and was in the way as it were by chance when the Pope’s carriage was arriving. He alighted from horseback, and the Pope came out of his carriage. Rapp was with the Emperor, and I think I yet hear him describing, in his original manner and with his German accent, this grand interview, upon which, however, he for his part looked with very little respect. Rapp, in fact, was among the number of those who, notwithstanding his attachment to the Emperor, preserved independence of character, and he knew he had no reason to dissemble with me. "Fancy to yourself," said he, "the amusing comedy that was played." After the Emperor and the Pope had well embraced they went into the same carriage; and, in order that they might be upon a footing of equality, they were to enter at the same time by opposite doors. All that was settled; but at breakfast the Emperor had calculated how he should manage, without appearing to assume anything, to get on the righthand side of the Pope, and everything turned out as he wished. As to the Pope," said Rapp, "I must own that I never saw a man with a finer countenance or more respectable appearance than Pius VII."

After the conference between the Pope and the Emperor at Fontainebleau, Pius VII. set off for Paris first. On the road the same honours were paid to him as to the Emperor. Apartments were prepared for him in the Pavilion de Flore in the Tuileries, and his bedchamber was arranged and furnished in the same manner as his chamber in the Palace of Monte- Cavallo, his usual residence in Rome. The Pope’s presence in Paris was so extraordinary a circumstance that it was scarcely believed, though it had some time before been talked of. What, indeed, could be more singular than to see the Head of the Church in a capital where four years previously the altars had been overturned, and the few faithful who remained had been obliged to exercise their worship in secret!

The Pope became the object of public respect and general curiosity. I was exceedingly anxious to see him, and my wish was gratified on the day when he went to visit the Imperial printing office, then situated where the Bank of France now is.

A pamphlet, dedicated to the Pope, containing the "Pater Noster," in one hundred and fifty different languages, was struck off in the presence of his Holiness. During this visit to the printing office an ill-bred young man kept his hat on in the Pope’s presence. Several persons, indignant at this indecorum, advanced to take off the young man’s hat. A little confusion arose, and the Pope, observing the cause of it, stepped up to the young man and said to him, in a tone of kindness truly patriarchal, "Young man, uncover, that I may give thee my blessing. An old man’s blessing never yet harmed any one." This little incident deeply affected all who witnessed it. The countenance and figure of Pope Pius VII. commanded respect. David’s admirable portrait is a living likeness of him.

The Pope’s arrival at Paris produced a great sensation in London, greater indeed there than anywhere else, notwithstanding the separation of the English Church from the Church of Rome. The English Ministry now spared no endeavours to influence public opinion by the circulation of libels against Bonaparte. The Cabinet of London found a twofold advantage in encouraging this system, which not merely excited irritation against the powerful enemy of England, but diverted from the British Government the clamour which some of its measures were calculated to create. Bonaparte’s indignation against England was roused to the utmost extreme, and in truth this indignation was in some degree a national feeling in France.

Napoleon had heard of the success of Caffarelli’s negotiations previous to his return to Paris, after his journey to the Rhine. On arriving at St. Cloud he lost no time in ordering the preparations for his coronation. Everything aided the fulfilment of his wishes. On 28th November the Pope arrived at Paris, and two days after, viz. on the 1st of December, the Senate presented to the Emperor the votes of the people for the establishment of hereditary succession in his family: for as it was pretended that the assumption of the title of Emperor was no way prejudicial to the Republic, the question of hereditary succession only had been proposed for public sanction. Sixty thousand registers had been opened in different parts of France,—at the offices of the ministers, the prefects, the mayors of the communes, notaries, solicitors, etc. France at that time contained 108 departments, and there were 3,574,898 voters. Of these only 2569 voted against hereditary succession. Bonaparte ordered a list of the persons who had voted against the question to be sent to him, and he often consulted it. They proved to be not Royalist, but for the most part staunch Republicans. To my knowledge many Royalists abstained from voting at all, not wishing to commit themselves uselessly, and still less to give their suffrages to the author of the Duo d’Enghien’s death. For my part, I gave my vote in favour of hereditary succession in Bonaparte’s family; my situation, as may well be imagined, did not allow me to do otherwise.

Since the month of October the Legislative Body had been convoked to attend the Emperor’s coronation. Many deputies arrived, and with them a swarm of those presidents of cantons who occupied a conspicuous place in the annals of ridicule at the close of the year 1804. They became the objects of all sorts of witticisms and jests. The obligation of wearing swords made their appearance very grotesque. As many droll, stories were told of them as were ten years afterwards related of those who were styled the voltigeurs of Louis XIV. One of these anecdotes was so exceedingly ludicrous that, though it was probably a mere invention, yet I cannot refrain from relating it. A certain number of these presidents were one day selected to be presented to the Pope; and as most of them were very poor they found it necessary to combine economy with the etiquette necessary to be observed under the new order of things. To save the expense of hiring carriages they therefore proceeded to the Pavilion de Flore on foot, taking the precaution of putting on gaiters to preserve their white silk stockings from the mud which covered the streets, for it was then the month of December. On arriving at the Tuileries one of the party put his gaiters into his pocket. It happened that the Pope delivered such an affecting address that all present were moved to tears, and the unfortunate president who had disposed of his gaiters in the way just mentioned drew them out instead of his handkerchief and smeared his face over with mud. The Pope is said to have been much amused at this mistake. If this anecdote should be thought too puerile to be repeated here, I may observe that it afforded no small merriment to Bonaparte, who made Michot the actor relate it to the Empress at Paris one evening after a Court performance.

Napoleon had now attained the avowed object of his ambition; but his ambition receded before him like a boundless horizon. On the 1st of December; the day on which the Senate presented to the Emperor the result of the votes for hereditary succession, Francois de Neufchateau delivered an address to him, in which there was no want of adulatory expressions. As President of the Senate he had had some practice in that style of speechmaking; and he only substituted the eulogy of the Monarchical Government for that of the Republican Government ’a sempre bene’, as the Italians say.

If I wished to make comparisons I could here indulge in some curious ones. Is it not extraordinary that Fontainebleau should have witnessed, at the interval of nearly ten years, Napoleon’s first interview with the Pope, and his last farewell to his army, and that the Senate, who had previously given such ready support to Bonaparte, should in 1814 have pronounced his abdication at Fontainebleau.

The preparations for the Coronation proved very advantageous to the trading classes of Paris. Great numbers of foreigners and people from the provinces visited the capital, and the return of luxury and the revival of old customs gave occupation to a variety of tradespeople who could get no employment under the Directory or Consulate, such as saddlers, carriage-makers, lacemen, embroiderers, and others. By these positive interests were created more partisans of the Empire than by opinion and reflection; and it is but just to say that trade had not been so active for a dozen years before. The Imperial crown jewels were exhibited to the public at Biennais the jeweller’s. The crown was of a light form, and, with its leaves of gold, it less resembled the crown of France than the antique crown of the Caesars. These things were afterwards placed in the public treasury, together with the imperial insignia of Charlemagne, which Bonaparte had ordered to be brought from Aix-la-Chapelle. But while Bonaparte was thus priding himself in his crown and his imagined resemblance to Charlemagne, Mr. Pitt, lately recalled to the Ministry, was concluding at Stockholm a treaty with Sweden, and agreeing to pay a subsidy to that power to enable it to maintain hostilities against France. This treaty was concluded on the 3d of December, the day after the Coronation.

—[The details of the preparation for the Coronation caused many
stormy scenes between Napoleon and his family. The Princesses, his
sisters and sisters-in-law, were especially shocked at having to
carry the train of the Imperial mantle of Josephine, and even when
Josephine was actually moving from the altar to the throne the
Princesses evinced their reluctance so plainly that Josephine could
not advance and an altercation took place which had to be stopped by
Napoleon himself. Joseph was quite willing himself give up
appearing in a mantle with a train, but he wished to prevent his
wife bearing the mantle of the Empress; and he opposed his brother
on so many points that Napoleon ended by calling on him to either
give up his position and retire from all politics, or else to fully
accept the imperial regime. How the economical Camberceres used up
the ermine he could not wear will be seen in Junot tome iii. p.
196. Josephine herself was in the greatest anxiety as to whether
the wish of the Bonaparte family that she should be divorced would
carry the day with her husband. When she had gained her cause for
the time and after the Pope had engaged to crown her, she seems to
have most cleverly managed to get the Pope informed that she was
only united to Napoleon by a civil marriage. The Pope insisted on
a religious marriage. Napoleon was angry, but could not recede, and
the religions rite was performed by Cardinal Fesch the day, or two
days, before the Coronation. The certificate of the marriage was
carefully guarded from Napoleon by Josephine, and even placed beyond
his reach at the time of the divorce. Such at least seems to be the
most probable account of this mysterious and doubtful matter.

The fact that Cardinal Fesch maintained that the religious rite had
been duly performed, thirteen of the Cardinals (not, however
including Fesch) were so convinced of the legality of the marriage
that they refused to appear at the ceremony of marriage with Marie
Louise, thus drawing down the wrath of the Emperor, and becoming the
"Cardinals Noirs," from being forbidden; to wear their own robes,
seems to leave no doubt that the religious rite had been performed.
The marriage was only pronounced to be invalid in 1809 by the local
canonical bodies, not by the authority of the pope.]—

It cannot be expected that I should enter into a detail of the ceremony which took place on the 2d of December. The glitter of gold, the waving plumes, and richly-caparisoned horses of the Imperial procession; the mule which preceded the Pope’s cortege, and occasioned so much merriment. to the Parisians, have already been described over and over again. I may, however, relate an anecdote connected with the Coronation, told me by Josephine, and which is exceedingly characteristic of Napoleon.

When Bonaparte was paying his addresses to Madame de BEAUHARNAIS, neither the one nor the other kept a carriage; and therefore Bonaparte frequently accompanied her when she walked out. One day they went together to the notary Raguideau, one of the shortest men I think I ever saw in my life, Madame de Beauharnais placed great confidence, in him, and went there on purpose to acquaint him of her intention to marry the young general of artillery,—the protege of Barras. Josephine went alone into, the notary’s cabinet, while Bonaparte waited for her in an adjoining room. The door of Raguideau’s cabinet did not shut close, and Bonaparte plainly heard him dissuading Madame de Beauharnais from her projected marriage. "You are going to take a very wrong step," said he, "and you will be sorry for it, Can you be so mad as to marry a young man who has nothing but his cloak and his sword?" Bonaparte, Josephine told me, had never mentioned this to her, and she never supposed that he had heard what fell from Raguideau. "Only think, Bourrienne," continued she, "what was my astonishment when, dressed in the Imperial robes on the Coronation day, he desired that Raguideau might be sent for, saying that he wished to see him immediately; and when Raguidesu appeared; he said to him, "Well, sir! have I nothing but my cloak and my sword now?’"

Though Bonaparte had related to me almost all the circumstances of his life, as they occurred to his memory, he never once mentioned this affair of Raguideau, which he only seemed to have suddenly recollected on his Coronation day.

The day after the Coronation all the troops in Paris were assembled in the Champ de Mars the Imperial eagles might be distributed to each regiment, in lieu of the national flags. I has stayed away from the Coronation in the church of Notre Dame, but I wished to see the military fete in the Champ de Mars because I took real pleasure in seeing Bonaparte amongst his soldiers. A throne was erected in front of the Military School, which, though now transformed into a barrack, must have recalled, to Bonaparte’s mind some singular recollections of his boyhood. At a given signal all the columns closed and approached the throne. Then Bonaparte, rising, gave orders for the distribution of the eagles, and delivered the following address to the deputations of the different corps of the army:

Soldiers, Soldiers! behold your colours. These eagles will always
be your rallying-point! They will always be where your Emperor may
thank them necessary for the defence of his throne and of his
people. Swear to sacrifice your lives to defend them, and by your
courage to keep them constantly in the path of victory.—Swear!"

It would be impossible to describe the acclamations which followed this address; there is something so seductive in popular enthusiasm that even indifferent persons cannot help yielding to its influence. And yet the least reflection would have shown how shamefully Napoleon forswore the declaration he made to the Senate, when the organic ’Senatus-consulte’ for the foundation of the Empire was presented to him at St: Cloud: On that occasion he said; "The French people shall never be MY people!" And yet the day after his Coronation his eagles were to, be carried wherever they might be necessary for the defence of his people.

By a singular coincidence, while on the 2d of December 1804 Bonaparte was receiving from the head of the Church the Imperial crown of France, Louis XVIII., who was then at Colmar, prompted as it were by an inexplicable presentiment, drew up and signed a declaration to the French people, in which he declared that he then, swore never to break the sacred bond which united his destiny to theirs, never to renounce the inheritance of his ancestors, or to relinquish his rights.


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Chicago: Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne, "Chapter XXIX. 1804.," Memoirs of Napoleon— Volume 8 in Memoirs of Napoleon—Volume 8 Original Sources, accessed October 3, 2022,

MLA: Fauvelet de Bourrienne, Louis Antoine. "Chapter XXIX. 1804." Memoirs of Napoleon— Volume 8, in Memoirs of Napoleon—Volume 8, Original Sources. 3 Oct. 2022.

Harvard: Fauvelet de Bourrienne, LA, 'Chapter XXIX. 1804.' in Memoirs of Napoleon— Volume 8. cited in , Memoirs of Napoleon—Volume 8. Original Sources, retrieved 3 October 2022, from