Recollections of the Private Life of Napoleon— Complete

Author: Louis Constant Wairy

Chapter IV.

We arrived at Saint-Cloud on the 27th of July; and the Emperor passed the summer partly in this residence, and partly at Fontainebleau, returning to Paris only on special occasions, and never remaining longer than twenty-four hours. During his Majesty’s absence, the chateau of Rambouillet was restored and furnished anew, and the Emperor spent a few days there. The first time he entered the bathroom, he stopped short at the door and glanced around with every appearance of surprise and dissatisfaction; and when I sought the cause of this, following the direction of his Majesty’s eyes, I saw that they rested on various family portraits which the architect had painted on the walls of the room. They were those of madame his mother, his sisters, Queen Hortense, etc.; and the sight of such a gallery, in such a place, excited the extreme displeasure of the Emperor. "What nonsense!" he cried. "Constant, summon Marshal Duroc!" And when the grand marshal appeared, his Majesty inquired, "Who is the idiot that could have conceived such an idea? Order the painter to come and efface all that. He must have little respect for women to be guilty of such an indecency."

When the court sojourned at Fontainebleau, the inhabitants indemnified themselves amply for his Majesty’s long absences by the high price at which they sold all articles of food. Their extortions became scandalous impositions, and more than one foreigner making an excursion to Fontainebleau thought himself held for ransom by a troop of Bedouins. During the stay of the court; a wretched sacking-bed in a miserable inn cost twelve francs for a single night; the smallest meal cost an incredible price, and was, notwithstanding, detestable; in fact, it amounted to a genuine pillage of travelers. Cardinal Caprara,

—[Giovanni Battista Caprara, born of a noble family at Bologna,
1733; count and archbishop of Milan; cardinal, 1792; Negotiated the
Concordat, 1801; died 1810]—

whose rigid economy was known to all Paris, went one day to Fontainebleau to pay his court to the Emperor, and at the hotel where he alighted took only a single cup of bouillon, and the six persons of his suite partook only of a very light repast, as the cardinal had arranged to return in three hours; but notwithstanding this, as he was entering his carriage, the landlord had the audacity to present him with a bill for six hundred francs! The prince of the church indignantly protested, flew into a rage, threatened, etc., but all in vain; and the bill was paid.

Such an outrageous imposition could not fail to reach the Emperor’s ears, and excited his anger to such a degree that he at once ordered a fixed schedule of prices, which it was forbidden the innkeepers to exceed. This put an end to the exactions of the bloodsuckers of Fontainebleau.

On the 21st of August, there arrived at Paris the Princess Catharine of Wurtemberg, future wife of Prince Jerome Napoleon, King of Westphalia. This princess was about twenty-four years of age, and very beautiful, with a most noble and gracious bearing; and though policy alone had made this marriage, never could love or voluntary choice have made one that was happier.

The courageous conduct of her Majesty the Queen of Westphalia in 1814, her devotion to her dethroned husband, and her admirable letters to her father, who wished to tear her from the arms of King Jerome, are matters of history. I have seen it stated that this prince never ceased, even after this marriage, which was so flattering to his ambition, to correspond with his first wife, Mademoiselle Patterson, and that he often sent to America his valet de chambre, Rico, to inquire after this lady and their child. If this is true, it is no less so that these attentions to his first wife, which were not only very excusable, but even, according to my opinion, praiseworthy in Prince Jerome, and of which her Majesty the Queen of Westphalia was probably well aware, did not necessarily prevent her being happy with her husband.

No testimony more reliable than that of the queen her self can be given; and she expresses herself as follows in her second letter to his Majesty, the King of Wurtemburg:—

"Forced by policy to marry the king, my husband, fate has willed
that I should find myself the happiest woman in the universe. I
feel towards my husband the united sentiments of love, tenderness,
and esteem. In this painful moment can the best of fathers wish to
destroy my domestic happiness, the only kind which now remains to
me? I dare to say that you, my dear father, you and all my family,
do great injustice to the king, my husband; and I trust the time
will come when you will be convinced that you have done him
injustice, and then you will ever find in him, as well as in myself,
the most respectful and affectionate of children."

Her Majesty then spoke of a terrible misfortune to which she had been exposed. This event, which was indeed terrible, was nothing less than violence and robbery committed on a fugitive woman defenseless and alone, by a band at the head of which was the famous Marquis de Maubreuil, —[A French political adventurer, born in Brittany, 1782; died 1855.]— who had been equerry of the King of Westphalia. I will recur in treating of the events of 1814 to this disgraceful affair, and will give some particulars, which I think are not generally known, in regard to the principal authors and participants in this daring act of brigandage.

In the following month of September, a courier from the Russian cabinet arrived from St. Petersburg, bearing a letter to his Majesty from the Emperor Alexander; and among other magnificent gifts were two very handsome fur pelisses of black fox and sable martin.

During their Majesties residence at Fontainebleau, the Emperor often went out in his carriage with the Empress in the streets of the city with neither escort nor guards. One day, while passing before the hospital of Mont Pierreux, her Majesty the Empress saw at a window a very aged clergyman, who saluted their Majesties. The Empress, having returned the old man’s salutation with her habitual grace, pointed him out to the Emperor, who himself saluted him, and ordering his coachman to stop, sent one of the footmen with a request to the old priest to come and speak to them a moment, if it were not too great an exertion. The old man, who still walked with ease, hastened to descend; and in order to save him a few steps the Emperor had his carriage driven very close to the door of the hospital.

His Majesty conversed for some time with the good ecclesiastic, manifesting the greatest kindness and respect. He informed their Majesties that he had been, previous to the Revolution, the regular priest of one of the parishes of Fontainebleau, and had done everything possible to avoid emigrating; but that terror had at length forced him to leave his native land, although he was then more than seventy-five years old; that he had returned to France at the time of the proclamation of the Concordat, and now lived on a modest pension hardly sufficient to pay his board in the hospital. "Monsieur l’Abbe," said his Majesty after listening to the old priest attentively, "I will order your pension to be doubled; and if that is not sufficient I hope you will apply to the Empress or to me." The good ecclesiastic thanked the Emperor with tears in his eyes. "Unfortunately, Sire," said he among other things, "I am too old to long enjoy your Majesty’s reign or profit by your kindness."— "YOU?" replied the Emperor, smiling, "why, you are a young man. Look at M. de Belloy; he is much your senior, and we hope to keep him with us for a long time yet." Their Majesties then took leave of the old man, who was much affected, leaving him in the midst of a crowd of the inhabitants who had collected before the hospital during this conversation, and who were much impressed by this interesting scene and the generous kindness of the Emperor.

M. de Belloy, cardinal and archbishop of Paris, whose name the Emperor mentioned in the conversation I have just related, was then ninety-eight years of age, though his health was excellent; and I have never seen an old man who had as venerable an air as this worthy prelate. The Emperor had the profoundest respect for him, and never failed to give evidence of it on every occasion. During this same month of September, a large number of the faithful having assembled according to custom on Mount Valerien, the archbishop likewise repaired to the spot to hear mass. As he was about to withdraw, seeing that many pious persons were awaiting his benediction, he addressed them before bestowing it in a few words which showed his kindness of heart and his evangelical simplicity: "My children, I know that I must be very old from the loss of my strength, but not of my zeal and my tenderness for you. Pray God, my children, for your old archbishop, who never fails to intercede on your behalf each day."

During his stay at Fontainebleau, the Emperor enjoyed more frequently than ever before the pleasures of the chase. The costume necessary was a French coat of green dragon color, decorated with buttons and gold lace, white cashmere breeches, and Hessian boots without facings; this was the costume for the grand hunt which was always a stag hunt; that for a hunt with guns being a plain, green French coat with no other ornament than white buttons, on which were cut suitable inscriptions. This costume was the same for all persons taking part in this hunt, with no distinguishing marks, even for his Majesty himself.

The princesses set out for the rendezvous in a Spanish carriage with either or four six horses, and thus followed the chase, their costume being an elegant riding-habit, and a hat with white or black plumes.

One of the Emperor’s sisters (I do not now recall which) never failed to follow the hunt, accompanied by many charming ladies who were always invited to breakfast at the rendezvous, as was always the custom on similar occasions with the persons of the court. One of these ladies, who was both beautiful and intelligent, attracted the attention of the Emperor, a short correspondence ensued, and at last the Emperor again ordered me to carry a letter.

In the palace of Fontainebleau is a private garden called the garden of Diana, to which their Majesties alone had access. This garden is surrounded on four sides by buildings; on the left was the chapel with its gloomy gallery and Gothic architecture; on the right the grand gallery (as well as I can remember); in the middle the building which contained their Majesties’ apartments; finally, in front of and facing the square were broad arcades, and behind them the buildings intended for the various persons attached to household of the princes or the Emperor. Madame de B----, the lady whom the Emperor had remarked, lodged in an apartment situated behind these arcades on the ground floor; and his Majesty informed me that I would find a window open, through which I must enter cautiously, in the darkness, and give his note to a person who would ask for it. This darkness was necessary, because this window opened on the garden, and though behind the arcades, would have been noticed had there been a light. Not knowing the interior of these apartments, I entered through the window, thinking I could then walk on a level, but had a terrible fall over a high step which was in the embrasure of the window. I heard some one scream as I fell, and a door was suddenly closed. I had received severe bruises on my knee, elbow, and head, and rising with difficulty, at once began a search around the apartment, groping in the dark; but hearing nothing more, and fearing to make some fresh noise which might be heard by persons who should not know of my presence there, I decided to return to the Emperor, and report to him my adventures.

Finding that none of my injuries were serious, the Emperor laughed most heartily, and then added, "Oh, oh, so there is a step; it is well to know that. Wait till Madame B---- is over her fright; I will go to her, and you will accompany me." At the end of an hour, the Emperor emerged with me from the door of his cabinet which opened on the garden. I conducted him in silence towards the window which was still open and assisted him to enter, and having obtained to my cost a correct idea of the spot, directed him how to avoid a fall.

His Majesty, having entered the chamber without accident, told me to retire. I was not without some anxiety as I informed the Emperor; but he replied that I was a child, and there could be no danger. It appeared that his Majesty succeeded better than I had done,—as he did not return until daybreak, and then jested about my awkwardness, admitting, however, that if he had not been warned, a similar accident would have befallen him.

Although Madame de B---- was worthy of a genuine attachment, her liaison with the Emperor lasted only a short while, and was only a passing fancy. I think that the difficulties surrounding his nocturnal visits cooled his Majesty’s ardor greatly; for the Emperor was not enough in love to be willing to brave everything in order to see his beautiful mistress. His Majesty informed me of the fright which my fall had caused her, and how anxious this amiable lady had been on my account, and how he had reassured her; this did not, however, prevent her sending next day to know how I was, by a confidential person, who told me again how interested Madame de B---- had been in my accident.

Often at Fontainebleau there was a court representation, in which the actors of the first theaters received orders to play before their Majesties scenes selected from their various repertoires. Mademoiselle Mars was to play the evening of her arrival; but at Essonne, where she was obliged to stop a moment on account of the road being filled with cattle going or returning from Fontainebleau, her trunk had been stolen, a fact of which she was not aware until she had gone some distance from the spot. Not only were her costumes missing, but she had no other clothing except what she wore; and it would be at least twelve hours before she could get from Paris what she needed. It was then two o’clock in the afternoon, and that very evening she must appear in the brilliant role of Celimene. Although much disturbed by this accident, Mademoiselle Mars did not lose her presence of mind, but visited all the shops of the town, and in a few hours had cut and made a complete costume in most excellent taste, and her loss was entirely repaired.


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Chicago: Louis Constant Wairy, "Chapter IV.," Recollections of the Private Life of Napoleon— Complete, ed. Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853 and trans. Clark, Walter, 1846-1924 in Recollections of the Private Life of Napoleon—Complete (New York: Doubleday, Page, 1909), Original Sources, accessed September 25, 2023,

MLA: Wairy, Louis Constant. "Chapter IV." Recollections of the Private Life of Napoleon— Complete, edited by Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853, and translated by Clark, Walter, 1846-1924, in Recollections of the Private Life of Napoleon—Complete, Vol. 36, New York, Doubleday, Page, 1909, Original Sources. 25 Sep. 2023.

Harvard: Wairy, LC, 'Chapter IV.' in Recollections of the Private Life of Napoleon— Complete, ed. and trans. . cited in 1909, Recollections of the Private Life of Napoleon—Complete, Doubleday, Page, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 25 September 2023, from