Napoleon died in Moscow!

Napoleon_Delaroche_1845

Napoleon by Delaroche painted in 1845 long after his death.

Claude François de Malet, a general of the French revolutionary wars, resigned his commission when Napoleon became Emperor.  On Oct 23rd in 1812 Malet presented papers that showed Napoleon was killed in Russia.

Malet attempted to take control of France, but his coup was defeated by supporters of Napoleon.  As we all know Napoleon was still alive and returned from Moscow.  Or did he?

Before Moscow Napoleon was the undefeatable General.  Yes his marshalls lost battles, but not the master himself.  One month before his supposed death he defeated the Russians at Borodino.  After Moscow what do we see?  French forces driven backwards out of Russia.  Then defeat after defeat in Prussia and Germany culminating in the disaster for the the French at Leipzig.

A year on Elba and this weak copy of the Emperor raises his army again in the 100 days to Waterloo, and is again defeated.

Which begs the question; was Malet correct?  Did Napoleon Bonaparte die in Moscow.  Did the Napoleonic inner circle hide the truth and replace their leader with a body double?  A double who looked the part, but with none of the military genius.

“But wait” you say “everyone knows what Napoleon looks like”.  Really?  Do they?  His most famous painter Jacques-Louis David could not get Bonaparte to sit as a model.  He reported the following conversation with the Emperor:

Napoleon: ‘[Pose?] For what good? Do you think that the great men of antiquity of whom we have images posed?’

David: ‘But I am painting you for your century, for the men who have seen you, who know you: they will want to find a resemblance.’

Napoleon: ‘A resemblance! It isn’t the exactness of the features, a wart on the nose which gives the resemblance. It is the character of the physiognomy, what animates it, that must be painted. Certainly Alexander never posed for Apelles. Nobody knows if the portraits of great men resemble them. It is enough that their genius lives there.’ 

When we look at the traditional image of Napoleon we see a short dark haired and defeated man.  How different from images captured from early in his life.  A tall, slim man with flowing blonde hair.  Could it be true?  Could the French Emperor have died in Moscow?  Could this be one of the great conspiracy theories of history?

 

Antoine-Jean_Gros_-_Bonaparte_on_the_Bridge_at_Arcole

Young Napoleon by Antoine-Jean Gros

300 men and 3

Oath

Oath of the Horatii, ancestors of Horatius Cocles.

In the Irish song “A nation once again” is a reference to 300 men and 3 men, two legendary acts of bravery.  The 300 are the Spartans at Thermopylae who gave their lives to slow the Persian advance into Greece.

The 3 are less famous, Publius Horatius Cocles, Spurius Lartius and Titus Herminius Aquillnus, the three Romans who held the Tibur bridge against the army of Clusium in 509BC, giving the Roman Army time to demolish the crossing and save the city.

Horatius himself was a decendent of the Horatii, Roman Triplets who fought a 3 on 3 combat against three Alban triplets to save the carnage of a full scale battle.

XXVII

Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the gate:
‘To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods,

There is a lot of debate, and has been since ancient times, about the verity of the tale.  Historical records suggest that the Etruscan King of Clusium defeated Rome in the battle.  The heroic defence of the bridge may have been a PR exercise to whitewash a defeat.

LXX

When the goodman mends his armour,
And trims his helmet’s plume;
When the goodwife’s shuttle merrily
Goes flashing through the loom;
With weeping and with laughter
Still is the story told,
How well Horatius kept the bridge
In the brave days of old.

The Heroic tale of Horatius regained popularity in the Lays of Ancient Rome by Thomas Babington, Lord Macauley, published in 1842.  Today happens to be the birthday of Macauley!

Two years after publication Horatius was reflected in “A Nation Once Again” written by Thomas Davis.

Winston Churchill wrote that that while he stagnated in the lowest form at Harrow  he gained a prize open to the whole school by reciting the whole twelve hundred lines of the Macauley poem.  It is long, so I am not pasting in in here, but if you want to read it here is a link:  http://www.englishverse.com/poems/horatius