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

Fabian Strategy

Borodino

The Battle of Borodino was fought on Sept 7th, 1812.  It was the deadliest day of the Napoleonic Wars with casualties around 70,000.

Fought on the approach to Moscow it was the final attempt by the Russians to prevent Napoleons “Grande Armée” from reaching the capital.  In one sense the battle was a failure for the Russians, who were yet again defeated by Napoleon.

On the other hand, as at Eylau in 1807, the Russians were beaten but not defeated.  They retired from the field intact.  They did not surrender.  The Czar did not bend the knee and agree surrender terms.  The Russians had enough of being beaten by the French.

Thereafter they pursued the Fabian strategy.  They kept their army intact but at a safe distance from Napoleon.  They shadowed his moves but refused to engage.  Napoleon arrived in Moscow to find a city deserted and emptied of supplies.  As winter approached he realised that he was unable to sustain his army due to the length of the supply lines.

The Grand Armée then began the long and ignominious retreat.  All the way they were shadowed by the Russian Army, meaning they could not disperse the troops to live off the land.  Foraging parties soon learned how well suited the lightly mounted Cossaks were to skirmishing duties.  The French were forced to keep in column and march west.  Then the weather turned, the snow fell and the Grand Armée was no more.

The Death of a Soldier; by Wallace Stevens

Life contracts and death is expected,
As in a season of autumn.
The soldier falls.

He does not become a three-days personage,
Imposing his separation,
Calling for pomp.

Death is absolute and without memorial,
As in a season of autumn,
When the wind stops,

When the wind stops and, over the heavens,
The clouds go, nevertheless,
In their direction.