The road to Waterloo: Week 4 (16 – 22 Mar 2015)

Napoleon arrives in Paris
When news first reached the allies of Napoleon’s escape from Elba and his landing in France, the British government confirmed its support for Louis XVIII. The allies hoped that Louis and the French government would be able to deal with the situation on their own, but it became apparent that this might not be the case.

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Napoleon’s progress through France was rapid and seemingly effortless. His charisma and the connection which many of his former soldiers felt for him was sufficient to persuade them to support him. Even Marshal Ney, who had sworn an oath of allegiance to Louis XVIII, proved that he was not immune to his former commander’s charms and, instead of arresting Napoleon, switched sides. Napoleon’s progress north became a series of triumphal entries into towns and cities, acquiring ever increasing forces. By 9 March, when he reached Lyons to find it had risen against the Bourbons, his supporters had grown to some 12,000.

A little after midnight on 20 March, having realised that he could not resist Napoleon’s forces, Louis XVIII fled Paris. On the evening of that same day Napoleon entered the capital in triumph. In an act of great political drama he eschewed pomp and ceremony and gave a speech directly to the people.

Le Moniteur noted that “The King and princes left in the night. H.M. the Emperor arrived this evening at 8 o’clock in his palace of the Tuileries at the head of the same troops which had been sent to block his route this morning.”

Louis XVIII now had to look to the allies to provide assistance to regain power in France, as Sir Charles Stuart set out in a letter to the Duke of Wellington of 25 March:

“The intelligence they have received [from Paris] has … induced the King to send full powers to his plenipotentiaries authorising their immediate and unqualified accession to every measure which the other members of the Alliance … and as Buonaparte’s arrival at Paris has now … decided the question, they are at the same time directed to learn … the extent of means which the allies are determined to bring forward to the re-establishment of a government in France which may be compatible with the tranquillity of Europe …”

MS 61 Wellington Papers 1/452/31

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