On This Day in Napoleonic History – 20 of April 1814

20Napoleon leaves for Elba

At the bottom of the horse-shoe-shaped staircase of ChΓ’teau de Fontainebleau, after shaking hands with the soldiers, Napoleon addressed his Old Guard, his voice shaking with emotion: ‘Officers, non-commissioned officers and the soldiers of the Old Guard, I bid you farewell. For twenty years I have constantly led you along the road to honour and glory. In these later times, as in prosperity, you have been models of courage and fidelity. With men such as you our cause would not be lost, but the war would have been interminable. I have sacrificed all my interests to those of the country. Her happiness is my only thought. It will still be the object of my wishes. Do not regret my fate. If I have consented to survive, it is in order to serve your glory. Adieu, my friends! Would I could press you all to my heart!’

He then ordered the eagles to be brought to him, and, having kissed them, added, ‘I embrace you all in the person of your general. Adieu, soldiers!’ Even the most seasoned warriors had tears running down their faces. Cries of ‘Vive l’Empreur’ were heard.

Many of his marshals and generals remained faithful to Napoleon after his downfall and followed him into exile. Although loyalty is rare in political defeat, Napoleon was able to successfully inspire it.

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