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The retour des cendres ("return of the ashes") was the return of the mortal remains of Napoleon I of France from the island of St Helena to France and their burial in the Hôtel des Invalides in Paris in 1840, on the initiative of Adolphe Thiers and King Louis-Philippe.
France, officially the French Republic, is a country whose territory consists of metropolitan France in Western Europe and several overseas regions and territories. The metropolitan area of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany to the northeast, Switzerland and Italy to the east, and Andorra and Spain to the south. The overseas territories include French Guiana in South America and several islands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. The country's 18 integral regions span a combined area of 643,801 square kilometres (248,573 sq mi) and a total population of 67.3 million. France, a sovereign state, is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban areas include Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille and Nice.
Paris is the capital and most populous city of France, with an area of 105 square kilometres and an official estimated population of 2,140,526 residents as of 1 January 2019. Since the 17th century, Paris has been one of Europe's major centres of finance, diplomacy, commerce, fashion, science, and the arts.
Marie Joseph Louis Adolphe Thiers was a French statesman and historian. He was the second elected President of France, and the first President of the French Third Republic.
After defeat in the War of the Sixth Coalition in 1814, Napoleon abdicated as emperor of the French, and was exiled to the Mediterranean island of Elba. The following year he returned to France, took up the throne, and began the Hundred Days. The powers which had prevailed against him the previous year mobilized against him, and defeated the French in the Battle of Waterloo. Napoleon returned to Paris and abdicated on 22 June 1815. Foiled in his attempt to sail to the United States, he gave himself up to the British, who exiled him to the remote island of St Helena in the south Atlantic Ocean. He died and was buried there in 1821.
In the War of the Sixth Coalition, sometimes known in Germany as the War of Liberation, a coalition of Austria, Prussia, Russia, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Sweden, Spain and a number of German States defeated France and drove Napoleon into exile on Elba. After the disastrous French invasion of Russia of 1812, the continental powers joined Russia, the United Kingdom, Portugal and the rebels in Spain who were already at war with France.
Elba is a Mediterranean island in Tuscany, Italy, 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) from the coastal town of Piombino, and the largest island of the Tuscan Archipelago. It is also part of the Arcipelago Toscano National Park, and the third largest island in Italy, after Sicily and Sardinia. It is located in the Tyrrhenian Sea about 50 kilometres (30 mi) east of the French island of Corsica.
The Hundred Days marked the period between Napoleon's return from exile on the island of Elba to Paris on 20 March 1815 and the second restoration of King Louis XVIII on 8 July 1815. This period saw the War of the Seventh Coalition, and includes the Waterloo Campaign, the Neapolitan War as well as several other minor campaigns. The phrase les Cent Jours was first used by the prefect of Paris, Gaspard, comte de Chabrol, in his speech welcoming the king back to Paris on 8 July.
In a codicil to his will, written in exile at Longwood House on St Helena on 16 April 1821, Napoleon had expressed a wish to be buried "on the banks of the Seine, in the midst of the French people [whom I] loved so much". On the Emperor's death, Comte Bertrand unsuccessfully petitioned the British government to let Napoleon's wish be granted. He then petitioned the ministers of the newly restored Louis XVIII of France, from whom he did not receive an absolute refusal, instead the explanation that the arrival of the remains in France would undoubtedly be the cause or pretext for political unrest that the government would be wise to prevent or avoid, but that his request would be granted as soon as the situation had calmed and it was safe enough to do so.
Longwood House is a mansion in St. Helena and the final residence of Napoleon Bonaparte, during his exile on the island of Saint Helena, from 10 December 1815 until his death on 5 May 1821. It lies on a windswept plain some 6 km (3.7 mi) from Jamestown.
The Seine is a 777-kilometre-long (483 mi) river and an important commercial waterway within the Paris Basin in the north of France. It rises at Source-Seine, 30 kilometres (19 mi) northwest of Dijon in northeastern France in the Langres plateau, flowing through Paris and into the English Channel at Le Havre. It is navigable by ocean-going vessels as far as Rouen, 120 kilometres (75 mi) from the sea. Over 60 percent of its length, as far as Burgundy, is negotiable by commercial riverboats, and nearly its whole length is available for recreational boating; excursion boats offer sightseeing tours of the river banks in Paris, lined with top monuments including Notre-Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum and Musée d'Orsay.
Louis XVIII, known as "the Desired", was a monarch of the House of Bourbon who ruled as King of France from 1814 to 1824, except for a period in 1815 known as the Hundred Days. He spent twenty-three years in exile, from 1791 to 1814, during the French Revolution and the First French Empire, and again in 1815, during the period of the Hundred Days, upon the return of Napoleon I from Elba.
After the July Revolution a petition demanding the remains' reburial in the base of the Colonne Vendôme (on the model of Trajan's ashes, buried in the base of his column in Rome) was refused by the Chambre des Députés on 2 October 1830. However, ten years later, Adolphe Thiers, the new Président du Conseil under Louis-Philippe and a historian of the French Consulate and First French Empire, dreamed of the return of the remains as a grand political coup de théâtre which would definitively achieve the rehabilitation of the Revolutionary and Imperial periods on which he was engaged in his Histoire de la Révolution française and Histoire du Consulat et de l'Empire.He also hoped to flatter the left's dreams of glory and restore the reputation of the July Monarchy (whose diplomatic relations with the rest of Europe were then under threat from its problems in Egypt, arising from its support for Muhammad Ali).
The French Revolution of 1830, also known as the July Revolution, Second French Revolution or Trois Glorieuses in French, led to the overthrow of King Charles X, the French Bourbon monarch, and the ascent of his cousin Louis Philippe, Duke of Orléans, who himself, after 18 precarious years on the throne, would be overthrown in 1848. It marked the shift from one constitutional monarchy, under the restored House of Bourbon, to another, the July Monarchy; the transition of power from the House of Bourbon to its cadet branch, the House of Orléans; and the replacement of the principle of hereditary right by popular sovereignty. Supporters of the Bourbon would be called Legitimists, and supporters of Louis Philippe Orléanists.
Place Vendôme is a square in the 1st arrondissement of Paris, France, located to the north of the Tuileries Gardens and east of the Église de la Madeleine. It is the starting point of the rue de la Paix. Its regular architecture by Jules Hardouin-Mansart and pedimented screens canted across the corners give the rectangular place Vendôme the aspect of an octagon. The original Vendôme Column at the centre of the square was erected by Napoleon I to commemorate the Battle of Austerlitz; it was torn down on 16 May 1871, by decree of the Paris Commune, but subsequently re-erected and remains a prominent feature on the square today.
Trajan was Roman emperor from 98 to 117. Officially declared by the Senate optimus princeps, Trajan is remembered as a successful soldier-emperor who presided over the greatest military expansion in Roman history, leading the empire to attain its maximum territorial extent by the time of his death. He is also known for his philanthropic rule, overseeing extensive public building programs and implementing social welfare policies, which earned him his enduring reputation as the second of the Five Good Emperors who presided over an era of peace and prosperity in the Mediterranean world.
It was, nonetheless, Louis-Philippe's policy to try to regain "all the glories of France", to which he had dedicated the Château de Versailles, turning it into a museum of French history. Yet he was still reluctant and had to be convinced to support the project against his own doubts.On 10 May 1840 François Guizot, then French ambassador in London, against his own will submitted an official request to the British government, which was immediately approved according to the promise made in 1822.
François Pierre Guillaume Guizot was a French historian, orator, and statesman. Guizot was a dominant figure in French politics prior to the Revolution of 1848. A moderate liberal who opposed the attempt by King Charles X to usurp legislative power, he worked to sustain a constitutional monarchy following the July Revolution of 1830.
On 12 May, during discussion of a bill on sugars, the French Interior Minister Charles de Rémusat mounted the rostrum at the Chambre des Députés and said:
Charles François Marie, Comte de Rémusat, was a French politician and writer.
The minister then introduced a bill to authorise "funding of 1 million [francs] for translation of the Emperor Napoleon's mortal remains to the Église des Invalides and for construction of his tomb". This announcement caused a sensation. A heated discussion began in the press, raising all sorts of objections as to the theory and to the practicalities. The town of Saint-Denis petitioned on 17 May that he instead be buried at their basilica, the traditional burial place of French kings.
On 25 and 26 May the bill was discussed in the Chambre. It was proposed by Bertrand Clauzel, an old soldier of the First French Empire who had been recalled by the July Monarchy and promoted to Marshal of France. In the commission's name he approved the choice of Les Invalides as the burial site, not without discussing the other suggested solutions (besides Saint-Denis, the Arc de Triomphe, the Colonne Vendôme, the Panthéon de Paris and even the Madeleine had been suggested to him). He proposed that the funding be raised to 2 million, that the ship bringing the remains back be escorted by a whole naval squadron and that Napoleon would be the last person to be buried in the Invalides. Speeches were made by the republican critic of the Empire Glais-Bizoin, who stated that "Bonapartist ideas are one of the open wounds of our time; they represent that which is most disastrous for the emancipation of peoples, the most contrary to the independence of the human spirit." The proposal was defended by Odilon Barrot (the future president of Napoleon III's council in 1848), whilst the hottest opponent of it was Lamartine, who found the measure dangerous. Lamartine stated before the debate that "Napoleon's ashes are not yet extinguished, and we're breathing in their sparks".Before the sitting, Thiers tried to dissuade Lamartine from intervening but received the reply "No, Napoleon's imitators must be discouraged." Thiers replied "Oh! But who could think to imitate him today?", only to receive Lamartine's reply that then spread right round Paris - "I do beg your pardon, I meant to say Napoleon's parodists." During the debate Lamartine stated:
In conclusion Lamartine invited France to show that "she [did not wish] to create out of this ash war, tyranny, legitimate monarchs, pretenders, or even imitators".Hearing this peroration, which was implicitly directed against him, Thiers looked devastated on his bench. Even so, the Chambre was largely favourable and voted through the measures requested, although by 280 votes to 65 it did refuse to raise the funding from 1 to 2 million. The Napoleonic myth was already fully developed and only needed to be crowned. The July Monarchy's official poet Casimir Delavigne wrote:
On 4 or 6 June General Bertrand was received by Louis-Philippe, who gave him the Emperor's arms, which were placed in the treasury. Bertrand stated on this occasion:
Sire, paying homage to the memorable act of national justice which you have generously undertaken, animated by a sense of gratitude and confidence, I come to deposit in Your Majesty's hands these glorious arms, which for long I have been reduced to hiding from the light, and which I hope soon to place upon the coffin of the great Captain, on the illustrious tomb destined to hold the gaze of the Universe.May the hero's sword become the palladium of the fatherland.
Louis-Philippe replied, with studied formality:
I count myself happy that it has been reserved for me to return to the soil of France the mortal remains of him who added so much glory to our pomp and to pay the debt of our common Fatherland by surrounding his coffin with all the honours due to him.I am very touched by all the sentiments you have just expressed to me.
This ceremony angered Joseph and Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, the latter writing in The Times :
After the arms ceremony Bertrand went to the Hôtel de ville and offered to the president of the Conseil Municipal the council chair that Napoleon had left to the capital - this is now in the Musée Carnavalet.
At 7pm on 7 July 1840 the frigate Belle Poule left Toulon, escorted by the corvette Favorite. The Prince de Joinville, the king's third son and a career naval officer, was in command of the frigate and the expedition as a whole. Also on board the frigate were Philippe de Rohan-Chabot, an attaché to the French ambassador to the United Kingdom and commissioned by Thiers (wishing to gain reflected glory from any possible part of the expedition) to superintend the exhumation operations; generals Bertrand and Gourgaud; Count Emmanuel de Las Cases (député for Finistère and son of Emmanuel de Las Cases, the author of Le Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène ); and five people who had been domestic servants to Napoleon on Saint Helena (Saint-Denis - better known by the name Ali Le Mameluck - Noverraz, Pierron, Archambault and Coursot). Captain Guyet was in command of the corvette, which transported Louis Marchand, Napoleon's chief valet de chambre, who had been with him on Saint Helena. Others on the expedition included Abbé Félix Coquereau (fleet almoner); Charner (Joinville's lieutenant and second in command), Hernoux (Joinville's aide-de-camp), Lieutenant Touchard (Joinville's orderly), General Bertrand's young son Arthur, and ship's doctor Rémy Guillard. Once the bill had been passed, the frigate was adapted to receive Napoleon's coffin: a candlelit chapel was built in the steerage, draped in black velvet embroidered with the Napoleonic symbol of silver bees, with a catafalque at the centre guarded by four gilded wooden eagles.
The voyage lasted 93 days and, due to the youth of some of its crews, turned into a tourist trip, with the Prince dropping anchor at Cadiz for four days, Madeira for two days and Tenerife for four days, while 15 days of balls and festivities were held at Bahia, Brazil. The two ships finally reached Saint Helena on 8 October and in the roadstead found the French brig Oreste, commanded by Doret, who had been one of the ensigns who had come up with a daring plan at île d'Aix to get Napoleon away on a lugger after Waterloo and who would later become a capitaine de corvette. Doret had arrived at Saint Helena to pay his last respects to Napoleon but he also brought worrying news - the Egyptian incident, combined with Thiers' aggressive policy, were very close to causing a diplomatic rupture between France and the United Kingdom. Joinville knew that the ceremony would be respected but began to fear he would be intercepted by British ships on the return trip.
The mission disembarked the following day and went to Plantation House, where the island's governor, Major-General George Middlemore was waiting for them. After a long interview with Joinville (with the rest of the mission waiting impatiently in the lounge), Middlemore appeared before the rest of the mission and announced "Gentlemen, the Emperor's mortal remains will be handed over to you on Thursday 15 October". The mission then set off for Longwood, via the Valley of the Tomb (or Geranium Valley).Napoleon's tomb was in a solitary spot, covered by three slabs placed level with the soil. This very simple monument was surrounded by an iron grille, solidly fixed on a base and shaded by a weeping willow, with another such tree lying dead by its side. All this was surrounded by a wooden fence and very close by was a spring whose fresh and clear water Napoleon had enjoyed. At the gate to the enclosure, Joinville dismounted, bared his head and approached the iron grille, followed by the rest of the mission. In a deep silence they contemplated the severe and bare tomb. After half an hour Joinville remounted and the expedition continued on its way. Lady Torbet, owner of the land where the tomb was sited, had set up a booth to sell refreshments for the few pilgrims to the tomb and was unhappy about the exhumation since it would eliminate her already small profits from it. They then went in pilgrimage to Longwood, which was in a very ruinous state - the furniture had disappeared, many walls were covered with graffiti, Napoleon's bedroom had become a stable where a farmer pastured his beasts and got a little extra income by guiding visitors around it. The sailors from Oreste grabbed the billiard table, which had been spared by the goats and sheep, and carried off the tapestry and anything else they could carry, all the while being loudly shouted at by the farmer with demands for compensation.
This article reads more like a story than an encyclopedia entry.(June 2017)
The party returned to the Valley of the Tomb at midnight on 14 October, though Joinville remained on board ship since all the operations up until the coffin's arrival at the embarkation point would be carried out by British soldiers rather than French sailors, and so he felt he could not be present at work that he could not direct. The French section of the party was led by the Count of Rohan-Chabot and included generals Bertrand and Gourgaud, Emmanuel de Las Cases, the Emperor's old servants, Abbé Coquereau, two choirboys, captains Guyet, Charner and Doret, doctor Guillard (chief surgeon of the Belle-Poule) and a lead-worker, Monsieur Leroux. The British section was made up of William Wilde, Colonel Hodson and Mr Scale (members of the island's colonial council), Mr Thomas, Mr Brooke, Colonel Trelawney (the island's artillery commander), naval lieutenant Littlehales, Captain Alexander (representing Governor Middlemore, who was indisposed, although he eventually arrived accompanied by his son and an aide) and Mr Darling (interior decorator at Longwood during Napoleon's captivity).
By the light of torches, the British soldiers set to work. They removed the grille, then the stones that formed a border to the tomb. The topsoil had already been removed and the French shared among themselves the flowers that had been growing in it. The soldiers then pulled up the three slabs that were closing the pit over. Long efforts were needed to break through the masonry enclosing the coffin. At 9.30 the last slab was raised and the coffin could be seen. Coquereau took some water from the nearby spring, blessed it and sprinkled it over the coffin, before reciting the psalm De profundis . The coffin was raised and transported into a large blue and white striped tent that had been put up the previous day. Then they proceeded to open the bier, in complete silence. The first coffin, of mahogany, had to be sawn off at both ends to get out the second coffin, made of lead, which was then placed within the neo-classical, ebony coffin that had been brought for it from France. General Middlemore and Lieutenant Touchard then arrived and presented themselves, before the party proceeded to unsolder the lead coffin. The coffin inside this, again of mahogany, was remarkably well-preserved. Its screws were removed with difficulty. It was then possible to open, with infinite care, the final coffin, made of tin.
When the lid of this coffin was removed, "a white form appeared - of uncertain shape". The white satin padding from the coffin lid had become detached and was covering the body like a shroud. Doctor Guillard delicately rolled it back, from the feet to the head, to reveal the body. Napoleon's green uniform with red facings, that of a colonel of chasseurs, was perfectly preserved. The chest was still crossed by the red ribbon of the Légion d’honneur, although the decorations and buttons on the uniform were slightly tarnished. The body remained in a comfortable position, the head resting on a cushion and the left forearm and hand on the thigh. The facial expression was serene, the eyes were fully closed (with some eyelashes showing) and only the sides of the nose had changed. A slightly receding gum allowed to shine, as at the moment of death, three very white incisors. The chin was stippled with the beginnings of a blueish beard which had emerged due to the dryness of the skin. The hands were perfectly preserved, with long and very white fingernails still attached. Only the seams of the boots had cracked, showing the four smaller toes on each foot. Napoleon's small hat was placed sideways across his thighs.
All the spectators were in a state of shock. Gourgaud, Las Cases, Philippe de Rohan, Marchand and all the servants wept; Bertrand seemed to be overcome with emotion. After two minutes' examination, Guillard proposed that he continue examining the body and open the jars containing the heart and the stomach. Gourgaud, however, suppressing his tears, became angry and ordered that the coffin be closed at once. The doctor complied and replaced the satin padding, spraying it with a little creosote before putting back on the tin lid (though without re-soldering it) and the mahogany lid. Then the lead coffin was re-soldered and finally the combination lock on the ebony coffin that had been brought from France was closed.
This ebony coffin, made in Paris, was 2.56m long, 1.05m wide and 0.7m deep. Its design imitated classical Roman coffins. The lid bore the sole inscription "Napoléon" in gold letters. Each of the four sides was decorated with the letter N in gilded bronze and there were six strong bronze rings for handles. On the coffin were also inscribed the words "Napoléon Empereur mort à Sainte-Hélène le 05 Mai 1821 (Napoleon, Emperor, died at St Helena on 05 May 1821)".
The ebony coffin and its contents were then placed in a sixth coffin, made of oak and designed to protect that of ebony. Then this mass, totalling 1,200 kilos, was hoisted by 43 gunners onto a solid hearse, draped in black with four plumes of black feathers at each corner and drawn with great difficulty by four horses caparisoned in black. The coffin was covered with a large (4.3m by 2.8m) black pall made of single piece of velvet sown with golden bees and bearing eagles surmounted by imperial crowns at its corners as well as a large silver cross. The ladies of Saint Helena offered to the French commissioner the tricolour flags that would be used in the ceremony and which they had made with their own hands, and the imperial flag that would be flown by Belle Poule.
At 3.30, in driving rain, with the citadel and Belle Poule firing alternate gun salutes, the cortège slowly moved along under the command of Middlemore. Count Bertrand, Baron Gourgaud, Baron Las Cases the younger and Marchand walked holding the corners of the pall. A detachment of militia brought up the rear, followed by a crowd of people, while the forts fired their cannon on every minute. Reaching Jamestown, the procession marched between two ranks of garrison soldiers with arms reversed. The French ships lowered their launches, with that of Belle Poule, ornamented with gilded eagles, carrying Joinville.
At 5.30 the funeral procession stopped at the end of the jetty. Middlemore, old and ill, walked painfully over to Joinville. Their brief conversation, more or less in French, marked the point at which the remains were officially handed over to France. With infinite caution, the heavy coffin was placed in the launch. The French ships (up until then showing signs of mourning) hoisted their colours and all the ships present fired their guns. On Belle Poule 60 men were paraded, drums beat a salute and funeral airs were played.
The coffin was hoisted onto the deck and its oak envelope was taken off. Coquereau gave absolution and Napoleon had returned to French territory. At 6.30 the coffin was placed in a candlelit chapel, ornamented with military trophies, on the stern of the ship. At 10 the following day mass was said on deck, then the coffin was lowered into the candlelit chapel in the steerage, while the frigate's band played.Once this had been done, each officer received a commemorative medal. The sailors divided up among themselves the oak coffin and the dead willow that had been taken away from the Valley of the Tomb.
At 8am on Sunday 18 October Belle Poule, Favorite and Oreste set sail. Oreste rejoined the Levant division, whilst the two other ships sailed towards France at full speed, fearful of being attacked. No notable setback occurred to Belle Poule and Favorite during the first 13 days of this voyage, though on 31 October they met the merchantman Hambourg, whose captain gave Joinville news of Europe, confirming the news he had received from Doret. The threat of war was confirmed by the Dutch ship Egmont, en route for Batavia. Joinville was sufficiently worried to summon the officers of both his ships to a council of war, to plan precautions to keep the remains out of harm's way should they meet British warships. He had Belle Poule prepared for possible battle. So that all the ship's guns could be mounted, the temporary cabins set up to house the commission to Saint Helena were demolished and the dividers between them, as well as their furniture, were thrown into the sea - earning the area the nickname "Lacédémone".The crew were frequently drilled and called to action stations. Most importantly, he ordered Favorite to sail away immediately and make for the nearest French port. Joinville was aware that no British warship would attack the ship carrying the body, but also that they would be unlikely to extend the same generosity to Favorite. He doubted, with good reason, that he would be able to save the corvette if she got within range of an enemy ship, without risking his frigate and its precious cargo. Another hypothesis is that Favorite was the slower ship and would only have held Belle Poule back if they had been attacked.
On 27 November Belle-Poule was only 100 leagues from the coasts of France, without having encountered any British patrol. Nonetheless, her commander and crew continued with their precautions - even though these were now unnecessary, because Anglo-French tension had ceased, after France had had to abandon its Egyptian ally and Thiers had been forced to resign.
In the meantime, in October 1840, a new ministry nominally presided over by Marshal Nicolas Soult but in reality headed by François Guizot succeeded Thiers's cabinet in an attempt to resolve the crisis Thiers had provoked with the United Kingdom over the Middle East. This new arrangement gave rise to fresh hostile comment in the press as to the "retour des cendres":
Fearful of being overthrown thanks to the "retour" initiative (the future Napoleon III had just attempted a coup d'État) yet unable to abandon it, the government decided to rush it to a conclusion - as Victor Hugo commented, "It was pressed into finishing it."The interior minister, Comte Duchâtel, affirmed that "Whether the preparations are ready or not, the funeral ceremony will take place on 15 December, whatever weather should happen or arise."
Everyone in Paris and its suburbs were conscripted to get the preparations done as quickly as possible, with the coffin's return voyage being faster than expected and internal political problems having caused considerable delays. From the Pont de Neuilly to Les Invalides, papier-mâché structures were set up which would line the funeral procession, though these were slapped together only late on the night before the ceremony.
The funeral carriage itself, resplendently gilded and richly draped, was 10m high, 5.8m wide, 13m long, weighed 13 tonnes and was drawn by four groups of four richly caparisoned horses. It had four massive gilded wheels, on whose axles rested a thick tabular base. This supported a second base, rounded at the front and forming a semi-circular platform on which were set a group of genii supporting Charlemagne's crown. At the back of this rose a dais, like an ordinary pedestal, on which stood a smaller pedestal in the shape of a quadrangle. Finally: 14 statues, larger than life and gilded all over, held up a vast shield on their heads, above which was placed a model of Napoleon's coffin; this whole ensemble was veiled in a long purple crêpe, sown with gold bees. The back of the car was made up of a trophy of flags, palms and laurels, with the names of Napoleon's main victories.
To avoid any revolutionary outbreak, the government (which had already insisted on the remains being buried with full military honours in Les Invalides) ordered that the ceremony would be strictly military, dismissing the civil cortège and thus infuriating the law and medical students who were to have formed it.The diplomatic corps gathered at the British embassy in Paris and decided to abstain from participating in the ceremony due to their antipathy to Napoleon as well as to Louis-Philippe.
On 30 November Belle-Poule entered the roadstead of Cherbourg, and six days later the remains were transferred to the steamer la Normandie. Reaching Le Havre, and then on to Val-de-la-Haye, near Rouen, where the coffin was transferred to la Dorade 3 for carrying further up the Seine, on whose banks people had gathered to pay homage to Napoleon. On 14 December la Dorade 3 moored at Courbevoie in the northwest of Paris.
The date for the reburial was set for 15 December. Victor Hugo evoked this day in his Les Rayons et les Ombres:
Despite the temperature never rising above 10 degrees Celsius, the crowd of spectators stretching from the Pont de Neuilly to the Invalides was huge. Some houses' rooftops were covered with people. Respect and curiosity won out over irritation, and the biting cold cooled all restlessness in the crowd. Under pale sunlight after snow, the plaster statues and gilded-card ornaments produced an ambiguous effect upon Hugo: "the niggardly clothing the grandiose".Hugo also wrote:
Veiled until then, at the same time the sun reappears. The effect is extraordinary.
In the distance could be seen slowly moving, amid steam and sunlight, upon the grey and red background of the trees of the Champs-Élysées, past tall white statues that resembled phantoms, a sort of golden mountain. One could not yet make out anything but a kind of shimmering light that made the whole surface of the carriage glitter sometimes with stars, sometimes with lightning. A vast murmur enveloped this apparition.
This carriage, one might say, draws after it the whole city's acclamation as a torch draws after it its smoke. [...]
The cortège continues its progress. The carriage advances slowly. We begin to be able to distinguish its shape. [...]The whole possesses a grandeur. It is an enormous mass, gilded all over, whose stages rise in a pyramid atop the four huge gilded wheels that bear it. [...] The actual coffin is invisible. It has been placed in the base of the carriage, which diminishes the emotion. This is the carriage's grave defect. It hides what one wants to see: that which France has reclaimed, what the people are awaiting, what all eyes were looking for - the coffin of Napoleon.
The cortège arrived at the Invalides around 1:30, and at 2 pm it reached the gate of honour. The king and all France's leading statesmen were waiting in the royal chapel, the Église du Dôme. Joinville was to make a short speech, but nobody had remembered to forewarn him - he contented himself with a sabre salute and the king mumbled a few unintelligible words.Le Moniteur described the scene as best it could:
General Atthalin stepped forward, bearing on a cushion the sword that Napoleon had worn at Austerlitz and Marengo, which he presented to Louis-Philippe. The king made a strange, recoiling movement, then turned to Bertrand and said: "General, I charge you with placing the Emperor's glorious sword upon his coffin." Overcome with emotion, Bertrand was unable to complete this task, and Gourgaud rushed over and seized the weapon. The king turned to Gourgaud and said: "General Gourgaud, place the Emperor's sword upon the coffin."
In the course of the funeral ceremony, the Paris Opera's finest singers were conducted by Habeneck in a performance of Mozart's Requiem . The ceremony was more worldly than reverent - the deputies were particularly uncomfortable:
The bearing of the old Marshal Moncey, the governor of the Invalides, somewhat redeemed the impertinence of the court and the politicians. For a fortnight he had been in agony, pressing his doctor to keep him alive at least to complete his role in the ceremony. At the end of the religious ceremony he managed to walk to the catafalque, sprinkled holy water on it and pronounced as the closing words: "And now, let us go home to die".
From 16 to 24 December, the Église des Invalides, illuminated as on the day of the ceremony, remained open to the public. The people had long disbelieved in Napoleon's death and a rumour spread that the tomb was only a cenotaph. It was claimed that on St Helena the commission had found only an empty coffin and that the British had secretly sent the body to London for an autopsy. (This rumour has recently been revived.) Hugo wrote that, though the actual body was there, the people's good sense was not amiss:
The return of the remains had been intended to boost the image of the July Monarchy and to provide a tinge of glory to its organisers, Thiers and Louis-Philippe. Thiers had spotted the rise of the French infatuation with the First Empire that would go on to become the Napoleonic myth. He also thought that returning the remains would seal the new spirit of accord between France and the United Kingdom, even while the Egyptian affair was beginning to agitate Europe. As for Louis-Philippe, in the end he was disappointed in his hope to use the remains' return to give some small additional legitimacy to his monarchy, rickety and indifferent to the French people.
The great majority of the French, excited by the return of the remains of one whom they had come to see as a martyr, felt betrayed that they had been unable to render him the homage that they had wished. Hence the government began to fear rioting and took every possible measure to prevent the people from assembling. Accordingly, the cortège had been mostly river-borne and had spent little time in towns outside Paris. In Paris, only important personages were present at the ceremony. Worse, the lack of respect shown by most of the politicians shocked public opinion and revealed a real rupture, a gulf, between the people and their government.
The "retour" also did not prevent France from losing its diplomatic war with the United Kingdom. France was forced to give up supporting its Egyptian ally. Thiers, losing his way in aggressive policies, was ridiculed and the king was compelled to dismiss him even before Belle Poule arrived. Thiers had managed to push through the return of the remains, but was unable to profit from that success.
As planned, Napoleon's remains repose today in a magnificent monument beneath the middle of the dome in the Invalides. The monument was designed by architect Louis Visconti in 1842, but was not completed until 1861.
A circular hollow was cut beneath the dome as a kind of open crypt. In it was placed a large sarcophagus - said to be of "red porphyry", but in fact of aventurine quartzite, similar to porphyry, from quarries in Karelia, Northern Russia on the shore of the Onega lake. The sarcophagus rests upon a base of green granite from the Vosges.That green granite block rests, in turn, upon a slab of black marble, 5.5m x 1.2m x 0.65m, quarried at Sainte-Luce and transported to Paris with great difficulty.
On 2 April 1861, Napoleon's coffin was transferred from the chapel of Saint-Jérôme, where it had lain since 1840. The transfer was accompanied only by an intimate ceremony: present were the Emperor Napoleon III, Empress Eugénie, the Prince Imperial Napoléon Eugène, other related princes, government ministers and senior officials of the crown.
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Events from the year 1840 in France.
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