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I) Elba, Napoleon’s ‘principality and personal property’


The Treaty of Fontainebleau of 11 April 1814, which decided Napoleon’s fate and which placed him in Elba, is delicately formulated. [1][1] A previous version of this paper was published in Philipp... In article 1, Napoleon renounced all sovereignty and domination over the French Empire and Italy. Article 2 allowed him to retain the title Emperor. Article 3 notes that Elba was the site ‘selected’ by Napoleon for his residence. [2][2] See A.-L.-A. de Caulaincourt, Mémoires du général de... It was to be “an independent principality possessed by him in complete sovereignty and as personal property” (“une principauté séparée qui sera possédée par lui en toute souveraineté et propriété”). Before Napoleon’s arrival, Elba was a sub-prefecture in the Département of Mediterranée and therefore part of ‘metropolitan’ France. It was to change on the signing of the Fontainebleau treaty. Once the allies (but not Britain) signed the treaty of Fontainebleau with Napoleon, the Provisional French government (represented by Talleyrand and Dalberg) acceded to it in a separate document (on the same day), as did Louis XVIII by a declaration signed one month and a half later (30 May, signed on Louis’ behalf by Talleyrand). Elba thus ceased to be France and became the principality of Elba. Great efforts were made by the allies to disguise the fact that Napoleon had been compelled to go there and that there would be, if not a guard, at least surveillance in the form of the British agent, Neil Campbell. [3][3] Napoleon himself was heard feeding this fiction, see... Furthermore, Napoleon was to receive financial assistance for the running of the island. Perhaps the most crucial and portentous article was the one stipulating that two million francs were to be paid to him by France every year.


When Napoleon arrived on Elba, it was not the ex-sub-prefect Giuseppe Balbiani who received the new sovereign of the island, but rather the mayor of Portoferraio, Pietro Traditi, whose granting of the keys of the city to Napoleon on the morning of 4 May 1814, provided a symbol of the handing over of authority – the formal written transfer of power had been executed by Drouot and Bertrand on Napoleon’s behalf the day before. [4][4] Branda, La guerre secrète, cit., p. 68. The island of Elba was Napoleon’s personal property, and as for the running of it, the new sovereign was to dictate to Bertrand a sort of ‘constitution’ laying out the foundations. Though short (a mere three pages), the document divided the running of the sovereign island into five sub-departments, namely, civil administration (funded by land taxation), the communes (funded by various local taxes), the domains reserved for the emperor (the palaces and their respective lands, the mines, salt flats, fisheries, and the island of Pianosa), the emperor’s household and the army (financed by the emperor’s reserved domains; and when this was insufficient, the emperor’s private purse). [5][5] See Pierre Branda, Guerre secrète, cit., pp. 78-81 There were four officers at the head of these sub-departments, directly under the sovereign emperor, all (apart from Balbiani) trusted collaborators from the old days: General Bertrand, Grand Maréchal of the palace and in charge of all the civilian administration on the island, General Drouot, Governor of the island and in charge of military matters (replacing the imperial governor, Dalesme), Balbiani (ex-imperial sous-préfet), the Intendant General, and Guillaume-Joseph Roux, Baron de Peyrusse, the treasurer. Almost all of Napoleon’s surviving ‘official’ correspondence from the Elba period is addressed to the first two of these four men and to no one else. That the administration of the island was entirely under the control of the sovereign and his ‘Maison’ or household is shown by the accounts published in Peyrusse’s Mémorial. [6][6] Baron Peyrusse, Mémorial et Archives de M. le baron... The ‘Maison de l’empereur’ provided the context for the administrative institutions, and the institutions themselves stood under the aegis of the household.


It is true that Napoleon instituted a council of state on the island, just as he had done in Paris, but here it was called the ‘Conseil souverain’ or sovereign council. Its twelve members comprised the four ‘Frenchmen’ mentioned above and certain important Elbans. [7][7] See Captaine de Vaisseau Montcabré’s remarks (cited... It never played a significant role in the running of the island government. The only surviving ‘official’ letter by Napoleon related to it refers to its judicial role. Five of the councillors were to act as a ‘Tribunal de première instance’, with Balbiani as president. [8][8] Pierre Branda, Guerre secrète, cit., p. 93. See also... The remaining members of the Conseil souverain would be the court of appeal (or ‘Cassation’) – over which either Bertrand or Drouot would preside. This was however not a major change from the judicial system in place before Napoleon’s arrival, when three judges, three ‘juges suppléants’ and an imperial procurer from Livorno (the chef-lieu of Méditerranée) presided over litigation. The Conseil Souverain never achieved the influence or importance of its Parisian forbear – the sovereign ruled for only 300 days. The rest of Napoleon’s ‘official’ correspondence on the island reveals the emperor (and his staff of four) dealing with almost every issue arising, whether administrative or other.


The army under Drouot was commanded by the fiery General Cambronne (soon to be of Waterloo fame), and it comprised a staff headquarters, a battalion of Grenadiers (the “Bataillon de l’île d’Elbe”), a free battalion of about three hundred men, for the most part Corsican (the “Chasseurs Corses”), a military band, a group of local gendarmes. The 566 loyal soldiers of the elite Garde impériale (both infantry and cavalry) came from France and represented by far the biggest expense on the island.


The navy of twenty-one men was placed under the direction of Ensign Taillade (a Corsican). He was promoted to lieutenant de vaisseau and made commander of the two-masted brig Inconstant. With its eighteen carronades, six officers and sixty-man crew, Inconstant was the flagship of the Elban flotilla. [9][9] Peyrusse (in, Mémorial, ed. cit., p. 237) gives Napoleon’s... However, Taillade’s cowardly behaviour during a storm (he nearly lost his ship) led to his being replaced by lieutenant J. Chautard, the naval man who ferried Napoleon back from Elba in 1815. Filidoro was port captain, the Corsican Paoli (lieutenant when Napoleon arrived) was soon appointed captain of the Gendarmerie and the latter’s lieutenant was Bernotti. The combined armed forces by 1815 on Elba numbered about 1,000 men. [10][10] See Branda, op. cit., pp. 134-47 and 337.

II) The imperial household and court at the ‘Palais impérial des Mulini’


As for the emperor’s household, this was run by Bertrand, Grand Marshal of the palace. Unlike in Paris, however, the household was not explicitly divided up into ‘palais’ and ‘chambre’, nor was there a separate Grand Chamberlain to oversee the ‘chambre’, Bertrand doing duty for both. Napoleon’s surviving correspondence shows us that Bertrand’s duties involved matters such as uniforms for the domestic service, cottons (lingerie), gardens (in both palaces), palace fabric, furniture and furnishings. [11][11] Napoleon, Registre de l’île d’Elbe, op. cit., p. 9... Beneath Bertrand were four chamberlains (all Elban locals), the louche aristocrat, Vincezo Paolo Vantini, the respected doctor, Christian Lapi (commander of the Elban national guard - Lapi was also director of domains and forests), Pietro Traditi (mayor of Portoferraio), and Giovanni Gualandi (the blind - and supposedly useless - mayor of Rio). As mentioned above, the four chamberlains were also members of the Conseil Souverain. These Elban locals were of little influence but served to give a semblance of ‘amalgame’ to the imperial court, the four chamberlains being representatives of four different social and political strata on Elba. [12][12] See Branda, Guerre secrète cit., pp. 168-9. By an order dated 15 May, 1814, [13][13] Peyrusse, Mémorial, ed. cit., p. 237. six ordnance officers were appointed in the service of the emperor, headed by chef d’escadron Jacques Roul: Zenone Vantini (son of the chamberlain), Antonio Binelli from Rio, Bernotto Bernotti from Marciana (Gendarmerie Captain Paoli’s lieutenant), Fortunio Senno, Domenico Pons de Leon de la Gorgone and Carlo Perez from Longone. [14][14] Peyrusse, Mémorial, ed. cit., «documents annexes»,... The household secretariat was run by Pierre Deschamps and Pierre Quintin Joseph Baillon, and they bore the titles Préfets or Adjoints de palais – they had been two of the four administrative secretaries at the Tuileries and ex-gendarmerie d’élite, and were consequently the lynchpins of the household. [15][15] Deschamps was a sort of palace governor for I Mulini,... The household was completed by Rathery, secretary to Bertrand but detailed to the emperor, the Doctor Foureau de Beauregard, pupil of Corvisart, and the Pharmacist, Gatte. [16][16] L.-J. Marchand, Mémoires de Marchand: premier valet... In addition to the largely French household were two Elbans (one of Corsican origin), Vincenzo Foresi, supplier to the imperial court on Elba, and Jean-Noël Santini (the Corsican, Garde de portefeuille and huissier (usher)). [17][17] For short biographical sketches of nearly all these...


Only the staff indispensable to the emperor were lodged at the ‘palace’, namely Bertrand (he had the next biggest apartment after Pauline and Madame Mère), then Drouot (who was allotted only three poorly furnished rooms), Cambronne, chef d’escadron Roul, [18][18] Head of ordnance in the palace, see Pons l’Héraut,... Baron Peyrusse. The doctor and pharmacist lodged in a ‘pavillion’ near the hospital, [19][19] R. Martinelli (ed.), Le mobilier: Inventario della... and almost all the rest of the emperor’s personal service, namely, Deschamps and Baillon, then Gillis (valet), Denis or Dorville (garçon de garde-robe), Santini, Rathery, Totin (maître d’hôtel), Ferdinand (chef de cuisine, with his two assistants, Lafosse and Chandelier), Lejeune (wine steward), Ali and Noverraz (chasseurs), lodged in numbered rooms in a building (now no longer standing) referred to as ‘the pavillion’. [20][20] Martinelli (ed.), Le mobilier, ed. cit., pp. 66-82 Those not residing in ‘the pavillion’ included Chauvin (head of the stables) and Amodru (piqueur) who lived in the stables, Hollard (gardener) who lived in the ‘garden pavillion’, and Pierron (chef d’office) who resided in ‘one of the four new lodgings’. [21][21] Martinelli (ed.), Le mobilier, ed. cit., p. 74.


As for the court and its physical surroundings, Bernard Chevallier has noted simply with respect to the furnishings in the Palace on Elba “with the limited means at his disposal, Napoleon desired at all costs to base himself on the ‘garde-meuble de la Couronne’, and that it was the ‘Etiquette du Palais imperial’, published in 1806, which served as the point of reference.” [22][22]  In Martinelli (ed.), Le mobilier, ed. cit., p. 1... The residence I Mulini was to be renamed ‘Palais impérial des Mulini’. [23][23] On all this see Branda, Guerre secrète cit., pp. 1...


In his memoirs Marchand, Napoleon’s valet, gives interesting details as to the way this court functioned: “For the palace on Elba the ceremonial was just like in the Tuileries, but on a smaller scale. One was admitted into this small court after being presented by the Grand Marshal or a chamberlain. ‘Entrées’ were accorded. Every Sunday, mass was said in one of the rooms in the Emperor’s apartment, namely, the one which stood before the salon; it was celebrated by the Vicar General, Abbé Arrighi (another Corsican and distantly related to Napoleon). [24][24] Arrighi was appointed « aumônier de l'Empereur », see... The Emperor was careful in his attendance, and the civil and military authorities were invited. The Emperor received them after mass. The church bells often rang in the town.” [25][25] Marchand, op. cit., p. 111. Treasurer Peyrusse in his memoirs backs this up: “The honour service was regulated exactly as it had been in France, with the reception and audience day established as Sunday after mass.” [26][26] Peyrusse, op. cit., p. 237 On his promenades, Napoleon was systematically accompanied by an escort (four or five Poles or Mamluks under colonel Raoul, commander of engineers), a chasseur (Noverraz or Ali), and Amodru (Napoleon’s piqueur). [27][27] Bourachot (ed.), Mameluck Ali, ed. cit.¸ p. 71. When driving out, if Bertrand and Drouot were in his carriage, they had to keep their hats off.


Another eye-witness, a captain in Louis XVIII’s navy, Jean Lacroix, Vicomte de Charrier-Moissard, recounts Napoleon’s presence at High Mass on 29 May for the festival of San Cristino (the patron saint of Portoferraio) in that town’s parish church. [28][28] Lacroix’s text was published by Jean Savant under the... The emperor was given full honours, accompanied by an escort in full dress uniform. When he reached the church, he was greeted at the door and accompanied into the building under a canopy. He did not however use the imperial throne provided for him, but preferred to take a seat at the entrance to the choir. The troops formed a battalion square outside the church. On the emperor’s departure from the church, the troops presented arms, a tattoo was beaten, the band played, the church bells rang, and cannons were fired. [29][29] ‘Journal de Charrier-Moissard’, ed. cit., p. 52-5,... Other official occasions included the ‘cercle’. Charrier-Moissard informs us that it lasted fifteen minutes, people stood in a circle and Napoleon passed from one person to the next, exchanging a few words with each. [30][30] ‘Journal de Charrier-Moissard’, ed. cit., p. 55. This is almost an exact replica of the diplomatic ‘cercle’ held during the Empire. The naval man also gives a bare account of a formal ball over which Napoleon presided. The emperor wore a military uniform, and when he entered the room, everyone rose and stood in silence. He was then led to the throne, where he sat during the ball. [31][31]  Ibid.


Members of the imperial family present on the island (Napoleon’s mother, Madame Mère, and his sister, Pauline) likewise played a role in the court. As had been the case during the Consulate and Empire, every Sunday there was the “diner de famille”, to which people in town were invited. Every evening there was a ‘cercle’ over which Madame Mère and the Princess Pauline presided. All those who had permission to enter the palace were admitted. On the stroke of ten, the Emperor retired to his apartments. The ‘cercle’ normally finished at midnight. [32][32] Marchand, op. cit., p. 112.


Again, matching the court first at Malmaison and then that later at Saint-Cloud, Napoleon established an official troop of actors. He converted a church to provide a court theatre. The actors were selected from amongst the soldiers, and the military band provided the orchestra. [33][33] Bourachot, Mameluck Ali, ed. cit.¸ p. 81. The first...

III) The emperor as micro-manager


Many of the commentators on Napoleon time on Elba have highlighted the emperor’s excessive bureaucracy and his hyperactivity. A large majority of the surviving ‘official’ letters [34][34] Published in the Registre de l’île d’Elbe. show Napoleon behaving more like a governor than a monarch and administering the island down to the last degree – rebuilding the latrines in Portoferraio because they smelt, for example, and organising the drapery in the imperial palaces. They also show us Napoleon paying great attention to public works, building roads and bridges, providing towns with water (Elba was notorious for its summer droughts), setting up corps of firemen, and providing corn. He even went so far as to try set up workshops for sculpture and an institution for the teaching of drawing. On 11 September, Napoleon wrote to Bertrand regarding the organisation of the imperial stables. [35][35] Napoléon, Registre de l’île d’Elbe, ed. cit., p. 1... This hyperactivity has been viewed (then and now) as un-imperial and even a sign of mental illness. Bertrand in his text describing Napoleon on Elba (corrected by Napoleon himself and published in Napoleon III’s edition of the Correspondence of Napoleon I) was keen to downplay how much Napoleon ‘got his fingers dirty’, remarking: “Tout se faisait par eux [Drouot, Boinod, Bertrand himself and Peyrusse]; l’Empereur ne s’occupait de rien”. [36][36] Napoléon, Correspondance publiée par ordre de l'Empereur... Norwood Young picks up on this managerial aspect to the exile and makes great sport of its futility, recounting an incident where the emperor turned his mind to the problem of bread rolls for the hunting dogs. Bertrand presented a written report to Napoleon requesting one bread roll per dog. Napoleon initialled the request in the margin of the document, but changed the bread to bran bread detailing the line in the budget from which the costs should be debited. [37][37] Norwood Young, op. cit., p. 237. Pélissier, editor of Napoleon’s Elban correspondence, too saw this micro-management as signs of the beginning of the emperor’s “décadence intellectuelle”. [38][38] Napoléon, Registre de l’île d’Elbe, ed. cit., p. x It would not appear, however, that Napoleon is here deliberately experimenting with a new sort of sovereignty, where the ruler becomes a sort of maxi-prefect. Throughout his consular and imperial ‘reigns’, one of his specific character traits is his inability to stop trying to control every sort of administration, even down to the smallest detail, whether the shoes for soldiers and the hay for the horses during the First Italian Campaign, or the laws in the code civil (he attended nearly two thirds of all the redaction meetings) during the Consulate, or the laundry at the Tuileries palace (he once asked to inspect several years’ worth of laundry archives after having received a dirty napkin) during the Empire period, or the incessant instructions sent to Eugène as viceroy of Italy and the marshals in Spain telling them what to do in minute detail – despite the fact that he was thousands of miles away and the orders arrived too late to be followed. On Elba, this trait is not new but simply exacerbated.

IV) Finances


We can see from Napoleon’s accounts for his period on Elba, [39][39] Published by Norwood Young, op. cit., pp. 206-7. that the two things of quintessential importance on Elba were the household and the military administration, the household costing only 10% less than the military. The remaining civil administration (‘intendance’, tribunals, the imperial receiver, post office, church, roads, mine administration, and tax collection) was funded at 90% less than either of these. The money to pay for these ‘outgoings’ was supposed to come from tax revenue from the island, revenue from the mines in Rio, tax on salt, money from fisheries and sundries, Napoleon’s own finances and, of course, the two million francs stipulated in the Fontainebleau treaty. However, when France refused to pay the two million, Napoleon soon realised that he could not make ends meet. [40][40] Whilst it is true that Louis XVIII had no desire to... Tax collecting on the island soon became crucial, and therefore a matter causing social unrest. Refusal to pay tax arrears in the town of Capoliveri can be considered as emblematic of reaction on the island. Here the locals claimed that the uncollected taxes from before Napoleon’s reign did not belong to the emperor. And when gendarmes and mounted police came to enforce collection, they were driven back by the inhabitants, led by two local priests. A second force of 200 men had to be sent to sort the problem out. [41][41] The two priest instigators were arrested and brought... Tax requisitions were so disliked that the inhabitants sent to the British agent, Campbell, asking for protection against “the exactions of their sovereign”. [42][42] Norwood Young, op. cit., p. 199. Finances remained however a problem. In the surviving ‘official’ correspondence, from 20 October on, accounts and money saving schemes are frequently the subject. [43][43] Napoléon, Registre de l’île d’Elbe, p. 173 ff.


As Pierre Branda has shown in his book, Napoléon et l’argent, [44][44] P. Branda, Napoléon et l’argent, Paris: Fayard, 2007,... the regime on Elba could not have continued for more than another year without the money from France, as per the Treaty of Fontainebleau. Whilst it is true that the emperor could have borrowed money, [45][45] Napoleon himself on St Helena noted to the doctor Barry... he was however wary of usury and perfectly aware than loans would not have sorted out his fundamental insolvency caused by the lack of the two million. That Napoleon was unwilling to take the obvious decision of saving a great deal of money by laying off the Guard, shows that for him military protection and prestige were worth more than living on credit. It is of course true that without his six hundred elite soldiers, he would not have been safe from foreign attack, particularly from North Africa. The cost of the presence of guard was therefore an important factor in the decision to leave the island.

V) Napoleon, the ‘legitimate’ ruler of Elba


Throughout his time at the head of the French state Napoleon was sensitive to what you could call his ‘legitimacy’, understandable given that, unlike his ‘cousins’ (as he called the other heads of royal Europe), he was not born into his role. On St Helena he described his situation as follows: “I had emerged from the crowd. I needed, as a necessity, to create myself an exterior, to give myself a certain gravitas, succinctly put, a certain etiquette. Otherwise people would always have been slapping me on the back.” His position, his court, his polity – he had it all tailor-made for himself. The emperor is supposed to have said to Ségur: “I have dethroned no one. I found the crown in the gutter. I picked it up, and the People put it on my head. Their deeds must be respected”.


The First Consul and then Emperor felt that he had to work hard to keep the crown on his head, deeply conscious as he was of the fragility of his ‘legitimacy’. How could he not be, surrounded as he was by his colleagues of not so long ago, all of whom might have had designs upon his spot? Metternich reported how the emperor regretted not being able to claim the ‘legitimacy’ of the ancien régime. [46][46] C. Metternich, Mémoires: documents et écrits divers... As a result, Napoleon expended a great deal of energy establishing different sorts of legitimacy, experimenting with at least five different types during his rule in France. [47][47] See T. Lentz, ‘Napoleonic legitimacies and the proclamation...


The first was what you might call ‘law of the jungle’ legitimacy (I won the crown by might). Napoleon may not have deposed a single individual, but he did depose five in the form of the Directory. From his success as the sword of the Brumaire coup d’état, he claimed a legitimacy based on the concept of the rule of strongest. Having thus established himself in place, he shored up this position by means of national votes; what could be called a popular and representative legitimacy. The three successful plebiscites of the Consulate (on the consulship, on the life consulship, and on the elevation to imperial status) enabled Napoleon to point to the massive majority in his favour and say that the people had backed his rule and were his legitimacy. In this way, Napoleon replaces divine right with the sovereignty of the people. Enclosed in this popular legitimacy was a Republican legitimacy derived from the fact that the political actors had accepted Napoleon as consul, life consul and then emperor. However, this permanent quest for legitimacy did not confine itself to Republican political forms and structures. It also merged apparently seamlessly into a quasi-, and then outrightly, monarchical legitimacy. The quasi-monarchical appeared in the shape of ancien régime ‘borrowings’ introduced almost immediately upon the creation of the Consulate, in the face of the latter’s resolutely Republican essence. A mere two months after the Brumaire coup, First Consul Bonaparte moved the seat of government from the symbolically anodyne Palace of Luxembourg, where the Directors had met, to the highly charged ‘realm of memory’, the Tuileries Palace. [48][48] During the Revolutionary period, the Tuileries palace... It was also no accident that here Napoleon chose for his apartments what had been the rooms of Louis XVI. Appearances were not deceptive. Napoleon was there as monarch. [49][49] Fouché seems to have been mistaken when he noted at... Indeed, the architect Fontaine later noted in his Journal that Napoleon regarded the Tuileries Palace as “the sanctuary of monarchy”. [50][50] P. F. L. Fontaine, Journal, Paris: Ecole nationale... And as the consular regime progressed, its ‘monarchisation’ [51][51] Term coined by T. Lentz in Le grand Consulat : 1799-1804,... increased, with weekly masses at Saint-Cloud (post the 1802 Concordat with the Holy See) and with the compilation of a book of etiquette for the consular ‘court’ based on ancien régime practices. [52][52] See Hicks, ‘Napoleon und sein Hof’, op. cit., 24-6 But the outrightly monarchical took the form of the Senate appointing Napoleon emperor (May 1804) and then the pope coming from Italy to perform emperor’s imperial consecration and coronation at a religious ceremony later on the same year. Dovetailing with this constitutional and monarchical legitimacy stood the comparison (and inheritance) which Napoleon himself boasted that his own emperorship had with that of Charlemagne. [53][53] See Lentz, ‘Napoleonic legitimacies and the proclamation... Cambacérès, the Second Consul after Brumaire, gives a striking description of Napoleon and his hankering after Charlemagne in his Mémoires noting how Napoleon, at the very beginning of office, was obsessed with “the idea of giving his government the ancient character which it lacked. He would have preferred to have drawn a veil over the authorities which had preceded him post 1792 and to have made the consular power the heir of the monarchy. For this reason, much later on, he tried to place no intermediary between Charlemagne and the proclamation of Empire.” [54][54] J.-J. de Cambacérès, Mémoires inédits: éclaircissements... Metternich in his memoirs backs this up: “His [Napoleon’s] heroes were Alexander, Caesar and above all Charlemagne. He was strangely obsessed with the pretension that he was de facto and de jure the latter’s successor. I have seen him many times lose himself in interminable discussions with me, supporting this strange paradox with some of the feeblest arguments. It was apparently my status as Austrian ambassador which led him to harp on this subject to me.” [55][55] Metternich, Mémoires, ed. cit., pp. 282-283.


Napoleon’s legitimacy or self-‘monarchisation’, then, was dependent upon time and place (his dynasty had reigned for barely fourteen years). Once in exile, his claim to the French throne is severely compromised. And this situation is the opposite of the case for a hereditary monarch in exile. In that situation, legitimacy is in no way hindered by absence. The hereditary monarch in exile pursues a return to a ‘rightful’ throne and has no doubts about his own legitimacy. Indeed, he is convinced that his claim is more legitimate than that of the ruler who has deposed him. Such was the case with the long exile of Louis XVIII. The Bourbon’s perception of his divine and familial right to be sovereign of France provided the fuel for his long campaign. Napoleon’s claims for legitimacy, on the other hand, is circumstantial and has shallower roots.


So when we come to Napoleon’s exile on Elba we are presented with a situation which is upside down with respect to the normal ‘rules’ of exile. The allies and the provisional French government (ratified by Louis XVIII) grant Napoleon Elba via the treaty of Fontainebleau. His rule is therefore entirely legitimate. It is furthermore royal – the island is his principality. There is no democracy or consensus, there is no Bonapartism or system, only pure Royalism; and no emblazoned desire to regain his French throne. Indeed it is almost as if Napoleon is not in exile at all. Major I. H. Vivian, a British visitor to Napoleon in 1815, noted perceptively after his interview with the emperor on Elba that: “Bonaparte held the island in full sovereignty, having his army, […], his navy, his treasury – he imposed taxes; in short, no monarch could be more absolute.” [56][56] See J. Holland Rose, Pitt and Napoleon: Essays and... In the centralisation of all power on the island into himself and with the combination of the island accounts with those of the crown, Napoleon de facto renders the whole island his “domaine privée”. His reign there is thus very ‘traditional’.


As to the difficult question as to whether Napoleon never intended to stay on Elba, it seems that, as usual, the emperor was keeping his options open. Pons l’Héraut thought that he probably intended to stay. In a chapter on Napoleon’s coaches on Elba, the Frenchman noted that “the emperor brought in his train a quantity of fine coaches and horses, which could only have been an annoying complication and excessive expense for a temporary establishment”. [57][57] Pons l’Héraut, op. cit., pp.XL note 2; see also note... Napoleon himself (speaking through the mouthpiece of Las Cases in the Memorial) blamed the politicians in Vienna for his early departure, and perhaps we should take him seriously: “My existence […] on Elba”, he noted, “was still very enviable, very pleasant. I was soon going to create there a new sort of sovereignty; the most distinguished people in Europe began to pass in review before me. I would have offered the world a spectacle never before seen; that of a monarch who had come down from the throne but who saw parade eagerly before him the civilised world. People might object, it is true, that the allies would have taken my island away from me, and I agree that this circumstance hastened my return. But if France had been well governed, if the French had been content, my influence would have been at an end, I was history, and no one in Vienna would have dreamed of moving me on.” [58][58] Comte de Las Cases, Le mémorial de Sainte-Hélène, ed....


To recapitulate, then, Napoleon paid his own bills on Elba, he owned the court buildings, and he continued to run a full blown imperial court (despite the expense). The locals reacted positively to his arrival but later became disenchanted at the excessive taxes. In dynastic terms however, Napoleon was correct to say “Je suis un homme mort”. [59][59] Sir Neil Campbell, Napoleon on Elba. Diary of an eyewitness... He had no contact with other rulers, or indeed his wife and son. None of his court travelled to other courts, and his international relations were perforce limited. But this did not prevent him, ever the politician, from seizing a chance when it came: he was clearly able to communicate covertly with supporters both in Italy and in France, and that the loyal soldiers of his guard kept communication channels open with the homeland. Nevertheless it is generally accepted (following Antoine-Claire Thibaudeau and Adolphe Thiers) that these contacts did not in any way represent a massive ‘Napoleonist’ plot for the emperor’s return. Indeed Napoleon is reported to have proudly claimed that the ‘eagle’s flight’ owed its success not to a conspiracy of his supporters, in particular Carnot, Fouché, Cambacérés, Savary, Thibaudeau and Queen Hortense, but rather to the affection of the people and army. And Thibaudeau goes on to note that the conspiracy theory was propounded particularly by Chateaubriand in the Moniteur as an attempt to downplay the shame of the Bourbon fall. [60][60] See A.-C. Thibaudeau, Mémoires de A.-C. Thibaudeau:...


And as for whether Napoleon really could (would?) have stayed on the island we cannot in the end provide an answer, since as Napoleon himself avowed, the decision of the Vienna congress to send him on to St Helena forced his hand and led him to chance all in a return to France. [61][61] See J.-O. Boudon, “Pourquoi Sainte-Hélène?”, in B.... That being said, Napoleon’s idyllic, ‘perfect’ situation on Elba was however mined by two key structural features of the kingdom. Firstly, the rule could not be independent since it relied upon an external power for finance. And secondly, the Elban polity could have no relationship with the outside world – despite the delicate phrasing of the Fontainebleau treaty, Napoleon had been banished there. He did not (and could not) have a minister for foreign relations – not even he himself could perform the role. The edifice was fundamentally flawed, despite Napoleon’s serious attempts to make a go of it (it cost him a lot of money). [62][62] The Elban exile has been described as scene from a... Whether he wanted to go or not, circumstances drove Napoleon to return to France, to leave the perfect legitimacy of Elba and to chance his arm for contingent legitimacy of France.



A previous version of this paper was published in Philipp Mansel and Torsten Riotte (eds), Monarchy and exile. The politics of legitimacy from Marie de Médicis to Wilhelm II, London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011, ‘Napoleon on Elba: an exile of consent’, pp. 214-229. For the text in French, see M. Kerautret, Les Grands Traités de l’Empire: la chute de l’Empire et la restauration européenne (1811-1815), Paris: Nouveau Monde Editions/Fondation Napoléon, 2004, p. 126. For the text in English, see Norwood Young, Napoleon in exile: Elba (1814-1815), London: Stanley Paul & Co, 1914, pp. 43-8.


See A.-L.-A. de Caulaincourt, Mémoires du général de Caulaincourt duc de Vicence grand écuyer de l'Empereur / introduction et notes de Jean Hanoteau, Paris: Plon, 1933, vol. 3, pp. 226 and 240 ff. Czar Alexander had been initially against the idea of Elba, as was Napoleon, it being too small and not continental. Corsica, Sardinia and Corfu were also suggested but rejected. In the subsequent negotiations with Alexander, Elba was the preferred site of Napoleon’s negotiator, Caulaincourt, since it had good weather and good defences. The fortress in Portoferraio was renowned as one of the strongest in Europe! see Pierre Branda, La guerre secrète de Napoléon. Île d’Elbe 1814-1815, Paris: Perrin, 2014, p. 67. It has also been (cynically) suggested that the Czar was happy that Austria should be permanently perturbed by having Napoleon on the doorstep of its interests in Italy. The author of Fouché’s memoirs (whether Fouché or not, the jury is still out…) famously noted in a letter supposedly from Fouché to the comte d'Artois in 1814, that Napoleon on Elba was as threatening for Europe as Vesuvius was for Naples: "Le plus grand de tous les intérêts pour la France et pour l'Europe [...] c'est le repos des peuples et puissances; on n'en jouirait jamais, tant que l'empereur Napoléon serait dans l'île d'Elbe. Napoléon sur ce rocher serait pour l'Italie, pour la France, pour toute l'Europe, ce que le Vésuve est à côté de Naples.", Mémoires de Joseph Fouché, duc d'Otrante, ministre de la police générale, Paris : Le Rouge, Volume 2, 14 décembre 1824, p. 289. Indeed, the allies thought that if Napoleon was ever to attempt ‘to return to international politics’, he would do so via Italy.


Napoleon himself was heard feeding this fiction, see Pierre Branda, La guerre secrète de Napoléon. Île d’Elbe 1814-1815, Paris : Perrin, 2014, p. 68.


Branda, La guerre secrète, cit., p. 68.


See Pierre Branda, Guerre secrète, cit., pp. 78-81.


Baron Peyrusse, Mémorial et Archives de M. le baron Peyrusse (1809 - 1815) Trésorier général de la Couronne. Pendant les Cent-Jours Vienne, Moscou, Ile d'Elbe, Carcassonne: Labau et Lajoux, 1869, vol. 1, p. 236-7.


See Captaine de Vaisseau Montcabré’s remarks (cited in Pierre Branda, Guerre secrète cit., p. 112) : « […] il a créé un Conseil d’État, des chambellans… ». Its role was not in theory to be limited to merely that of a law court and court of appeal (Cassation).


Pierre Branda, Guerre secrète, cit., p. 93. See also Napoleon, Le registre de l'île d'Elbe: lettres et ordres inédits de Napoléon 1er, 28 mai 1814-22 février 1815, ed. L.-G. Pélissier, 2nd ed. Paris: A. Fontemoing, 1897, p. 60.


Peyrusse (in, Mémorial, ed. cit., p. 237) gives Napoleon’s flotilla as follows: Bacchante (a ‘goelette’), Légère (a half-‘chébec’), Caroline (an ‘aviso’) and 3 ‘canots’. Pierre Branda (Guerre secrète cit., p. 338) gives rather (in addition to Inconstant and the 3 ‘canots’) Abeille (an aviso), Caroline (a 2-gun mouche (sic)), Etoile (ex-Etrusco, a 6-canon goélette) and Mouche (an aviso).


See Branda, op. cit., pp. 134-47 and 337.


Napoleon, Registre de l’île d’Elbe, op. cit., p. 90.


See Branda, Guerre secrète cit., pp. 168-9.


Peyrusse, Mémorial, ed. cit., p. 237.


Peyrusse, Mémorial, ed. cit., «documents annexes», no. 61.


Deschamps was a sort of palace governor for I Mulini, see Branda, Guerre secrète cit., p. 115 and Pierre Branda, Napoléon et ses hommes, Paris: Fayard, 2011, p. 455. Baillon was in charge of the stables and boats, see Branda, Guerre secrète cit., pp. 115-16 and Branda, Napoléon et ses hommes cit., p. 455.


L.-J. Marchand, Mémoires de Marchand: premier valet de chambre et exécuteur testamentaire de l'Empereur / publiés d'après le manuscrit original par Jean Bourguignon, … Paris: Tallandier, 1985, p. 109.


For short biographical sketches of nearly all these figures, see André Pons l’Héraut, Souvenirs et anecdotes de l’île d’Elbe, ed. Léon G. Péllisier, Paris: Plon, 1897, pp. 74-82, 192.


Head of ordnance in the palace, see Pons l’Héraut, op. cit., pp. 79.


R. Martinelli (ed.), Le mobilier: Inventario della residenza imperiale di Napoleone all’Elba, Livorno: Sillabe, 2005, p. 86.


Martinelli (ed.), Le mobilier, ed. cit., pp. 66-82.


Martinelli (ed.), Le mobilier, ed. cit., p. 74.


In Martinelli (ed.), Le mobilier, ed. cit., p. 15.


On all this see Branda, Guerre secrète cit., pp. 108-114.


Arrighi was appointed « aumônier de l'Empereur », see Pons l’Héraut, op. cit., pp. 73, 80-81.


Marchand, op. cit., p. 111.


Peyrusse, op. cit., p. 237


Bourachot (ed.), Mameluck Ali, ed. cit.¸ p. 71.


Lacroix’s text was published by Jean Savant under the title ‘Journal de Charrier-Moissard’, in Toute l’histoire de Napoléon, vol 11, April 1952, pp. 37-67. The manuscript belonged to Frédéric Masson and is presumably held today at the Paris Bibliothèque Marmottan. Jean Lacroix had a career as a naval man during the Consulate and Empire, ending up as Rear Admiral. In addition to his historic role as commandant of the L’Inconstant in 1814, he also transported the Duchesse de Berry in 1816, on Néréïde.


‘Journal de Charrier-Moissard’, ed. cit., p. 52-5, 57.


‘Journal de Charrier-Moissard’, ed. cit., p. 55.




Marchand, op. cit., p. 112.


Bourachot, Mameluck Ali, ed. cit.¸ p. 81. The first play performed was Regnard’s Folies amoureuses.


Published in the Registre de l’île d’Elbe.


Napoléon, Registre de l’île d’Elbe, ed. cit., p. 114.


Napoléon, Correspondance publiée par ordre de l'Empereur Napoléon III, Paris: Imprimerie Impériale (1858), vol. 31, p. 17.


Norwood Young, op. cit., p. 237.


Napoléon, Registre de l’île d’Elbe, ed. cit., p. x.


Published by Norwood Young, op. cit., pp. 206-7.


Whilst it is true that Louis XVIII had no desire to pay Napoleon the money, the Restoration treasury was very hard up, indeed it did not have even enough money to pay its own troops, many of which had to be placed on half pay. This penury of soldiers was partly responsible for of the extraordinary success of the ‘Retour de l’aigle’ in 1815.


The two priest instigators were arrested and brought before a Military Commission. Initially threatened with the death penalty, their sentence was commuted, and they were handed over to their spiritual head, the Vicar General Arrighi, to be given a punishment less than capital. See Napoleon’s letter to Drouot, dated Porto Ferraio 28 and 29 November, 1814, quoted in the auction catalogue Importants souvenirs historiques de l’Empereur Napoléon Ier, Paris: Drouot, 4 December, 1991, lot no. 107.


Norwood Young, op. cit., p. 199.


Napoléon, Registre de l’île d’Elbe, p. 173 ff.


P. Branda, Napoléon et l’argent, Paris: Fayard, 2007, “Les difficiles finances de l’île d’Elbe”, pp. 60-68.


Napoleon himself on St Helena noted to the doctor Barry O’Meara: “When I was at Elba, I had deputations from the four first commercial cities in France offering me whatever money I wanted, and from Americans also.” Remark recorded in O’Meara’s letter to Finlaison, dated March 16, 1816, British Library, Ms. Add. 20,146, fol. 50v.


C. Metternich, Mémoires: documents et écrits divers / laissés par le prince de Metternich,...; publiés par son fils, le prince Richard de Metternich; classés et réunis par M.A. de Klinkowstroem, Paris: E. Plon, 1881-1884, tome 1, p. 283: “One of his deepest and most constant regrets was not being able to invoke the principle of legitimacy as the basis of his power. Few men have been so profoundly marked as he by the realisation of how precarious and fragile authority is once deprived of this foundation, and how strong a bastion legitimacy provides against attack.”


See T. Lentz, ‘Napoleonic legitimacies and the proclamation of Empire’, online at, consulted in April 2014.


During the Revolutionary period, the Tuileries palace had been occupied by the “Representatives of the People”, notably the Comité de Salut public and later Conseil des cinq cents or Senate. Antoine-Claire Thibaudeau considered this Revolutionary occupation “a sort of homage given to the majesty of ‘La Nation’”, A. C. Thibaudeau, Mémoires sur le Consulat: 1799 à 1804 / par un ancien conseiller d'Etat, Paris: Ponthieu, 1827, p. 1.


Fouché seems to have been mistaken when he noted at the time that “the consuls’ new residence should cause no concern whatsoever for real Republicans”, quoted in Dictionnaire Napoléon, ed. Jean Tulard, Paris: Fayard, 1999, s.v., ‘Cour impériale’ (Tulard), p. 581; although perhaps there is an ironic force in the expression ‘real Republicans’?


P. F. L. Fontaine, Journal, Paris: Ecole nationale des beaux arts: Institut français d'architecture: Société de l'histoire de l'art français, 1987, cited in Bernard Chevallier, Napoléon, les lieux de pouvoir, (Paris): Artlys, 2004, p. 33. For the gradual creation of Napoleon’s monarchical court during the Consulate, see P. Hicks, ‘Napoleon und sein Hof’, in V. Veltzke (ed.), Napoleon: Trikolore und Kaiseradler über Rhein und Weser, Cologne, Weimar, Vienna: Böhlau Verlag, pp. 23-32.


Term coined by T. Lentz in Le grand Consulat : 1799-1804, [Paris]: Fayard, 1999, p. 331-51.


See Hicks, ‘Napoleon und sein Hof’, op. cit., 24-6.


See Lentz, ‘Napoleonic legitimacies and the proclamation of Empire’, art. cit.


J.-J. de Cambacérès, Mémoires inédits: éclaircissements publiés par Cambaceres sur les principaux événements de sa vie politique / présentation et notes de Laurence Chatel de Brancion, Paris: Perrin, 1999, v. 1: La Révolution, le Consulat, p. 489.


Metternich, Mémoires, ed. cit., pp. 282-283.


See J. Holland Rose, Pitt and Napoleon: Essays and Letters, London: G. Bell and Sons, 1912, p. 179.


Pons l’Héraut, op. cit., pp.XL note 2; see also note 3: “I seize on everything which would tend to prove ‘moralement’ that the misdeeds of the Holy Alliance made the emperor leave the island of Elba much sooner than he wanted to, that is, if he ever wanted to leave in the first place.”


Comte de Las Cases, Le mémorial de Sainte-Hélène, ed. Marcel Dunan, Paris: Flammarion 1951, ‘17 April, 1816’.


Sir Neil Campbell, Napoleon on Elba. Diary of an eyewitness to exile, ed. Jonathan North, Welwyn Garden City: Ravenhall Books, 2004, ‘May 25’: “On it being remarked that he had many adherents still in France, he said, “Oh! The Emperor is dead. I am no longer anything”.


See A.-C. Thibaudeau, Mémoires de A.-C. Thibaudeau: 1799-1815, (ed. E. D.) Paris: Plon, 1913, p. 451, and A. Thiers Histoire du Consulat et de l'Empire, Paris: Paulin, 1845-1862, vol. XIX, p. 32.


See J.-O. Boudon, “Pourquoi Sainte-Hélène?”, in B. Chevallier, M. Dancoisne-Martineau and T.Lentz (eds), Sainte-Hélène: île de mémoire, Paris: Fayard, 2005, pp. 47-51.


The Elban exile has been described as scene from a comic opera. L. Mascilli Migliorini, Napoleone, Roma: Salerno editrice, 2002, p. 403 noted: “Here time and history are only slower and on a small scale, and what is asked of the Emperor is that he should adapt himself to these smaller dimensions… Here is not the first step in the great fall but rather a colourful play, a comedy of equivocations, if you will, where each actor – Sovereign, courtiers, diplomats, soldiers, administrators and subjects – consciously play their part against an almost theatrical backdrop.” This is however too glib. It was an expensive exercise, taken quite seriously at first, but finally rejected for lack of means.



This paper is a description of the administration and Court which Napoleon established on the island of Elba – a mere ten months. It is also a reflection upon Napoleon in terms of his legitimacy and kingship, and the way in which he dealt with his brief exile on the island of Elba.


Cet article est une description de l'administration et de la Cour que Napoléon établit sur l'île d'Elbe – pendant à peine dix mois. C'est aussi une réflexion sur Napoléon, sa légitimité et son exercice du pouvoir durant son bref exil sur l'île d'Elbe.

Plan de l'article

  1. I) Elba, Napoleon’s ‘principality and personal property’
  2. II) The imperial household and court at the ‘Palais impérial des Mulini’
  3. III) The emperor as micro-manager
  4. IV) Finances
  5. V) Napoleon, the ‘legitimate’ ruler of Elba

Pour citer cet article

Hicks Peter, « Napoleon On Elba – An Exile Of Consent », Napoleonica. La Revue, 1/2014 (N° 19), p. 53-67.

DOI : 10.3917/napo.141.0053

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