1814: The Last Napoleonic Victories

Patrick Turnbull describes how, during the two months that preceded his abdication at Fontainebleau, Napoleon performed ‘prodigies of genius’.

On the evening of January 24th, 1814, only three people sat down to table in the vast dining room of the Tuileries; the Emperor Napoleon, his wife the Austrian Marie Louise, and Hortense, ex-Queen of Holland, at the same time his stepdaughter and sister-in-law. It was not a cheerful occasion. Marie Louise was in tears, Hortense silent, while Napoleon maintained a nervous monologue in an endeavour to express an optimism he was far from feeling.

In October of the previous year, at Leipzig, ‘The Battle of the Nations’, the Grande Armée had been virtually destroyed. Nevertheless, the terrible losses of the allies - Russians, Prussians, Austrians, and Swedes - prevented them from exploiting their victory to the full. As a result, Napoleon was counting on the late autumn and winter months to give him time to build up a force with which to meet the invasion he knew he would be called upon to face in the spring.

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