The summer of 1815 was a turbulent one in France. On June 18th, the Battle of Waterloo brought to an end Napoleon's attempted comeback in the Hundred Days. Returning to Paris, he declared 'All is not lost' while taking a bath in the Elysée Palace, but he enjoyed scant support and was obliged to abdicate.
A visitor who went to see him to tell him to give up found Bonaparte 'calm and serene with a faint but gracious smile – he spoke with firmness and precision'. Instead of trying to get to America as some suggested, he threw himself on the mercy of the British, ending up in his second exile on the bleak South Atlantic outpost of St Helena.
At this point, two centuries ago, the victorious Allies – Britain, Austria, Russia and Prussia – would determine the fate of France. Their occupation army numbered 150,000 men. Their troops pitched their tents along the Champs-Elysées and frequently drunken British soldiers reeled through the streets of the capital insulting the French.
The Austrian chancellor, Metternich, came from Vienna, Tsar Alexander from St Petersburg and, from Berlin, the 72-year-old Prussian Marshal Blücher, whose intervention had been decisive at Waterloo. Wellington ruled as a pro-consul; he presided over weekly balls and annoyed farmers outside the capital by importing his pack of hounds and hunting with them over fields without warning or compensation for the damage caused.
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