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Napoleon Escapes from Elba, but is Defeated at Waterloo:


Back to "Napoleonic Europe" Chronology


In the spring of 1814 Napoleon Bonaparte was forced to abdicate his throne by the allied forces of Europe (England, Prussia, Austria, and Russia) as well as malcontents in France herself (primarily royalists and people who were not royalists but still stood to gain from the reinstatement of the king). These latter were threatening civil war if Napoleon did not abdicate, and the former having captured Paris.

He was exiled to the island of Elba (a small island off the southern coast of France) where he received an annual allowance from France. The terms and stipulations of the exile were laid out in the treaty of Fontainbleau, signed the 11th of April, 1814.

Napoleon's repose on Elba was pleasant, and though the full staff which accompanied him to the island was only thirty-five, it still made up an imperial court. However, Napoleon was only a "play emperor" and he knew it.

To Paris:

While Napoleon settled in at Elba, the allies attempted to get things settled in France. Louis the XVIII reigned in France with the support of the royalists, but he was encountering difficulties. He attempted to slowly integrate the institutions set up by Napoleon with the old regime's principles: this upset the royalists very much because they were expecting a complete return to the old ways. During the reign of Napoleon a middle class had grown large and powerful in France. The reforms made first by the provisional government and later by Louis were in part aimed at diminishing their power. Obviously this created discontent within the masses.

On Elba, Napoleon grew weary of playing emperor. Many of the conditions of the treaty of Fontainbleau were not being met and Napoleon grew restless. Late one night he stole off with about 1200 troops aboard a hired frigate. He then marched his troops first toward Grenoble He met little armed resistance until he reached the hamlet of Laffray where he encountered a battalion of the 5th Regiment of the Line. Stepping forward from his little army, Napoleon advanced within a pistol shot of the hostile troops who had formed up and been given orders to open fire on the Emperor. They hesitated, at the sight of Napoleon so brazenly standing before him. It is recorded that he threw open his coat and shouted to them: "Let him that has the heart, kill his Emperor!" It is also recorded that these soldiers threw down their arms and cried "Vive l'Empereur!" Napoleon then ordered them to form up and they all marched on together.

Napoleon was received with hospitality at every turn. Word of his return spread quickly, and at the city of Lyons he was received as an Emperor. The people dismissed the governor which was appointed by the king and applauded Napoleon.

Napoleon encountered no more resistance to his march on Paris. In fact large groups of soldiers continued to join his army. Several of his old and trusted commanders joined up with him as well, going against direct orders form Louis to bring him "like a wild beast in a cage to Paris." Shortly thereafter, Louis fled to Gent in Belgium. On March 20th, 1815 Napoleon reclaimed Paris.


The allied powers were not happy. Napoleon had made it clear that he would accept peace if they would, they mistrusted him and desired him removed once and for all from power. Seven days before Napoleon's arrival in Paris, the Allies met in Vienna to decide what should be done. Napoleon was declared an outlaw and it was resolved that the Allies should combine armies and attack France from all sides.

No time was wasted by the Allies, however, they were not fully prepared to march on France until late May of 1815, almost two months behind schedule. This delay allowed Napoleon time to organize his own troops. He took measures as drastic as he possibly could to increase the size and strength of his armies. He called for many off duty soldiers as well as the reserves, the national guard, and militia to join him. He was reluctant to reinstate conscription, however, because he did not want to raise the people's ire against him.

Though Napoleon's efforts were great, he was only able to bring some 300,000 troops to bear against the Allies' combined armies of almost 1,000,000 men

When the time came, Napoleon had two strategies available to him. He could concentrate his troops defensively around Paris and Lyons, the two main cities in France and try to wear down the Allies armies, or he could attack and try to brake a numerically superior force. He chose the latter because should he wait defensively, large parts of France would be taken without resistance and this would not look good to the people, whose support he needed. The plan of attack he came up with was directed at the Allies' best generals who were masses along the northern boarder of France in the Netherlands, specifically Lord Wellington of England who marshaled Napoleon's last defeat. Should he defeat them not only would he secure the weakest of his three fronts, he would destroy the allied morale and rally his own people behind him as one.

On June 15th, very early in the morning the French troops that Napoleon had massed on his northern boarders in secret marched on Allied positions. Their initial objective was to take the town of Charleroi by the afternoon of the 15th. Napoleon's armies took the allies by surprise. The Prussian troops stationed around Charleroi began an unorganized retreat, but due to problems, French forces were unable to fully take their objective by the scheduled time. The situation was, however satisfactory. The next day, Napoleon's troops pushed further in. He ordered several brigades to destroy or at least cut off the remaining Prussians from the main body of Wellington's troops encamped just north of Waterloo near Brussels, which was his final objective in this battle. The rest of his armies marched toward Quatre-Bras.

At Quatre-Bras, Napoleon encountered more problems. He was consistently having communication troubles with his generals: late orders, lost orders, etc... Due to this, and even though his position at Quatre-Bras was very good, the victory at Quatre-Bras was not as satisfactory as it could have been: The Prussian's escaped destruction for the most part, as did many of the Allied troops stationed at Quatre-Bras. These were able to reform the next day with Wellington's troops at Waterloo. The main causes of this were indecisiveness by the marshal Napoleon had put in charge of this offensive as well as botched orders regarding a certain brigade of troops which could have aided in turning any one of several battles, but were useless, not participating in any fighting. Had this not happened the results of the next battle, that of Waterloo would surely have been different.

At Waterloo, Napoleon met with Wellington's troops as well as those troops who had escaped Quatre-Bras and regrouped. Some of these Allied troops were well entrenched and due to rain late the night before the ground was too soft for Napoleon to use artillery until late in the afternoon. Still, Napoleon needed to destroy his enemy quickly and finally, so his plan was simple: hit hard. The allies had already been retreating and regrouping for two days and he hoped to crush them here once and for all, despite the difficulties he'd been having. However, these same difficulties continued and are what led to his eventual defeat at Waterloo. The Prussians had been allowed to escape and rejoin the allied lines, and they came at a most inopportune time for Napoleon's assault. Once again there was trouble in the communication lines and his generals suffered from lack of vision. The resulting disorder and indecision allowed many opportunities for French victory to slip away and cost Napoleon the campaign. The blame, however can not be lain solely on his generals. Some of Napoleon's choices and assignments for generals and marshals were poor, and many of the resulting command problems stem directly from that.

Return to Exile:

After the defeat at Waterloo, Napoleon returned to Paris where he at first began to plan further resistance, but he was hostility resisted and the next day, on the 22nd of June he abdicated for a second time. He was induced to leave Paris and he attempted to flee to the United States, but was intercepted by the English, who held him prisoner until he surrendered to them on the 15th of July on board the ship, Bellerophon.

Louis the XVIII reclaimed the throne on July 8th, 1815 and signed the Second Treaty of Paris which gave some property to the allies as well as imposed an indemnity of 700 million francs, and 240 million francs in private claims. It also allowed the allies to occupy France from five to seven years time and excluded any Bonaparte from the French throne, in perpetuity. Another result of this was the formation of the Holy Alliance between Russia, Prussia, and Austria; which bound these three to keep their eye's on Europe to make sure that it was being governed according to Christian principles.

Napoleon himself was sent to St. Helena where he was to spend the rest of his life.


Lefebvre, Georges, Napoleon: from Tilset to Waterloo; (New York; Columbia University Press, 1970)

DeBourrienne, Louis Antoine Fauvelet, Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte; Vol. iv, (New York; Charles Scribner's Sons, 1891)

Sloane, William M., Life of Napoleon Bonapatre;, Vol. iv, (New York; The Century Co., 1909)

A. Libert, "The Napoleon Series" vol I, issue 2, April 3, (1966) p. 97 URL: http://www.ping.be/napoleon.series


Napoleon Bonaparte: First Emperor of France
The Napoleonic Wars
The Napoleon Series
The Armchair Commander's Site To The Napoleonic Era
Chronological Order: Battle of Waterloo
The Military History Page

Edited by: Steven R. Dahlin
Researched by: Peter W. Marks
Written by: Harvest J. Pack

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