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Well! Madam, throw that letter into
Chronicles of the day recorded that it was magnificent weather to celebrate an event which promised to be a triumph worthy of a Roman emperor.
No Berliner could possibly ignore what was about to happen, for since early that morning, bells rang throughout the town and guns fired salutes at regular intervals to announce the arrival of the conquering hero.
“THE MASTER OF SUCH A BEAUTIFUL ARMY SO BADLY DRESSED”
Then, suddenly, looking almost lost in the midst of so much military splendour, almost solitary, small and yet gigantic, a man who was dressed very plainly appeared, his left hand passed through two of the buttons of the dark green tunic of his Chasseurs à Cheval of the Imperial Guard uniform, mounted on a big white horse saddled with a magnificent crimson saddle trimmed with gold.
The staff consisted of Marshal Berthier, Major General of the Grande Armée, Marshal Davout, who entered Berlin for the second time, this time officially, and Marshal Augereau, together with the Grand Chamberlain of the Palace, Duroc, and the Master of the Horse, General Caulaincourt, followed by an escort of elegant young aides-de-camp brilliantly dressed in their gorgeous uniforms.
When they arrived at the Brandeburg Gate, the ceremonial parade came to a halt.
A delegation of prominent men led by General Hulin, who had just been appointed Military Governor, and Prince Hatzfeld, accompanied by the Chief of Police, Busching, Counsellor of Finance, Grote, and several members of Berlin ’s City Council symbolically proffered the keys of the city in submission to the conqueror as was the custom.
They were all greeted courteously by the Emperor and invited to his audience. All, except for one, Hatzefeld, whom Napoleon brusquely rebuked:
“Withdraw, Sir! Retire to your estates! Never appear in my presence again, you are dismissed!”
NAPOLEON’S LENIENCY TOWARDS HATZFELD
Why this sudden and uncharacteristic outburst of anger in public?
When Hatzfeld replaced Schulenburg as Governor of Berlin, Napoleon had left him in office despite his aversion for the Prussian who had been one of the most virulent leaders of the Prussian “War Party”. This was a distinguished honour and a mark of confidence for which the Prussian had thanked him in a particularly vile manner.
He was to be judged by court martial the following day. There was no doubt he would be condemned for espionage and that he would face a firing squad.
That night as Napoleon was returning to the apartments he occupied in the Royal Palace and was crossing one of the antechambers, he found himself in the presence of the Princess of Hatzfeld who was eight months pregnant which made her distress seem all the more apparent. If she happened to find herself in the right place strategically, it was thanks to Duroc, de Ségur and General Rapp, one of Napoleon’s staff officers, who had been moved by her distress.
According to Ségur, who never had any doubts as to the result of his stratagem, it was he who arranged for the Princess to find herself in the Emperor’s presence.
It seems that the Princess – she later related the scene herself – first tried to prove her husband’s innocence by saying she was the daughter of Minister Schulenburg, one of Napoleon’s most vehement enemies and that perhaps he [Napoleon] was seeking to take his revenge on her father by punishing his son-in-law.
Her remark was almost insulting for Napoleon and could have had disastrous consequences for her husband.
“Your husband, replied the Emperor calmly, without making any comment, has placed himself in a very serious situation and according to our laws he deserves to be sentenced to death.”
He then turned to Rapp, who handed him the letter which condemned Hatzfeld irreparably, and said:
“Read it, Madam!”
Napoleon wrote the rest of the story in a letter he addressed to Josephine:
“To the Empress, at Mainz “
“6th November, at 9 p.m., 1806
“I received your letter in which you seemed cross because of the ill that I speak of women [he is referring to Louise of Prussia who had been treated harshly in the Bulletins of the Grande Armée, and we shall soon see why]….However, you will see that I have just been kind to one who is tender-hearted and kind, Madame de Hatzfeld. When I showed her her husband’s letter, she said to me sobbing very emotionally and naively, “Ah, yes, that is indeed his writing!” The note of distress in her voice as she read it was profoundly moving and I felt sorry for her. I said to her, “Well! Madam, throw that letter into the fire, and I will no longer have the power to have your husband punished.” She burnt the letter and seemed very happy. Since then her husband has not been troubled; two hours later and he was lost. So you see, I like women who are kind, naïve and gentle, because they alone are like you.
“Farewell, my love. I am in good health.
How did the Prussian court react upon hearing of Napoleon’s clemency?
They reacted in their usual manner, at once claiming that it was heartless and cruel to exile Hatzfeld to his estates in Silesia. However, dismissing Hatzfeld and “inviting” him to retire to his estates as a precautionary measure was the least that Napoleon could do under the circumstances.
Notwithstanding the reaction at court, Madame de Hatzfeld, expressed her gratitude in a letter to the Emperor, who replied in the following terms:
“I read your letter with pleasure. I also remember with pleasure the moment when I was able to put an end to your grief. You may always run to me in future, under any circumstances, and if I may be of any assistance to you, I shall be happy to help you.”
That was how the man whom the European monarchies of the time only referred to as the “Ogre” really was, yet their odious terminology is still in use today.
On the day after the Battle of Jena, Napoleon, who had spent the night in the castle at Weimar, sent home all the Saxon soldiers who had been taken prisoners of war to the Elector of Saxony.
His generosity was to win a new ally to his cause, an ally who was to remain faithful to him in later years when he encountered an adverse change of fortune and who was never to forget that one day in 1806, Napoleon had made him king.
POLITICAL INTRIGUE BY LOUISE OF PRUSSIA
In his letter to Josephine, quoted above, we referred to the harsh way in which the Queen of Prussia was treated in the Bulletins of the Grande Armée. It was not without reason.
If we disregard the Mémoires of General Dumouriez who, after winning the battles of Valmy (20 September 1793) and Jemmapes (6 November the same year), defected to Austria after he was vanquished at Neerwinden (18 March 1793), there were also instructions to the Prussian ambassador in Madrid urging him to incite Spain to enter into the coalition, together with all sorts of instructions that were hostile to Napoleon and France. A few examples:
“Napoleon’s claims to power are still only those of a usurper for some of the great powers in Europe. For the other cabinets that have recognised him, they are only dictated by force. It would take only a moment to destroy a political edifice which was erected on the ruins of all the principals [of divine right, of course], on the debris of all the interests most cherished by nations and men in general [!]. This edifice rests on the head of Bonaparte alone, should he weaken, should he fall, he will be swept away with unheard of violence. These thoughts should suffice to dissuade any state guided by honour and foresight from sealing a pact of friendship with the French government.”
She had also written down her thoughts which, wrote one historian, were full of the “greatest sympathy” for the Tsar’s generosity notwithstanding the fact that he had not been generous enough to run to Prussia’s rescue after her defeat, generosity which was also to persuade Frederick-William go back on his formal agreement with Napoleon and declare war against the wishes of his Cabinet.
Finally, for good measure, the Queen’s private correspondence was particularly insulting towards Napoleon and contained insults that were so low and coarse that whenever Prussian historians quoted her letters they always felt obliged to replace the words by suspension points.
On the 16 November, Frederick-William signed an armistice in which he agreed to surrender all the fortresses and fortified towns still in his possession to Napoleon.
From then on, the Prussian sovereigns, humiliated by a defeat of which there is no other example in history, could only count on Russia to intervene, for unlike Austria, Russia had not made peace with France.
As for Napoleon, he was going to make the most of the short month that he was about to spend in the Prussian capital to complete his plans for a major project he had been thinking about for some time. He hoped that the result would ultimately bring about the downfall of the country that French author, Léon Bloy (1846-1917), only referred to as the “infamous island”, that is to say, England.
To be continued…