Volume II

CHAPTER 27

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“I am not concerned whether two nations are
separated by rivers, nor whether they speak
different languages. There are only slight
differences between France, Spain, Italy,
Germany, England, for they all have the same
customs, the same habits and the same religion”

(Napoleon to Roederer)

 

Napoleon took up his quarters in the heart of Prussia, Berlin, with his victorious army.

In what atmosphere would an occupation amongst a population which had, until recently, been convinced of the superiority of its own army and had shown only contempt and hostility take place?

Would the French have to face the animadversion of Berliners?

It was a surprise.

There was no hate at all. At all levels of society, including Berlin’s high society, they only encountered servile goodwill which was perfectly summed up in the following passage written by a German historian.

“Napoleon remained in Berlin for a month and from the day following his arrival he showed unexpected moderation and tolerance which Berliners more than deserved for they rivalled in servility to such a degree that they inspired the proud Emperor himself with contempt. The town officials were amongst those who particularly distinguished themselves by their despicable conduct. Never in the past, had the French been so well informed by native spies. These servile characters were to be found in every class of Berlin’s degenerate society. The inhabitants of Berlin showed so much debasement of character that one day Napoleon said, shaking his head, that he didn’t know whether he should be pleased or ashamed for Berliners.”

 

A REGIMENT OF DESERTERS

In exchange for payment, many informers came forward spontaneously, offering to reveal the whereabouts of the military depots where the clothes and supplies of the Prussian Army were stored. One of them, who had just given a French official information indicating where the wood – which was of vital importance strategically at the time - belonging to the crown was stocked, received a reply which should have made him die of shame:

“Very well, but the King of Prussia would do well to keep a little wood to hang the scoundrels who betray him.”

A cruel, but realistic French cartoon of the time, illustrating Prussian
arrogance immediately followed by base flattery after defeat.

Prussian aristocrats from the oldest families also rallied to Napoleon without the slightest hesitation although they were under no obligation whatsoever to do so. A collection of letters edited under the title, “Private Letters”, which contains the previous anecdote, also reveals the edifying story of the Prince of Isembourg, who offered nothing less than to place a regiment made up of … Prussian officers and men who had either deserted or been taken prisoners at the Emperor’s disposal.

As Napoleon had no objective reason to refuse despite the poor opinion he must inevitably have had of the Prussian aristocrat, he named Isembourg colonel of his unusual regiment.

Taking this step was shameful enough, but Isembourg went even further when he had the following declaration distributed to the men:

“His Majesty the Emperor and King of Italy has entrusted me [!] with the formation of an infantry regiment of four battalions composed of men who have already served in the Prussian Army. Officers who are prisoners of war by capitulation and who wish to put an end to their sad condition and devote their military talents and energy to the service of ourinvincible Emperor will be invested with the same rank as they had in the King of Prussia ’s Army. All those who accept this honourable engagement will be assured of the protection of the adored hero who loves his soldiers as if they were his children. Hasten valiant warriors; assemble under the standards of Napoleon the Great. Follow him on the path of victory and immortal glory. [All the passages are underlined in the text]

Berlin, 18 November 1806.

Charles, Prince of Isembourg

 

DYNAMIC COLLABORATION

Was Isemboug, who can only be described as a collaborator before the term existed, the only person to flatter the Emperor so outrageously?

Unfortunately for the honour of the Prussian aristocracy of the time, the “Isembourg Case” was far from rare.

There was also the case of the Prince Elector of Hesse. If he served in the Prussian Army, it was not to combat Napoleon, as Princess Augusta of Hesse wrote to Napoleon on the 1 November 1806 , from Berlin :

“If [her husband, the Prince Elector of Hesse ] had participated in the Prussian war, it was only to satisfy his desire, natural in a young man, to learn the difficult art of war”.

It would be hard to be more imaginative!

 

FLATTERY AFTER DEFEAT

Even the King of Prussia ’s aunt felt no compunction in begging Napoleon, “who was unworthy of being a corporal in the Prussian Army” and who like all of her kind dragged his name through mud, for a favour in the following terms:

“It is with the confidence inspired by the favour which you have already granted me that I implore the noble sentiments of Your Imperial Majesty. Sire, you are not only the greatest of sovereigns, you are also a good brother, a good son. We bless Your Imperial Majesty eternally for his kindness which has eased misfortune.”

Berlin , where Napoleon remained until 25 November 1806 , is described in a
geographical dictionary of the time as a big and beautiful city with
a population of approximately 164,000 inhabitants

Let us enumerate a few other quotations which are just as shameful.

The Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (who was later to supply a contingent of 400 men) instructed his chamberlain to “lay his very humble congratulations for the success of his armies at the feet of his Imperial and Royal Majesty” together with “the tribute of his justified admiration”.

This was merely the introduction for the following solicitation:

“And if you will be so good, Sire, in your infinite kindness to grant me the favour of allowing me to express in person to Your Imperial and Royal Majesty my sentiments of veneration for his sacred person and to be so good as to consent to indicate the place and the day where he will permit me to present my complete submission and respects in person, I will fly there with haste to express my immense gratitude for his generous protection”.

In conclusion, one final piece of base flattery to put an end to this stream of indecent and extravagant compliments. The author is the Princess Regent of the Principality of Lippe.

“At this moment, when more than ever before the well-being and the conservation of the peoples rest in the powerful and generous hands of the greatest of heroes, the Princess Regent of Lippe is bold enough to request the long desired advantage of being admitted into the Confederation of the Rhine of which the greatest of monarchs is the illustrious protector. She hopes she will be permitted to aspire to this joy in return for the implicit trust and the unfailing affection which her heart has always professed for the Immortal Napoleon. The brilliant and almost miraculous successes of the Imperial Armies have fulfilled the Princess’ hopes.”

To what exactly may we ascribe so much flattery directed at the man who had just defeated Prussia ?

Undoubtedly to the fact that 1806 was to mark the creation of the Confederation of the Rhine – a subject we will cover shortly using original documents of the time – which meant that the most powerful man of the era was about to bestow privileges and distinctions upon the rulers of the small states and principalities concerned.

 

NAPOLEON’S SOLLICITUDE FOR BERLINERS

We are all familiar with Napoleon’s reputation as leader of a wild horde: his GrandeArmée.

Napoleon spent almost a month in Berlin , from 27 October to 25 November,
working in the cabinet which had once been used by Frederick the Great
and attending splendid military reviews in and around Berlin .

While Napoleon was in Berlin, from 27 October to 24 November 1806, how did he and his lieutenants behave with the civilian population?

Archives of the time recorded that Napoleon was determined to help the poor in the city by having small coins, groschen, which were nonexistent, stamped, for the lack of small change made it difficult for the rich to give charity for the support of the poor who very often found it difficulty to purchase their daily bread. Thanks to the new measure taken by the Emperor, the underprivileged in Berlin could – for the first time! - ask for a pound of bread for the modest sum of one groschen maximum. As for the civil servants, pensioners and invalids, they all obtained the arrears of pay or money which was due to them.

 

GENERAL HULIN: A BENEVOLENT MILITARY GOVORNOR

Napoleon’s marshals were the first to set a good example by encouraging their men to report any stragglers or looters. Marshal Ney, for example, promised a reward should any of his grenadiers arrest one of these disreputable characters who brought dishonour upon the reputation of the French Army of occupation.

Napoleon’s strict orders were perfectly carried out by the Military Governor,
General Hulin, and neither Berlin nor Prussia had to bear more than the inevitable inconvenience caused by a military occupation. Many Prussian documents,
including official documents, testify to the good conduct of French troops.

To spare the inhabitants the inconvenience of having to lodge the officers, Napoleon ordered that whenever possible they should be quartered in the houses and mansions which belonged to the court officials who had deserted Berlin

In order to maintain harmony and discipline, Napoleon appointed General Hulin, who was to prove a precious auxiliary as Governor of Berlin.

More than his past campaigns, which included the Italian Campaign, then service in the Army of the Rhine where he had served with General Moreau, and recently the Prussian Campaign, Hulin, was especially known for two acts of humanity which were much to his honour and had made his name. It also explains why, in Berlin, he was the right man in the right job as Military Governor. In 1789, when the Fortress of the Bastille, in Paris, was stormed and captured, he had attempted to save the life of the Military Governor, Monsieur de Launay, at the peril of his own life, and later, in 1804, when the Duc d’Enghien, a royalist leader, was tried for treason and for taking up arms against his own country, Hulin, who presided the Military Commission which was to judge him, wrote to Bonaparte to inform him that the Duke wished to speak with him, when the pen seems to have been snatched from his hand by “someone” who was only too keen to have the sentence executed. Some have accused, and apparently not without reason, Savary, who then commanded the Gendarmerie d’Elite, before he became Minister of Police after Joseph Fouché was disgraced, in 1810.

Has anyone ever seen the Military Governor of a city occupied by foreign troops encourage the inhabitants of the town to come and express their grievances before?

Yet that is exactly what Hulin did.

Let us relate the anecdote of one Berliner who came to complain that the officer she was obliged to lodge demanded champagne and wine from Burgundy with his meals which she was unable to supply. Hulin gave her a card for the officer on which he wrote that if he wanted champagne, “he was to go and ask General Hulin for it”. From then on, the gourmet officer contented himself with ordinary wine.

Shortly after this, the Governor had an order published in which he stipulated that “any soldier or civil servant who is lodged by a local inhabitant must share the everyday meals that he is capable of providing depending on his financial means and under no circumstances may anything more be demanded of him.”

 

FRENCH OFFICERS WELCOMED BY THE CIVILIAN POPULATION

There were, of course, incidents for which it is important to stress that the French soldiers serving in the Grande Armée were not responsible.

The culprits? Especially the Italian, Bavarian and Wurttemberg troops, although the latter, who spoke the same language, should have shown more consideration for their Prussian neighbours.

A French assertion without proof? Here is what the commander-in-chief of the Wurttemberg troops wrote to his sovereign:

“Although I would be pleased to compliment His Majesty on his army, I cannot dissimulate the fact that a spirit of brutality and cruelty has become widespread, especially in the cavalry, which is often left to its own devices. I have had examples of unbounded avidity which has led to acts of deplorable brutality upon hapless peasants who are defenceless.”

Bavarian Infantry



Württemberg Cavalry

French officers, who left memoirs, all say that although they were enemies they received a courteous welcome from those who were obliged to lodge them.

It was notably the case of one artillery officer, Captain Pion des Loches, who was quartered in the house of the King of Prussia’s Minister of Finance.

“The Minister and his family were the most pleasant of hosts and I was treated like one of the children in the family. Everyone wept when I left and I wept, too, in chorus.”

He was made just as welcome in Erfurt where he was quartered in the house of the civil servant who was responsible for selling the “public grain” for the government. “He was a kind old man with a very nice family, two sons and three daughters. I helped them to perfect their French and they perfected me in German. I spent the winter quite pleasantly, as if I were in my own family, from time to time there were society balls and, although Erfurt is a poor town, we never found time long.”

 

THE CIVILIAN POPULATION PAYS HOMMAGE TO NAPOLEAN AND HIS SOLDIERS

Are we guilty of being too indulgent and of presenting Napoleon’s soldiers in a flattering light, whereas many authors, especially the most insignificant and talentless historians, present them and their leader, Napoleon, like bloodthirsty brutes?

To obtain an answer, let us consult Prussian documents.

On 12 March 1806, the Berlin Nachrichten published the following article:

“Monsieur Roussel, Grenadier officer in the 14th Regiment of the Line, commanding the town of Brandebourg on Havel, who has been recalled by his sovereign, leaves with the regrets of the magistrates and of all the inhabitants of the town for having, by his wisdom, his goodwill, his integrity and his sense of justice, conciliated the interests of his Sovereign with those of the inhabitants of this city who will never forget the benevolence of this honest officer, who is respected both for his conduct and his impartiality. May this kind-hearted man be as happy as he deserves to be in his career ! The inhabitants of Brandebourg will always be glad to hear of his future success and good fortune.”

French troops were welcomed by the civilian population both in Berlin and
Prussia and when the time came to depart, there were many sad farewells.

Let us also mention, for these accounts are important to erase the invariably sordid reputation relentlessly given to the soldiers of the Grande Armée, General Gastine, whom the officials of Landsberg paid homage to in the following terms:

“Landsberg-on-the-Warthe, 10 May 1807

“More than fifty thousand French soldiers of the Grande Armée passed through this town. We lodged most of them within the walls of our city. Our most prominent citizens and all the inhabitants consented to every sacrifice in their power to accommodate these troops as best they could. And they (we must pay them this tribute) have so far behaved themselves like generous enemies and we have only had to bear the inevitable inconvenience of the passing and the quartering of troops, but we have no complaints to make regarding disorders of any sort or of any act of violence.

Amongst those who remained the longest within our walls, we must especially mention in the most honourable and laudable terms, General de Gastine, who commanded the city by order of His Majesty the Emperor and King. General Gastinne not only occupied this post with zeal, efficiency and honesty, he also treated all the inhabitants of this city, without exemption, from the humblest to the most distinguished, with a degree of tact that is characteristic of someone who has received a high degree of culture and education. He has won the affection, the trust and the veneration of the entire city. We cannot fail to mention General de Gastinne’s remarkable unselfishness and his generosity in feeding more than a hundred wives of Prussian soldiers and their children… Our warmest wishes accompany him. May Providence watch over him and preserve him from the dangers of war…

Signed: The Municipality and the Burghers of the city”

Much the same tribute was paid to General Hulin when, on 20 August 1807, he left his post in Berlin to become the Military Governor of Paris.

Even more significative is this letter, dated 18 August 1807, addressed by the Austrian Ambassador in Berlin, Baron von Binder, to his superior, the Austrian Foreign Minister, Count Johann Philipp von Stadion:

“General Clark has just been named Minister of War and it is said that he will be replaced by General Victor. General Hulin has been promoted to major general and he will be appointed Military Governor of Paris. He will be replaced by General Saint-Hilaire. The Governor and the Military Governor leave their posts with the respect and gratitude of the inhabitants of the country and of the capital in particular. The moderation they showed when obeying severe orders dictated by the necessities of war, the perfect peace that they maintained, and the impartiality they showed under all circumstances justifies these sentiments.”

These testimonial letters and accounts honour the memory of Napoleon and his soldiers and we must remember them, if only, to compare them to the conduct of Prussian troops a few years later. In 1814, then 1815, when Blucher, who was a harsh and brutal soldier, invaded France with his rough troops even the English refused to mix with them as they marched to Paris, after Waterloo.

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On 18 November 1806 , representatives of the French Senate arrived in
Berlin to congratulate Napoleon on behalf of the French nation.

As for the Emperor, thanks to the peace which reigned in the conquered city, he could now work relentlessly on an important project he had set his heart on and which he hoped would finally secure peace the he desired in Europe.

 

To be continued…