NAPOLEON AND THE ENGLISH PRESS GANG
BONAPARTE BOMBARDED BY BLATANT BRITISH BIAS
English view of Napoleon’s coup of Brumaire
“The English in general know nothing of the affairs of the Continent,
In his lifetime Napoleon faced the most vitriolic and scabrous attacks imaginable from the British press and Establishment. No lie was too big, no exaggeration too outrageous, no defamation was beyond the pale. English gold for the sweaty palms of his would-be assassins was not enough, the Cabinet and the warmongers in Parliament wanted to ensure his political assassination as well. Even today, this pathetic one-sidedness continues – and from people who consider themselves ‘historians’. Correspondents and academics, some with titles and others without, seem to be writing as if they still lived in the C19th. To them it is as if the British Empire still exists. To many, truth is a mere casualty of a continuing propaganda war.
It was different, of course, if it was the English Establishment that was being mocked. When the cartoon showing the British National Assembly came out, the Prince Regent wanted it suppressed and paid for the plate to be destroyed. 2
Because of these and other cartoons, Napoleon is still thought of as ‘small’ by the vast majority of people today. He was, in fact, about 5’6” tall, the average height for a Frenchman of his time. Similarly, the ridicule continues today, if often at a more subtle level. On Dec. 5th 1977, the Daily Mail published a two-page spread on Bokassa, under the headline “Clown Imperial.” The article began: “Ex-paratrooper Jean-Bedel Bokassa followed his hero, Napoleon, on the path to imperial glory yesterday.” The paper rightly criticized the waste of money for such a poor country as the Central African Republic was in 1977, and still is today. But the subtext implies that Napoleon himself was ridiculous and a clown.
An alternate view could be, how amazing it is that a white man who died on a small island in 1821 in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, could become so respected and imitated by a black man in the centre of a completely landlocked country in a different continent 150 years later. In ‘darkest Africa’ as it was once called, the memory of Napoleon still shone.
In ‘Waking The Ghosts of Waterloo’ from The Daily Telegraph of June 13th 1987, John Keegan takes a very Anglo-centric route around the battlefield. Keegan pontificates in his usual way stating that: “Waterloo is the simplest of all battles to understand. As Wellington himself put it: ‘They (the French) just came on in the old way and we drove them off in the old way’ .” The ‘we’ in this instance being the British. Amazing stuff indeed, seeing that there were less than 24,000 British troops at the battle against 72,000 French. Keegan does not even mention the Prussians until the very end of his article. Some 7,000 Prussians died as well. Were they knocked down crossing the road? Perhaps they fell into Victor Hugo’s ‘sunken lane’ and were never seen again?
Keegan says: “Bl ü cher, whose troops’ arrival on the left as the day closed had robbed Napoleon of all chance of victory.” Let us look at this ‘as the day closed’ remark. The battle was fought on June 18th at the height of summer, albeit a very wet and stormy one, when daylight would have ended around 10pm. The end of a summer’s day is therefore around 9-30 when the sun goes down. Let us be generous and allow it to be 8pm ‘as the day closed.’ Napoleon wrote of the same events: “It was 4 o’clock. Victory ought from then on to have been assured; but General B ü low’s corps carried out its powerful diversion at this moment. From 2 o’clock in the afternoon onwards General Daumont had reported that General B ü low was debouching in three columns, and that the French chasseurs were keeping up their fire all the while they were retiring before the enemy, which seemed to him very numerous. He estimated them at more than 40,000.” 4
Napoleon goes on: “The French army, 69,000 strong, which at 7.00pm had gained a victory over an army of 120,000 men, held half the Anglo-Dutch battlefield, and had repulsed General B ü low’s corps, saw victory snatched from it by the arrival of General Bl ücher with 30,000 fresh troops, a re inforcement which brought the Allied army in the line up to nearly 150,000 men, that is two and a half to one.” 5 Not a mention of all this in Keegan’s account.
With the necessity of fending off the newly arriving Prussians and with many of his men already committed at Hougoument and La Haye Sainte, Napoleon only had cavalry to attack Wellington. David Hamilton Williams says: “The time was approximately 3-30p.m…Napoleon himself ordered the grand Battery to intensify its fire on the English centre….” 6 He later quotes from Ensign Gronow of the 1st Foot Guards who was at the receiving end of the great French cavalry charges: “At four o’ clock our square was a perfect hospital, being full of dead, dying, and mutilated soldiers.” 7 Had B ü low not taken some of the pressure from Wellington, let alone the succour afforded by the arrival of Bl ücher’s men, history would have been very different.
Keegan implies it was all over by 7pm but David Chandler adds a rider to all this: “the Young Guard contrived to retain some hold over Placenoit until 9pm. The fighting withdrawal of the Old Guard was a model of valour and cool determination.” 8 The film ‘Waterloo’ with Rod Steger is a keeganesque tour de force – with the actions of the Prussians almost airbrushed out of the script. Chandler also tells how earlier: “the ‘oldest of the old’, the 1st/2nd Grenadiers and the 1st/2nd Chasseurs of the Old Guard swept into Placenoit with the bayonet amidst a storm of rain and expelled all of fourteen Prussian battalions in very short order.” 9 That did not appear in the film Waterloo. It is a slur on the memory of The Immortals to imply that they ‘all ran’ at Waterloo.
In the book ‘Great Military Leaders And Campaigns’ edited by Jeremy Black, below the title to a chapter on the ‘Duke of Wellington’ it adds: “British Victor over Napoleon.” 10 It never credits Blücher at the same time. No partisanship there then. It also states that after the battle: “Within days, Napoleon had abdicated again, ending the war he had so recklessly revived.” 11 This is an absolute lie and it shows the ‘historians’ who wrote this chapter to be unworthy of the name. One of the first things Napoleon did upon returning to power in 1815 was to write to the Allies asking for peace. His letter to the Prince Regent was never even opened let alone passed on to that rotund imbecile. As an Englishman one despairs at compatriots who have to lie about the past in order to promote their own twisted agendas. Black and his team should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. Theirs is little more than the dark art of ‘spin’.
The truth was somewhat different: “In a personal letter, Napoleon attempted to convince the sovereigns of Europe that the Ancien Régime no longer suited the French nation:
The Bourbons no longer wished to associate themselves with French beliefs or manners. France had to separate itself from them. Its voice called for a liberator…Enough glory has already decorated the flags of various nations.
Great successes have usually been followed by great reverses.
The arrogant Allies, determined to snuff out equality and restore privilege, ganged up as they had with six previous coalitions to destroy the one person who had given equality of opportunity to every man throughout his former empire.
The Daily Telegraph contained a book review by Nigel Nicolson on Sept. 3rd 1988. Dorothy Carrington had just had published her book ‘Napoleon and his parents’. The title appeared as follows:
‘Nigel Nicholson on a monster’s boyhood
Nicholson is a bigot of the first order who writes splenetically whenever he mentions Napoleon. One fears he is about to have a heart attack at the mere hint of his name. To call Napoleon a ‘monster’ is pathetic. Nelson murdered Caracciollo at Naples, yet he is a British ‘hero’ with a huge monument to his name in the centre of London. Canning ordered the British navy to attack neutral Copenhagen in 1807 and murdered dozens of innocent, peaceful civilians in a terror campaign, yet he is written of as a ‘British statesman’ in the British press.
In English a ‘nappy’ means the same as a diaper – yet another crude and asinine attempt to belittle Napoleon. Certainly Nicholson is an expert on its contents. In his diatribe ‘Napoleon 1812’ 13 – a supposed ‘history’ book, his Napoleon can barely walk upright without dragging his knuckles on the ground. On page 9 he tosses a hand grenade into Napoleon’s reputation with lines like: “Both Napoleon and Hitler controlled continental Europe.” And on page 8 he states: “He did not await the first attack; he was always the aggressor.” Which is a palpable and inexcusable lie. France was attacked in 1805, 1806, 1807,1809, 1813, 1814 and 1815. And even during the Peace of Amiens the terms of which Britain ignored, the Cabinet allowed d’Artois and the Bourbons to plan further terrorist attempts upon Napoleon’s life – paid for with British gold. Writers like Nicholson further tarnish the good name of their own country by spouting such utter nonsense.
Only a most bigoted person would compare Napoleon with Hitler. Napoleon gave the Jews rights throughout his empire and was the first person to suggest that they be given territory of their own in the Holy Land. Napoleon allowed all religions freedom of worship and put an end to the internecine religious wars in France. Nicolson adds on page 178: “ he no longer seemed the liberator of nations but their oppressor. He was the enemy of the entire world. Even the United States, fighting against England, considered him a tyrant.”
The ‘enemy of the entire world’. How can anyone take Nicholson seriously when he speaks such drivel as this? Furthermore, thanks to the British navy attacking any ship it liked at sea, neutral or not, Napoleon sold indefensible Louisiana to the States in 1803. It was the largest ever peaceful transfer of territory in the history of the world. Yet Nicholson says the Americans hated Napoleon. So why did they go to war with the British in 1812? They did so because the same arrogance that caused England to lose its American Colonies still prevailed - only Britain was allowed to bully every other mercantile nation in the world and board their shipping.
Nicholson almost drools when he quotes Thiers on page 130 concerning the retreat from Moscow: “ He saw nothing of the retreat, and didn’t want to see it because he would have been brought face to face with the consequences of his mistakes. He preferred to deny them…He should have been on horseback all day supervising the passage of rivers and sustaining morale…” Anyone who bothers to read Bourgogne’s ‘Retreat from Moscow’ and Coignet’s memoirs will see that that is exactly what Napoleon was doing – except that he was on foot amongst his men, as even the Emperor did not have a horse due to the freezing cold. And after flogging Napoleon with the words of others Nicholson admits: “These judgments are harsh.” In the index to his book there is only one mention of Bourgogne, the account par excellence of this campaign, and none of Coignet yet he quotes the unreliable Segur many times. Bourgogne is full of praise for the inspiration and morale-boosting of his Emperor – perhaps that’s why Nicholson virtually ignores him.
On January 22nd 1989, the Sunday Telegraph published ‘Revolution Most Foul’ about the French Revolution two hundred years before. Peter Vansittart comments: “…Napoleon remarking to Metternich that a man like himself does not worry about a million deaths. Surveying a pile of battle corpses, he was as reassuring as Danton after the Massacres: “Small change, small change! A night in Paris will repair all this!” No advance here on the Fredericks, Catherines, and Pitts, let alone on Wellington, who wept over the Waterloo casualties.”
Metternich was an aristocrat who despised Napoleon and wanted to preserve the privileges of his class, he is hardly a favourable witness. Napoleon did sometimes make glib remarks, in poor taste, with Metternich it was most likely a form of braggadocio in an effort to hide the weakness of his forces. However, as Coignet 14 describes time and again, in the doing rather than the mere saying, Napoleon always did his best to see to the wounded, remaining on the battlefield personally to see to their welfare. Indeed, when Coignet was poisoned by a Bourbon agent (whom the British ultimately paid for) Napoleon himself sent two medical orderlies to help Coignet and kept himself up-to-date with his medical condition. Wellington called his soldiers ‘scum’ and kept his men at a distance in accordance with his view of aristocratic superiority. British soldiers had the worst reputation in Europe for going berserk once inside towns that they had been beseiging. When Moore bolted for the coast and Corunna, leaving hundreds of British women and children behind, it was Napoleon who took care of them!
On the retreat from Moscow Napoleon put his own coaches at the service of the wounded. Would Wellington ever have done such a thing? He also made many comments about the horrors of war which are seldom reported, never by British historians who churn out the same couple of sayings ad nauseum. 15 Napoleon wept at the death of Lannes and he was devastated by the death of Duroc. Yet Vansittart adds: “From Napoleon is not far to Hitler…” It was the BRITISH who invented concentration camps in the Boer War – to corral innocent women and children in one place because they could not defeat the Boer Commando in the field. That was something Napoleon never did – as we have seen, he offered succour to the women and children his enemy abandoned. Hundreds of Boer women and children died of disease or starved in those camps. It is a shameful aspect of British history that is never taught in our schools. Even the German ministers of the Kaiser complained about this callous treatment. Napoleon was far kinder to his prisoners than the British of the time ever were. French soldiers were stuffed in rotting hulks in England. Napoleon often allowed his former enemies to enlist in his army. There were Spaniards and Portuguese serving with his forces in Russia, for example. And, as mentioned in an earlier article, even Cadoudal was given this option. 16
The Daily Mail of June 17th 1989 had a piece entitled ‘Return to Waterloo’ by Paul Johnson, another bombast of the Old School. Johnson spouts: “The British, who hated Napoleon, never believed he would rest content in his tiny kingdom of Elba…” The fact that Louis XVIII never paid the two million francs a year, as prescribed in the treaty of 1814 whereby Napoleon agreed to abdicate, meant that he could not have paid his staff and soldiers had he remained. But it is the statement that ‘the British hated Napoleon’ which needs addressing most. That is either a deliberate lie, or another example of Johnson’s consummate ignorance.
The Grimsby Evening Telegraph of July 14th 1997 has a fascinating account of a time ‘When Lincs mustered to meet Napoleon’s men’. At first glance it might seem as if the Lincolnshire lads were preparing to repel Napoleon if he invaded. The truth is far more interesting: “At the very end of the C18th, and the beginning of the 19th, North East Lincolnshire was under a certain amount of threat. For on the Continent, Napoleon was lending weight to the hopes of local revolutionaries and republicans. These were railing against both the monarchy and the church. Levellers, whose origins were in the Civil War, called for the end of monarchy. To counter those who would positively welcome Napoleon’s troops and the opportunity for revolution they would bring, the establishment – the Constitutionalists – raised bodies of armed men…militia…” 17
These were the same sort of armed brigands who murdered peaceful protesters at the infamous Peterloo Massacre of 1819. Yet according to Johnson everyone hated Napoleon! Franceschi and Weider also belie this nonsense, quoting opposition members of Parliament in 1815: “Bonaparte was received in France as a liberator. It would be a monstrous act to make war on a nation to impose on it the government it did not want.” 18 They also repeat the words of the Morning Chronicle which “lectured Lord Castlereagh, the foreign secretary, ‘English patriots think that the powers of the continent are unified not so much against Bonaparte as against the spirit of liberty.’ ” 19
Byron hated Wellington and Castlereagh, not Napoleon, and he was certainly not alone. When Napoleon was prevented from landing on British territory in 1815, after Waterloo, he had many defenders in Parliament and hundreds of people flocked to see him from all over the country. The likes of Johnson seem to believe that if you repeat nonsense long enough a gullible people will believe it to be true. If they only hear the same old lies, perhaps so.
Johnson also repeats the Waterloo canard: “By the time he used his guards, at 7pm, he was already under pressure from the Prussians.” As we have seen, the influence of the Prussians was operating hours before that. He recounts Wellington shyly admitting: “By God, I don’t think it would have done if I had not been there.” It would not have been done without tens of thousands of Prussians either m’lud.
The Sunday Times of Oct 20th 1996 declares: ‘Napoleon’s bodice ripper found in Moscow archive.’ As well as part of a romance turning up in the Moscow archive so did: “Napoleon’s own account of the disastrous campaign against Russia in 1812, in which he rejects the conventional view that his army was destroyed by winter blizzards.” They report a comment of his which is incredibly relevant to the problems of the current Labour Government in London: “A government that does not know how to admit guilt is a government that cannot command.” However, the paper then flies its own ignorance like a kite. It actually says: “Notes from the archives also suggest the ageing soldier was unwilling to accept that invading Russia too close to winter was the biggest blunder of his life.”
Napoleon’s Grand Army crossed the River Niemen on June 24th 1812, when he was 42 years old. British winters might be bad - but they don’t start on June 24th – neither do winters in Russia.
The Sunday Times then claims he admitted that he had been defeated by Kutuzov at Borodino. They quote Professor John Mcmanners, lecturer in French history at Oxford, who opines: “It is fascinating to realise Napoleon was willing to admit to being out-generalled rather than confess he made such a fundamental mistake as picking the wrong time to take on the Russians.” Again this seems to infer he chose the wrong ‘season’. As Coignet, who went through the campaign attests, along with the many eye-witness accounts collected by Anthony Brett James and Paul Britten Austin, the summer weather was appalling as well as that in winter. The roads were virtually impassable and supplies failed to reach the troops. A good case can be made that Napoleon should have paused at Vilna or Smolensk, or that he ought not to have embarked upon the project at all, but that is not what the Professor seems to be saying. Good manners might make a man, but Mcmanners is a poor historian.
The Sunday Times of Nov 3rd 1996 had a review by Alan Judd of Alastair Horne’s book ‘How Far From Austerlitz,’ entitled ‘His Ticket To Waterloo.’ Judd says Napoleon: “saw a way of evicting the British from Toulon and seized the chance with both hands. Later, sick leave in Paris confirmed his early good impression: the famous ‘whiff of grapeshot’ with which he introduced himself to the Paris mob (killing 400) concisely established not only his initiative but one of the fundamentals of his relationship with the people of France – and with any others he could reach.”
In effect, Judd says Napoleon was born to kill and loved killing people for the mere hell of it. This begs the question just what were the British doing in Toulon? If French ships had seized Bristol, Hull or Portsmouth and had been kicked out and their men slaughtered in droves by Nelson – this would have been ‘a good thing’ to Judd and his ilk and Nelson would be all the more a ‘hero’. Similarly, the Royalist mob that attacked the Directory was determined to remove by violence a legitimate government. Barras commanded the forces that defeated the rebels. Napoleon was in charge of the troops under his command. Napoleon quelled an armed insurrection whilst he was under legitimate authority. When the British militia murdered and mutilated at Peterloo, they were attacking innocent civilians who were merely discussing the way their country should be run.
In a letter to the Sunday Telegraph of May 21st 1995, Cleo Shaw makes this very point: “All too often the violence was on the side of oppressive authority. For example at the Peterloo Massacre, on August 16, 1819, about 60,000 unarmed people, including many women and children, gathered in St Peter’s Fields in Manchester…They had many grievances, including the starvation price of food. But the violence came not from them but from the untrained yeomanry that the magistrates called out. With their sabres they killed 11 people and injured hundreds.”
One has to be very careful about being Judd and jury.
The reviewer then quotes Horne himself: “If Austerlitz raised Napoleon to the pinnacle of his success, it also turned his head and filled it with the delusion that no force could now stop him conquering the world.” This is trite nonsense and likens Napoleon to some evil genius in a James Bond film who gets up in the morning planning world domination even before he has had his breakfast. The very next year after Austerlitz -1806- Napoleon bent over backwards to avoid war with Prussia as Jean Claude Dammame proves in his superb article ‘Jena – 1806, The Battle that Napoleon did not want.’ 20 Similarly, it was the Austrians who invaded Bavaria in 1809, an ally of France, starting a new war, despite Napoleon asking Marshal Davout to keep his patrols away from the Austrian boarder so as not to provoke them. And it was the Allies who refused to let Napoleon rule France in peace in 1815 as we have already seen.
Judd then writes in fine Orwellian style: “France warred with Europe for 25 years.” Of course, the £66,000,000 paid in bribes by the British Government to entice Austria and Russia and other poorer countries into their coalitions was done merely to promote ‘peace and prosperity’ as Big Brother might have put it. The truth is very simple – England was the cause of most of the wars of that time. It was England that provoked the Americans to rebel; it was England that bankrolled the other continental powers to attack France; it was the British navy that considered the sea and oceans their own domain – where other countries could only ply their trade under British sufferance. And all this for a rapacious clique of corrupt politicians in Whitehall, and a later crew of nasty Bourbon exiles.
Judd adds: “each conquest needs another to protect it. Talleyrand, the subtextual hero of this book, tried and failed to persuade his master of this before deserting him…” Talleyrand as ‘hero’ – that would certainly have amused his contemporaries – especially Fouch é - his equal in duplicity and treachery.
Judd too, has to get in the ‘Hitler’ slur: “Horne makes telling comparisons with Hitler throughout…Napoleon buried at least a million Frenchmen…” What Judd doesn’t say, is that most of them were killed because of the repeated wars of aggression started by England even though he admits: “it was Britain that stood against him throughout, bankrolling the allies to the tune of an astonishing £66 m.”
In ‘The Grand Old Duke’ which appeared in the Sunday Times of March 30th 1997, Robert Blake oozes over the “great man” and speaks of “the two heroes of the war against Napoleon. Wellington and Nelson…” He quotes Wellington saying: “take my word for it, if you have seen but one day of war, you would pray to Almighty God that you might never see a thing again.” Quite so, so what was Wellington doing in another country looking for war? Why didn’t he agree to the peace proposals Napoleon urgently requested as soon as he returned from Elba? Was Mont Saint-Jean some strange extension of the Home Counties that does not appear on British maps? Just what was he doing there?
He was trying to destroy a man who had just staged a bloodless takeover of a country that was glad to see the back of the Bourbons. As the English Opposition member had said, why go to war to prevent the French people from having the ruler they wanted? The answer is in a simple phrase – it was a war to maintain privilege.
That same year, Blake wrote in the Sunday Times – Nov 16th 1997 – a review of Frank McLynn’s book on Napoleon, catchily entitled with complete impartiality: ‘He detested freedom and liberty.’ The old Tory warhorse trots out the same tosh. He asserts that: “McLynn has a bit of a chip on his shoulder about England.” Yet so did his ‘hero’ Wellington, who never forgave providence for causing him to be born in Ireland. When confronted by his non-English birth, Wellington said with eminent modesty: ‘Not only donkeys are born in a stable.’ He certainly considered himself a god set above the ordinary man, and he was dead set against extending the franchise to the common people.
Blake says of Lord Liverpool: “He may not have been very exciting figure but he was honourable, conscientious and efficient.” This appraisal concerns the man who bullied Louis XVIII into persecuting former Napoleonic soldiers and officials after Waterloo. As David Hamilton Williams states: “D’Artois used both the police force and his agents to terrorize and murder Bonapartist officers and supporters as requested by the British Prime Minister Lord Liverpool.” 21
This is the same sort of ‘honour’ no doubt that led to the construction of those concentration camps in South Africa – victory at all costs, vengeance at every turn. Lord Blake might be all in favour of such men, but the British public, if they knew of such events, would be suitable ashamed of what was done in their name by corrupt aristocratic ‘leaders’.
Maurice Chittenden comments on Peter Hofschr öer’s work in The Sunday Times of Jan 25th 1998: “Hofschröer, who spent eight years researching evidence in the Prussian archives and in accounts by British, German and Dutch officers present in the allied headquarters, said: ‘The Duke of Wellington very carefully nurtured his reputation. The whole truth was, at times, a casualty in the process’.” Hofschröer made a case for Wellington deliberately hanging back when Blücher faced Napoleon at Ligny. Chittenden adds: “John Elting, a retired American army colonel whose own history of the Napoleonic wars became a textbook at Westpoint military academy, supports Hofschröer: ‘I knew this was going to produce howls of anguish. American historians have always been suspicious why Wellington was so slow,’ he said.”
There will undoubtedly be more revelations as more old documents, letters and accounts come to light. Suffice it to say, Wellington certainly did not win the battle of Waterloo alone as Keegan and Blake and the like seem to insist. A letter to the Sunday Telegraph of Oct 23rd 1994 brings out another important contrast between Napoleon and Wellington. Dr. John Adamson writes: “Wellington’s battles were relatively small-scale operations. None approached the scale of Napoleon’s engagements at Jena or Wagram. At Leipzig…the combined forces involved on both sides totalled more than 400,000 men. Generalship in those circumstances was a test Wellington never faced.” Napoleon was also an Emperor, with a whole country to run, and he was aware of the treachery that could always occur behind his back as it had in 1814. Such colossal responsibilities were never faced by Wellington, who made a reactionary Prime Minister when he did climb to the top of the ‘greasy pole’ in England.
Perhaps one day, a film will be made that does Napoleon justice. It has been a long time since Abel Gance. The Daily Express reported on August 1st 1986 that Jack Nicolson paid $250,000 for the rights to The Murder of Napoleon. The actor said: “I look at him as thinkers like Bernard Shaw and Nietszche did who considered Napoleon THE man.”
In Britain, the same jaded biased stories have kept recurring over the past few decades. Right-wing publications give space for the same elderly generation of High Tory apologists to chant the same old mantras. The English Press Gang continue to mug Napoleon’s memory and seek to attain the historical apotheosis of Wellington and Nelson. They might be journalists, but they are definitely not historians.
© John Tarttelin, FINS