|Napoleon at Fontainebleau March 31st 1814|
Fontainebleau started out as a medieval chateau in 1137 and only the keep survives from that original building. Since that time it was home to the Kings and Emperors of France until the fall of Napoleon III in 1870 and then was occupied by Presidents of the Third Republic. Today it is the most fully furnished of the French Royal Chateaux and has a large section of former Royal and Imperial apartments open to view to the public as well as access to the beautiful formal gardens and water features.
|The imposing facade of Fontainebleau|
|The gates to the palace with pillars still surmounted with Imperial Eagles|
On entering the corridor leading to the display galleries you encounter massive portraits of the Imperial Family, with the first gallery displaying the imperial regalia worn by the Emperor and two imposing portraits one of the Emperor and the other of Empress Marie Louise.
|Napoleon I, Emperor of France and King of Italy|
The regalia worn by Napoleon is a clever mix and match of the new and the ancien order, in that the the traditional symbols of royal supremacy are still on display with the orb and hand of justice on the cushion beside him plus the wearing of the ermine cloak. As a Brit. familiar with our own royalty, when they get dressed up, this is all familiar stuff. The familiar is then mixed with the new imperial symbols of the Eagle surmounting the staff, the Roman style of laurel crown and the bee motif replacing the fleur de lys on the imperial red cloth where the royal colour had been blue.
I am always surprised by some commentators who in their admiration for Napoleon's achievements, of which I number myself, forget the political nature of his regime. This was about as far away from republicanism as you can get and much closer to the "divine right of Kings" where the law is the man at the top and he can create other sub Kings, ie his family members and some senior generals, in other peoples countries at will. The portrait above is all about justifying the right to do that, by a man who was a a former general who grabbed power in a military coup. This, in my opinion, is the paradox that is Napoleon.
|Empress Marie Louise|
The portrait of Napoleon displays many of the objects that are on display in the gallery and it was great to see them worn by the Emperor and then to see them close up. I have posted a series of pictures of those items
|The Diamond encrusted sword as worn in the portrait|
|The award created by Napoleon and still in existence today as a mark of excellence|
The next gallery featured dinner services used by Napoleon at his wedding to Marie Louise, 2nd April 1810. This was a curious state affair where the Imperial Family sat at a long table and ate their dinner whilst being observed, rather than joined, by the great and the good of French society.
The beautiful dinner service was created specifically for the marriage of Napoleon to Marie Louise of Austria, and aware that his new wife would not want any references to his previous campaigns and battles, especially all the ones where he beat the Austrians, very cleverly had designs that actually reflected his previous campaigns without any references to battles. So we have a lot of designs focused on his travels in Egypt, the bottom plate is of Dresden a city that was more than familiar with visits from the Emperor, then Prague a lovely little city just up the road from Austerlitz, sadly no photo of that one. Wargamers take a note from the Emperor, if you want to get something past your significant other half, just make sure it's attractive enough that she won't notice its significance, but all your mates will know what it's about!
|The Tomb of the Mamelukes - I wonder where that could be!|
|The city of Dresden|
|Jerome Bonaparte King of Westphalia 1807-13|
Kingdom of Westphalia
|Jerome's Imperial Chain|
To his credit King Joseph really tried his best to be the enlightened monarch that Spain needed and worked at the legal code and civil reforms that might have helped Spain recover its lost prestige under the Bourbons. Sadly for him all the other stuff just got in the way and Joseph, from then on, always seemed to be the guy holding the can when things inevitably went wrong. I bet you can't guess who was running Paris in 1814 when the allies came calling?
|Joseph Bonaparte, King of Naples and Sicily, then King of Spain 1808 -14|
|King Joseph's Spanish Imperial chain suitably embellished with|
Spanish insignia including the castle of Castille
|The Emperors camp bed set up in a tent with material used on campaign|
|The brass food containers designed to provide the Emperor with hot food any time any where|
|The Emperor was always keen to be well groomed, even when on campaign|
|You can never have too many razors|
With such a combination legends are made!
The final gallery has a display of personal objects associated with the family and I have put up pictures of the items that caught my eye.
The sabre pictured below was a gift from the King of Prussia, probably given to Napoleon with a smile through gritted teeth after the events of 1806. The sabre's blade is inscribed with the names of great warriors and leaders going back to ancient times and the scabbard has a crystal glass inlay to display the workmanship. This is supposed to be one of the Emperors most prized possessions.
|Presented to Napoleon by the King of Prussia, and believed to be his most prized sabre|
Next up the King of Westphalia's cuirass, helmet and uniform. I have posted this image from the Napoleon Series posting on Westphalian uniforms in 1810 to illustrate the look the Jerome was probably going for.
|A Lieutenant Colonel of the Westphalian Garde du Corps|
|Jerome Napoleon's cuirass and helmet as King of Westphalia|
|The rest of Jerome's ensemble|
From the Napoleon 1st museum, the tour of the Chateau proceeded through other apartments associated with French Royalty and the set of rooms given over to the visit and then house arrest of Pope Pius VII. I think it is true to say that the relationship between Napoleon and the Pope was a difficult one, to say the least, and the French invasion of Italy and Napoleon making himself King of Italy probably didn't help!
|Pope Pius VII|
I was really interested to see the private apartments of Napoleon, his family and staff. The order of viewing the rooms is in reverse to the way visitors would have been admitted, and so we started with the bedrooms and private sitting rooms and progressed to the state rooms including the throne room to the ADC's common room and the antechamber, formerly Louis XVI bathroom converted in 1808, where visitors would wait to be summoned within.
|Napoleon away from the affairs of state, the family man and doting Dad|
I love the way that even when "off duty" just being a family man, Napoleon is pictured wearing military dress. The contrast is stark when compared to the plain civilian dress adopted by many senior British General Officers, very often when they were at work on the field of battle. I think it goes back to a British tradition of being suspicious of experts and British officers wanted to project the image of "the gifted amateur".
|The King of Rome's bedroom and cot|
The portrait below of the King of Rome was very familiar, and I remember seeing it or something similar in a picture showing Napoleon presenting his new baby son to his marshals prior to the start of the Battle of Borodino. I might be wrong and I couldn't find that specific picture, but found the black and white engraving similar to the picture I had in mind.
|Little Napoleon II the King of Rome in the portrait that I believe was |
unveiled by Napoleon to the marshals on the eve of Borodino
Napoleon was a great reader and was known for taking his historical military reference books on campaign with him. His knowledge of the Great Captains of history and their campaigns added hugely to his understanding of strategy and he was avidly interested in the lands, climates and traditions of the areas his troops would be forced to operate in.
The library of Napoleon was just as I might have imagined with a huge globe occupying one end of the long gallery of book shelves well lit by long windows to encourage the casual reader to stop, take a book, find a comfortable chair and loose oneself in another world. Ah yes I know the feeling.
|Part of the Emperor Napoleon's library, the other part|
lay behind a hidden door in his study
The throne room reemphasises this Royal/Imperial combination to the imagery with Imperial and Royal symbols used in combination.
|The throne room|
The Emperors bedchamber was created in 1808 from a former royal powder room and toilet. It was here in the depths of depression following the 1814 campaign that Napoleon made a failed suicide attempt.
|Napoleon's study with overnight cot|
|The Emperor's clock in his study has been keeping the time since 1810|
|Napoleon loved to soak in his copper bath|
|The Imperial ADC's common room|
|The visitors vestibule at the entrance to the Imperial apartments|
And so like the Emperor it was time to say adieu to Fontainebleau and head for home.
As a postscript to Fontainebleau.
We have been really lucky with the weather and this has meant that we have managed to get out on the bikes nearly every day. I really like cycling as it gives you the chance to really look around and take your time to see lots of things.
Just up the road from where we are staying is the former home of General Segur, who even has a road named after him. His career as a soldier and historian makes interesting reading, the latter causing him to be wounded in a duel.
Whilst out cycling we passed a monument to another more recent war recording the events of seventy years ago and another famous general. Patton or "Old Blood and Guts"as members of the 3rd Army may have known him has his and his army's success in crossing the Seine at this point rightly recorded. Although I seem to remember that many 3rd Army men remarked that the problem was it was "our blood and his guts".
What ever the sentiment towards their General, the US third army ripped through this part of France sorting out a couple of Panzer Brigades and the 17th SS Division that General von Manteuffel vainly attempted to put in their way.
And finally, whilst out cycling to Moret sur Loing I noticed a very curious addition to the lovely Samois gateway into the town.
On looking closer, you can see a round shot embedded in the stone structure with the date 18th February 1814.
The round shot is recorded as Austrian, fired by the guns covering the retreat of troops under Count Ignatius Hardegg. To quote from the Campaign of 1814 by Maurice Weil:
"Retaking of Fontainebleau and Moret by the French. - At 10 O'clock in the morning, General Charpentier, partly from Melun, had driven from Fontainebleau Colonel Simony, as well as the hussars of Hesse-Homburg and forced him to retreat on Moret that General Alix was charged with taking. But Count Ignatius Hardegg, reinforced in recent days by the arrival of two battalions of fusiliers and connected on his left with the Cossacks of Platov around Nemours, was aware of the movement of the Emperor to the Seine and the march of the reinforcements from the Spanish army (Army of Spain). He did not wait for the attack of General Allix and when he was joined by Colonel Simony, he evacuated Moret at 5 o'clock to go and take position behind the Canal du Loing. Being informed of the loss of the Battle of Montreau, asked to expedite his retirement, knowing that the French already held the road from Montreau to Moret, Hardegg succeeded thanks to his calmness and his ability to safely get out of such a critical situation."
The road passes behind the camera through a similar gate on the other side of the town over a medieval bridge towards the Canal du Loing.
In a final post from France I am hoping to pick up the campaign trail again by heading further north to look a Napoleon's series of wins against Marshal Blucher at Montmirail, Champaubert and Vauchamps.