June 1 1815: Champ de Mai

“The Acte Additionnel was ratified at a gigantic open-air ritual called the Champ de Mai, which confusingly took place on the Champ de Mars, outside the École Militaire, on June 1. ‘The sun, flashing on sixty thousand bayonets,’ recalled Thiébault, ‘seemed to make the vast space sparkle.’ During this strange mixture of religious, political and military ceremony, loosely based on one of Charlemagne’s traditions, Napoleon, wearing a purple costume not unlike his coronation mantle, spoke to 15,000 seated Frenchmen and over 100,000 more milling in the crowd. ‘As emperor, consul, soldier, I owe everything to the people,’ he said. ‘In prosperity, in adversity, on the battlefield, in counsel, enthroned, in exile, France has been the sole and constant object of my thoughts and actions. Like the King of Athens, I sacrificed myself for my people in the hope of seeing fulfilled the promise to preserve for France her natural integrity, honour and rights.’ He went on to explain that he had been brought back to power by public indignation at the treatment of France and that he had counted on a long peace because the Allies had signed treaties with France – which they were now breaking by building up forces in Holland, partitioning Alsace-Lorraine and preparing for war. He ended by saying, ‘My own glory, honour and happiness are indistinguishable from those of France.’ Needless to say, the speech was followed by prolonged cheering, before a massive march-past by the army, departmental representatives and National Guard. The whole court, Conseil, senior judiciary and diplomatic and officer corps in their uniforms were present, and ladies in their diamonds. With a hundred-gun salute, drumrolls, a vast amphitheatre, eagles emblazoned with the names of each department, gilded carriages, solemn oaths, a chanted Te Deum, red-coated lancers, an altar presided over by archbishops and heralds in their finery, it was an imposing spectacle.50 During Mass, Napoleon looked at the assembly through an opera glass. Hobhouse had to admit that when the Emperor ‘plumped himself down on his throne and rolled his mantle round him he looked very ungainly and squat’.

Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts

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