June 1 1815: Hobhouse on Champ de Mai

John Cam Hobhouse is at the Champ de Mai, and describes the spectacle in his diary. He writes:

Thursday, June 1st 1815: Just going with Bruce to the Champ de Mai. Twenty minutes past eight. Left his rooms a little after nine. Walked through the Tuileries Gardens along the Champs Elysées – the Quai of the Palace of the King of Rome – crossed the Bridge of Jena – walked up the Champ de Mars. The infantry, National Guards and Imperial Guards, were forming.

Arrived at the enceinte intérieure, or building prepared for the ceremony. We showed our tickets, and after a mistake or two were shown up by a grenadier of the guard into the pentagonal theatre, which was nearly full of people. The seats were almost all occupied by soldiers, at the two wings and the electors and deputies in the middle, which was interrupted by the opening which led into the Champ de Mars, and gave even those without a view of the Imperial throne. About a hundred yards in front of the building, in the open field, we saw a raised scaffold, on the platform on the top of which was a single chair or throne – a flight of steps on each side led to the platform – there was no canopy above the chair.

We took our seats in that portion of the theatre allotted by the inscription to the department of the Sarthe, but in fact the electors seemed to have observed no order in taking their seats, and of the 15,000 said to assembled,538 I take it that several thousand were as much representative of the French people as ourselves. There must have been a great profusion of tickets given – Bruce had five or six sent to him.

It was a magnificent sight, however – the windows of the école militaire were filled with ladies – the area of the theatre, with officers and representatives, and with innumerable standard bearers, whose glittering eagles and variegated tricoloured banners made a most gallant show. The eagles were in a cluster on each side, at the wings of the theatre at first, but before the ceremony commenced they were ranged in a row round the area in face of the throne. The throne, a single gilded armchair with a purple bottom, and a purple cushion before it, was in the middle of the platform, which was placed about half-way between the ground and the large window, one pair of stairs high, of the école militaire. On the right of the throne were two armless chairs, on the left one in the same line with it, beyond, on each side, under the oblong wooden covering, was a box or tribune. The children of the Queen Hortense, in Hulan or lancers uniform, with some attendants, took their places in that to the left. Below these tribunes were others, in which were seated la cour de cassation, la cour des comptes, la conseil de : The ceremony at which Constant’s constitution was to be publicly ratified l’université, la cour impériale, le corps municipal de Paris, all in robes and bonnets – some a little fantastic.

Every now and then we saw appear, on the flight of steps above the throne, and in the window opening upon it, assistants and great officers, and in singular dresses of Spanish costume – the Turkish ambassador, &c. The interval was rather tedious – our neighbours drank brandy and smelt offensively. At every movement of the eagle-bearers there were shouts, especially of the eagles of the National Guard, and calls of “Assis! assis! chapeau bas!” We were amused by the religious preparations made by lighting the candles on the altar, placed in a large tribune with a canopy over it, in the opening leading into the Champ de Mars in front of the throne. In this tribune were several priests and the opera band.

At about a quarter to twelve we heard a cannon announce the departure of the Emperor from the Tuileries. Bruce and I were about six benches from the uppermost range, so that with a little pressing through the backward rows we got a sight of the plain, which was most superb. The troops were formed on each side down the length of the Champ de Mars . In half an hour the cannon of the Champ de Mars told us the Imperial cortège was in the plain. We had seen the Red Lancers filing over the bridge, and the long train of the Cavalry of the Guard, with the suite of carriages moving along the Quai on the other side of the Seine. The Cavalry of the Guard, as they advanced towards the theatre, formed on both sides, so as to make a line of horse from the banks of the river to the palace, the whole length of the plain in front of the infantry. One cordon of Imperial Guards made a lane round the left side of the theatre, through which the cortège was to pass into the palace of the military school (the Commandant of Paris, and his staff, and the herald of arms) fourteen carriages with six bay horses, filled with the persons described in the programme, passed under us through this lane. The two latter were glass coaches – one contained Cambacères, the other the three Imperial Princes. After there came a squadron of Red Lancers, the Imperial officers of Ordonnance, aide-de-camps and [ ], &c. The Imperial state carriage, drawn by eight white horses, dressed in [ ]fty white plumage, each horse led by a groom, who was scarcely able to hold him in. There were four footmen with the coachman before, and six footmen behind. The carriage was of gilt with glass panels, and an immense gilded crown on the top. Two marshals with their long batons were on each side of the carriage.

Napoleon was distinctly seen within, in his plumage-covered bonnet and imperial mantle. He bowed as he passed in only to the shouts of the soldiers and people. The cannon continually discharged from the batteries in the Champ de Mars as he advanced. His carriage was followed by the squadron of the Chasseurs of the guard. We returned to our seats presently. A body of green and gold pages ran down the steps from the palace, passed the throne, and ranged themselves, like Solomon’s lions, on each of the steps from the area to the platform. A grenadier of the guard was at the foot of the flight on
each side.

The tribunes began to fill, the Grand Cordons of the Legion of Honour and the marshals went into that on the left, the Counsellors of State into that on the right of the throne, several great officers of state in fancy dresses, Spanish mantles and feathered bonnets, came to take their stations, chiefly on the platform on the right of the throne – the Duke of Vicenza was one of them, on the higher step, and the Chief Master of the Ceremonies, Segur – old Cambacères tottered down the stairs in a blue mantle spotted with gold bees. He had a chair a little below the Imperial chair to the right. My neighbours laughed at this worthy, whose elegant taste is indeed the laughter of the Empire. Cardinal and the Archbishop of Tours, with four bishops, placed themselves on the tribune of the altar.

It was about one o’clock. The cannon continued to fire. Napoleon and a body of his nobles and princes marched down from the saloon on the platform – all were uncovered but the Emperor – he wore his black velvet Spanish plumed bonnet, with a large diamond in front. His robe was velvet purple worked with gold broad embroidery on the outside and of white
ermine in the inside – it was short, and scarcely descended to his ankles. It had no arm-holes, but was fastened round his throat. He bowed, or rather nodded, three or four times, and flung himself, or rather, to say the truth, plumped down into his chair, and rolled himself in his mantle. The princes, in white Spanish dresses, took their seats – Lucien to the left, Joseph and Jérôme to the right. Napoleon looked very ungainly and squat and sulky, the princes but a little better.

Cambacères took his seat. He was looking over some papers in his hand. The attendants moved a little velvet altar, or prie-dieu, before the Emperor – the mass began. There were cries of “Vive l’Empereur!” as Napoleon came forward, but I must say once for all that I do not think the cries were very animated, then or at any period – they generally began with the military deputation on the wings, and particularly from one individual soldier on our right, who was so portentous as to raise a laugh more than once.

After the mass, during part of which Napoleon was looking at the crowd through a spy-glass, the altar was taken away before him, and a large body of men, the central deputation of the colleges chosen a day or two [ago] from all the colleges at Paris, marched up the steps towards the throne – they filled and crowded up the whole flight, being introduced by the ArchChancellor. A man on the right, one Duboys, an advocate of changes, an elector and deputy of department, read from a paper in his hand a speech to
the Emperor (it is given in today’s Moniteur, 2nd June). This he did with infinite emotion, and action more than oratorical, but though he spoke often very loud I could not hear a word he said. Napoleon nodded several times as he spoke.547 After this speech, the herald came to the foot of [the] steps to the throne, the drums beat to silence, and he proclaimed – I did not hear the words – the acceptation of the Constitution, to which I see the Moniteur says there were only 4,062 negatives.

The drums beat, and the batteries fired by the throne, and, carrying a sword from the steps, the central deputation moved a little lower down on the steps. The attendants on the left placed a gilt table before the Emperor, on which was a gold writing standing. The paper, the Constitution, was laid before him, Joseph took the pen from the Arch-Chancellor and gave it to the Emperor. I saw him sign this famous Constitution, which he did quickly and carelessly. It was sixteen minutes to two o’clock.

The table was moved away. Napoleon took a paper in his hand and read a speech sitting. I heard some of his words and this sentence: “J’ai convoqué le Champ de Mars”. He has a piercing voice, something I thought like George Vernon’s, whose mouth is something like Napoleon’s. He must have made great exertions to be heard at all by so vast an assembly. He did it well. The speech began, “Empereur, Consul, soldat …” He was applauded at the end, but I did not hear any other cries but “Vive l’Empereur!” and “Vive
Marie Louise!” sometimes – no “Vive la Nation!” as the Moniteur says. The Archbishop of Bourges550 gave then the Emperor the oath. The Te Deum began from the altar, there was a good deal of crowding on the platform about the throne, during which I believe the oath was administered by the Arch-Chancellor to some of the dignitaries, &c. The sword was waved again, the drums began beating, the deputation left the steps, and the eagles pressed into the centre of the area before the foot of the throne. The Minister of the Interior (the republican Carnot) in a white fancy Spanish dress, the bald-headed d’Avoust, Minister of War, and the Minister of the Marin, Decrès, descended the steps and shortly after returned with the Eagle of the National Guard. The first of the line and of the marine, they
ascended towards the platform, followed by a crowd of eaglebearers and military and others.

Then it was that Napoleon threw off his mantle, hastily leapt from his throne, and appearing in his red and gold fancy dress, advanced forwards to meet his eagles. There was an animation in his manner which gave to this part of the ceremony an interest superior to any other portion of it. He took the standards, placed them in the hands of the ministers, and made a short speech in a loud voice. I heard him at the end exclaim, “Jurez!” in a lively tone, which was followed by shouts of “Nous jurons!” and “Vive l’Empereur!” The drums beat shortly after the Emperor, with all his marshals and dignitaries, descended the steps, traversed the area, went through the opening of the theatre, and, crossing between files of soldiers, mounted the platform in the open plain. He seated himself on his throne surrounded by his court and marshals. What he did there I could not see, but fortunately, getting into the outer circle of the theatre, I enjoyed the spectacle, which was the most brilliant I ever saw. The Monarch on his open throne, an immense plain covered with soldiers, and flanked on each side with an innumerable multitude. The occasion itself, the man, all conspired to fill me with admiration.The eagles were paraded to the left and before the throne, and finally given by Napoleon with a speech to the National Guard and the Imperial Guard – those of the troops of the line and marine which were in the hands of the military and naval deputations were marched first, lower down to the left of the plain, and then, before the end of the ceremony, returned to the palace of the military school. All the troops then filed with their eagles before the Emperor, the Imperial Guard marching from right to left and the National Guard from left to right, in admirable order. The flashing of the bayonets, of the flags and lances, of the red banners and of the helmets of the dragoons, produced a fine effect. Towards the end of the review the crowd rushed from the banks on the side of the plain round the throne, but no accident happened, and with only one exception, I saw no violence. A slight rope and one line of guards was sufficient to guard-off a large open space between the theatre and the field.

Half an hour before four, the last National Guards passed, and the plain began to be emptied of troops. The Emperor descended the platform, returned into the theatre, ascended to his former position, turned himself round, and bowed several times very graciously and with an aspect much more pleased and pleasing than at his entry. He then ascended the stairs quickly, with all his court, into the palace.

I returned to the outside circle of the theatre, and waited to see the cortège return – which it did nearly as before, except that the lancers and dragoons did not accompany the carriage, but by some accident were behind.

General Flahaut put his head out of the carriage to hurry them on. The crowd formed a line almost to the river. The departure was announced by the batteries of the military school, and those of the bridge of Jena. Bruce and I left the Champ de Mars, and returned, partly by the right bank of the Seine, to the Tuileries gardens. At the ferry we saw stationed a picket of gendarmes, to prevent the boat from being overloaded. We walked about, dined at Very’s. I came and sat at home. Sierakowski called, and talked very sensibly on the difficulty of coming at any facts, however recent – for instance, one of his countrymen had just asserted to him that only the military applauded today at the Champ de Mai. He was there, and said, “The civilians applauded too” – the other persisted. He mentioned how he had been deceived by the reports of Murat’s force, and of the inclination of the Italians for him – several persons he knew had gone to London to persuade the opposition and ministers of this fact. Well, in spite of Murat’s proclamations, no-one rises for him – he is beaten at once. Some say he is at the Gulf of Juan, others that he is at St Cloud, others that he is in the Abruzzi – however, he has lost his crown, and Lord Castlereagh will throw in the teeth of the opposition the non-accomplishment of their predictions respecting this hostile king – he is the universal scorn here – “bête”, “sot”, are lavished upon him without mercy. I walked with Bruce to see the illuminations in the Tuileries, which were pretty enough. The trees looked like fretwork in the light. Went to bed tired, and slept – for the first time – all night.

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