July 13 1815: Napoleon’s Decision

On July 13, 1815, Captain Maitland of H.M.S. Bellerophon believes that Napoleon will try to run the blockade of the Rochefort port to make his escape to America. He writes about that day: 

On the 13th of July, nothing of importance occurred, except the white flag being once more hoisted all over Rochelle, as well as on the Isle of Oleron, to the entire exclusion of the tri-coloured ensign. We could plainly perceive, that the frigates, from whom we were distant about three miles, were perfectly ready to put to sea, should an opportunity offer; having their sterns covered with vegetables, their top-gallant yards across, studding sail gear rove, and numerous boats passing between them and the island the whole day:—all indications, well known to professional men, of preparing for sea.

The ships under my command were accordingly kept with slip buoys on their cables, and, as soon as it was dark, the top-sail and top-gallant yards were swayed to the mast-heads, the sails stopt with rope yarns, and every thing kept ready to make sail at a moment’s warning. Guard-boats were also kept rowing all night, as near the frigates as they could venture, having signals established to show in the event of the enemy getting under sail.

It is not to be. Late, on July 13, 1815, Napoleon decides that he will not risk trying to break out into the open sea to escape and decides to surrender to the British. He writes a letter to the Prince Regent.

“Altesse Royale,

“En butte aux factions qui divisent mon pays et à l’inimitié des plus grandes puissances de l’Europe, j’ai terminé ma carrière politique, et je viens comme Thémistocle m’asseoir sur le foyer du peuple Britannique. Je me mets sous la protection de ses loix, que je réclame de votre Altesse Royale, comme au plus puissant, au plus constant, et au plus généreux de mes Ennemis.”

“Rochefort, 13 Juillet, 1815,
“Signé, Napoleon.”

TRANSLATION.

“Rochefort, July 13th, 1815.

“Your Royal Highness,

“A victim to the factions which distract my country, and to the enmity of the greatest powers of Europe, I have terminated my political career, and I come, like Themistocles, to throw myself upon the hospitality of the British people. I put myself under the protection of their laws; which I claim from your Royal Highness, as the most powerful, the most constant, and the most generous of my enemies.

Napoleon.”

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