“Destiny”…Josephine’s last words to Napoleon
In less than a month’s time, the traitor Talleyrand once again negotiated the surrender of France to the Allies, particularly Britain. I have always wondered why Napoleon kept the vermin by his side after repeated betrayals. Perhaps, it was because Talleyrand was ‘his creature’, but the easier explanation was that in his brilliance, Napoleon developed overconfidence, and Talleyrand lived in his blind spot. Both he and Fouche continued to be important men in the Bourbon government that would follow the fall of Napoleon’s empire.
Joachim Murat, brother-in-law to Napoleon
And so after men of sword like us finished our duels, it was men of words like Talleyrand and the Austrian diplomat Prince Karl von Metternich who dueled in Vienna, spinning the terms of peace on the back of France’s defeat.
For Austria, the host of the treaty city, would gain control of Saab and Savoy. However, Prince Charles Victor Albert, a descendant of Eugene of Savoy, had been instrumental in the wars against France, and he could not be disinherited. Certainly not without hurting the sentiments that the Austrians held for their hero, so he was given Sardinia, which after Murat’s invasion, had been left without a dynasty. Little did they know that this would one day lay the grounds of the House of Piedmont-Savoy to unite Italy, and such is the greatness of Napoleon. Even from the ashes of defeat, he would lay the groundworks for a new Europe.
Then, there was Prussia. Glenhard Blucher stood proudly by his King, Frederick, and his Queen, the beautiful Louise. No longer the wounded tiger, Prussia would gain Ruhr and Rhineland, thus helping to further dismantle Napoleon’s Confederation of the Rhine, while Russia would gain a protectorate over Poland, thus ending the Grand Duchy of Warsaw altogether.
Meanwhile, the Bourbons were restored to France, Spain, and Naples with the pre-Revolutionary territorial bounds restored to each state. Basically, the achievements of Napoleon were undone by the arrogant allies, and King Louis XVIII, once again returned to Paris in the baggage of the hated allies.
Napoleon himself was exiled to St. Helena off the coast of Africa and kept under heavy watch by the British. He was never to see his son and wife again, but they allowed him to arrange his usual balls and enjoy the trappings of royalty. Lannes, as you know, had died in the Battle of Waterloo. Messina and Ney opted to serve the new French regime, while Joachim Murat, former King of Naples, became a drunken broke. I am most angered to say that the man who fared best, whom was Berdanotte. As king of Sweden, he was easily ensconced as one of the Allies.
Anyway, I chose to follow Napoleon to St. Helena and relinquish my title as Marshal of France. Such was the depth of my loyalty to him. I realized that France would only have one such Emperor as him in all of our history.
Napoleon no longer planned an escape from St. Helena. It was futile, and even if he did, what would we achieve? At 52, he was now genuinely tired. Besides, the British security was heavier than ever. All he did all they was reminiscence about his past glory and greatness. I talked about how I looked down on him where we were boys at the Royal Military Academy but how I came to respect him as General and Emperor. We were the oldest of friends that remained.
Apart from spending time talking about the olden days, Napoleon also spent time at the balls, which were many. The new man, Colonel Rori Castleragh, assigned to watch over him by Wellington was far more capable than Wellington. I believe he came to the balls not only to entertain himself, but also to keep watch on Napoleon.
An old but still elegantly looking lady appeared at the ball that day, and before I knew it, I realized it was Madame Josephine de Beauharnais, Napoleon’s one-time wife and Empress of France!! Josephine and Napoleon stared at each other for some time before they broke into shy laughters.
“May I?” Napoleon proffered his hand.
“Certainly, General.” Josephine replied. This must have been how she addressed him on their first meeting.
Napoleon and Josephine danced for a long time, and I dared say that day on St. Helena may very well be the happiest day in Napoleon’s life. Josephine remained on St. Helena for many days, having meals with Napoleon and myself at his residence. For some reason, the British made him eat from a different plate from us. I had reason to believe there was foul play, but Castleragh insisted it was because Napoleon was to be treated as royalty. Not wanting to disturb the budding romance or friendship between Napoleon and Josephine, I did not bring it up. I always wonder how it was to love someone a second time, and I think I saw it before my eyes in those days. It was a tad more like friendship and more understanding, perhaps neither of them were young anymore.
Napoleon: “Ah, Josephine, why did you come back? I have nothing left to offer you. My hopes, my dreams, the Empire, that is all gone. I am just an ordinary man now.”
Josephine: “And you were less than this, when we first met. Do you not remember, Napoleon? I am an old lady now. Older than you even.”
She smiled, and Napoleon smiled back. “I once thought we would give everything up one day and come to live with you in the countryside. That never happened…until today. Come, let us go fishing.”
Josephine: “I’d be delighted.”
Napoleon: “Must you leave one day? Can we not stay together forever?”
Josephine knew Napoleon was a stubborn man, and she was not up to arguing with him, so she replied with one simple word. “Destiny.”
Napoleon sighed, “Well, then there is little precious time to waste.”
Napoleon and myself rose from the table to pick up our fishing gears, but suddenly, Napoleon was coughing. He grew weak, and his hands slid across the wall as he dropped to the ground. Josephine and myself rushed in to pull him up. He tried to comfort us, “I must be sleeping too much these days. Feeling lethargic.”
But I had a sense this was different. Napoleon was not a weak man, not even with less exercise than before and his middle age.
“Napoleon, this is not normal,” I said. “We must summon the doctor at once.”
Napoleon: “Don’t be naive, Allain. We are in the midst of our enemies. The British are not our host, and Castleragh would no doubt be promoted if he could tell Wellington of my death. Even those I trust have betrayed me. Murat, whom I loved like my own brother. That Austrian prince, Karl von Metternich…did he not consort with my sister Caroline (Murat’s wife) only to steal secrets from her? And today, his tongue rules even above Talleyrand in the Congress of Vienna. With friends like these, who needs enemies?”
I realized the truth in Napoleon’s words. He had himself arranged for Caroline and Metternich to become lovers, but it was he, not her as planned, who took information from her. Such was the cunning diplomat. Napoleon was a blunt man. Not well-versed in the world of diplomacy as Talleyrand and Metternich, and he would rather have faced Archduke Charles or Wellington in battlefield than be in the crossword of tongues with these back-stabbing diplomats. But alas, the world does not work the way we want.
Soon, Napoleon passed away. I was very angry. I suspected that the British had poisoned him with cyanide, but I had no proof other than the fact that Napoleon’s hair had grown silver white by the time of his death. I tried to confront Castleragh, but his men held bayonets out at me, and I was unarmed as all Frenchmen on St. Helena were. The British doctor claimed that he died of stomach ulcer from too much drinking. Such was the lie of our enemies.
And so, this was the way of the world. The monarchists, the British, they could not suffer Great Men as Napoleon. They could not let him live for fear that he would change their world, even as he was unarmed. And so, they poisoned him and rejected the claims, because they could not admit that they had killed the Emperor of France by treachery. I wept that day, and during his funeral, I saw a drunk man in tattered uniform approach his coffin.
I seized the man and said, “Get off here, beggar. This is not your place.”
Suddenly, the beggar pushed me aside with the force of a well-trained cavalryman and looked at me with steely eyes, “Stand aside, Private Juppe!” I recognized the voice, and when I looked at him again, I realized the familiarity. It was Joachim Murat, former King of Naples and once my own commander.
I stepped back in deference to him. He hugged Napoleon’s coffin and wept like a madman, “I’m sorry, Napoleon! I’m sorry!” And the rain poured upon the funeral that day, for the gods would not listen to Murat’s sorrows. But I’m sure Napoleon did and forgave him, or perhaps, that was what I thought.
After the death of Napoleon, I took the invitation of his brother, Lucien Bonaparte, to migrate to America. I was not a prisoner like Napoleon was, so the British did not see any danger in my leaving St. Helena. Lucien and myself were both old men by then. In fact, Lucien’s son, an American, was studying in a Law School the Americans called Yale, and he was aspiring to be a Senator of the Americans one day.
One day, the young man invited me to give a lecture at that institution. I realized how different these Americans were from their British motherland. They did not believe in divine rule of the kings. Like Napoleon, they believed in the common man.
“Napoleon was a common man,” I addressed them. “He only became Emperor of France, because it was the only way to unite simple men who continued to believe in the monarchy and the Church. Because he was a man ahead of his time, but the narrow-minded men of Europe could not allow him to change their world. I hope that you Americans, with your belief in democracy, will carry on his mission. I rode by his side during the long campaigns against men with little mind, and you owe half your country (Louisiana) to him.”
“May I ask a question, Professor Juppe?” a young student called.
I looked at the young man who was tall and gaunt and realized he was just sitting in. He was a woodcutter and a self-trained lawyer too young to be in Yale, but I remembered him. “Certainly, Abraham, what is your question? But before you continue…I am not a Professor. If you please, you can address me as General.”
Lincoln then asked the question, “Very well, General. We Americans believed in democracy and the common man as your Emperor did, but at the same time, there are many black men in this nation who have no rights of their own. Do they not deserve to have ambitions like Napoleon…to better their lives and rise to leadership as Napoleon, a Corsican and foreigner to France, did? What would Napoleon do in our situation?”
The class stood silent. Young Abraham Lincoln had talked of slavery, an issue that was taboo in those days in the eyes of many wealthy plantation owners. I pondered over the question too, before I replied, “Mr. Lincoln, it is my observation that the wealthy plantation owners of the American South are no different from the Bourbons of France. If Napoleon were American, I think he would overthrow them, and perhaps one day, a black man could even rule this country!”
The class laughed at my last comment. The notion of a black slave ruling America was preposterous, but not Lincoln or Lucien’s son. Finally, Lincoln stood up and said, “I will never forget your words, General.” And he left the class. There was the same kind of determination in his eyes I saw in Napoleon many years before. Not that it would make a difference, I so thought.