The Hundred Days, Part I —The Emperor of Elba Island
On this day in history, March 1st, 1815 — Napoleon returns from Elba
By March of 1814, it was clear that Napoleon Bonaparte and his empire was facing certain defeat. The Grande Armee had been decimated in the disastrous Russian Campaign and had been badly mauled at Leipzig. Now the situation was certainly grim as Russian, Austrian, and Prussian armies of the Sixth Coalition invaded France from the east while British forces likewise invaded from Spain. There were shortages of everything; guns, gunpowder, uniforms, food, and manpower, Napoleon was even forced to fill in the gaps with old men and children. The French economy teetered on a knife edge. Despite brilliant tactics on Napoleon’s part, nothing could stem the tide of the invasion. On the 30th of March, Coalition troops stormed and occupied Paris. On April 11th, Napoleon abdicated, convinced by his marshals that the situation was hopeless. The Bourbon Monarchy was re-installed in the form of King Louis XVIII. Napoleon, determined never to be captured, attempted suicide with a poisonous pill he wore around his neck, but the poison was old and spoiled, only making him sick rather than killing him.
After resigning his powers as Emperor of France and all of his titles, it was decided by the Coalition that he would be exiled to Elba, a small island off the coast of Italy populated by 12,000 people. He was given the title “Emperor of Elba”, allowed a personal guard of 1,000 soldiers, given a grand palace to live in, and given the power to rule over the island and its inhabitants as he saw fit. However he was not permitted to leave the island ever. Napoleon was fortunate, he easily could have been lined against a wall and shot.
Life at Elba was good for Napoleon. Elba was an still is a Mediterranean paradise which attracts thousands of tourists annually. Napoleon was given a fine villa to live in, not a luxurious as his former Fountainbleu, but certainly comfortable. He also had access to fine food, wines and liqueurs, and the best entertainment Europe had to offer. As Emperor of Elba, Napoleon also instituted the same reforms which he had done in France. He instituted modern agricultural methods, developed iron mines, built roads, developed a modern sewage system, and built a small navy. As Emperor of Elba, he was also often called upon to act as a judge in disputes between his subjects. While Napoleon lived the life of a European ruler, he was separated from his family and his life as pretend emperor of a small island was not enough for a man who once ruled most of Europe. There was news of political instability as the people of France despised the new Bourbon King. There were also rumors that Napoleon was to be further exiled to a remote island in the Atlantic.
On February 26th, 1815, having spent only 300 days on the island Napoleon left Elba on the ship Swiftsure with 600 troops. On March 1st they landed on the southeastern coast of France. Napoleon and his small band disembarked, marching north towards Paris. Although he only had an army of 600, Napoleon hope that the loyalty of his people would restore to him the empire which he once ruled.
To Be Continued…