Research Subjects: Biographies


Newspaper Accounts of the Trial of General Pierre Cambronne: 27 April 1816

By Susan Howard

These articles are taken from the archives of the The Times of London of 1815. They are mainly translations from the French newspapers with some private correspondence and leader articles. The articles were printed uncensored, though possibly shortened. There are places where the translation is clumsy: they were usually translated and printed within 24 hours of the papers being received from France. Some of the print quality is poor and I have had to guess at some words; where I have been unable to do this, I have marked them [illegible]. I have preserved the archaic punctuation and inconsistent spelling but have altered the layout to make it easier to read - the original was compressed into narrow columns. Any notes of mine are in italics in square brackets: all other italics are in the text.

The Times:

PARIS April 27 


The prisoner, on his examination, stated, that being left for dead on the field at Waterloo, he was taken prisoner by the English, carried to England, and from thence voluntarily returned to France, when he heard he was comprehended in the King's ordinance of the 24th July.

He farther stated, that the treaty of Fontainebleau having permitted Buonoparte to take 400 men with him to Elba, he accepted from him the command of the light infantry of the guard. He considered himself as no longer a Frenchman, and as bound by no oath or act of adhesion to Louis XVIII. After landing at Cannes, he commanded the advanced guard of Buonaparte's army, until he was within three leagues of Lyons. From this time until his arrival in Paris he had no command. At Waterloo he had a command in the imperial guards.

He denied that he knew of Buonaparte's intention to quit Elba until two or three days before their departure, and he was two days on board before Buonaparte told him they were going to France. He complained, as well as did General Drouot of the false proclamations which Buonaparte issued in their names.[See Below]. The reading of the prisoner's examination terminated with certificates of his humane conduct in la Vendee.

On being brought into Court, the President asked him why he quitted the command of the advanced guard near Lyons? The prisoner here handed in a paper from Buonaparte in answer:

"Cambronne, I intrust to you the advanced guard of my most brilliant campaign. You must not fire a single musket. Every where you will find friends only."

The prisoner added, that Buonaparte did not take the command from him, but merely sent him forward alone, for the troops which they brought with them were too fatigued and could not march so quick as those whom they found ready drawn up to receive them.

The President.- Why did you follow Buonaparte to Elba?

            Prisoner.- The provisional government forced us, as part of his guards.

The King's Procurator.- No person forced you.

            The Prisoner (with vehemence).-And are we not to be forced by our duties? If we, military men, had not certain clear lines of duty to perform, we should be bandied about from one folly to another.

The President. -In whose name did you make the requisitions for the provisions on your march from Cannes to Paris?

            Prisoner,- In the name of Napoleon, Sovereign of Elba. I did not say anything about politics to the mayors: I only demanded provisions.

President.- At what period was you nominated a peer by Buonaparte?

            Prisoner.- I never paid any attention to it: I knew nothing of it and I never sat as a peer.

President.- You said you refused the rank of lieutenant-general from Buonaparte: what was your motive?

           Prisoner.- "I certainly thought I was capable of commanding a division, but in an unfortunate affair I reflected that I might be embarrassed. All the world knows, that, at the battle of Waterloo, the person who commanded us (Buonaparte) lost his wits, and then I should have found myself acting with old generals of brigade, who would have considered themselves humbled at being commanded by one less experienced than themselves."

The Rapporteur, and the Counsel for Cambronne, (M. Berryer, jun.) then addressed the Court: and after a few hours deliberations, the prisoner was unanimously found Not Guilty of having betrayed the King previous to March 23, 1815: by a majority of six to one he was found Not Guilty of attacking France and the Government with arms in his hands: and by a majority of seven to five Not Guilty of violently seizing upon power. He was therefore ordered to be set at liberty in 24 hours.



[This must be the proclamation to which Drouot and Cambronne put their names - or another version of it, as they claimed.]

The following is the address of the Generals, officers, and soldiers of the Imperial Guard, to the Generals, Officers, and soldiers of the army, dated Gulph of Juan March 1, 1815:-

            Soldiers and comrades, - We have preserved for you your emperor in spite of the numerous snares that were laid for him; we have brought him back to you across the seas and amidst a thousand dangers. We have landed on the sacred soil of the country with the national cockade and the imperial eagle. Throw under your feet the white cockade; it is the sign of disgrace, of the yoke imposed by foreigners, and of treason. We should have uselessly shed our blood, were we to suffer the vanquished to dictate the law to us!

            During the few months that the Bourbons have reigned, they have convinced you that they have forgotten nothing and learned nothing. They are always governed by prejudices hostile to our rights and those of the people. Those who have borne arms against their country, against us, are heroes! You are rebels whom they would have pardoned, only till they were sufficiently consolidated by the formation of an army of emigrants, by the introduction of Swiss guards into Paris, and by the successive promotion of new officers in your ranks. Then it would be necessary to have carried arms against the country, to be enabled to lay claim to honours or rewards; it would have been necessary to be of a birth conformable to their prejudices to be officers; the soldier must have remained always a soldier; the people would have had the burthens and they the honours.

            A Viomesnil insults the conqueror of Zurich, by naturalising him a Frenchman, - he who only found pardon and amnesty in the clemency of the law. A Brulart, the Chouan assassin of Georges, commands our legions.

            Awaiting the moment when they could dare to destroy the Legion of Honour, they have given it to all traitors,and lavished it in order to degrade it. They have stripped it if all the political prerogatives which we had gained at the price of our blood.

            The four hundred millions of extraordinary domains, on whch our dotations were assigned, which were the patrimony of the army, and the prize of our success, they have caused to be conveyed to England.

            Soldiers of the great nation, soldiers of the great Napoloen, will you continue to belong to  Prince who was for 20 years the enemy of France, and who boasts of owing his Throne to the Prince Regent of England? All that has been done without the consent of the people, and ours, and without our being consulted, is illegal.

            Soldiers, the generale is beat, and we march; run to arms, join us, join your Emperor and your tri-coloured eagles; and if these men, now so arrogant, and who have alwyas fled at the sight of our arms, dare to await us, what finer occasion can offer of shedding our blood, and of chanting the hymn of victory?

            Soldiers of the 7th, 8th, and 19th divisions. Garrisons of Antibes, Toulon, and Marseilles, Retired Officers, veterans of our armies, you are invited to the honour of setting the first example. Come with us to conquer that throne, the palladium of our rights: and let posterity one day say, "foreigners, seconded by traitors, had imposed a disgraceful yoke on France; the brave have risen, and the enemies of the people, of the army, have returned into nothing."

Placed on the Napoleon Series: September 2006


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