ON reaching the barrier of Lille I saw that it was shut, and the drawbridge raised. It was nine
o'clock. I inquired the reason of the gatekeeper, who could give me no
information except that, as a large number of troops had arrived the
previous day, only one gate, I forget which, had been left open. I had
no one on horseback to send there. I grew nervous lest a rising should
have occurred in favour of Napoleon. I already pictured the King in
difficulties, and reproached myself for having prevailed upon him to
take that road. However, if the troops had taken possession of the town,
there was no reason why they should have closed the gates, and they
would have had cavalry posted outside to give them intelligence of all
As I could not succeed,
either by cries or signs, in making myself understood by the sentinel on
the rampart, I obtained a scrap of paper from the gatekeeper, and wrote
to the Commandant, whoever he might be, a few words, stating my name and
announcing the speedy arrival of the King. I wrapped this note round a
stone, and, having passed the barrier, threw it over the ditch. It
fortunately fell upon the rampart; the sentry picked it up, and called
the officer on duty. I waited for some time, and, being still uneasy,
sent back to stop the King's carriages, so that they might retreat if we
found ourselves on hostile ground.
At last the drawbridge
was lowered, and an officer advanced. It was your. uncle, Paul de
Bourgoing, [Brother of the Marshal's third wife, Mademoiselle de
Bourgoing, who was the mother of the son Alexander, afterwards Duke of
Tarenturn, for whom these ' Recollections' were written. The Marshal's
second wife was Mademoiselle de Montholon, widow of General Joubert, who
was killed at the Battle of Novi, July, 1799. By her the Marshal had one
daughter, who married the Marquis de Roche-Dragon. - Translator.] at
that time aide-de-camp to the Marshal Duke of Treviso. He looked so
surprised, so bewildered, so embarrassed, that I suspected some
trickery, although he told me that all was quiet, that the Duke of
Orleans and his commanding officer, Marshal Mortier, had returned the
day before from Valenciennes, that they were much surprised at the
sudden approach of the King, and that he knew no more.
In order to obtain
clearer information I sent the chief of my staff, General Hulot, into
the town, and questioned the officer during his absence. He expressed
surprise at my incredulity, and repeated to me, upon his honour, all
that he had just stated. This tranquillized me, and I was made still
easier by the return of General Hulot, who told me that the Duke of
Orleans and the Marshal were following him with an escort, and were
going out to meet the King. I then sent my aide-de-camp to inform the
carriages they might advance. They soon appeared; the procession going
out to meet them reached the barrier at the same moment as they did.
The King at length
entered Lille. I accompanied him on horseback. It was market-day. The
King was received with acclamation by the inhabitants and country folk,
but coldly by the troops, especially by a battalion of light infantry
drawn up just inside the gate. We discovered during the morning, on
reviewing the garrison, and from the reports of their leaders, that the
same feeling prevailed throughout the troops.
The King caused it to be announced that he would visit each corps. This
step was not expected, but I was one of the first to recommend it. The
return of these troops was a serious annoyance. We had no reason to hope
that they would quit the town if ordered to do so, and the Royal
volunteers were already several days on the road to Paris, whither they
had been summoned by the Minister. I have already said that nothing had
been attended to, foreseen or ordered. The Duke of Orleans, even, had
been left without notice of the King's march, so that on suddenly
learning his departure, but not the direction he had taken nor his
future plans, the Duke had thought he was doing right in raising the
camp at Pronne and dismissing the regiments to their respective
During the evening the
King held a private council, at which I was present, with the l)uke of
Orleans, Monsieur de Blacas, and the Marshals l3erthicr and Mortier. His
Majesty first caused a letter from Monsieur to be read to us. I have a
clear recollection of its substance, as it was read four or five times,
and discussed quite as often.
On reaching Beauvais, the
day after I had left it, Monsieur had been informed that the larger
portion of the King's Household could not march together, that they
would infallibly be overtaken, that they were not in a state to defend
themselves, and that the liberty of the Princes would he seriously
endangered; that, consequently and owing to their ignorance of the
King's whereabouts, it had been decided to disband the Household; and,
further, that as the Princes dared no longer risk remaining in France,
amid so many hostile garrisons, they would start immediately, take ship
either at Trport or Dieppe, and rejoin his Majesty as speedily as
possible in England or on the Continent.
Such was the tenor of
this letter. At the very moment when its text was being discussed by the
Princes, the news arrived that Napoleon was to enter Paris that very
day. This had the effect of hastening their decision, which they
immediately communicated to the King. The messenger, however, who
carried the letter had not succeeded in coming up with him before he
On leaving Abbeville, the
King had announced to Monsieur his determination to make for Lille, and
had sent him orders to bring the Household thither by the most direct
road from Beauvais. The two despatches had crossed one another, and the
King therefore did not know whether, after what his brother had told him
of the state of the Household, he had been able to execute the orders
sent to him or not.
This was the subject of
our discussion. I maintained that it was impossible that Monsieur should
not have deferred to the King's orders, and marched with all the
Household that was available. My opinion was shared, and we discovered,
after calculating dates, that Monsieur ought to reach Arras or Béthune
either that very day or early the following morning. The King then
displayed some reluctance to waiting at Lille amid troops whose
dispositions were so clearly unfavourable to him. The Duke of Orleans
and the Marshal Duke of Treviso hastened to reassure him, and said that
they would answer for their submission at any rate for some days. This
pledge, however, did not satisfy him, and he announced his intention of
starting that night for Dunkirk on the plea of visiting the frontier.
I pointed out that after
giving out that he intended to establish the seat of his Government
provisionally at Lille, where he had been so loyally received by the
population, it would not be worthy of the King tD leave it secretly,
that it would be more honourable to keep the promise made of reviewing
the garrison next morning, and that he could then announce his intention
of going to see Dunkirk and returning thence to Lille. The King,
however, possessed by a dread of being prevented from executing his plan
next day, expressed his firm intention to start that same night.
I resumed my arguments as
to the dignity of a King of France, the inconvenience attending a plan
which might seriously endanger the Princes and the Household, who were
advancing in all security to Lille; the greater nobility of risking
everything rather than hurt the feelings of a town which, on its
awakening, would learn the news of a departure that might be very justly
stigmatized as a flight. For a moment I thought my arguments had
prevailed, but the King's mind was made up, and I had to yield. It was
arranged that he should start at midnight, that I should precede him
with full powers to act as I thought best, and the sitting terminated.
The Prince de Cond6 had
arrived during the day. We were all surprised, and with difficulty
suppressed our laughter, out of respect for his age and the presence of
the King, when we heard him gravely ask whether, as the next day was
Maundy Thursday, his Majesty would perform the usual ceremony of the
washing of feet. The moment was well chosen! Even the King could
scarcely control his laughter.
The King had quitted
Paris in such haste that there had only been time to pack one
portmanteau for his use, and this had been stolen on the road. His
Majesty felt the loss the more as this portmanteau contained all his
clean linen six shirts, a dressing-gown, and pair of slippers to which
he was specially attached. On telling me of the theft, he said:
'They have taken my
shirts; I had not too many of them.' And then he added in a melancholy
voice: 'But I regret my slippers even more. You will realize some day,
my dear Marshal, the value of a pair of slippers that have taken the
exact shape of your foot!'
Little did the King think
that a few hours later he was going to lose his entire kingdom.
At eleven o'clock, just
as I was about to start, the Comte de Blacas was announced. He said in a
'Monsieur le Marchal, I
have thought over what you just now vainly pointed out to his Majesty,
namely, that it was unworthy of a King of France to seem to flee by a
clandestine departure at night, thereby displeasing his supporters and
exposing himself to the sarcasms of his enemies. If you are still of the
same mind, postpone your departure for a short time. I will go and renew
your observations to his Majesty. He is in safety here, at least until
to-morrow, for I have taken the precaution to have all the gates of the
town shut, and nothing can enter without my authorization. I shall be
warned if any couriers or travellers of importance arrive.'
Thereupon he left me, and
came back half an hour later I to tell me that the King consented to
remain until ten o'clock next morning, that he had found him in his
shirtsleeves shaving, and that at the first word he had laid down the
razor, flown into a violent passion, and exclaimed with an oath:
'Why do they keep
changing their plans every minute, and prevent me from starting or from
going to bed?'
'It was,' added Monsieur
de Blacas, 'the most ridiculous scenehis attitude, his shirt-cuffs
turned back, his face one half red with anger, and the other white with
soap. At last the King calmed down, finished shaving, and went to bed.'
I did the same, being
worn out with fatigue.
I was still fast asleep
when, at seven o'clock the following morning, Monsieur de Blacas came to
me again on behalf of the King.
'What has happened now?'
'Not one of my orders was
carried out,' he replied. 'The gates of the town were left open;
travellers, couriers, stagecoaches passed through freely. The mail has
arrived. The Moniteur contains a full account of Napoleon's new
Government. I have ordered every copy to be seized.'
Poor Blacas had forgotten
that there were many other papers being widely circulated, each
containing the same news.
I dressed hastily, and
went to the King's apartments. I found there the Duke of Orleans and the
Marshals l3erthier and Mortier. We were ushered into his Majesty's
'Dunkirk is out of the
question now,' he said. 'I have just been informed that the troops are
taking off the white cockade and substituting the so-called national
cockade for it. After what has happened in Paris, which will probably
occur everywhere else, I am no longer in safety here.'
I tried to reassure the
King, but this time he was absolutely decided. He ordered horses,
meaning to start across the frontier at once.
'Sire,' I said, 'he who
throws up the game acknowledges himself beaten. This state of things
assuredly cannot last long; but, since your mind is made up, permit me
to stay behind.'
The King displayed
surprise; he frowned, and became pensive. I continued:
'I have loyally done all
in my power to maintain the authority of your Majesty and to keep you in
possession of your dominions. You wish to abandon them. I will conduct
you in safety to the frontier, but I will go no farther. I should only
be in your way, a charge, an encumbrance to you. I will remain
unalterably attached and devoted to your Majesty, and faithful to my
oath. Some event may occur in the interior of the kingdom during your
absence (which can only last a few months), and I may be able to serve
you better in France than elsewhere.'
The resolution of the
Congress of Vienna, taken on March 13, had reached the King either the
previous evening or during the night. it declared the intention of all
Europe to arm against Napoleon. This intelligence had just been printed
and advertised without producing much effect. Its authenticity even was
doubted in the town.
It was clear that France
divided could make no stand against such a mass of forces; she had
already succumbed once when she was not divided, and when a strong hand
held the reins of State. My prediction that the King would be hack in a
few months was not baseless therefore. I terminated my speech by
offering my Marshal's baton as a proof of my sincerity. The King had
recovered his usual serenity. He praised my honesty, and, as a token of
his confidence, acceded to my request. Marshal Mortier asked the same
favour, which was also granted to him.
Poor Prince de Neuchâtel
was biting his nails with vexation. He was one of the captains of the
Body-Guard, and on duty; he could not, therefore, ask for the same
permission. On leaving the presence he followed me in great distress,
and told me that he would resign as soon as they reached Ghent, that he
would then go to Bamberg to fetch the Princess and his children, with
whom he would return to France, He begged me to inform his family and
friends of his determination, even by means of the newspapers. I
promised to do so, and kept my word. He feared lest he should be taken
for an émigré.
Before entering his
carriage, the King desired to compensate Monsieur de Brigode, Mayor of
the town, at whose house he had stayed. He gave him the rank of
Commander of the Legion of Honour, and on his return conferred a peerage
upon him. As soon as all was ready he started, escorted by a detachment
of the National Guard, some gendarmes and cuirassiers. The Duke of
Orleans and Marshal Mortier accompanied him as far as the barrier, at
which point I begged the King to order them to return to the town to
restrain the garrison.
I sent General Hulot to
Menin, to warn the Commandant of that foreign town of the King's
arrival, in order that there should be no mistake, for without this
precaution they might have opened lire upon the carriages and the
escort. He also had orders to engage horses, to advise the Custom House
officials, and to point out exactly where the frontier was, because I
was personally determined not to cross it, lest the publication of the
fact that I had done so with the King should cause alarm to your sisters
and my family. A very touching spectacle was presented to us along the
road, the entire population on their knees in the mud, their hands
raised to heaven, imploring the King not to abandon them. Later on his
Majesty liked to recall these scenes of devoted attachment, which moved
him very much.
On reaching the frontier
I stopped the carriages. General Hulot had brought a superior English
officer, who was commanding the troops at Menin. I begged him to show
all the respect due to the King. He seemed to understand me, though he
could not speak a word of French nor I of English. The King thanked the
escort, and ordered them a considerable largesse.
My farewell with his
Majesty was very painful. He addressed me most affectionately; I was
much touched. The King presented me with a handsome snuff-box, bearing
his portrait set in diamonds. I refused it, saying that the image
impressed upon my memory would suffice. The King insisted, and said
'It is only a souvenir.
Good-bye, my dear Marshal; I am grateful for your devotion.'
'Good-bye, Sire,' said I
in reply; 'au revoir in three months' time.'
Not a year had passed
since the King had returned to his country when he quitted it for the
second time. His restoration had produced acclamations and transports of
joy; it seemed to promise happy days to France after thirty years of
disorder produced by the results of a revolution which shook, the world,
and which finished by coming round again to its starting-point. France,
however, had conquered the Charter and constitutional privileges; the
Charter was to have been the palladium of our liberties, it had been
solemnly sworn to, and the first legislative act of the Government was
to violate it. History will teach you, my son, by what a series of
faults, acknowledged by the King in his proclamation at Cambrai at the
time of his second return, his Ministers displeased the nation. That is
why Napoleon, on landing, found a large majority favourably disposed
towards him, as unfortunately for France it was, but the country paid
dearly for this sad and painful episode.