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Recollections of Marshall Macdonald, Duke of Tarentum

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 that passed.

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 garrisons.

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 reached Lille.

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 determined voice:

'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 scene—his 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?' I asked.

'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 study.

'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 kindly:

'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.


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