The Objects

1st Mar 1815

Source: gallica.bnf.fr, with permission of the Bibliothèque nationale de France

The Golfe-Juan proclamations

Contributed by: Katherine Astbury

Napoleon landed on the South French coast at the small fishing port of Golfe-Juan during the afternoon of 1 March 1815. His propaganda machine sprang into action immediately.

Napoleon had always been a master of spin. The numerous proclamations and declarations issued throughout the Empire reveal an Emperor always able to inspire people through powerful and emotive appeals to the nation.

Prepared in advance and copied on board the brig the ‘Inconstant’ during the crossing, the proclamations dated 1 March 1815 at Golfe-Juan are typical of his style. Napoleon issued two proclamations: to the people and to the army. The officers of the Imperial Guard issued their own, addressed to the generals and officers of the army.

Napoleon’s proclamation to the army (shown here) is more stirring than his one to the people – Napoleon knew he needed the army to come back over to him if his venture were to succeed. He tried to rally the soldiers by representing them as liberators of France, making much of the need for French self-determination, and he called on the army to shape the future of the nation. He instructed every man to cast off the white colours of the royal family and return to the French Revolutionary tricolour cockade. In a sentence which instantly became iconic, he declared:

La victoire marchera aux pas de charge; l'aigle avec les couleurs nationales, volera de clocher en clocher jusqu'aux tours de Notre-Dame.

(Victory shall march in double quick time; the eagle bearing the colours of the nation will fly from steeple to steeple until it reaches the towers of Notre-Dame Cathedral.)

Geolocation

In the proclamation he addressed to the French people, Napoleon blamed betrayal for the defeat of France in 1814. He presented himself as having had to sacrifice his personal glory for the good of the nation:

Je ne consultai que l'intérêt de la patrie; je m'exilai sur un rocher au milieu des mers.

(I consulted only the interests of the nation; I took myself into exile on a rock in the middle of the sea.)

He presented his return to France in similar terms; he was back because the nation needed a legitimate sovereign of its own choosing. He tells the people of France that he has heard their complaints about Louis XVIII, and that he has risked life and limb on a perilous crossing to save the interests of France...

The Niles’ Weekly register (Baltimore) translates both proclamations in full in its weekly register of foreign news dated Saturday 6th May (available on google books, volume VIII, pp. 163-64). News had first reached Baltimore, via New York, on Friday 28th April, too late for anything other than a brief account in the paper for Saturday 29th April but treated in full in the issue on 6th May.


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