While Napoleon held court in Lyons, the alarmed Londoners must have fallen on the Sunday papers and would have been lulled into a false sense of security by reports from Paris that Napoleon had received no support following his landing. The weather in France had apparently made telegraphic signals difficult to use, but even so, the French court seems to have been trying to convince itself that all was well.
By all accounts King Louis XVIII (left) was driving his advisors distracted by his lack-lustre approach to the crisis. He had either deluded himself that all Frenchmen in their right minds would be ecstatic at the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty and that Napoleon had therefor no hope of securing support, or, more likely, he was simply so lacking in any sort of leadership qualities that he stuck his head in the sand and hoped it would all go away.
The date that Napoleon left Lyons is unclear, but the best estimate seems to be Monday 13th, the day that further falsely reassuring dispatches arrived in London. That same day, at the Congress of Vienna, the Great Powers of Europe (Austria, Great Britain, Prussia and Russia) and their allies declared Napoleon an outlaw. The possibility of a peaceful outcome seemed to be fading, especially as on Tuesday Napoleon proclaimed the Bourbons unfit to reign and called on all French troops to join him.
Londoners who had been planning a visit to the continent, and who were reassured by the news from the Paris press, might have studied with interest an advertisement for packet boats from London via Gravesend to Ostend. They sailed every Sunday and, potential passengers were assured, took less than 24 hours. Private cabins were available.
Meanwhile, at Windsor, Princess Charlotte (right) was reported to be slightly indisposed and confined to Cranborn Lodge. She had been visited by the Queen & Princesses from Windsor Castle.
In London the Lord Mayor, as was usual, set the price of a wheaten quartern loaf at 11¾ d and the Earl & Countess of Jersey, one of the influential Patronesses of Almack’s, arrived in London for the Season from their Oxfordshire seat. Business as usual, in other words, and no sign of alarm.
On Thursday 16th Napoleon reached Avallon where two more regiments defected to his army and, finally, a more realistic report arrived in London from Paris to the effect that all troops sent against Napoleon had joined him, and that he had entered Lyons on 10th March. By Friday, the news was even gloomier – Bonaparte was in Paris, the papers declared, inaccurately, also reporting that the King had fled. Rioting over the Corn Law was reported from Norwich, but spirits rose on Saturday when another falsely encouraging report arrived from Paris.
Meanwhile Napoleon arrived in Auxerre where he was met by Marshal Ney (above) who had promised the King to bring the invader back to Paris “in an iron cage.” The two men embraced and Ney rejoined his old commander.
Despite the worrying news, or lack of it, from France, at least there was no rioting on the streets of London and audiences venturing out could be entertained to a rather strange combination of performances at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane – King Richard III, with Edmund Kean as the king, followed by “A new Farce called ‘Past Ten O’clock & a Rainy Night.’” The print to the right shows Kean in the role and below is a detail of the Ackermann’s Repository plate of the theatre in 1809. The artist must have been standing right outside the Bow Street Runners’ HQ. The theatre is little changed today and you can visit it on walk 7 in Walking Jane Austen’s London.
2 responses to “The Road to Waterloo – Week Three: the French King Dithers, Princess Charlotte Sniffles”
Missed this one last week somehow. It’s fascinating how little anyone seemed to care, and supposed Bonaparte would meet with resistance in his own country.
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