No doubt Londoners sitting down on Sunday morning, 19th March, read with relief the excellent – and completely inaccurate – news from the continent. As Bell’s Weekly Messenger’s headlines said, quoting the Paris papers of the 15th – “Gratifying Change In The State Of Affairs –Bonaparte Still At Lyons – Marching of troops On All Sides Against Him – Vigour of the Bourbons.”
In fact King Louis, whose reactions so far had been so far from vigorous as to be positively flabby, had fled Paris by night, heading for Brussels. The Duchess of Courland (shown left as a young woman in a portrait by Angelica Kauffman) set out at the same time to take the news to the Congress at Vienna. Meanwhile Napoleon continued to advance on Paris, despite further British headlines – “Reported Defeat of Bonaparte – Defection Of His Troops – His Probable Destruction.”
Meanwhile the London newspaper reader could pass on with relief to such good news as the signing of the peace treaty with the Americans and the assurances that Syphilis could be completely cured by doses of Velos’s Vegetable Syrup which “acts salutarily on the whole system, throws off all its impurities, and also removed the various forms of diseased Liver, Scrofula and Scurvy, that are so frequently left to medicines which aggravate their ravages.”
Bell’s Weekly Messenger’s “Died” column reported a curious selection of deaths in scrupulously alphabetical order, including:
O’Halloran, Sir Caesar Felix O’Neill, “the notorious swindler in Giltspur-street Counter.” [debtors’ prison]
Ripon, Mr Thomas of Nottingham, aged 75. “He was no more than 54 inches high. On a prodigious large head he wore an enormous cocked hat, and acquired a handsome income by former habits of mendicity (sic). ”
Saxe Cobourg, the Prince of, aged 77. “He commanded the Austrian Armies in the campaigns of 1793 and 1794.”
On Monday 20th Napoleon arrived at Fontainbleu and left again at 2 pm for Paris. He was met on the way by the 1st, 4th and 6th Chasseurs à Cheval and the 6th Lancers who had been sent to intercept him. Instead of arresting him they presented arms and joined his forces.
Bonaparte entered Paris at 10.30 pm without a shot being fired and was carried shoulder-high into the Tuileries, eyes closed, a smile on his face.
Perhaps the relieved Londoners who had read that he was in the process of fleeing through France at that very moment flocked to the Adelphi Exhibition in Adam Street, off the Strand to see Robert Lefèvre’s portrait of Napoleon in the uniform of Colonel of the Guard of Chasseurs.
A stir was caused on Tuesday 21st by the escape of the quite impossibly colourful Admiral Cochrane from the King’s Bench prison. He strolled into the Palace of Westminster to take his seat in Parliament, from whence he was returned to custody. On the same day anyone still worried about Napoleon would have been reassured by the arrival of the Hyperion frigate in Plymouth, loaded with troops and en route for Holland.
Then on Thursday the devastating news arrived that Napoleon had entered Paris and the King had fled. The 24th was Good Friday, and in his diary Mr Oakes in Bury Saint Edmunds recorded, “This morning the London papers this morning announced the arrival of Bonaparte at Paris on Monday last, 20th Inst, without opposition. Not a gun fired.” The Duchess of Courland reached Vienna the same day to report the King’s flight to the Allies.
By Saturday the Congress had acted, ratifying the Treaty of Alliance against Napoleon in which each of the great powers (Britain, Austria, Prussia, Russia) agreed to pledge 150,000 men for the fight. The Duke of Wellington was made commander-in-chief.
In London the crisis was having its predictable consequences on the Exchange. Bell’s Weekly Messenger reported “… a close holiday at the Bank, but in the private bargains the Three per cent. Consols, the leading Stock, have suffered a decline of one per cent, reckoning from the closing price on Thursday, and one quarter from the closing price yesterday. The causes of the depression are too obvious to require specification.” The view above is of the Bank of England in 1809 (from Ackermann’s Repository). It is a view from the north, standing in Lothbury and looking down Princes Street on the right towards Mansion House.
The City around the Bank is still a fascinating place to walk – and Walk 8 from Walking Jane Austen’s London will take you from Temple Bar to the chop houses and coffee houses frequented by the Hellfire Club and Benjamin Franklin. (Not necessarily at the same time!)