Napoleon’s consecration and coronation in Milan, 26 May, 1805

Period : Directory / 1st Empire
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This timeline forms part of our close-up on: Napoleon’s consecration and coronation in Milan, 26 May, 1805.

The principal Italian document regarding Napoleon’s coronation in Milan is the official description published in Milan in 1805. We have not taken account of the French ‘programme’ for the ceremony prepared by Napoleon’s grand master of ceremonies, Ségur, since it was printed before the postponement of the event and is therefore inaccurate, unlike the Italian version.

This three-volume Italian document is entitled, Documenti officiali relativi al nuovo regno d’Italia e all’incoronazione di Napoleone I, imperatore dei’ Francesci e re d’Italia, Milan, 1805.

It is the official relation. Any details regarding the effusiveness of Napoleon’s reception by the Italians should be taken in that spirit. It was clearly composed almost contemporaneously with the events it describes as the postponement of the coronation catches the author of the book by surprise. Indeed, no reason is given for it. The only reference to the change of date is occasioned by the fetching of the Iron Crown from Monza, and the description as printed in the Programme (published in Italian translation in volume 2) still has the coronation date as 23 May.

This work begins with an anonymous defence of the concept of a ‘kingdom’ of Italy, and French control of that kingdom. It ends with the following remark: “…and since the kingdom of Italy must remain united with a power, to which power other than France could it be united with greater hope for good and less fear of evil? And since a king must be chosen…, let us put to one side any consideration of the specific links which Napoleon I has with this kingdom, let us forget that he is its conqueror, founder and restorer, let us forget all this, and let us imagine a free congress to elect a king for Italy composed entirely of Italians – and that for all men living and of the past were in competition for the kingdom – what other name could be preferred to that of Napoleon?”


31 December, 1804: Deal between Joseph and Napoleon whereby, on reception of 200,000 francs, Joseph agreed to become king of Lombardy. Napoleon writes to Francis I of Austria informing him of this (1 January, 1805, Correspondance de Napoléon, publiée par ordre de l’Empereur Napoléon III, 8250).

25 January, 1805: Joseph backtracked and refused the kingdom, preferring not to abandon his rights to the French throne.

1 February, 1805: Eugène de Beauharnais promoted to arch-chancellor of state – in preparation for his becoming viceroy.

5 February, 1805: Napoleon himself accepts to become King of Italy (not king just king of Lombardy), regardless of the fact that this would be perceived as an affront to Austria.

Paris, 17 March, 1805: The Italian delegation to Napoleon, sitting on his throne in the Tuileries, came to ask him to deign to change the constitution written in Lyons in 1802, and thus to become a constitutional monarch of Italy. Melzi was the spokesperson. This request was formalised by the constitutional statute (of the same date) passed by the Italian equivalent of the Conseil d’état, the Consulta di Stato, which was meeting in Paris. Interestingly, sections III and IV of the statue noted: “III. As soon as foreign armies have retreated from the kingdom of Naples, the Ionian Islands and Malta, the emperor Napoleon will transmit his crown to one of his legitimate male heirs, whether natural or adopted. IV. From this latter moment on, the crown of Italy cannot be united with the crown of France in the same person, and the successors of Napoleon I in the kingdom of Italy must reside permanently in the territory of the Italian Republic.”

Paris, 18, March, 1805: Decree passed conferring the principate of Piombino to Elisa Buonaparte, Napoleon’s sister. Piombino was important (so the decree read): “because of the facility which it gives us of communicating with the island of Elba and Corsica.”

Paris, 19 March, 1805: Proclamation published by the Consulta di Stato of the ex-Italian Republic, informing the Italian people that Napoleon was now their king.

Paris 22 March, 1805: Imperial decree signed fixing the date for the coronation in Milan to 23 May – only two months away!

Paris, 30 March, 1805: Decree passed regulating the kingship of Italy: in cases here the king was a minor, a regent must be appointed. The regent must be at least 25 years old, he may not be a woman!

Paris, 31 March, 1805: Napoleon leaves Paris for his coronation in Milan.

Milan, 31 March, 1805: Above the Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace in Milan), the coat of arms of the new kingdom was mounted. It included a Visconti snake, the iron crown of the kingdom of Italy, the arms of the duchy of Milan, the pontifical keys, the d’Este eagle, the lion of Saint Mark and the double cross of Piedmont. Cannon salvoes were fired, cries of ‘Evviva’ (Long live the kingdom) were heard. La Scala was illuminated and a ball was held in the adjoining casino. Other celebrations took place in Forlì, Reggio Emilia, Bologna and Bergamo, to name but a few.

Milan, 5 April, 1805: Order published by Marshal Jourdan regarding the construction of a monument to the glory of Napoleon on the plain near Castiglione.

Milan, 13 April, 1805: A warning (avis) was published, stating that in three days time, any non-resident aliens in Milan would have to apply to the police for a permit to stay there. Any other non-Milanese would not be allowed into the city without a passport issued by the Ministry for Internal Affairs.

Cesena, Verona, Mantua, 4 May, 1805
Cesena: Bust of Napoleon to be erected on the façade of the Biblioteca Malatestiana.
Verona: The road currently being built outside the Porta Nuova would be called strada Bonaparte.
Mantua: Erection of a triumphal arch based on the arch of Septimius Severus and an Egyptian pyramid.

Alessandria/Marengo, 5 May, 1805: A re-enactment of the battle of Marengo was held before Napoleon. Murat, Lannes, and Bessières commanded the troops. Berthier presented to Napoleon five copies of a description of the famous battle held five years earlier. This battle narrative did not please Napoleon and Berthier was ordered to destroy all five books.

Pavia, 7 May, 1805: Their majesties reached Mezzana-Corti where they were welcomed by jubilant crowds. Milan, 8 May, 1805: Napoleon entered Milan through the Marengo gate (today Porta Ticinese) amidst massed Italian and French troops and rejoicing crowds. The first stop was at the cathedral where they were met by the clergy. La Scala and other parts of the town were illuminated.

Milan, 9 May, 1805: Decree passed creating the Italian Consulta di Stato (Council of State, modeled on the French Conseil d’Etat), divided into five sections, justice, internal affairs, finances, war and religion.

Milan, 12 May, 1805: After Mass, Napoleon on horseback watched French and Italian troops manoeuvre.

Milan, 14 May, 1805: First session of the Napoleonic Legislative Body of Italy.

Milan, 17 May, 1805: Napoleon visited the Brera library, academy, and other schools on that site. He was met and applauded by students and professors.

Milan, 18 May, 1805: First session of the Napoleonic Electoral Colleges of Italy.

Milan, 20 May, 1805: Napoleon received the high clergy of the kingdom, from Milan, Brescia, Bergamo, Pavia, Como, Crema, Novara, Vigevano, Cremona, Lodi, Bologna, Modena, Reggio, Imola, Carpi, Ravenna, Cesena, Forlì, Faenza, Rimini, Cervia, Ferrara, Mantua, Comacchio, Adria, and Verona.

Milan, 21 May, 1805: The ceremonial for the coronation ceremony (the Programme) was published – the ceremony still planned for two days later.

22 May, 1805: Decree passed ordering that the Concordat signed by Napoleon and the Pope for Italy on 16 September, 1803, be enacted in June 1805.

The 22/23 May were to be the days planned for the coronation and transfer of the Iron Crown, but the coronation day was moved to 26 May. The fetching of the iron crown nevertheless took place on 22 May.

22 May, Midday: One the masters of ceremonies for the events (Salmatoris or Dargainaratz) took three carriages and 50 cavalry with him to Monza to fetch the Iron Crown of the kings of Italy.

The Iron Crown was made with one of the nails from the True Cross found by Saint Helena mother of Constantine in the Holy Land. Since the Lombard Queen Flavia Teodolinda gave the crown to the city of Monza, circa 594, the tradition grew up that archpriests in Monza, as well as archbishops in Milan (technically the senior priests in the kingdom of the Lombards) were able to crown kings of Italy.

Cortege bearing the Iron crown of the kings of Italy set out from Monza cathedral.
On reaching Milan cathedral at 3pm, the crown was received by the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan at the head of his clergy and carried ceremonially into the cathedral, where it was set on a credenza.

According to the programme, the deputation which accompanying the crown was to mount a guard over it over the night before the coronation. However since the crown arrived three days early, it is not clear where the crown spent the intervening time.

25 May, 1805: Cardinal Caprara, archbishop of Milan, received a private audience with Napoleon. He handed to the Emperor his papal letters patent making him the channel for negotiations between Napoleon and the Holy See.

25 May, 1805: Notice published regarding the coronation and festivities

26 May: Coronation day, illuminations in the city and fireworks in the Foro Bonaparte.
28 May: Horse races and raising of a balloon.
29 May: In the Sala del ministero, prizes awarded for industrial endeavour. Public amusements and illuminations in the streets and parks in the evening.
31 May: Teatro Grande: concert and ball given by the Milan commune.

25 May, in the morning: French and Italian gendarmes, under orders of General Duroc, Grand Maréchal du Palais and in charge of policing the Italian coronation, took up their posts outside Milan cathedral.

Presumably on the night of 25-26 May (originally planned for 22/23 May, the day before the coronation), the deputation which accompanied the crown mounted guard over it.

Throughout the entire ceremony, it was planned that the archpriest of Monza, a canon, the Syndic des Marguilliers, and the president of the town council would provide a permanent presence around the Iron Crown.

26 May, 8am: The military and ‘garde nationale’ deputations gathered in piazza della Fontana under the command of General Lecchi. They were led to their places in and around the cathedral at 9.30am.

The Appeal Court, the presidents of the Consiglia, the presidents of the departmental civil service, the presidents of the municipal civil services of the principal towns, a corps from the municipality of Milan, and deputations from the Institut and the universities of Pavia and Bologna met in the Palazzo del Prefetto. They took their places in the cathedral before 10am.

26 May, 10am: The electoral colleges, the Consulta di Stato, the Legislative Council, the Legislative Body, the Court of Cassation, the Court of Revision, the National Treasury, left their offices (each with an escort of about 80 men) set out for the cathedral.

The division and brigadier generals, prefects, colonels, Inspecteurs aux revues, sub-prefects, and Commissaires ordonnateurs des Guerres all individually made their way to the cathedral.

All the cardinals, archbishops, bishops and other ecclesiastics invited to the ceremony met in the Archbishop’s palace.

26 May, 11am: His Eminence the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan left the archbishop’s palace to go the choir of the cathedral, accompanied by the above-mentioned clergy.

26 May, 11.45am: Her Majesty the Empress and Queen, Josephine left the Palazzo Reale (royal palace close to the cathedral, on the right hand side), taking the specially-built gallery from the palace to the cathedral, and was met by and accompanied to her seat in her tribune by the cardinal archbishop of the cathedral. Princess Elisa (Napoleon’s sister) entered the cathedral before the Empress accompanied by her equerry and her chamberlains, and followed by matrons of honour and her ladies in waiting.

26 May, Midday: The Emperor left the Palazzo Reale to the sound of an artillery salvo, heading for the cathedral. According to the official report, the weather was sunny with a clear sky. During the ceremony, on taking up the Iron Crown, Napoleon uttered the formula: ‘God has given it to me; beware he that touches it’ (Iddio me l’ha data; guai a chi la toccherà!’). On placing the crown of Italy on his head he was greeted with enthusiastic applause. Indeed many of the parts of the office were greeted with applause.

26 May, half an hour after the end of the ceremony (4pm?): The imperial cortege headed for the basilica of Saint’Ambrogio for further prayers and another Te Deum. Eugène was in charge of the escort of the 13 carriages preceded by French grenadiers and followed by Italian grenadiers.

27 May, 1805: Iron Crown taken back to Monza following the same ceremonial used for the outward journey.

28 May, 1805: Mock antique games in the Circo al Campo di Marte and the launching of an aereostat balloon, in the presence of Napoleon.

29 May, 1805: Street musicians in the parks, singing, juggling, street markets, food on the streets until two in the morning. A glorious ball with two orchestras in the courtyard in a building in the centre of the public gardens, people looked down from the galleries and all was lit by lanterns. Mock ancient Roman monuments were illuminated as was the rest of the city. There were fireworks and temporary triumphal architecture by the architect Canonica, general superintendent of national buildings (fabbriche nazionali).

31 May, 1805: Grand ball and festa given at La Scala

4 June, 1805: Decree annexing the Ligurian ‘sister’ Republic to the Grand Empire. From then on, that territory became the three departments of Gênes, Montenotte and Apennins.

6 June, 1805: Decree passed regulating the Constitution of the Kingdom of Italy. Establishment of the concept of a viceroy, legislation regarding the Italian Consulta di Stato, the Legislative Council, the the conseil des auditeurs, service extraordinarie et ordinaire, the legislative body, the judicial order. Creation of the Order of the Corona di Ferro.

7 June, 1805: Nomination of Eugène as Viceroy

7 June, 1805: Decree passed ordering that “the Po to the mouth of the Ticino, and the Sesia to its mouth with act as the borders between the Kingdom of Italy and the French Empire. The bed of the Sesia and the Po, the islands, the fishing, the routes and all things regarding the police will remain under the jurisdiction of the French Empire.”

10 June – 12 July, 1805: Imperial progress through the Italian towns of Brescia, Verona, Legnano, Mantua, Bologna, Modena, Piacenza and Genoa, finally arriving at Fontainebleau on 12 July.

Further details

The organisation
The organisation for the Milanese coronation seems not to have been as detailed or carefully executed as that in Paris. The programme printed by Ségur included vague references to details that had not yet been formalised – an unspecified inscription was to have been included above the west door of the cathedral, the names of the people bringing up the offertory gifts are left blank, and the imperial mantle was forgotten when enumerating the honours, indeed there was no one planned even to carry it (Talleyrand was given this duty at the last minute). Two supplements (unnumbered) were added to the principal document or programme printed by Ségur. The first supplement gives details regarding the artillery salvoes and peals of bells to mark the different moments in the ceremony (notably, the arrival of the iron crown in Milan), regarding parts of the ceremony were changed (Napoleon was finally to enter wearing both the Imperial and Italian crown), and Eugène was to be upgraded (as befitted the soon-to-be Viceroy), being taken out of his ‘spectator’s’ tribune and placed to the right of the Grand Trône (two steps lower, italics in the original). The second supplement gave the all important details as to who would bring up the offertory gifts and who would carry the ‘Honneurs’ of Charlemagne, of Italy and of the Empire and who would accompany the Iron Crown.

How the cathedral looked
A long gallery was built from the grand flight of steps of the Palazzo Reale to the front door of the Cathedral. This decorated gallery (effectively a covered walkway) was made in the form of a tent but open on both sides so that the corteges could be seen as they passed into the cathedral. Above the front door of the cathedral were mounted the coat of arms of the kingdom. The vaults, walls, and columns were covered in silk and gauze fringed with gold.

There were in fact four crowns at this ceremony. Napoleon entered wearing the imperial crown and the crown of Italy, the crown of Charlemagne was carried in the different corteges and placed on the altar but not worn (just as in Paris) and the Iron crown which remained inside the cathedral, was carried by ecclesiastics, worn briefly by Napoleon, and subsequently taken back to Monza.

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