Napoleon’s adieux to the Old Guard at Fontainebleau, 20 April, 1814

Author(s) : NAPOLEON I
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Adieux de Napoléon à la Garde Impériale dans la Cour du cheval-blanc du Château de Fontainebleau, Antoine Alphonse MONTFORT (1802 - 1884) © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

“On the 20 April at noon … Napoleon left his rooms… He descended the flight of steps [above the Cour du Cheval-Blanc, at Fontainebleau Palace] and, passing the row of carriages, he advanced towards the Guard. He made a sign that he wished to speak. Everyone fell silent, and in a most devoted quiet, they listened to his last words.

‘Soldiers of my Old Guard, I bid you farewell. For twenty years you have been my constant companions on the road to honour and glory. In these latter times, as in the days of our prosperity, you have never ceased to be models of courage and fidelity. With men such as you our cause would not have been lost; but the war would have been interminable; it would have been a civil war, and France would only have become unhappier still. I have therefore sacrificed all of our interests to those of la patrie; I shall depart. But you, my friends, continue to serve France. Her happiness was my only thought; it shall continue to be the object of my desires. Do not lament my fate; the only reason I have allowed myself to survive was so that I could further serve our glory. I want to write down the great deeds which we have done together. Adieu, my children! Would that I could press you all to my heart. Let me at least embrace your standard….!’

At these words, General Petit, seized the aigle and stepped forward. Napoleon took the general in his arms and kissed the standard. The silence which this great scene imposed was broken only by the sobs of the soldiers. Napoleon, visibly moved, pulled himself together and began again with a stronger voice:

‘Once again, adieu, my old companions! May this last kiss pass to your hearts!’
Thus he spoke, and bursting out of the group which had formed around him, he threw himself into his carriage…”

Source: Baron Fain, Manuscrit de 1814, Paris: Bossange, 1830, pp. 251-2.

The ‘original’ version of the ‘Adieux de Fontainebleau’, found and quoted by Thierry Lentz in Les vingts jours de Fontainebleau, Paris : Perrin, 2014, pp. 202-3:

“Soldiers of my Old Guard, I bid you farewell.

For twenty years, you have constantly been by my side on the road to honour and glory. You have always behaved with courage and fidelity. Again in these last days, you have given me proof of this.

In your hands, our cause would not have been lost. For three years I could have waged a civil war; but France would only have been more unhappy, there would have been no definitive outcome. The allied powers were presenting all of Europe united against us. One part of the army betrayed me; parties were created to form another government. I have sacrificed all my personal interests for the good of the nation; so I am leaving. You will serve her always with glory and honour; you will be faithful to your new sovereign.

Receive my thanks. I cannot embrace you all, I will embrace your leader, I will also embrace your flag. Come, General, bring forward the flag…”

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