(Paris) “The emperor eight days before had recognized the heights of the battlefield” … A unique manuscript, dictated and annotated by Napoleon during his exile in Saint Helena, and relating to his glory the legendary battle of Austerlitz (1805 ), is on sale from Wednesday in Paris.
Long of 74 densely written pages, this manuscript dictated to his faithful among the faithful, General Henri-Gatien Bertrand, is corrected by Napoleon, who crosses out words or inscribes his remarks in tiny handwriting. A total of eleven annotations. It is accompanied by a plan of the battle on tracing paper drawn by the general.
As the bicentenary of the emperor’s death begins, on May 5, 1821, this manuscript on his greatest victory, on December 2, 1805, despite the numerical inferiority of the Grande Armée, has been on display since 10 a.m. Arts and Autographs gallery, at the Odeon. Presented for the first time exclusively as part of the BRAFA antiques fair, it is on sale for one million euros. This is not an auction.
“There is an effervescence, people call us to come, many passers-by stop to look on our front window at the facsimiles of the manuscript and the outstanding quotes from Napoleon. It’s good to be able to show everyone this historic document, ”told AFP Alizée Raux, daughter of the gallery owner, Jean-Emmanuel Raux.
While there are many writings on this battle, exemplary for its strategic ingenuity to the point that it is still taught in military schools such as Saint-Cyr, this text shows a Napoleon extremely concerned about his posterity.
The “day of the three emperors” took place symbolically on the day of the first anniversary of his coronation.
The day before, Napoleon Bonaparte seemed tormented by his conscience, but the warrior won the day within him: “I will lose a good number of these good people, I feel that they are really my children, and, in truth, , I sometimes blame myself for this feeling, because I fear that it will end up rendering me incapable of war ».
“The emperor says, orders, visits …”
The coalition of François 1er of Austria and Tsar Alexander 1er, which England financed, will dissolve after the failure of Austerlitz.
The manuscript was acquired in the 1970s by Jean-Emmanuel Raux, an expert in autographs, who had found it during the sale of the Bertrand heirs in their château in Châteauroux.
“No one was looking at the writings of Saint Helena at the time. It is the most fabulous historical document that one can find in private hands on the history of France, ”Mr. Raux told AFP.
Napoleon, although the Revolution is now far away, still writes “frimaire” (from November 21 to December 20 in the revolutionary calendar). The first person is not used, but the formula: “the emperor says, does, decides, orders, visits” …
“Napoleon delivers an embellished version of the battle. We observe it in the intonation of sentences. It’s the famous sun of Austerlitz, ”observes Alizée Raux, who has studied the document in detail.
All the campaign having preceded the battle, the withdrawals, negotiations to make believe in the weakness of the Napoleonic army, then the confrontation are detailed. The account insists: “eight days before”, the emperor had chosen the site where to trap the enemy.
Two days before the battle, Napoleon goes on reconnaissance. He adds with his own hand: “he even advanced so far with few people that the picket of his rear guard was charged by the Cossacks”.
Heroism and enthusiasm are exaggeratedly exalted: “not an officer, not a general, not a soldier who was not determined to conquer or to perish”. When, after the battle, the emperor roams the battlefield strewn with dead and wounded, “nothing was more touching than seeing these brave people recognize him.” They forgot their sufferings and said: at least was the victory assured? “.
The Russian attackers will be defeated in nine hours, many of them drowned in frozen lakes.
The enemy is treated with pity, according to the account. When, for example, the emperor addresses a wounded Russian officer: “for having been defeated, one does not cease to be among the brave”.