The Objects

14th Mar 1815

Ney print reduced width.jpeg
Source: Trinity College Dublin, with permission of the Board of Trinity College Dublin

Ney goes over to Napoleon

Contributed by: Joseph Clarke

Marshal Ney’s Oath

The work of one of the most prolific satirists of the period, Lacroix, this scathing portrayal of the Emperor is typical of the satirical images that flooded the Parisian print market in the weeks following Waterloo. While this portrait of a portly Napoleon bearing the stunted standard of his Imperial pretentions exemplifies Lacroix’s acerbic vision of the Hundred Days, its principal target is Marshal Ney, Peer of France and Prince de la Moskowa, depicted here swearing allegiance to the Emperor with his nose buried abjectly in the ample Imperial backside.

The first, and one of the few, of Napoleon’s marshals to abandon the Bourbon cause for the Empire that March, Michel Ney’s defection to Napoleon at Lons-le-Saunier on 14 March was undoubtedly the most damaging. With a career stretching back to the battle of Valmy in 1792 and reputedly ‘the last Frenchman on Russian soil’ during the retreat of 1812, Ney was the most popular and the most prestigious of Napoleon’s marshals and, it was thought, the only one who could lead the troops against their former Emperor. Ney’s defection was all the more damaging as he was widely reported to have promised Louis that he would ‘bring the usurper back in an iron cage’ on leaving Paris on 7 March. His reconciliation with the Emperor a week later was accordingly a body blow to the monarchy’s hopes of retaining control of the army and with it, France, and the king abandoned Paris just two days after Ney’s ‘treason’ became known in the capital.

At Waterloo, he lived up to his reputation as ‘the bravest of the brave’. With five horses killed under him, he fought to the last and he was never forgiven for it. Arrested on 3 August, he was tried for high treason in the Chamber of Peers and executed by firing squad on 7 December 1815.