The Objects

24th Mar 1815

Napoleonic Bloodshed cropped and straightened RESIZED.jpeg
Source: Eton College, with permission.

A German View of the Napoleonic Threat

Contributed by: Nicola Pickering and Theo Bruton

This hand-coloured print also belongs to the collection at Eton College. It was made in Germany soon after Napoleon’s defeat in 1815. At the foot of the print the caption declares:

‘Bonaparte landed on the 1st March 1815 at Cannes in France to wave the torch of war once more around the globe. Through revolutionary proclamations, he led a part of the army to break their oath of loyalty to their rightful king and drove fear into the peaceful citizens who knew their duty, but the firm will and the united might of Europe rose quickly against him and cast the ruin that he’d intended to wreak on other lands over him and his followers.’

Napoleon is shown setting fire to the house of a peasant family who turn back to watch, a look of horror on their faces: the obvious terror of their child seems especially poignant. Napoleon’s men have already looted the home: the Germans had suffered greatly at the hands of French troops in the ‘peacetime’ of occupation as well as in wartime. Napoleon himself is shown standing on France (labelled Frankreich) to emphasize that he had escaped Elba and returned to the epicentre of his earlier crimes. In the background, the boat and the water are both a reminder of his escape and a suggestion that no sooner had he landed, than the looting and burning began. Napoleon faces inland, along with another soldier who points in the same direction, presumably towards Paris. This is the threat that hung over the whole of France, or so the print-maker seems to be saying. In contempt of Napoleon’s boast that he retook France without any bloodshed, the print-maker retrospectively illustrates the danger that Napoleon’s return represented for the people of Europe.