The Objects

26th Apr 1815

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Source: Curzon Collection, Bodleian Library, with permission.

The cockade was removed from a soldier on the battlefield of Waterloo by an English clergyman.

The Return of the Revolutionary Cockade

Contributed by: Bill Doyle

Napoleon knew that his best strategy on returning from Elba was to exploit the unpopularity of restored Bourbon rule. This meant parading his own revolutionary credentials. He immediately raised the tricolour flag under which he had always marched, and which Louis XVIII had abandoned. He proclaimed himself a ruler legitimised by the people; a son of the Revolution, he had returned to save the French from enslavement to priests and nobles, whom he threatened to ‘string up from the lanterns’.

He re-enacted the 1789 abolition of feudalism and tithes, and the 1790 suppression of nobility, and ordered émigrés who had returned with the king to leave the country. Those who had acquired national lands confiscated during the Revolution had their ownership reconfirmed. He allowed the freedom of the press, and in the Acte Additionnel promised representative government and guaranteed civil rights.

Groups alienated by the Bourbons and their supporters rallied to these gestures, and many formed themselves into ‘Federations’ pledged to back the renewed imperial regime by force. Napoleon was agreeably surprised, but then unnerved, by the strength of social resentment he had unleashed. He did not wish, he said, to owe his throne to a peasant revolt. He preferred the loyalty of soldiers.