The Objects

8th May 1815

Source: Bust of Charles Weiss at the Musée des beaux-arts et d'archéologie de Besançon
Photograph by Arnaud 25,

The 100 days in Besançon

Contributed by: Katherine Astbury

The ‘Journal’ of Charles Weiss (1779-1866), Besançon’s librarian, chronicles the effect of Napoleon’s return to power on the town, from the first rumours that Napoleon had landed (news reaches them on 8 March) to the report of Louis XVIII’s entry into Paris in July. Besançon is a key strategic location in the east of France and rumours that the Austrians were about to invade circulated from as early as the end of March, made more credible by orders on 5 April to start stockpiling for a siege. Troops were moved in and out of the town constantly, often on their way to Belfort. As a result, the town experiences the changes in power in a very direct and tangible way.

Weiss’s diary also serves as a reminder that the political events of the 100 days have an impact on the daily lives of ordinary individuals in the French provinces. His entries reveal Besançon to be a town split between opposing factions, where rumours are rife and the authorities struggling to keep the peace. In mid-March the authorities have a coach driver arrested for bringing in newspapers from Lyon; by the end of the month, Bonapartists are breaking the windows of shops belonging to royalists. By May, those known to have royalist sympathies are being kept under surveillance... and by June curfews are in place as the only way of preventing disturbances.

In the entry Weiss writes for today, 8th May 1815, he reports how an imperial decree has formally placed the town in a state of siege. The residents are advised to stockpile sufficient provisions for 6 months. Rumours are that ‘the enemy’ has already reached Strasbourg and that the Swiss are about to cross into Franche-Comté. Despite the apparent severity of the situation, Weiss notes the complete lack of enthusiasm shown by the inhabitants called up to form a national guard, much to the displeasure of the General Saint-Clair sent to review them. When they due to depart two days later, over half are missing... Only one resident formally rejects the acte additionnel when it is put to plebiscite but that does not mean that the inhabitants of Besançon are wholeheartedly behind the Emperor's miliary endeavours. Far from it in fact....


Further reading:

Charles Weiss, Journal 1815-1822. Etablissement du texte, introduction et notes de Suzanne Lepin, Annales littéraires de l’université de Besançon, 132 (Paris: Les Belles-Lettres, 1972)

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