The Objects

27th Feb 1815

Close-up Inconstant resized.jpeg
Full Inconstant resized.jpeg
Source: Private collection

The Sea Crossing from Elba to the French Coast

Contributed by: Katherine Astbury

Napoleon’s departure from Portoferraio after nightfall on 26th February became part of the legend of the Emperor, inspiring later in the 19th century prints such as this one entitled simply ‘L’Ile d’Elbe (26 février 1815) [The Island of Elba (26 February 1815)]. At the time, however, the enterprise was by no means certain of success.

Napoleon’s flotilla consisted of the ‘Inconstant’, a 2-masted brig with 26 canons, the French brig the ‘St Esprit’, commandeered for the expedition, the Emperor’s own 3-masted xebec the ‘Etoile’, a 1-masted sailing ship, the ‘Caroline’, and 3 smaller vessels.

The expedition did not begin auspiciously: barely out of Portoferraio, they were becalmed and by dawn had only travelled 6 leagues. The wind picked up, however, and on 27th they survived passing close by a French ship, the ‘Zéphir’, without being recognised. In his account of the crossing from Elba to the French coast, Monier recounts how the captain of the ‘Zéphir’, realising that the ‘Inconstant’ had come from Elba, asked how the Emperor was doing. The reply came back: ‘Marvellously’.

Monier also recounts how anyone who could read and write was pressed into action copying out the two proclamations Napoleon had prepared, one for the army, one for the people of France, which would be distributed once they landed on French soil.


An account of the journey from Elba can be read in:

Une année de la vie de l'Empereur Napoléon: ou précis historique de tout ce qui s'est passé depuis le 1er avril 1814 jusqu'au 21 mars 1815, relativement à S. M. et aux braves qui l'ont accompagnée, contenant son départ de Fontainebleau, son embarquement à Saint-Rapheau près Fréjus, son arrivée à Porto-Ferrajo, son séjour à l'île d'Elbe et son retour à Paris, par A. D. B. M***, lieutenant de grenadiers... [Monier] (Paris: Eymery, Delaunay, Pellicier, 1815)

It was translated into English as:

A Year of the Life of the Emperor Napoleon; or an historical account of all that happened from the 1st April 1814 to the 20th March 1815, By A. D. B. M*** [Monier] (Lieutenant of Grenadiers.) (New York: Longworth, 1815)

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