The Objects

15th May 1815

Source:, with permission of the Bibliothèque nationale de France

A Report on the State of France

Contributed by: Katherine Astbury

The writer François-René de Chateaubriand had initially supported Napoleon Bonaparte but he became much more critical once Napoleon crowned himself Emperor. By 1814 Chateaubriand held an openly hostile position. He published a scathing essay De Buonaparte et des Bourbons in 1814, attacking the Emperor for being a tyrant, the destroyer of France, a mad man.

In exile in Ghent with King Louis XVIII during the 100 days, Chateaubriand returned to the emotive vocabulary and rhetoric of De Buonaparte et des Bourbons when he published a Rapport sur l'état de la France, fait au roi dans son Conseil in the royalist newspaper the Moniteur de Gand. The report appeared in the newspaper on 12th May and was also published separately as a political brochure.

The report on the state of the country is a curious mix of rhetoric and astute observation. Napoleon is systematically denounced as a usurper, a tyrant, a charlatan, the enemy of mankind who has created a regime of Terror and war but Chateaubriand correctly identifies fundamental flaws in the new political structure that he believes will bring about the Emperor’s downfall. He comments on the fact that by calling up the National Guard, Napoleon is reintroducing conscription by the backdoor and that the gaps in its ranks prove that the people of France are not unanimously behind the new regime (see the entry for 8th May on gaps in the National Guard ranks in Besançon for instance). Chateaubriand is convinced that France has recovered from the surprise of Napoleon’s return, that support is on the wane, and that the west is just waiting for the right signal to rebel (insurrection will in fact start in the Vendée today, 15 May 1815).The acte additionnel will, he feels, be the Emperor’s undoing.

In retrospect, of course, many of Chateaubriand’s pronouncements are proved true but the question of whether or not the ruler of destiny had become fortune’s fool continues to provoke debate today.