1066 and all that

History may be signposted by the dates of battles and divided into eras by the reigns of Royal Houses, but it is the detail that brings the past and those who populate it to life. The Emperor Napoleon (1769 – 1821) conquered most of Southern Europe and courted fame for his victories at Lodi and Austerlitz. But at periods of crisis or exuberance the pocket-sized Corsican had the habit of violently pinching the fleshy bits of those standing nearest to him [1]. During the Battle of Waterloo Marshal Ney became so incensed with Boney’s persistently nipping his buttock cheeks that the Commander, a hero of the retreat from Moscow, flung down his baton of office and declared: ‘Continuez, une fois de plus! Et il est vous et moi, ici et maintenant!’

The baton falling was read as a signal to advance by the French left wing. The movement was premature, creating a weak point and allowing the pleasantly surprised allied forces to gain an advantage which they were quick to capitalize on. The mistaken order eventually led to a collapse in the Republican line and victory for the Allies.

Learning of the incident later, the Duke of Wellington observed: ‘That explains the pose – the hand tucked in the coat and all that. Frenchman, you see, no self control.’

Following the restoration of the monarchy, Marshal Ney was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death by firing squad in December 1815. However, the execution was faked and Ney subsequently escaped to America where he settled in North Carolina as a school teacher.

[1] Napoleon, his wives and women by Christopher Hibbert p. 40-41

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