Elba’d Out

On February 26, 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte escaped from the island of Elba, where he’d been kept prisoner since the War of the Sixth Coalition ended in April 1814.

Now, many people would be happy to spend their days in a villa on a picturesque Mediterranean island, but not the former French Emperor (despite the fact that his imprisonment was incredibly cushy—he was able to retain his title, had sovereignty over the island’s inhabitants, and was permitted to build up a small army and navy and issue decrees). Hearing rumors he was going to be sent to a more remote island in the Atlantic, and missing his wife and son, who had taken refuge in Austria, the upstart Corsican slipped away from Elba and landed on the French mainland two days later.

The regiment sent to intercept Napoleon instead joined his side and marched with him to Paris, where the recently reinstated king, Louis XVIII, fled. The Congress of Vienna declared Napoleon an outlaw, and the allied nations of Great Britain, Russia, Austria, and Prussia promised to send 150,000 soldiers each to fight against him.

Napoleon reached Paris on March 20 and kicked off the Hundred Days—the last days of his rule. He managed to gather more than 200,000 soldiers and unwisely decided to go on the offensive in an effort to split the British and Prussian armies. The French Army of the North crossed into a portion of the Netherlands which, today, is Belgium and clashed with the allied forces of Wellington and Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher at the Battle of Waterloo. We all know how that ended up. Although he nearly won, Napoleon’s forces were eventually routed, Louis XVIII was restored to the throne again, and Napoleon formally demanded political asylum from the British Captain Frederick Maitland on July 15, 1815. Shortly after, he was exiled to the island of Saint Helena in the Atlantic Ocean, where he lived until his death in 1821.


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