Story of Modern France - Helene Guerber

Jerome's Marriages

Once more Napoleon returned to Paris, so full of his own importance, and so sure of himself, that he now became indeed more despotic than any Bourbon had ever dared to be. His wishes were supreme in every branch of the government, and while he retained a Senate and a Legislative Corps, they seemed to exist only to vote him soldiers and money as he demanded them. But everything seemed so prosperous and serene that France deemed her future fully assured.

Such was Napoleon's excessive vanity at this epoch that no one dared address him save in words of fulsome praise and adulation. This arrogance became simply unendurable to Talleyrand, who, although a Royalist, had hitherto served the Empire with ability and zeal. It is true that he had been rewarded by wealth and titles, but when he ventured to show that he thought a government unsafe which depended only on success for its existence, he grievously incurred Napoleon's displeasure. In fact, the emperor became so unbearably rude to his minister, that the latter revenged himself by saying, "What a pity it is that so great a prince should be so ill-bred!" and in 1809 actually left his service.

[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber


It was on his return from the glorious campaign of 1807 that Napoleon planned the erection of a "Temple of Glory"—now the Church of the Madeleine—besides erecting a triumphal arch in the great court between the palaces of the Louvre and Tuileries (Arche du Carrousel) and planning another, the Triumphal Arch of the Star, at the end of the beautiful drive of the Champs Elysees, or Elysian Fields. From this arch, Napoleon planned long avenues to radiate like the rays from a star, the principal one bearing the name of "the Grand Army," and the others those of his devoted marshals. It is, however, a disputed matter whether this triumphal arch derives its name from Napoleon's pet superstition concerning "his star," from this plan in regard to the avenues, or from the Order of the Star in the Legion of Honor, which the emperor founded.

Very soon after his return from Tilsit, Napoleon ordered the marriage of his youngest brother Jerome—then twenty-two—with the beautiful princess of Wurttemberg. Now, you must know that Jerome Bonaparte had journeyed, as a youth, to the United States, where he had married, at eighteen, a Miss Patterson of Baltimore. When this marriage took place, Jerome was, of course, under age, and such a union in France, without the consent of parents or guardians, is considered illegal. Jerome's family were furious about it, and Napoleon, after becoming emperor, became anxious to break this tie so that his brothers by espousing a princess, might win a royal alliance for the family. At first, boy as he was, Jerome refused to give up his young wife, but Napoleon artfully contrived to separate him from the lady, and then threatened or bribed him into compliance with his arbitrary wishes.

At Napoleon's order, therefore, the Senate declared Jerome's American marriage null, and offered the lady a sum of money to renounce all further right to the name of Bonaparte. Although she nobly refused, and rightly persisted in considering herself Jerome's lawful wife, the French emperor never paid any heed to her or her children's claims, but concluded the royal marriage just as was planned. Then, after a ceremonious presentation at the imperial court, Jerome and his new wife proceeded to Westphalia, where they began their joint reign with much splendor.

As Napoleon's will was now supreme, he next proceeded to dispose of things in Italy, and joined Tuscany to France. Then, becoming incensed against the Pope for not observing the Continental Blockade, he suddenly revoked the gift which Charlemagne had made to the Holy See. For this and other reasons the Pope promptly excommunicated Napoleon, who, in return, had the Pope arrested, confined at various places, and finally brought captive to Fontainebleau, where he was to remain until 1814.

Meantime, so many countries had joined the Continental Blockade, that England had no important open market in Europe save in Portugal. As it proved easy to smuggle goods thence to all parts of the continent, Napoleon sternly bade Portugal join the blockade, also. When he heard that this imperial and imperious mandate was not immediately obeyed, Napoleon declared, "The House of Braganza has ceased to exist," and sent Junot at the head of an army to Portugal with orders to take possession of the country. The Portuguese royal family, not strong enough to resist such a foe, fled from Lisbon to Brazil, where the House of Braganza continued "to exist" and rule; but, after their hasty flight, Portugal itself fell an easy prey to the French.

Next, under the pretext of settling a quarrel in the Spanish royal family, and of quelling riots caused thereby, French armies entered Spain, and Napoleon induced King Charles IV. and the crown prince Ferdinand to meet him at Bayonne, where he either tricked or bribed them both to cede the crown of Spain to his brother Joseph. Having already been appointed King of Naples, Joseph was now ordered to give that kingdom to Murat,—Napoleon's friend and the husband of his sister Caroline,—so as to mount the throne of Spain. But it is one thing to become king, and quite another to remain so. The proud Spaniards, not liking to have a monarch forced upon them, soon rebelled, and drove Joseph out of Madrid. Thereupon, Napoleon promptly sent troops to restore him and reduce the Spaniards to obedience. But the English just as promptly sent troops to aid the Spaniards, having previously helped Portugal to drive away her French rulers. The resulting war, waged by the Spanish, Portuguese, and English against the French, is known as the Iberian or Peninsular Campaign, and lasted from 1808 to 1814. This fighting proved excellent training for officers and soldiers, and enabled them to win great victories later on.

Napoleon, who had meantime gone to an important conference at Erfurt, where he renewed his vows of friendship with Alexander, dazzled every one there with his magnificence. To entertain his guests, the great French tragedian Talma was brought from Paris to play before "a pitful of kings," and it was here, too, that Napoleon had a memorable interview with Goethe and Wieland, the greatest German writers of the time.