On This Day in Napoleonic History – 12 April 1814

31Napoleon tries to take his own life

Earlier in the 1814 campaign, Napoleon wrote to Joseph about the capitulation of Paris: ‘When it comes, I will no longer exist. I repeat to you that Paris will never be occupied during my life.’ Now that Paris was indeed occupied, Napoleon saw no other way out but to kill himself. He took a mixture of poisons that he had carried in a small silk bag around his neck ever since his near capture by the Cossacks at Maloyaroslavetz. Because his mamluk bodyguard Roustam had good sense to remove Napoleon’s pistols, this poison was the only means of suicide available to him at the time. ‘My life no longer belonged to my country,’ he later wrote. ‘The events of the last few days have again rendered me master of it. Why should I endure so much suffering? And who knows if my death might not place the crown on the head of my son.’

The suicide attempt failed, however. Time had taken away the strength of the poison and medical assistance arrived in time to save the deposed Emperor’s life. The doctor induced vomiting and Napoleon recovered, signing his abdication the next day in Fontainebleau in what is now known as the Abdication Room. Roustam would later flee Fontainebleau, fearing to be taken for an Allied assassin should Napoleon succeed in killing himself. When during the Hundred Days he wrote to the Emperor asking to be reinstated, Napoleon threw the letter into the fireplace, calling Roustam a coward.

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