On This Day in Napoleonic History – 7 December 1815

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marechal_neyExecution of Michel Ney

One of Napoleon’s most talented marshals was executed by the royalists for his loyalty to the Emperor after Napoleon’s return from Elba. The crime with which Ney was charged was high treason. From his trial it became apparent that Ney was ignorant of Napoleon’s escape from Elba until 7 March 1815. When he found out about it, he told the king that ‘should Buonaparte be taken, he would deserve to be conducted to Pairs in an iron cage.’ He remained loyal to the royal cause for some days until he realised how Bonapartist the general feeling in the army was. He then issued a proclamation stating that ‘the cause of the Bourbons is forever lost’ and soon joined Napoleon’s army.

The unanimous verdict of the trial was guilty. Out of 160 peers who voted, 139 demanded a death sentence, 17 voted for banishment and 4 refused to give their opinion. The Bravest of the Brave remained composed until the end of the proceedings and was executed by the firing squad soon after. There is a minority of historians who believe Marshal Ney had escaped his execution and settled in America, becoming a school teacher. It is not a popular view, however.

Although Napoleon loved Ney, he would say on Saint Helena that the marshal was good for the command of ten thousand men but beyond that he was out of his depth.

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