From History Extra by Philip Mansel author of The Eagle in Splendour: Inside the Court of Napoleon (IB Tauris, 2015):
The French Revolution appears to have been a search for liberty, equality and fraternity. In reality it had been an interlude caused by the failures of Louis XVI and his ministers, the outbreak of war, and the radicalism of the assemblies. Far from diminishing appetite for monarchy and court life, the revolution had increased it.
Bonaparte fulfilled the prophecy of the great counter-revolutionary writer Rivarol: “Either the king will have an army or the army will have a king.” Seven years after the fall of the French monarchy in 1792, following his coup d’etat of November 1799 [which overthrew the Directory – the government of France – replacing it with the French Consulate and bringing Napoleon to power as First Consul of France], Bonaparte relaunched monarchy in the heart of the French Republic.
His first step was the creation of a privileged guard, devoted to himself, in December 1799 – the nucleus of what would become the Imperial Guard. From the beginning it was an elitist unit with splendid uniforms and privileges of pay and rank over other forces. The First Consul of the French Republic, as Bonaparte had become, held weekly, later monthly, reviews of his guard in the courtyard of the Tuileries palace (the former residence of Louis XIV and Louis XVI, which at that time stretched between the two wings of the Louvre, facing the Tuileries garden), riding a white horse that had once belonged to Louis XVI. According to one English visitor, the guards’ presence in Paris “alone maintains public tranquillity and causes a sensation.”
Categories: French History