Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Exit Napoleon Pursued by Rabbits.

My midweek blog post is a blend of animals, history and trivia! This almost Monty Pythonesque tale involves the French Emperor Napoleon, his Major General ‘Berthier the Ugly’ and 30,000 rabbits.
But first, some background  to the story.
Events are reported by Andrew Roberts (historian and biographer) in his book:
 “The Battle of Waterloo – and the great commanders who fought it.”
Roberts’ book aims not just to give a factual account of battles, but to get under the skin of the main protagonists: Bonaparte and Wellington.
In 1815, the Battle of Waterloo was Napoleon’s greatest defeat but, according to Roberts, it wasn’t the Emperor’s most embarrassing one. This award goes to an afternoon’s sport in 1807, after Napoleon signed a peace treaty with Russia and Prussia.To celebrate ‘The Peace of Tilsit’, Napoleon ordered his Chief of Staff, Major General Berthier, to entertain the Imperial Courtwith an afternoon rabbit shoot.

Known as ‘Berthier the Ugly’ because of his squat build and talon like nose, he had a healthy respect for Napoleon. In fact this successful General, with many victories under his command, is quoted as saying:
“I don’t know why but that little b*****d scares me.”

Napoleon Bonaparte.
In order to make the hunt a success Berthier ‘imported’ 30,000 rabbits. However, what he didn’t realize was high taxation had forced peasants to trap and eat all the wild rabbits. In order to fulfill Berthier’s demands for game, local gamekeepers had to buy captive bred rabbits, fattened up for eating, and release them into the wild. These same rabbits, not having eaten for 24 hours, when they saw a short man in a big hat (Napoleon) approaching, assumed it was food being delivered and mobbed him.
Napoleon’s retainers beat the rabbits off with whips, but there were just too many and the Emperor was forced to flee back to the safety of his carriage…making this by far his most humiliating defeat.

TEASER: But of course, Napoleon was terrified of cats….more of this in another post!


  1. You're kidding! Is this story for real? :D

  2. Brilliant story! I can just picture those rabbits mobbing the little man. People wouldn't believe half the things that happened around that time.

  3. Great post Grace. I love reading about Napoleon and Wellington. Love reading all of your articles

  4. Thanks Karen x.... sometimes fact is stranger than fiction....

  5. I recently reread former American President Jimmy Carter's own humiliating encounter with a rabbit. Some of you will recall how his was attacked by a rabid or terrified rabbit while in a small boat and drove it off with an oar. The story made headlines worldwide and everyone made fun of him and said he made it up and used the imagery to make fun of and belittle him. Later the white house released video where the rabbit was clearly identified and he was vindicated. Anyway, it is interesting to find that another leader was embarrassingly plagued by rabbits as well. Fact and coincidence would both appear to be stranger than fiction. :)

  6. what a great post - history is always a lot stranger than we think!


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