May 29 1812: Napoleon Leaves Dresden

On May 29, 1812, after thirteen days in Dresden, Napoleon with a tear in his eye says goodbye to Marie Louise, climbs into his travelling carriage or dormeuse, and leaves Dresden to take command of the Grande Armée [1]. Napoleon's carriage is  a yellow coupe drawn by six horses. It has every convenience and means to wage war and rule an empire. It can serve as a bed, office, and kitchen. It also travels with great speed, travelling on average more than ten kilometres an hour. Napoleon travels for twenty hours the first day. Elsbeth Kwant, in her very good article [2] on Napoleon's travelling arrangements, provides further details which are reproduced below:  
But pride of place has to go to Napoleons ‘dormeuse’ (sleeper). This vehicle was first ordered for the Russian campaign of 1812, from Napoleons favourite coachbuilder, Getting in Paris. It was an elaborate vehicle, containing all that an Emperor on campaign might need. 

There was a folding iron camp bed, a change of clothes, a tooth brush and razors as well as eau de Cologne. The carriage had special compartments for pens and paper and a writing desk which slid out of the front of the carriage. There were several drawers for maps and a small travel library. In one of the drawers a small liquor case, containing rum and a sweet Malaga wine was kept.

The carriage also provided a tea pot, coffee pot, sugar basin, candlesticks, wash hand basin and plates for breakfast in gold and silver. The door panels of the carriage were bullet-proof and inside the carriage were two pistols. An outside lamp shone through the rear window, lighting the interior, shuttered windows made sure Napoleon could see the man on the front seat, but not the other way round. The carriage carried a four pound clock, by which the time pieces of his army were regulated. The front windows had a roller blind of strong painted canvas, which was designed to prevent the windows being blocked with snow or obscured by rain. At the back, there was a sliding panel, which permitted the addition or removal of conveniences without disturbing the Emperor. The dormeuse was painted a deep dark blue, with a handsome border ornamented in gold. The panels of the doors were emblazoned with the Imperial arms. The heavy-duty perch was painted vermillion. It really was a mobile home, as Napoleon’s secretary, Baron Fain, called it.

Napoleon always referred to this coach as a ‘chaise de poste’, his adaptation of the English terminology: ‘post chaise’. A curious choice as ‘chaise de poste’ usually meant a two-wheeled vehicle in France at that time. It is also referred to as the ‘berline’ or the ‘travelling carriage’. The vehicle was driven ‘en poste’, meaning by postillons on two of the three pairs of horses, obviating the need for a coachman. The box was usually taken by Napoleons personal servant, the mameluke Roustam. Two valets occupied the rear of the carriage. An ‘ecuyer’ (equerry) rode near the right door of the dormeuse, the side where Napoleon usually sat. On the left rode the general of the Guard, who commanded the escort.  As soon as travel turned into manoeuvring, he would leave the carriage and ride. 

1. Adam Zamoyski, Moscow 1812. Napoleon’s Fatal March, New York 2004, pages 74, 120
2. Elsbeth Kwant, Travelling with Napoleon found here

No comments:

Post a Comment