Today’s installment concludes The Coronation of Napoleon,
our selection from Life of Napoleon Buonaparte by William Hazlitt published in 1830.
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Previously in The Coronation of Napoleon.
Place: Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
Notwithstanding the unfavorableness of the weather, the assemblage of the deputations from all the departments, from all the chief towns, and of all the regiments of the army, joined to all the public functionaries of France, to all the generals, and to the whole population of the capital, presented a ﬁne and imposing sight. The interior of the church of Notre Dame had been magniﬁcently embellished; galleries and pews erected for the occasion were thronged with a prodigious concourse of spectators. The imperial throne was placed at one end of the nave, on a very elevated platform; that of the Pope was in the choir, beside the high altar. The Pope set out from the Tuileries, preceded by his chamberlain on an ass — which there was some difficulty in procuring at the moment — who kept his countenance with an admirable gravity through the crowds of observers that lined the streets. The Pope, arriving at the archepiiscopal palace, repaired to the choir of the cathedral by a private entrance.
The Emperor set out with the Empress by the Carrousel. In getting into the carriage, which was open all round and without panels, they at ﬁrst seated themselves with their backs to the horses, a mistake which, though instantly rectiﬁed, was remarked as ominous, and it had all the ominousness which hangs over new power or custom. The procession passed along the Rue St. Honoré to that of the Lombards, then to the Pont au Change, the Palace of Justice, the court of Notre Dame, and the entrance to the archiepiscopal palace. Here rooms were prepared for the whole of the attendants, some of whom appeared dressed in their civil costumes, others in full uniform. On the outside of the church had been erected a long wooden gallery from the arch bishop’s palace to the entrance of the church. By this gallery came the Emperor’s retinue, which presented a truly magniﬁcent sight. They had taunted us with our simplicity and homeliness: Well, then! here was the answer to it.
The procession was led by the already numerous body of courtiers; next came the marshals of the empire, wearing their badges of honor; then the dignitaries and high officers of the crown; and lastly, the Emperor, in a gorgeous state dress. At the moment of his entering the cathedral there was a simultaneous shout, which resembled one vast explosion of “Vive l’Em pereurl” The immense quantity of ﬁgures to be seen on each side of so vast an ediﬁce formed a tapestry of the most striking kind. The procession passed along the middle of the nave, and arrived at the choir facing the high altar. This part of the spectacle was not the least imposing: the galleries round the choir were ﬁlled with the handsomest women which France could boast, and most of whom surpassed in the luster of their beauty that of the rich jewels with which they were adorned.
His holiness then went to meet the Emperor at a desk which had been placed in the middle of the choir; there was another on one side for the Empress. After saying a short prayer there, they returned, and seated themselves on the throne at the end of the church facing the choir: there they heard mass, which was said by the Pope. They went to make the offering, and came back; they then descended from the platform of the throne and walked in procession to receive the holy unction. The Emperor and Empress, on reaching the choir, replaced themselves at their desks, where the Pope performed the ceremony. He presented the crown to the Emperor, who received it, put it himself upon his own head, took it off, placed it on that of the Empress, removed it again, and laid it on the cushion where it was at ﬁrst.
A smaller crown was immediately put upon the head of the Empress, who, being surrounded by her ladies, everything was done so quickly that nobody was aware of the substitution that had taken place. The procession moved back to the platform. There the Emperor heard Te Deum: the Pope himself went thither at the conclusion of the service, as if to say, Ite, missa est! The Testament was presented to the Emperor, who took off his glove and pronounced the oath with his hand upon the sacred book. He went back to the episcopal palace the same way that he had come, and entered his carriage. The ceremony was long; the day cold and wet; the Emperor seemed impatient and uneasy a great part of the time, and it was dusk before the cavalcade reached the Tuileries, whither it returned by the Rue St. Martin, the Boulevards, the Place de la Concorde and the Pont-Tournant. The distribution of the eagles took place some days afterward. Though the weather was still unfavorable the throng was prodigious and the enthusiasm at its height; the citizens as well as the soldiers burst into long and repeated acclamations as those warlike bands received from the hands of their renowned leader — not less a soldier for being a king — the pledges of many a well fought ﬁeld.
The Cisalpine Republic at the same time underwent a change which was easily managed. The Emperor was surrounded by men, who spared him the trouble of expressing the same wish twice, though many of them afterward pretended that they had sturdily disputed every word and syllable of it, opposing a shadow of resistance to fallen power instead of the substance to the abuse of it, and ﬁnding no medium between factious divisions and servile adulation. Lombardy was erected into a kingdom, and the Emperor put the iron crown of Charlemagne upon his head.
This ends our series of passages on The Coronation of Napoleon by William Hazlitt from his book Life of Napoleon Buonaparte published in 1830. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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