So the great adventure was over. Napoleon’s refusal to admit that he had committed an error had not made it all come right. On the contrary, he had caused a military disaster to accompany his economic shambles. And the cost was catastrophic. Some ninety percent of the men who marched into Russia in June 1812 died. Of course, one’s chances of survival increased the more senior a rank one held; his marshals and most of his staff managed to escape. He also lost all his horses and almost all his guns. Only the contingents of Hessen-Darmstadt and Warsaw brought their cannon out.

Murat and several others began to realise that Napoleon was a megalomaniac, who would stop at nothing to achieve his own aims; to him, they were all as expendable as the half a million whose bones were now whitening in Russia.

By this great poker game, he caused all of Europe to realise that he was vulnerable after all. They would bring him low in 1813 and force his first abdication in 1814. 1815 was but a last, dramatic, twitch of the corpse. He had had his day - but he would not admit it, even on St Helena. It was there that he wrote the following passage, which allows us to judge just how far removed from reality the man was:

The Russian war should have been the most popular war of modern times. It was a war on the side of good sense and sound interests, to bring peace and security to all. It was purely pacific and conservative. It was a war for a great cause, the end of uncertainties and the beginning of security. A new horizon, and new labours would have opened up, full of well-being and prosperity for all. The European system was established; all that remained was to organize it... In this way Europe would have become in reality but a single people and every man travelling anywhere would have found himself in a common fatherland... Paris would have become the capital of the world and the French the envy of the nations.


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