Friday, February 26, 2010

Louis and Napoleon

In 1797 when French General Napoleon Bonaparte traveled through French-speaking Switzerland he was met by cheering throngs almost everywhere he went. Bonaparte was seen as a symbol of strength, one that could inspire the people of Vaud to throw off the dominance of Bern. The Bernese governors in the Canton of Vaud, interestingly were also eager to meet him and pay their respects. Napoleon often did not oblige them.

Bonaparte at the Bridge of Arcole, Antoine-Jean Gros, 1801

Louis de Büren at the time was the Bernese Governor of Lausanne. Louis met Bonaparte many years before when he served as a Swiss officer in Corsica. Louis had even recommended Bonaparte very highly to his commander and got him promoted. Louis probably felt that Bonaparte would want to thank him for his gesture.

Louis de Büren

When Bonaparte's carriage approached Lausanne it was met with great joy by the populace. Even though he arrived late in the evening, people came out to great him with flowers and adulation. Louis came down to pay Bonaparte his respects and compliment him for his victories in Italy. Bonaparte acknowledged him and they spoke for a moment. Given the account, either the conversation was cordial or Bonaparte was dismissive.

Napoleon wanted to keep moving but his carriage was blocked by his admirers. As Napoleon and Louis spoke the crowd shouted "Long live the French Republic!", "Long live its invincible general", "Down with Tyrants" and "Down with the Bears". The last statement was a not so veiled attack on Bern.

A year later in 1798, Vaud would have its revolution and Louis would be asked to leave Lausanne. Louis would also command troops against Bonaparte's forces in a vain effort to stave off the French attack on Bern. Bern would fall to the French, and with it the life of status that Louis once knew.

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