Barthélemy Bacheville: Napoleonic soldier, outlaw & perfumer

Barthélemy Bacheville

Barthélemy Bacheville

Last week I looked at the demi-soldes, France’s half-pay veterans of the Napoleonic Wars, many of whom appear as characters in Napoleon in America. Captain Barthélemy Bacheville is a particularly interesting example of the species. A great admirer of Napoleon, Bacheville fought in most of the Emperor’s campaigns and followed him into exile on Elba. This meant he returned to France with Napoleon when the latter escaped from Elba. Bacheville thus started off on a bad footing with the Bourbons after Napoleon’s 1815 defeat. Things got worse from there.

A grenadier of the Old Guard

Barthélemy Bacheville was born around 1780 in Trévoux, France, north of Lyon. His parents were merchants. Though his family thought he was destined for an industrial career, Bacheville instead joined the French army. From 1802 to 1808 he served with an infantry regiment in Italy. Selected to join a regiment of grenadiers of the Imperial Guard, he fought in Spain from 1808 to 1811. He then embarked on Napoleon’s disastrous 1812 Russian campaign, and had his feet and nose frozen during the retreat from Moscow.

Bacheville, who hugely admired Napoleon, provides insight into how the Emperor retained his soldiers’ devotion.

Napoleon saw us constantly, and his words, distributing blame or praise, were a force that gave strength to the weak, health to the sick, hope to everyone. … One of the great talents of the Emperor was to raise men in their own eyes, and then to enjoin them, under the pain of falling under his contempt, to maintain themselves at that height or he would replace them.

I cannot marvel enough at the effect that he produced on us, even when an unheard-of setback struck the first blow to his infallibility, and he wanted us to be persuaded of his talent. … [A]s soon as he spoke, it was the cold that was wrong, and he who was right. He marched almost always on foot in the middle of us, leaning on a large baton and often giving his arm to Murat. He happened, like any other man, to fall; he got up laughing, said something about his plans for vengeance and victory in the next campaign, and continued on his route without being, or at least without appearing to be, beaten by the unbelievable catastrophe that was the fruit of the expedition by which he had hoped to finish his work. (1)

In 1813, Bacheville was on campaign in Saxony. He fought at the Battles of Lützen, Bautzen, Dresden and Leipzig. Wounded by a bullet in the head during the Battle of Château-Thierry in 1814, he was subsequently among 30 grenadiers of the Old Guard who took a Prussian battalion sheltered at a farm. Upon seeing the approaching bayonets, the Prussians lowered their arms. When Napoleon later asked the Prussian commander why his men had surrendered, he said, “It was necessary to yield; your grenadiers are not men, they are lions!” (2)

Promoted to captain, Bacheville was one of the soldiers who accompanied Napoleon during his exile on Elba in 1814-15.

I approached [Napoleon] often and very close, and I swear that except for M. de Pradt, in his last work, no one has spoken justly of him, whether that is because they didn’t understand him, or because they lied to please, which I’m inclined to believe; because one only had to see him on the inside to know that he was good, obliging, easy even, and made to be loved, because he himself knew how to love. … Napoleon mixed often with us, he watched our games, shared our conversation…. (3)

From Elba to outlaw

When Napoleon escaped from Elba, Barthélemy Bacheville returned to France with him. He fought at the Battle of Waterloo, along with his younger brother Antoine. After Napoleon’s final abdication, the Bacheville brothers were put on inactive service (see my post about the demi-soldes). In November 1815, they returned to their hometown of Trévoux. In December, a ministerial ordinance deprived Bacheville of his half-pay and retrograded him to a second lieutenant for having taken part in Napoleon’s return. Bacheville was indignant.

We had been authorized to follow Napoleon; the French government had given us three years to return to France before losing our rights as citizens; finally, we had been permitted to recognize Napoleon as our chief, and we had to treat him as Emperor, although he had abdicated the power that he had in France. Did they permit us to follow him only not to obey him? I never received such a warning. … We did our duty, you have nothing to reproach us for, and to not employ us is all that you have the right to do to us. (4)

In March 1816, during a visit to his mother’s hometown of Villefranche, Bacheville was suspected of conspiring against the government. When gendarmes attempted to arrest him, Bacheville fired on them with his pistol. He and Antoine fled to Switzerland.

The minister of police authorized a reward of 1,200 francs for the arrest of either brother (2,400 francs for both). Barthélemy Bacheville was described as a

lieutenant of the ex-Old Guard, decorated with the cross of the Legion of Honour, age 34 or 35 years; height of 5 feet, 6 or 7 inches, brown hair and eyebrows, coiffed à la Titus, nose a bit short and pointed, brown beard, oval face, beautiful blue eyes, medium mouth, slightly pointed chin, ruddy complexion, slightly trimmed moustache, swagger, head high, slight lisp, well-proportioned build. (5)

If you’re curious about that coiffure à la Titus, see this post.

On July 9, 1816, the court condemned the Bachevilles in their absence. Antoine was sentenced to two years in prison and Barthélemy to death by guillotine.

The brothers continued their flight across Germany and Poland to Moldova, where they were finally allowed to settle. Barthélemy gave lessons in weapons handling and French, and Antoine in mathematics. In April 1818, Barthélemy left for Constantinople, with the intention of finding passage to the United States and joining the Champ d’Asile, an ill-fated colony of Bonapartists in Texas (see my post about Charles Lallemand).

Unable to find a boat to take him to America, Bacheville journeyed to Smyrna. He hoped to meet up with General Savary, but the latter was in Trieste. Instead Bacheville was persuaded to enter the service of Ali Pasha, the governor of part of the Ottoman Empire. Ali wanted to organize an army on the Napoleonic model. Arriving at Ali’s court in Janina, Bacheville found himself enrolled in a band of assassins. He escaped to Ragusa (Dubrovnik), and then to Trieste, where he was believed to be a spy.

Bacheville continued on to Rome, where he met with Napoleon’s mother, Letizia Bonaparte. She welcomed him warmly and gave him 200 francs. Bacheville also called on Napoleon’s brothers Louis and Lucien. They gave him letters of recommendation to take to Joseph Bonaparte, who was living in the United States, for which Bacheville still hoped to embark.

In January 1819, Bacheville journeyed to Florence and then to Livorno, where a friend from Lyon advised him that there was a good chance of having his sentence overturned. Bacheville’s family was petitioning the Chamber of Deputies and the minister of war towards this end. Abandoning his plan to sail for America, Bacheville remained in Italy, waiting for word that it was safe to return to France. While there he worked on concocting a “cosmetic water” called eau des odalisques, which he later – in May 1820 – patented. The water was composed, among other things, of alcohol, rose water, cream of tartar, vanilla, dried orange peel and cinnamon. It could be used in a rub or a lotion, or to perfume baths, and as a gargle for freshening the mouth. (6)

In September 1819, Bacheville received the news he had been waiting for. He returned to Lyon, where he spent a brief spell in prison. On November 22, the court ruled that there had been insufficient evidence to convict him and ordered him set free. He hoped to share the good news with Antoine, but sadly, this was not to be. In December, Barthélemy learned that Antoine, who had travelled to Egypt, Persia and Arabia, had died in the desert (actually at Muscat, in Oman).

An object of special surveillance

Barthélemy Bacheville wrote a book about his and Antoine’s experiences, which was published in 1822 in Paris. According to Bacheville, the purpose of the book was not to promote himself, but to illustrate “blatant and barbaric injustices of interest to all citizens,” and to show “all that one can suffer for liberty, without ceasing to cherish it.” (7) It was also part of his campaign to get back pay for the years he was on the run, which the government continued to deny him. The Marquis de Lafayette provided a supportive letter, included in the front of the book.

As the police kept Bacheville under surveillance, we are able to follow him past the end of his book. In the fall of 1822, which is when he meets with General Piat in Napoleon in America, Barthélemy Bacheville was living at Palais-Royal, no. 82, on the third floor, above a tavern called l’Univers.

We are persuaded that this house must be an object of special surveillance, given that the tavern in question serves as the pretext for gathering a large number of inactive officers, who, pretending to frequent it, actually go to Mr. Bacheville’s, where it appears that secret meetings take place. (8)

By January 1825 he had moved at least a couple of times.

Bacheville is a bachelor, has no fixed revenue, however makes large expenses; he occupies himself with manufacturing what is called ‘beauty water.’ He is a hothead who publicly and everywhere he goes, paints the reign of Bonaparte as a golden age. (9)

In October 1826, the police reported:

Bacheville still lives at rue des Filles-Saint-Thomas, no. 13. There he has a maid and a servant, lives the life of a man of ease, is a businessman, buying credit from the state, and occupying himself above all with speculation at the Bourse. For this he is associated with M. Corréard, a former bookseller. These individuals have made big profits in this type of speculation; at least it is very positive that Bacheville just paid 500 francs to someone named Guérin, an amount that wasn’t due until three months later. (10)

By September 1827, Bacheville was living with his sister at rue de Faubourg-Poissonière, no. 1, and had become of less concern to the authorities.

We see nothing, at present, reprehensible in the conduct and relations of this individual. However, he is attacked with frequent bouts of insanity. (11)

When the July Revolution of 1830 removed Bourbon King Charles X from the French throne, Barthélemy Bacheville returned to military service. He was named chef de bataillon and given command of Fort l’Écluse in eastern France. In 1832, Bacheville became commander of the citadel of Montpellier, where he died on February 27, 1833.

To read Barthélemy Bacheville’s memoirs (Voyages des Frères Bacheville en Europe et en Asie, available only in French), visit the Internet Archive.

You might also enjoy:

The tragedy of Colonel Pierre Viriot

General Jean-Pierre Piat, staunch Bonapartist

Restoration policeman and spymaster Guy Delavau

How did Napoleon escape from Elba?

  1. Barthélemy Bacheville, Voyages des Frères Bacheville en Europe et en Asie, 2nd Edition (Paris, 1822), pp. 20-21.
  2. Ibid., pp. 24-25.
  3. Ibid., p. 36.
  4. Ibid., pp. 59-60.
  5. Bibliothèque historique ou Recueil de matériaux pour servir à l’histoire du temps, Vol. 6 (Paris, 1819), p. 107.
  6. M. Christian, Description des machines et procédés spécifiés dans les brevets d’invention, de perfectionnement, et d’importation, Vol. 11 (Paris, 1825), pp. 316-317.
  7. Voyages des Frères Bacheville en Europe et en Asie, pp. vii, 6.
  8. Guy Delavau and M. Franchet, Le Livre Noir de Messieurs Delavau et Franchet, Vol. I (Paris, 1829), p. 131.
  9. Ibid., p. 133.
  10. Ibid., p. 136.
  11. Ibid., p. 142.

4 commments on “Barthélemy Bacheville: Napoleonic soldier, outlaw & perfumer”

  • IRENE HARTLMAYR says:

    Hello Shannon,
    Thanks for these little known references that are always very interesting and presumably more honest than the memoirs of the “grandees” who are very often concerned mainly with leaving behind an “image” of themselves for posterity.

  • JazzFeathers says:

    Hi 🙂

    I’ve found your blog because you followed me on Twitter, and seeing you’re a historical writer like myself, I became curious about your blog.

    I really like it 🙂
    I’m struggling with my own blog, because I always think people cannot be all that interested in the Twenties, but I see that, even if I know very little about Napoleon (basically, only what I studied in school) I find your posts very interesting.
    Maybe I should follow your example and write more baldly about the Twenties 🙂

    • Shannon Selin says:

      Thanks for checking out the blog. I’m glad you like it. I think that’s a great idea to write about the Twenties. Even if people don’t know much about the period, many will be curious about it. You can draw them into the Twenties (and your novels) by sharing your enthusiasm for the interesting things you’ve discovered. Good luck with the writing! I’m looking forward to reading your posts. 🙂

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One of the great talents of the Emperor was to raise men in their own eyes, and then to enjoin them, under the pain of falling under his contempt, to maintain themselves at that height or he would replace them.

Barthélemy Bacheville