Napoleon’s Funeral in Paris in 1840

Napoleon Bonaparte died on May 5, 1821 as a British prisoner on the remote South Atlantic island of St. Helena. In 1840, his remains were dug up and transported to France on the ship La Belle Poule. On December 15, 1840, they were conveyed through Paris in a grand funeral procession, culminating in a mass at the Dôme des Invalides. In the words of a British observer, Napoleon’s funeral was “the strangest mixture of sorrow and triumph that human ingenuity could have derived.” (1)

Napoleon’s funeral carriage crossing the Place de la Concorde, by Jacques Guiaud

Napoleon’s funeral carriage crossing the Place de la Concorde, by Jacques Guiaud

Le retour des cendres

Although Britain regarded its custody of Napoleon’s body as temporary, French King Louis XVIII and his successor, Charles X, had no desire to revive Bonapartist sentiments by bringing the Emperor’s remains to France. Even after 1830, when Charles X was overthrown and Louis Philippe, the Duke of Orleans, became King of the French, there was little official appetite for Napoleon’s return. It took the pressure of historian Adolphe Thiers, who in 1840 was serving as French prime minister and foreign minister, to convince a reluctant Louis Philippe to support the repatriation of Napoleon’s remains. Thiers was writing a 20-volume history of the Consulate and Empire. He regarded the “retour des cendres” (return of the remains) as an opportunity to rehabilitate the period’s reputation, unite the French people, and increase the government’s popularity.

In the autumn of 1840, an expedition led by King Louis Philippe’s son, the Prince of Joinville, was sent to St. Helena to retrieve Napoleon’s remains (see “What happened to Napoleon’s body?”). On November 30, La Belle Poule reached Cherbourg in France. On December 10, Napoleon’s casket was transferred to a steamboat, La Normandie, which ferried it to Val-de-la-Haye, near Rouen. Here the casket was transferred to the foredeck of a smaller steamboat, La Dorade, capable of navigating the shallow bits of the Seine. On December 14, La Dorade and its accompanying flotilla moored at Courbevoie, a village four miles northwest of Paris.

The Landing at Courbevoie

The arrival of Napoleon’s remains at Courbevoie, by Henri-Félix-Emmanuel Philippoteaux

The arrival of Napoleon’s remains at Courbevoie, by Henri-Félix-Emmanuel Philippoteaux

At 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday, December 15, La Dorade was brought up to a wharf on the left bank of the river, constructed for the landing of Napoleon’s remains. It was a bitterly cold day, so much so that workmen were unable to finish the decorations on the quay and at the head of the bridge of Neuilly in time for the ceremony. Work had begun on a massive column of Notre Dame de Grace, intended to be upwards of 150 feet in height, topped with a six-foot globe, and crowned by an eagle with a wingspan of 16 feet. Owing to the piercing wind, the authorities ordered the works suspended. While the column remained a skeleton, the base was finished, inscribed with Napoleon’s dying request: “I wish my ashes to repose on the banks of the Seine.” Next to it were three decorated tripods, each 20 feet high, from which flames arose. The wharf led to an open Grecian temple, 100 feet high, decorated with palm branches and tricoloured flags. The eagle that was to have surmounted the column was placed over the front of the temple. The most interesting decoration was a colossal statue of Josephine, erected at the end of the bridge, on the road leading to the Château de Malmaison.

The troops and National Guards of Courbevoie, Rueil and other neighbouring districts lined the quays, and the artillery was drawn up close to the riverside. Crowds filled the shore, the islands in the river, and the roofs of nearby houses. While preparations for landing the casket were being made, people sang “La Marseillaise.” They then gave three cheers for Napoleon and as many for his enemies.

At 9:00, the first gun was fired. Numerous clergy, led by Abbé Félix Coquereau, chaplain of La Belle Poule, proceeded between two lines of soldiers from the temple to La Dorade. The Prince of Joinville met them. After an exchange of salutations, the massive casket was lifted by 24 sailors from La Belle Poule and carried to the temple. The priests walked in front, chanting. The artillery fired a salute of 21 rounds. Napoleon’s remains lay in the temple for two hours while religious rites were performed.

While waiting for the departure of the cortège in the Avenue de Neuilly, a number of Napoleonic veterans, dressed in their old uniforms, passed through the crowd on their way to join the procession at the bridge. They were greeted with cries of “Vive la Vieille Garde!”

The one who seemed to excite the most lively sympathy was an old chief of squadron of the Mamelukes of the Imperial Guard, attired in the rich costume of that regiment, bearing on his breast the decorations of the Legion of Honour and of the Iron Crown. The people taking him for Roustan, the Mameluke of the Emperor, treated him with marks of the greatest respect, dividing as he walked down the avenue to let him pass, and taking off their hats. The Polish Lancers of the Guard were also loudly cheered with cries of ‘Vive la Pologne!’(2)

The Funeral Carriage

Napoleon’s funeral carriage, lithograph by J. Arnout after V. Adam. Source: Wellcome Collection

Napoleon’s funeral carriage, lithograph by J. Arnout after V. Adam. Source: Wellcome Collection

At 11:00, the sailors carried the casket to the funeral carriage, which was more triumphal car than hearse. Resting on four massive gilt wheels, it consisted of a gilded base, 25 feet long and 6 feet high, with a semi-circular platform in front. On this platform were statues of genies, supporting the crown of Charlemagne. Other genies held garlands and the trumpet of fame. At the back rose a pedestal, 18 feet long and 7 feet high, covered with gold and purple cloth, with the cipher and arms of Napoleon. On both sides hung two velvet imperial mantles, decorated with bees. Behind was a profusion of flags. On the pedestal stood fourteen statues of draped female figures (six on one side and six on the other, plus one at each end), somewhat larger than life, entirely gilded, supporting with their heads and hands an immense golden shield, above which was placed a model of Napoleon’s sarcophagus. Napoleon’s actual casket was placed in the base of the carriage, where it could not been by spectators.

The carriage, weighing 13 tons, was drawn by 16 black horses. The latter were richly caparisoned in gold cloth, their manes adorned with gold tresses and white plumes. Each horse was led by a groom, dressed in green and gold imperial livery. Some 400-500 sailors from La Belle Poule marched 15 abreast before and behind the carriage, headed by the Prince of Joinville on horseback. Masses of troops preceded and followed the carriage. The clergy took their seats in carriages of black and silver. Napoleon’s old aides-de-camp and people belonging to his household were in the procession, along with other civil and military officials, veterans of the Napoleonic Wars, and various active battalions, brigades and squadrons. The National Guards and troops stationed along the route fell into line after the passage of the funeral carriage, closing the procession.

The Medical and Law Students

Wanting to avoid a revolutionary outbreak, the government had decreed that the ceremony would be strictly a military one. Medical and law students had asked if they could join the cortège after the military schools, but their request was denied. They decided to show up anyway and form a procession of their own. At 8:00 they assembled at the Place du Pantheon and marched through the city, four abreast, preceded by a tricoloured flag covered with black crepe. As they crossed the Pont Royal, the guards of the Tuileries Palace became alarmed. However, on seeing that the students were passing quietly, they allowed them to cross the gardens of the Tuileries. The students then entered the Champs Élysées and proceeded towards Neuilly. They joined the procession, walking behind the National Guards. They went as far as the Place de la Concorde, singing “La Marseillaise” and shouting “Death to the English” and “Death to [François] Guizot,” who had succeeded Thiers as foreign minister. They then continued on to the Foreign Office. At one point a captain tried to wrest the flag from them. “Unsupported by his comrades, he was soon disarmed and knocked down, and finally taken by the four limbs and thrown into a ditch on the side of the road, by which means he escaped being trodden to death by the crowd.”(3) The students proceeded to throw dried flowers on the column of the Place Vendôme and then scattered to their homes.

At the Arc de Triomphe

Napoleon’s funeral carriage passing under the Arc de Triomphe, by Jean Valmy-Baysse

Napoleon’s funeral carriage passing under the Arc de Triomphe, by Jean Valmy-Baysse

The whole route was adorned with flags and temporary structures, set up the previous night. At the Arc de Triomphe,

the most striking objects were some thirty or forty masts of thirty feet high, from each of which floated an immense tricoloured pennant, surmounted by black crape, each bearing the letter of one or other army of the republic or the empire. Thus we had ‘The Army of the Rhine,’… ‘The Army of Italy,’… &c. From these the eye ascended to the pediment [of the triumphal arch], where men, seeming about six inches in height, were busy in completing the work which the intensity of the cold absolutely prevented the possibility of their accomplishing during the night. It was finished by ten o’clock a.m., however and displayed good taste and architectural proportion. It was termed ‘the Apotheosis of Napoleon,’ correctly, I suppose, and consisted of the Emperor himself, in his imperial costume, supported in some degree by an eagle on each hand, and beyond them Fame, à cheval, proclaiming his deeds of arms. …

Gradually the windows of the houses adjoining to the Rond Point (of l’Etoil), the stages in front of or connected with them, the sloping bank on the south side of the road, and the alleys and road became crowded and then commenced the industrie de circonstance for which the Parisian hawkers and pedlars are famous. Independently of barrows laden with gateaux de Nanterre, and other cakes of indescribable qualities, all of them, however, saturated with lard, there were portable kitchens in full swing, getting up potatoes and sausages in such an inviting way that ere noon they had all disappeared. There were besides lemonadiers, and, to the annoyance of the resident cafetiers, brandy-merchants. So far the creature-comforts. Then came the intellectual large sheets – some coloured, some plain – with all manner of representations of the Emperor, ascending to or seated in heaven, surrounded by his old guard, or emerging from his tomb at St. Helena, which were thrust before every passenger, and eagerly purchased. Another set of marchands sold you, for three sous each, gilt or plated medals, commemorative of the occasion, to which an immortelle was fastened by a piece of black riband. Others had immortelles (the dried flowers so called) of all colours, but mixed with black. These were earnestly sought after, in order to be worn at the button-hole. Lastly, a man drove a roaring trade with little knots of black crape, to be similarly borne, for passing around the arm.

While this was going on without, the restaurateurs, so renowned (as each says he is), for the glories of the French kitchen and wine, at 6 sous the bottle, were crowded to overflow. All the world was excited, busy, bustling, hurried, or otherwise occupied. (4)

Two batteries of artillery took up a position to the right of the triumphal arch. The first National Guards appeared, their drums beating. A continuous stream of pedestrians arrived. Many mounted trees, while others bargained for a chair, or a seat on a bench or a table. Temporary ambulances were established, in case of accidents. Finally the procession made its appearance. Veterans of the armies named on the pennants went by.

Here were to be found on foot men of all grades, from the lieutenant-general, with his hat laced with gold, indicating that the wearer had commanded in a general engagement, to the simple soldier…there was not a man of them who did not carry imprinted on his face an expression which seemed to say, ‘I was a soldier of the republic; I was on the Rhine with the advanced guard; in Italy, in Egypt, in Germany, in Spain, or in Russia.’ Here were, in all their variety of uniform (some of them approaching to the grotesque, and others the acme of military costume), the soldiers of Hoche and Marceau, of Moreau, Jourdan, Massena, Angereau, Lannes, Kilmaine, Daovust, Ney, Berthier, Lasalle, Murat, Bernadotte, Bessieres, Kleber, Kellerman, &c.…. Many of these veterans had, in addition to scars and cicatrices, other strong personal claims to interest; so that between the excitement of what we had seen and what was on the point of passing before our eyes, and the associations and recollections conjured up by the aspect of men whom the imagination almost pictured as called from the grave to figure for the moment in the pageant, the mind yielded to them involuntary homage and respect. (5)

At 1:00 the funeral carriage arrived. It passed under the Arc de Triomphe, where it remained stopped for a few minutes. The artillery fired. Shouts of “Vive l’Empereur” were raised.

The Champs Élysées

Napoleon’s funeral carriage moving along the Champs-Élysées, by Louis-Julien Jacottet

Napoleon’s funeral carriage moving along the Champs-Élysées, by Louis-Julien Jacottet

As early as 8 o’clock…the Champs Elysees presented an animated appearance; numerous bodies of pedestrians kept moving in the direction of Courbevoie; troops of the line arrived to form the line along the road through which the procession was to pass; sundry itinerant vendors of hot wine and cake and other comestibles established themselves in the alleys, and found many customers among the curious bystanders, whose enthusiasm for Napoleon’s memory began to be cooled by the sharp north-east wind which was blowing. The National Guard began to arrive at 9 o’clock, and the battalions were observed to be more complete than on any occasion of their assembling since the revolution of 1830….

The multitude continued to arrive in great numbers, and patiently awaited the signal gun which was to announce the setting out of the procession from Courbevoie. The persons who had fitted up seats on speculation did not appear to have been very successful, as numbers who had apprehended difficulty in seeing the procession found, that from the perfect order that was observed, pedestrians could obtain a nearer view than those seated at the windows of the adjoining houses. Besides a number of columns which had been erected on either side of the grand avenue of the Champs Elysees…and which were tastefully decorated with wreaths of laurel and immortelles and tricoloured flags, large vases placed on pedestals in imitation of marble were filled with inflammable matter, which was ignited shortly before the procession arrived, and emitted a thick smoke with intermitting flame, which had a solemn effect. (6)

The procession reached the Champs Élysees about 12:15 and moved slowly forward, halting at intervals. When the funeral car appeared “[s]houts of admiration spread through all ranks; some few raised their hats and cried ‘Vive l’Empereur,’ but the majority seemed to have reserved all their applause for the car, which fully equaled in splendour any funeral car which has been seen, at least in modern times.” (7)

The Place de la Concorde

The Place de la Concorde was less crowded than other places along the route. The terraces of the Tuileries were taken up by those who had been fortune enough to obtain tickets. The Pont de la Concorde was decorated with two lofty columns at each end, each surmounted by an immense gilded eagle and a huge silk tricoloured flag. Eight allegorical statues were also erected, including those of War and Prudence. Spectators had been told that the procession would reach the Place de la Concorde by ten o’clock; however it was a quarter past one before it made its appearance.

In the interval the natural buoyancy of the French character, and their love of fetes, kept hope alive, and they managed to spend (kill) the time as agreeably as possible. Some derived amusement from the breaking down of overloaded benches and rickety chairs, others from the dislodgment of boys and adults from young and old trees, and others from the administration of a petit verre or other cordial from the numerous ambulatory fountains of refreshment, whose harvest must have been considerable on this occasion. In the cafés along the line everything rose a hundred per cent, and in many instances it was impossible to obtain a supply upon any terms. The wise ones, who brought a stock of cakes and other provisions, sat down wherever they could, and regaled themselves, in expectation of the coming event. At last the long wished-for moment arrived, and the approach of the head of the procession was announced by the beating of drums, and the solemn funeral music, and the appearance of a detachment of Cuirassiers, at the Place de la Concorde. The cortège then moved slowly on, passing through a double file of National Guards and soldiers of the line, and continuing across the Bridge de la Concorde. (8)

The Church of the Invalides

Napoleon’s funeral carriage moving towards Les Invalides, by Adolphe Jean-Baptiste Bayot and Eugène Charles François Guérard

Napoleon’s funeral carriage moving towards Les Invalides, by Adolphe Jean-Baptiste Bayot and Eugène Charles François Guérard

People with tickets to the esplanade of the Invalides arrived as early as 8 a.m.

Several hours elapsed ere the procession appeared, and here it is painful to have to remark how little dignity prevailed in the interim. In one place national guards were seen getting planks, and breaking them for the purpose of making fires; in another national guards, soldiers of the line, &c. formed a ring and danced round a flag; elsewhere an officer was in the centre; and in the third place a hat…. At length, however, the funeral car was perceived on the other side of the river, and some order was restored, the troops that had piled their arms hastened to snatch up their muskets and to form their ranks….

As the car passed, each head was uncovered; and although the shouts of ‘Vive Napoleon! Vive l’Empereur!’ joined to the cries of ‘Vive le Roi! Vive le Prince de Joinville!’ were few and far between, a certain degree of emotion prevailed, and many an eye was suffused with tears. To be just, however, it must be said that far less enthusiasm prevailed than was expected on the occasion. (9)

The church was richly decorated, or at least tried to give the appearance of being so.

The great court of the Hotel had certainly a striking effect when one first entered and cast a hasty coup d’oeil around one. The amphitheatre of steps that descended from the gallery to the ground, the black trappings which were hung round the upper gallery, and the general effect of the archways covered with festoons and garlands were imposing; but a nearer look betrayed the coarse painting of the canvas scene that covered the usual walls of the court, the wood work of which was in many places badly joined, and convinced me that the decoration had been patched together in haste and without taste. In the interior of the chapel the whole system of embellishment had been the same. The sight, was admirable, but the painted canvas, representing trophies, shields, and laurel crowns, enwreathing swords, which was suspended between each archway; the great porch built in the same scenic fashion at the entrance of the beautiful chapel of painted archways and columns, and the coarsely carved and gilt candelabra that lined the whole length of the nave, to say nothing of two great machines at each side of the entrance to the dome, which looked like whitewashed fonts in a country church mounted upon a stage pedestal, and of which it was impossible to devise the meaning or purpose, unless by supposing that haste or negligence had left them incomplete; all this, when one looked again, was poor, tasteless, mean…. [A] Frenchman near me expressed himself nearly in the same sentiments by saying, ‘Ah, bah! On aurait sifflé ça à l’opera.’ …

The great altar which generally separates the long line of nave from the dome, had been removed…. The space under the dome…was filled with a blaze of light from the thousands…of wax lights that hung in lustres or lined the walls, until the extremity of this part of the chapel looked one great wall of fire. In the midst was erected the catafalque upon which the coffin was to be placed, and stands hung with black drapery, rose tier above tier for the different corps de l’état, the members of the two Chambers, and the Royal Family. Along the nave the archways, both below and above, had been filled with tribunes for spectators, and were decorated with black velvet draperies, studded with the different Napoleonic emblems.

The real sight worth seeing…was the crowd in mourning dresses that filled the chapel, first along the archways of the nave, then in the tribunes of the dome as they became crowded with the representatives of the different bodies of the state, the ministers, and staff, the marshals, and superior officers of the army, and seemingly all that France still contained of brilliant in uniform or costume; and then the long vista of the nave as it became lined with the different deputations of the courts of justice, of the thousand and one departments of the French state mechanism, and at a later period with the officers, non-commissioned officers, soldiers, and sailors, who had formed a part of the procession. (10)

Interior of the Dôme des Invalides during Napoleon’s funeral in 1840, by François Fortuné Antoine Ferogio

Interior of the Dôme des Invalides during Napoleon’s funeral in 1840, by François Fortuné Antoine Ferogio

Shortly before three o’clock, the firing of 21 guns in succession announced the arrival of Napoleon’s casket at the entrance of the Hôtel des Invalides. The Archbishop of Paris, attended by his clergy, went to receive it and sprinkle it with holy water. At three, the orchestra began a solemn march, and the clergy and the muffled drums came slowly up the aisle.

To see the coffin borne along the nave was a sight that set all the meanness of the painted theatrical show around at defiance. It was one of sentiment, and not of show. As the coffin advanced, borne upon the shoulders of the 32 non-commissioned officers appointed for that purpose, accompanied at each end by General Bertrand and the Marshals who occupied each corner, covered with the funeral pall, with the imperial crown reposing above, there was an evident thrill, an evident electric emotion, which pervaded the crowd that lined its passage. The old Invalides, who occupied the first rank, were deeply moved, as he whom they had for the most part obeyed with such fervour and enthusiasm in life, was borne along in death. Their emotion seemed to me to be one of pride and joy more than of grief. He was restored to them. The same sort of electric movement of feeling seemed to animate the mass of military men who lined one side of the dome as the coffin was slowly carried along up the steps that led to it from the nave. In a few minutes more it was being raised into the catafalque that occupied the middle of the dome, and the mortal remains of Napoleon reposed where his last wish was that they should repose – a wish which he thought in his dying moments to have been a vain one – in the heart of his own country, in the place worthy of France’s greatest general – under the dome of the Invalides. (11)

King Louis Philippe, wearing the uniform of the National Guard, was seated on the throne to the right of the altar. The Prince of Joinville said, “Sire, I present to you the body of the Emperor Napoleon.” The King replied, “I receive it in the name of France.” (12) The sword that Napoleon had worn at Austerlitz and Marengo was placed on Napoleon’s casket and the mass began. Mozart’s Requiem was admirably performed by the principal singers of the French and Italian operas. At the conclusion of the mass, holy water was sprinkled upon the catafalque by the archbishop, and then handed to some of the marshals and older officers to go through the same rite.

The service lasted about an hour. In addition to the French royal family, some members of the royal family of Spain were present. None of the Bonapartes were there, having been banished from France.

It was long before the chapel was in any degree cleared. The crowd lingered still behind and turned again and again to look at the coup d’oeil of the burning wax-lights, chapelle ardente, the illuminated catafalque, and the long vista of funeral pomp, however mean it may have been in its minor details. Curiosity was, as usual, the only predominant feeling – devotion was, generally speaking, quite out of the question, and of enthusiasm I could not see a glimpse. The only words that reached my ears were exclamations of curiosity from the ladies, a few political speculations from the gentlemen around me, or such remarks as ‘Hush, that is Grisi’s voice.’ ‘How charmingly Duprez sings,’ &c.

Thus ended a ceremony which, for the interest inspired by the occasion, for the extraordinary congregation of men whose actions for good or for evil have been celebrated throughout the world, and for its own intrinsic splendor, will probably long remain without a rival. (13)


Queen Victoria visiting Napoleon’s tomb at the Invalides in 1855, by Edward Matthew Ward

Queen Victoria visiting Napoleon’s tomb at the Invalides in 1855, by Edward Matthew Ward

Some British commentators viewed Napoleon’s funeral rather snidely.

To describe it as a great national event either of mourning or rejoicing would be a mistake; it was neither…. With the exception of General Bertrand it does not appear that there were any persons present likely to show personal feelings of affection towards the deceased. Count Montholon, one who watched his death-bed, is confined as a prisoner, and the Government…had received and silently rejected his supplication to be present. The church contributed nothing to render the ceremony imposing, but seems to have done just so much as was necessary to make the church appear an indispensable party in a funeral and no more. The Church does not practice the forgiveness it preaches, and it has, or fancies that it has, real grievances to complain of in the case of Napoleon. On the whole, with the exception of a piece of folly among some half-witted students, most admirably reproved by the tolerant but unsympathizing conduct of the people, the funeral procession seems to have deserved its name. It was a mere show, in which the idea of the death of one formerly great appears to have predominated over every other sentiment. In one respect it did great injustice to Napoleon’s memory. Its arches and pictures associated him with the idea of war; but that to which he himself seems to have looked as to his most certain hope of glory was utterly neglected. He said that he should descend to posterity with the code in his hand. So far as we have seen the accounts his military achievements were remembered – his civil greatness forgotten. This was a mistake. (14)

William Makepeace Thackeray (using the pseudonym Michael Angelo Titmarsh) wrote a satirical book about the retour des cendres and Napoleon’s funeral, called The Second Funeral of Napoleon. You can read it for free on the Internet Archive. Here is a sample:

All along the Champs Elysées were urns of plaster-of-Paris destined to contain funeral incense and flames; columns decorated with huge flags of blue, red, and white, embroidered with shining crowns, eagles, and N’s in gilt paper, and statues of plaster representing Nymphs, Triumphs, Victories, or other female personages, painted in oil so as to resemble marble. Real marble could have had no better effect, and the appearance of the whole was lively and picturesque in the extreme. On each pillar was a buckler, of the color of bronze, bearing the name and date of a battle in gilt letters: you had to walk through a mile-long avenue of these glorious reminiscences, telling of spots where, in the great imperial days, throats had been victoriously cut. (15)

On April 2, 1861, Napoleon’s casket was transferred to his current tomb beneath the dome of the Invalides – a sarcophagus of red quartzite, designed by Louis Visconti. The ceremony was private, attended by Emperor Napoleon III (Napoleon’s nephew), his immediate family, government ministers and senior officials.

You  might also enjoy:

What happened to Napoleon’s body?

What were Napoleon’s last words?

Vignettes of Napoleon’s Final Months

How was Napoleon’s death reported?

Photos of 19th-Century French Royalty

François d’Orléans, Prince of Joinville: Artist & Sailor

Sunday in Paris in the 1830s

New Year’s Day in Paris in the 1800s

Living Descendants of Napoleon and the Bonapartes

  1. “Foreign Intelligence,” Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle (London, England), December 20, 1840.
  2. “The Funeral Procession of the Emperor Napoleon,” The Sunday Times (London, England), December 20, 1840.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. “Funeral of Napoleon,” The Watchman (London, England), December 23, 1840.
  10. “The Funeral Procession of the Emperor Napoleon,” The Sunday Times (London, England), December 20, 1840.
  11. Ibid.
  12. “Funeral of Napoleon,” The Watchman (London, England), December 23, 1840.
  13. “The Funeral Procession of the Emperor Napoleon,” The Sunday Times (London, England), December 20, 1840.
  14. Ibid.
  15. William Makepeace Thackeray, The Second Funeral of Napoleon and Critical Reviews (New York, 1883), p. 582.

18 commments on “Napoleon’s Funeral in Paris in 1840”

  • Hels says:

    Thank you!

    That must have been the longest, most elaborate and most expensive funeral in history. But opposition to accepting Napoleon back into Paris seemed to be rarely mentioned. “Wanting to avoid a revolutionary outbreak” would have been a major concern, I think.

  • JOHN ADAN says:

    That is the way to do it.

  • Vince Ciricola says:

    I very much enjoy your writing on Napoleon and the Napoleonic period. I recently visited a ‘temporary’ exhibit of Napoleonic memorabilia at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri.

  • Glenn Falgoust says:

    Excellent work on bringing this to life in great detail Shannon. Indeed, I was there for a moment.

    • Shannon Selin says:

      Thanks, Glenn. I love coming across firsthand accounts of episodes like this. There are always little things, like the soldiers’ dancing, that don’t appear in the history books.

  • Marie-Noëlle says:

    Great article as always.
    I think that a simple cannon limber (like for the JF Kennedy’s funeral) would have been better than this enormous piece of cake that was the carriage!
    And the name of the ships which carried back Napoléon’s body: La Belle Poule and La Dorade, not very glorious… 😉

    • Shannon Selin says:

      Thanks, Marie-Noëlle. I wonder if someone in Louis-Philippe’s government was trying to make a point with the “Beautiful Chicken” and the “Sea Bream.”

  • Randall says:

    This is amazing material! The grip of this man upon civilization is remarkable. The recent debate by two scholars about whether or not Napoleon was “great” is answered here! Thanks for this fascinating material!

  • Geoffrey says:

    Have I previously mentioned that I have a ticket for it?
    I think la belle poule has another meaning!

    • Shannon Selin says:

      That’s a precious souvenir, Geoffrey. Your French is undoubtedly better than mine, so I’ve gone to look this up. As you say, la belle poule can also refer to a beautiful young girl. This is what Wikipedia says about the ship’s name: “The name Belle Poule derives from an incident in 1533. Francis I was presented with the keys of Toulouse by Paule de Viguier, the baroness Fronteville. Paule was a young girl known for her beauty, and Francis nicknamed her la belle Paule. The name became altered over time to belle poule through the difference between French and Occitan pronunciation. The name was later adopted by a Gironde corsair for his vessel, giving rise to it as a ship name in the French navy. Another version of the story is that Francis called her belle poule, as a play on words. The word belle is “beautiful”, while poule is a reference to her name, Paule, but also means “chick”, which in French, as it was later in English, can refer to a young girl.”

  • Robertson Shinnick says:

    Hi. Thanks for the article. I have linked to it from my description of a special gilt medal that was struck for the event.

  • Gillian Vogelsang says:

    The TRC Leiden has just been given a piece of purple broadcloth with a hand written note saying the cloth came from the pall that covered Napolean’s coffin when it arrived in Paris. Do you have any information about what happened to the pall?

Join the discussion

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Several hours elapsed ere the procession appeared, and here it is painful to have to remark how little dignity prevailed in the interim. In one place national guards were seen getting planks, and breaking them for the purpose of making fires; in another national guards, soldiers of the line, &c. formed a ring and danced round a flag; elsewhere an officer was in the centre; and in the third place a hat.

The Watchman