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Napoleon’s Original Signed Order for the Grand Army's Triumph of 1807, Celebrating its Greatest Military Victories and Domination of Continental Europe

With the Monumental “Arc de Triomphe” not yet completed,
Napoleon orders a provisional, predecessor Arc built for the occasion

A Rare and Relevant Napoleon signed Document
relating to the Arc de Triomphe and its Architect


As General of the People, Napoleon writes: "...We honor all the Grande Armée"

Napoléon, the French EmperorIn May 1803, following the Peace of Amiens, war broke out again between France and Britain. Russia, Austria, and Sweden joined Britain in the Third Coalition. It was to no avail. Austria and Russia were defeated at the great battle of Austerlitz on December 2, 1805. Napoleon crushed the Prussians at Jena on October 14, 1806, and the Russians again at Friedland on June 14, 1807. His triumphs were marked by treaties; the Treaties of Tilsit were signed in the town of Tilsit in July 1807 in the aftermath of Friedland: the first on 7 July with Tsar Alexander I of Russia (who met Napoleon on a raft in the middle of the Neiman River), the second with Prussia on 9 July. These treaties ended war between Imperial Russia and the French Empire. The two countries secretly agreed to aid each other in disputes. France pledged to aid Russia against Ottoman Turkey, while Russia agreed to join the Continental System against the British Empire. Napoleon also convinced Alexander to enter into the Anglo-Russian War and to instigate the Finnish War against Sweden in order to force Sweden to join the Continental System. Napoleon arranged to host Alexander I at Fontainebleau in mid November 1807. This was one of the great military triumphs of French history.

The Grande Armée had conquered most of Europe and was considered invincible. Napoleon said to his soldiers : "You will return home through arches of triumph"., and he then  turned his attention to celebrating these epochal victories. There would be a grand reception for the returning Grand Army, the first that would rival a Roman triumph and eclipse its historic French equivalents. The year before, Napoleon had commissioned Jean Chalgrin to create the Arc de Triomphe that now sits on the Champs Elysees. However, this monumental work would not be done for decades (1836). Impatient for the glorious associations the Arc would bring, Napoleon turned again to Chalgrin to create a Provisional Arc (the father and predecessor of the now-famous one), one sufficiently large, elegant and impressive to welcome him and his victorious soldiers home in less than one month. Napoleon was politically astute enough to understand that this was not to be an homage solely to him, but rather a celebration for all the army and nation. Songs were to be sung, crowns bestowed, the whole city made part of the returning general’s festivities. St. Hilaire's History of the Imperial Guard gives a full account of the celebration:

"Paris has nothing to envy anymore of the most glorious memories of the old capital of the world; Paris, like Rome of the Caesars, was to attend the spectacle of one of its great military triumphs. The fête given by the city, November 25, 1807, to the elite of the grand army, on its return from the campaigns of Prussia and Poland, offered the imposing tableau of these ancient solemnities. The city council had voted on gold crowns for the Imperial Guard; Napoleon had approved all of this both noble and delicate expression of the admiration and recognition of the Parisians; the offer of these crowns was the principal object of the fête. Outside the barrier of the Villette, by which the ten thousand soldiers of the Imperial Guard were to enter, had been raised a triumphal arch of a colossal proportion: twenty men could pass abreast through it. Vast platforms, in the shape of an amphitheatre, had been fitted, on the right and on the left, in the interior of the triumphal arch. One was intended for many an orchestra, the other for the municipal body of Paris. As of nine o’clock in the morning, Wednesday November 25, 1807, in spite of a dark and rainy appearance, an immense crowd pressed itself up to the accesses of the triumphal arch; they awaited the Imperial Guard whose acclamations of enthusiasm soon announced its approach.... The municipal body took its place under the triumphal arch, the orchestra carried out this song whose words were by Arnault, and the music of Méhul:

These conquerors, are your husbands,
They are your children or your brothers.
When these intrepid soldiers,
Triumphing initially over your tears,
With the first signal of the engagements,
Themselves shoot off their weapons,
French, they flew to glory!

An innumerable population formed everywhere lining the route of the Imperial Guard which arrived in the court of Tuileries, while passing under the triumphal arch which, on the side of the Carrousel, forms the principal entry of this palace. Here they deposited their eagles; from there, crossing the garden of Tuileries, they left their weapons to go to the Champs-Elysées and to take their seats at the banquet which was prepared for them; ten thousand forks and spoons had been laid out; the municipal body made the honors of the feast....The toasts were carried out in the following order:

 By the Prefect of the Seine: to H. M. the Emperor and King.
 By Marshal Bessières: to the town of Paris.
 By the Prefect of the Seine: to the Grand Army.

At the same hour that the meal was given to the Imperial Guard, distributions of wine and meals were made in the principal places of the capital; at each one of these places an orchestra also rose. At eight o'clock in the evening, a fireworks display on the roadway, which borders the Tuileries, called the edge of water, announced the end of this fête, in which the very whole population of Paris had taken share. During the meal, various lyric pieces were sung, among which verses were noted those resulting from the brilliance of Mr. Cauchy, secretary-archivist of the Senate:

Generous sons of the Victory,
Brilliant elite of heroes,
Who by so many exploits and glory
Honored our flags

As witness of this homage paid to the elite of the army, the people were thereby associated with it by its acclamations; this unanimity of popular sympathies for the Imperial Guard was expressed immediately, and the people remained faithful to the memory of the Imperial Guard as to that of Napoleon, the first of its heads!

This is the letter in which Napoleon orders the Great Triumph, the details of the festivities, the songs, crowns and sentiments.  Letter Signed, Fontainebleau, [October] 31 8 o'clock 1807, signed "Napol..."

My guard will arrive in the first days of November. My intention is that they be received on their arrival in Paris with great pomp and that a Triumphal Arch ("arc de triomphe") be erected on the route they will pass. I have ordered Marshall Bessières to give a great dinner and grand ball for the officers at the Military School. I want the Municipal Corps and General Council to give a great dinner for all the soldiers in the name of the City of Paris... This ought to be a fraternal dinner given to around 12,000 men. You must, in all the representations and images made for this occasion, ensure that the focus is on my Guard and not on me, and that all might see that in my Guard, we honor all the Grand Army. The prefect and the Municipal Corps will receive my Guard on their entry into Paris. It goes without saying that we should have songs and other pieces of verse composed for this occasion. Crowns of gold will be presented on this day to the Guard to be placed on the flags."


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