“Napoleon Bonaparte (III)”


"The deeds of famed Napoleon I mean for to relate ... led astray ... Grouchy led the French astray And the great battle of Waterloo was bought with English gold." Having been betrayed by Grouchy Napoleon is banished to St Helena and Louisa laments.


Ives-NewBrunswick: Other pieces "have the Little Corporal as their hero, [this one] is different in having a true villain, the Marquis de Grouchy, the marshall who failed to keep Blucher from joining up with Wellington at Waterloo." - BS

One suspects broadside origin for this piece, from someone who needed a scapegoat for Napoleon. While the behavior of Emmanuel Grouchy (1766-1847) helped lose Waterloo, he certainly didn't betray Napoleon! His competence can be questioned, but not his loyalty.

Primarily a cavalry officer, Grouchy served well in small roles in Napoleon's first career. Quick to return to Bonaparte's service during the Hundred Days, he was rewarded with a Marshal's baton (the last of Napoleon's Marshals) -- and given command of a third of the army in the Waterloo campaign.

This was a mistake; Grouchy had little infantry experience, and no experience with forces so large (two corps and change). His appointment was one of several organizational mistakes that cost Napoleon dearly at Waterloo.

Napoleon's plan for the Waterloo campaign was brilliant: Two armies, Wellington's (British and Dutch) and Blucher's (Prussian), were concentrating against him. Individually, they were smaller than Napoleon's cobbled-up force, but together, they were far larger. Napoleon divided his army into three parts, under Ney, Grouchy, and his own direct command. He interposed them between Wellington and Blucher, and proposed to defeat them in detail.

There were actually three battles involved: Ligny and Quatre Bras on June 16, and Waterloo on June 18. At Quatre Bras, Ney was supposed to attack Wellington's rearguard, while Grouchy and Napoleon attacked Blucher at Ligny.

Grouchy's performance at Ligny was competent enough; the Prussians were forced to retreat. But Ney completely muffed the attack at Quatre Bras, first failing to attack when the odds were with him, then going in after the small local force was reinforced. This got him in enough trouble that he took control of d'Erlon's corps, which Napoleon had called upon to polish off the victory at Ligny, and hauled it back to Quatre Bras. Where it didn't fight.

This was disastrous. Napoleon turned his own and Ney's forced to attack Wellington at Waterloo, leaving Grouchy to watch Blucher -- but Blucher had merely been pushed back a few miles. He halted the retreat, marched around Grouchy, and managed to bring up enough of his army to turn the tide at Waterloo.

Grouchy's performance was certainly poor; he lost contact with Blucher, and then just sat rather than trying to find a battle to fight. He did, nonetheless, obey his orders, if woodenly. While his behavior cost Napoleon his last chance to survive at Waterloo, the fundamental fault is Napoleon's for setting up very bad command arrangements -- and, tactically, the fault is almost entirely Ney's (who, indeed, gets the blame in "The Grand Conversation on Napoleon"): He messed up at Quatre Bras, he made it impossible to win at Ligny, and he was in tactical charge at Waterloo but delayed so long that Blucher had time to come up. - RBW

The ballad is recorded on one of the CD's issued around the time of the bicentenial of the 1798 Irish Rebellion. See:

Franke Harte and Donal Lunny, "Napoleon Bonaparte" (on Franke Harte and Donal Lunny, "My Name is Napoleon Bonaparte," Hummingbird Records HBCD0027 (2001))

Harte: "This particular song was written almost fifteen years after the death of Napoleon [1821]." - BS

Historical references

  • June 18, 1815 - Battle of Waterloo

Cross references


  1. Ives-NewBrunswick, pp. 42-45, "Napoleon Bonaparte" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Roud #1943
  3. BI, IvNB042


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1957 (Ives-NewBrunswick)
Found in: Canada(Mar) Ireland