The Battle of Napoleon and the Rabbits

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The Battle of Napoleon and the Rabbits

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Rabbits – One. Napoleon – Zero.

You never know what is possible in real life. One of the most powerful generals of western civilisation was once overpowered by a fluffle of rabbits. And yes, fluffle is a word: it is the collective noun for a group of wild rabbits.

Before Napoleon’s abdication after the battle of Waterloo in 1815, he had his first taste of defeat in the summer of 1807. He was forced to retreat by a horde of hungry bunnies.

Napoleon had decided to entertain his VIPs with a rabbit hunt to celebrate the treaty of Tilsit which ended the war between the French Empire and Imperial Russia. Rather than trapping wild hares, his chief of staff Alexandre Berthier bought hundreds (some say thousands) of rabbits from local farmers. He imagined the multitude of rabbits would impress his superior and his guests.

It did not go as planned.

When the ravenous bunnies were released from their cages, instead of fleeing for their lives, they bounded right for the hunters. For the rabbits, it was way past feeding time!

The tables can be turned so never underestimate with whom you are dealing. Photo by Sergey Zolkin @Unsplash

To Napoleon’s horror, they surrounded him. Showing no fear, they climbed right up his legs and clamoured up his jacket. Soon the incident that first sparked laughter turned into panic. The
Emperor and his cronies tried beating them off with sticks to no avail. The attempts were futile as the men were outnumbered.

Napoleon fled for the safety of his carriage, but not before some managed to leap inside after an impressive chase.  

Historian David Chandler aptly describes how it played out: “With a finer understanding of Napoleonic strategy than most of his generals, the rabbit horde divided into two wings and poured around the flanks of the party and headed for the imperial coach.”

Finally, Napoleon fled the scene in his carriage, still flinging rabbits out of the coach.

‘Napoleon with a rabbit on his head’ by artist Radik Musin

If there is a motto in this tale perhaps it could be: never underestimate those smaller than you and always be prepared for the unexpected.

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