PARIS — A 200-year-old letter in which Napoleon Bonaparte vows to blow up the Kremlin fetched 187,500 euros at a French auction on Sunday, while an essay by him on the failed Russian campaign set another record.
The coded missive, written in numbers and signed “Nap”, said: “I will blow up the Kremlin on the 22nd at three in the morning.”
Dated October 20, 1812, the day after Napoleon retreated from the centre of Moscow, it is addressed to his external relations minister Hugues-Bernard Maret.
It had been expected to fetch between 10,000 and 15,000 euros ($13,000 to 20,000) at the sale in Fontainebleau, south-east of Paris.
Napoleon’s order was executed and several towers and sections of wall at the Kremlin, at the time both an imperial palace and military fortress, were destroyed. The towers were later rebuilt identically.
But another manuscript, the last dictated by Napoleon during his exile on the British island of Saint Helena, set a record at the sale, drawing a winning bid of 375,000 euros.
“It’s a world record for a manuscript of Napoleon,” the Osenat auction house said.
The “Essay on campaign fortification” has the fallen emperor mulling over the outcome of the Russian invasion. It runs into more than 300 pages and has 44 illustrations.
“It should not be called a retreat since the army was victorious,” he says of the campaign, today seen as a turning point in the Napoleonic wars that dramatically weakened French power in Europe.
The manuscript was given for sale by the descendants of Napoleon’s general, Henri Gatien Bertrand, who had accompanied him to Saint Helena.
Napoleon’s army entered Moscow on September 14, 1812, but much of the population had already fled and the emperor was forced to leave without securing a formal victory over Alexander I, embarking on a disastrous westward retreat.