Fact of the day: 26th February

On this day in 1815 Napoleon Bonaparte escaped from Elba.

After his defeat, the victors exiled him to Elba, an island of 12,000 inhabitants in the Mediterranean, 20 km (12 mi) off the Tuscan coast. They gave him sovereignty over the island and allowed him to retain his title of emperor. Napoleon attempted suicide with a pill he had carried since a near-capture by Russians on the retreat from Moscow. Its potency had weakened with age, and he survived to be exiled while his wife and son took refuge in Austria. In the first few months on Elba he created a small navy and army, developed the iron mines, and issued decrees on modern agricultural methods.

Separated from his wife and son, who had come under Austrian control, cut off from the allowance guaranteed to him by the Treaty of Fontainebleau, and aware of rumours he was about to be banished to a remote island in the Atlantic Ocean, Napoleon escaped from Elba on 26 February 1815. He landed at Golfe-Juan on the French mainland, two days late.

This period became known as the hundred days where Napoleon ruled France until June 1815.

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Napoleon returned to Paris and found that both the legislature and the people had turned violently on him. Realizing his position was untenable, he abdicated on 22 June in favour of his son. He left Paris 3 days later and settled at Josephine’s former home in Malmaison. Coalition forces swept into France soon afterward, intent on restoring Louis XVIII to the French throne.

When Napoleon got word that Prussian troops had orders to capture him dead or alive, he fled to Rochefort, intending to escape to the US. However, with British ships blocking every port to prevent his escape, Napoleon formally demanded political asylum from the British Captain Frederick Maitland on HMS Bellerophon on 15 July 1815.

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