In 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte, one of history’s greatest generals and military geniuses, suffered his greatest defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. But eight years earlier, he had faced another enemy that forced him into a humiliating retreat – an army of roving rabbits!
Napoleon Bonaparte was one of the most famous and successful French statesmen and commanders of all time. He strode out of the French Revolution victorious, and became Napoleon I, Emperor of France. He ruled from 1804 until 1814 and again in 1815. He led daring expeditions that brought him close to the goal of conquering Europe.
In 1807, Napoleon had just signed a peace treaty which ended the war between the French Empire and Imperial Russia. To celebrate the occasion, he ordered his Chief-of-Staff Louis-Alexandre Berthier to arrange a luncheon and a rabbit hunt.
On the day of the lunch, over 1000 rabbits were released from cages situated on the edge of a grassy field. Napoleon and his companions were armed and ready to follow in pursuit of the rabbits which, it was assumed, would panic and run for freedom. But that’s not what happened!
Napoleon Bonaparte was attached by an army of rabbits. Source: Portable Press
The confused bunnies formed a frenzied, fluffy army and headed straight for Napoleon. He was quickly overpowered – the rabbits gathered at his feet, climbed up his legs, gnawed at his gold-embroidered jacket, and hopped onto his head and shoulders. Napoleon could not position his gun to shoot them and his attempts to hit them away with his riding crop were futile. Finally, his military men were able to drive enough of them off him with their crops, whips and sticks to give Napoleon enough time to retreat to his velvet-seated carriage. The bunnies followed in hot pursuit, swarming into his carriage and continuing their onslaught. Finally, as the carriage began to move off, the rabbits dispersed, and Napoleon lived to fight another battle.
So, what had sent these rabbits hopping mad? Turns out Berthier had made a critical mistake. Instead of gathering wild rabbits, which would have indeed turned to flee, he had acquired the rabbits from farms, and farmed rabbits know that seeing humans mean they are about to get fed. So to them, the sight of the emperor simply meant suppertime!
Top image: Main – Representational image of Napoleon Bonaparte. Source: de Art / Adobe Stock. Inset: Angry rabbit. Source: Eric Isselée / Adobe Stock
By Joanna Gillan