After Napoleon’s defeat at Leipzig on October 16-18, 1813, the Coalition forces marched through Europe, suppressing freedom, reinstalling serfdom and the obsolete hierarchy of birth. Despite the death of the traitorous Moreau at Leipzig, the subtle influences on the Allied leaders, especially Alexander I, continued to manifest themselves.
In early 1814, the Coalition forces crossed the Rhine into France. “Napoleon waged a brilliant but futile campaign during the first three months of 1814.” (Encyclopedia of World Biography, 309). During that time, Napoleon managed to perform miracles with his outnumbered forces, but even those were not sufficient.
On March 31, when Napoleon fought battles far from the capital, Marshal Marmont foolishly surrendered Paris to the Coalition, thus robbing France of any hopes of recovery from the recent turn of events. “The hopelessness of the military situation led the Emperor to abdicate at Fontainebleau (April 4, 1814) in favor of his son Napoleon II. However, the Allies refused to recognize the 3-year-old boy, and Louis XVIII was placed on the French throne.” (Encyclopedia of World Biography, 309).
“I would embrace every one of you to display my affection,” Napoleon addressed his Imperial Guard as he departed for the Mediterranean island of Elba, “but I will kiss this flag, for it represents all of you. But know that I shall return to France when the violets will bloom.” There have been numerous interpretations of this quote, the simplest of which reveals to us that even then Napoleon planned to return to claim his rightful place at the throne the next spring.
However, others have been able to locate deeper meanings of the phrase, the “violets” being the desire for civil liberties and the new meritocratic order. Indeed, by the beginning of 1815 the populace became increasingly irritated with the stagnant and deconstructive reign of Louis XVIII, who reinstated many of the old aristocratic privileges while violating in the rest of the populace the rights that common Frenchmen obtained under Napoleon’s reign. Riots were becoming increasingly more frequent, and secret organizations planned to coordinate Napoleon’s return to France.
During the Congress of Vienna, delegates from various Coalition states squabbled over what Europe’s political state after Napoleon’s deposition would be. The Coalition was falling apart now that it had no common foe to unite it. Indeed, amid this disarray, the political stage was ripe for Napoleon to execute his triumphant comeback. The violets had bloomed.