Winning over the Nobles

To make his new hybrid state work, Napoleon curried the favor of the old regime nobles. He needed their approval to make his empire convincing. Although he set up his own form of nobility, largely granted for exceptional military service, he wanted to amalgamate these new nobles with the old nobility of the monarchy. The memoirs of Henriette-Lucie Dillon, wife of Frédéric-Séraphin, Comte de La Tour du Pin, show his success.


My aunt and Monsieur de Lally wrote us from Paris that all the persons whom we had formerly known had rallied to the government. The Concordat had just been published and the reestablishment of religion had a prodigious effect in the provinces. Until this moment, divine services were only held in private rooms, if not entirely in secret, and the priests were almost always returned émigrés. There was therefore universal joy when Monsieur d'Aviau de Sanzai, a man highly esteemed, was appointed Archbishop at Bordeaux. We had the honor of entertaining him at Le Bouilh during the first two days which followed his taking possession of the diocese. We brought together to receive him all the good curés of our former estate which comprised nineteen parishes. The greater part, recently appointed, had returned from foreign countries. Others had been concealed with their parishioners or in private houses. Our Archbishop was adored by all and his entry into Bordeaux was a triumph. The gratitude which all felt went out to the great man who held the reins of government. When he proclaimed himself Consul for Life, this gratitude was shown by the almost unanimous approbation of those who were called upon to vote upon this proposition.

A little later there appeared in the communes the lists upon which it was necessary for the voters to inscribe their names and respond by “yes” or “no” to the question as to whether the Consul for Life should be proclaimed Emperor.

Monsieur de La Tour du Pin was in a state of great indecision before he decided to write “yes” upon the list at Saint-André-de-Cubzac. I saw him walk up and down alone in the garden, but I did not try to penetrate his thoughts. Finally one evening he entered and I learned with pleasure that he had just written “yes” as a result of his reflections. . . .

The following day [1810, almost a decade after the preceding passage] there was to be a grand ball at the Hôtel de Ville. I was therefore somewhat put out when I was invited to dinner at Laeken, as I did not well see how I could find a moment to change my toilette, or at least my gown, between the dinner and the ball. However, the pleasure of seeing and listening to the Emperor during a period of two hours was so great that I could not but appreciate the value of such an invitation. The Duc d'Ursel accompanied me, and as we were to go afterwards to the Hôtel de Ville to receive the Emperor, I ordered my femme de chambre to be there with another toilette all ready.

This dinner was one of the events of my life of which I have preserved the most agreeable recollection. Here is the way in which the guests, to the number of eight, were placed at the table: The Emperor; at his right, the Queen of Westphalia; then Maréchal Berthier; the King of Westphalia; the Empress; the Duc d'Ursel; Mme. de Bouillé; finally myself, at the left of the Emperor. He talked to me nearly all the time, regarding the manufactures, the laces, the daily wages, the life of the lace-makers; then of the monuments, the antiquities, the establishments of charity, the manners of the people, the béguines. Fortunately I was well posted regarding all of these subjects. The Emperor demanded of the Duc d'Ursel: “What are the wages of the lace-maker?” The poor man was embarrassed in the endeavor to express the sum in centimes. The Emperor saw his hesitation, and turning to me asked: “What is the name of the money of the country?” I replied: “An escalin, or sixty-three centimes.” “Ah! c'est bien,” said he. . . .

The Emperor and his wife left the following morning. A yacht highly decorated took them to the end of the Canal of Brussels where they found the carriages which conveyed them to Antwerp. On boarding the yacht, my husband noticed the Marquis de Trazegnies, the Commander of the Guard of Honor. Fearing that the Emperor would not invite him to take a place on the yacht, where there was only room for a few persons, he named him, at the same time adding: “His ancestor was Constable under Saint Louis.” These words produced a magic effect on the Emperor, who immediately summoned the Marquis de Trazegnies and had a long talk with him. A short time later, his wife was named Dame du Palais. She pretended to be displeased over this nomination, although secretly she was delighted.

Source: Recollections of the Revolution and the Empire by la Marquise de la Tour du Pin, ed. and trans., Walter Geer (New York: Brentano's, 1920), pp. 320-321, 358-360.