Narrative Summary of Memoirs of the Private Life, Return, and Reign of Napoleon in 1815, Vol. I

Overview: I, the author, was a young man at the time of Napoleon’s return from Elba. I served in the Imperial Guard and witnessed firsthand the political climate of France. This memoir details the events leading up to Napoleon’s return, the 100 days of his reign, and his eventual defeat at Waterloo. The text focuses on the errors of the Bourbon government, the public’s desire for Napoleon’s return, and the eventual downfall of the Emperor.

Main Parts:

  1. The Reign of Louis XVIII: I describe the initial enthusiasm for the Bourbon restoration but detail how the government’s actions alienated the army and the people. The emigrants’ arrogance, their attempts to overturn the Charter, and the government’s favoritism towards them are highlighted.
  2. Napoleon’s Exile and Growing Discontent: Napoleon’s exile on Elba is described, and his initial desire for a peaceful retirement. However, he soon begins to follow French affairs and witness the Bourbon government’s failures.
  3. Napoleon’s Return from Exile: The memoir details the journey of a French officer, M. Z***, to Elba to inform Napoleon of the political situation. M. Z***’s journey is detailed, along with his conversations with Napoleon, outlining the public sentiment for Napoleon’s return.
  4. The Hundred Days: This section chronicles Napoleon’s landing in France, his rapid march to Paris, and his initial successes. The defections of Marshals Ney and Marmont, and the growing public support for Napoleon are detailed.
  5. Napoleon’s Second Reign and Downfall: The events of Napoleon’s second reign are described, including the decrees of Lyons, his efforts to re-establish the army, and the challenges he faced from both the Royalists and the Allied powers. The book ends with his defeat at Waterloo and the subsequent events.

View on Life:

  • Napoleon: Napoleon believed in the strength of the nation and its ability to achieve greatness. He viewed power as a tool to be used for national advancement and was willing to defy the law when necessary to ensure the good of France. He believed in the importance of a strong leader and sought to secure the stability of the nation through a firm and disciplined hand. His mistakes, according to Napoleon himself, were fueled by his ambition and his desire to conquer.
  • The Bourbons: The Bourbons, represented by their ministers, are depicted as out of touch with the needs and desires of the French people. Their government is seen as a reactionary force, seeking to restore the old order of nobility and privilege, rather than embrace the changes ushered in by the Revolution. They are portrayed as weak, indecisive, and ultimately unable to control the course of events.


  • M. Z*’s journey to Elba:** This scenario highlights the risk and determination of those who supported Napoleon’s return. M. Z***’s journey is fraught with danger, and he is forced to disguise himself and bribe his way through various checkpoints.
  • Napoleon’s landing in France: This scenario emphasizes the initial public support for Napoleon and his quick success in rallying the troops. His boldness and charisma are evident in his actions and speeches.
  • The defection of Marshals Ney and Marmont: These scenarios illustrate the complex loyalties and internal conflicts within the French military. Both Marshals are torn between their oaths to the King and their allegiance to Napoleon.
  • The Battle of Waterloo: This pivotal scenario marks the final defeat of Napoleon and the end of his 100-day reign. The event is recounted in detail, highlighting the strength and determination of Napoleon, but ultimately his downfall in the face of Allied forces.


  • Napoleon’s challenge to the Bourbon government: Napoleon faces the formidable task of overthrowing a well-established regime and garnering support from a nation that has just experienced years of war and turmoil.
  • Napoleon’s challenge from the Allied powers: Napoleon must navigate the complex diplomatic landscape and face the threat of a potential war with the Allied powers. His efforts to appease and secure their neutrality are detailed.
  • Napoleon’s challenge from within: Napoleon faces internal challenges from Royalist factions, the French military, and the growing power of liberal ideas. His struggle to maintain unity and control is a recurring theme throughout the book.


  • The conflict between Napoleon and the Bourbons: This is the central conflict of the narrative, with the two forces vying for power and the future of France. Napoleon represents the forces of change and revolution, while the Bourbons represent the old order and traditional power structures.
  • Conflict within the French military: The loyalty of the military is deeply tested, with many soldiers and officers torn between their past loyalties and their desire for change. The defection of Marshals Ney and Marmont is a key example of this conflict.
  • Conflict between the people’s will and the power of the elite: The text highlights the struggle between the common people and the aristocracy, who seek to maintain their privileges and control. Napoleon is initially embraced by the people, but his struggle to balance their desires with the needs of the nation is a significant conflict.


  • Rising tension and the call for change: The initial section of the book details the failures of the Bourbon government, leading to the growing discontent among the French people and the army. This sets the stage for Napoleon’s return.
  • Napoleon’s return and his rapid rise: Napoleon’s landing in France and his triumphant march towards Paris is depicted, along with his swift victories in Grenoble and Lyons. This highlights his charismatic leadership and the public support that he garners.
  • The 100 days in power: This section chronicles Napoleon’s efforts to re-establish the empire and the challenges he faces, including the internal conflicts and the growing threat of the Allied powers.
  • The final defeat at Waterloo: This marks the end of Napoleon’s reign and the beginning of his exile. The text details the circumstances leading to his defeat and the impact of his actions on both France and Europe.

Point of View:

The memoir is written from the perspective of a first-person narrator, who served in Napoleon’s army. This provides a unique and intimate view of the events, as the narrator witnessed them firsthand. The narrator is clearly a supporter of Napoleon, which shapes his interpretation of events and the characters involved.

How it’s Written:

The memoir is written in a detailed and descriptive style, with a focus on providing the reader with a sense of the historical context and the political climate of the time. The author uses a blend of narrative, dialogue, and historical analysis to present his perspective on the events.

Example of Writing Style: “I waited on the Grand Marshal according to his invitation. He resided in one wing of the building occupied by the municipality. In his apartment, there was hardly any thing to be seen except the four walls. He took notice that I was surveying its appearance.—”You are contemplating our misery,” said he: “Perhaps it contrasts itself with the opinion which you may have formed respecting our situation. It is supposed throughout Europe, that the Emperor carried off immense treasures; but his camp-plate, his camp bed, and a few broken down horses, are the only objects which he has preserved, or which he wished to preserve. Like Saladin, he could cause an outcry to be made at his door, whilst he exposes our tatters,—behold all that Napoleon the Great, the conqueror of the universe, has retained from his conquests!”


The tone of the text is primarily one of admiration and support for Napoleon. The author portrays Napoleon as a charismatic and visionary leader, but also recognizes his flaws and mistakes. The author’s tone towards the Bourbons is one of disdain and criticism.

Life Choices:

  • Napoleon’s choice to return to France: This decision is driven by his sense of duty to the nation and his belief in the public’s support. He is willing to risk his own safety and his hard-earned peace to reclaim his throne.
  • M. Z*’s choice to travel to Elba:** This choice is driven by loyalty and a desire to serve Napoleon, even at great personal risk.
  • Marshal Ney’s choice to switch sides: This decision highlights the complex loyalties and the pressure faced by individuals during a time of political upheaval.


  • The dangers of unchecked ambition: Napoleon’s downfall serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of unrestrained ambition.
  • The importance of public sentiment: The text demonstrates the power of public opinion and the need for leaders to connect with the needs and desires of the people they govern.
  • The fragility of power: The narrative illustrates the cyclical nature of power and the fact that even the most powerful individuals can be overthrown.


  • Napoleon: The central character of the memoir, a complex and brilliant leader who is both admired and criticized. He is ambitious, charismatic, and capable of great cruelty but also demonstrates moments of generosity and compassion.
  • Louis XVIII: The King of France, a figure of weakness and indecision who is unable to control the course of events. He is often portrayed as a pawn of his ministers, who are driven by their own ambitions.
  • M. Z*: A loyal and determined officer who risked everything to inform Napoleon of the situation in France.
  • Marshal Ney: A conflicted figure who initially deserts Napoleon but ultimately returns to his side. He represents the complexities of loyalty and the power of circumstance.
  • Marshal Marmont: A figure of treachery and betrayal who helped to secure Napoleon’s downfall.
  • The Duke of Otranto (Fouché): A cunning and opportunistic politician who served both Napoleon and the Bourbons. He is known for his political maneuvering and his ability to survive in any regime.
  • The Duke of Vicenza (Caulincourt): A man of integrity and noble principles who serves Napoleon faithfully.
  • General Bertrand: A close confidant of Napoleon, who is known for his unwavering loyalty and his steadfast support.
  • General Drouot: Another loyal and steadfast follower of Napoleon, who demonstrates unwavering commitment and a deep sense of duty.
  • The Empress Marie Louise: Napoleon’s wife, a figure of complex loyalties who ultimately supports her husband’s return to power.
  • The Duke of Angoulême: The son of the Count d’Artois, a figure of staunch royalism who fiercely opposes Napoleon’s return.
  • The Duke of Orléans: The son of the Duke of Orléans, a figure of complex loyalties who ultimately supports the Bourbon cause.


  • The power of ambition: The text explores the dangers of unchecked ambition and how it can lead to both great successes and ultimately to downfall.
  • The importance of legitimacy: The text examines the concept of legitimacy in leadership and how it is defined by both tradition and the will of the people.
  • The nature of loyalty and betrayal: The memoir explores the complex dynamics of loyalty, betrayal, and political maneuvering in a time of upheaval.
  • The cyclical nature of power: The book illustrates the fact that power is transient and can easily be lost. The downfall of Napoleon demonstrates the fragility of even the most powerful positions.


  • The importance of national unity: The text suggests that a nation can only thrive when it is united under a strong and capable leader.
  • The power of the people’s will: The narrative highlights the fact that power ultimately resides in the people and that a leader’s legitimacy rests on their acceptance and support.
  • The need for moderation and compromise: The text suggests that successful leadership requires a balance of strength and compassion, and that political leaders must be willing to compromise to maintain stability.


  • Napoleon: Napoleon’s intention is to restore the French Empire and to secure the nation’s place on the world stage. He believes that he can restore France to its former glory and provide the stability and leadership that the nation needs.
  • The Bourbons: The Bourbons intend to restore the old order, with its emphasis on nobility, privilege, and tradition. They fear the changes brought about by the Revolution and seek to reclaim their lost power and authority.
  • The people of France: The people of France are divided, but they are united in their desire for a stable and prosperous nation. Many support Napoleon’s return, hoping that he can restore the stability and prosperity that France enjoyed under his previous reign. Others support the Bourbons, fearing the turmoil that might accompany Napoleon’s return.

Unique Vocabulary:

  • “Droits réunis”: This term refers to the consolidated taxes levied by the French government.
  • “Levée en masse”: This term refers to the mass conscription of citizens into the army, a practice used during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.
  • “Ancien régime”: This term refers to the social and political order of France prior to the French Revolution.
  • “Champ de Mai”: This refers to a grand assembly of the French people, which Napoleon intended to convene to establish a new constitution.
  • “Tricoloured flag”: The symbol of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire.
  • “White flag”: The symbol of the Bourbon monarchy.
  • “Intriguers”: This term describes those who engage in secret machinations to advance their own interests.


  • Napoleon’s response to the attempted assassination of the Duke d’Enghien: This anecdote illustrates Napoleon’s ruthless side and his willingness to act decisively to secure his own power.
  • Napoleon’s review of the national guard in Paris: This anecdote highlights the complex relationship between Napoleon and the people, as well as his desire to maintain control and inspire loyalty.


  • The power of public opinion and the importance of legitimacy: The book explores the ways in which public opinion can influence the course of events and the need for leaders to secure legitimacy through the consent of the governed.
  • The dangers of unchecked power: The text highlights the dangers of unchecked power and the importance of establishing limits on authority.
  • The need for balance in government: The author suggests that a successful government requires a balance between the power of the state and the rights of the people.

Facts and Findings:

  • The public’s disillusionment with the Bourbon government: The text documents the growing discontent among the French people and the army, highlighting the government’s failures and the people’s desire for change.
  • The strength of Napoleon’s popularity: The text details the enthusiasm with which Napoleon’s return is greeted in France, demonstrating his continued popularity and the widespread support for his leadership.
  • The influence of public opinion on the course of events: The narrative illustrates how public opinion can drive political change, influencing the actions of both Napoleon and the Bourbons.


  • The size of the French army: The text notes that the army was reduced to 80,000 men under the Bourbon regime, but was expanded to nearly 200,000 under Napoleon.
  • The number of national guards: The text states that Napoleon organized the national guard into 3,130 battalions, totaling 2,250,000 men.
  • The number of emigrants returning to France: The text estimates that thousands of emigrants returned to France during the Bourbon restoration.

Point of View:

The memoir is written from a first-person perspective, which offers a unique and intimate view of the events. The author, who was a supporter of Napoleon, provides a sympathetic account of the Emperor’s actions and motives. His perspective is often critical of the Bourbons and their government.


The text offers a perspective on the political and social climate of France during the period of the Restoration and Napoleon’s return. It highlights the challenges of governing a nation in the aftermath of a revolution and the complex interplay of political maneuvering, ambition, and public sentiment. The author’s perspective sheds light on the ways in which Napoleon’s actions were shaped by his own ambition, his desire to secure the nation’s place on the world stage, and his desire to restore order and stability to a nation in turmoil.

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