Napoleon’s battle against rabbits


Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo wasn’t the only humiliating face-off in his illustrious career; in the summer of 1807 he faced a rather different opponent, a horde of rampaging fluffy bunnies.

To put this epic battle in context, Napoleon had just signed the Treaties of Tilsit, thereby ending the War of the Fourth Coalition, and the perfect way to celebrate, he decided, was with a rabbit hunt. His chief of staff Alexandre Berthier set about collecting the bunnies needed for such a celebration, while also inviting a selection of the most prominent men in the military. He wanted to impress so he revealed hundreds (and some sources even say thousands) of bunnies caged and eager to flee as soon as they were released – or so he thought.

Once the rabbits were released from their cages they did the exact opposite of what all the men expected – instead of running away in terror they all bounded straight toward Napoleon. Nervous laughter quickly transformed into horror as this fluffle of beasts began to climb up the French emperor’s legs. Napoleon’s men attempted to beat them off with sticks but the swarm was, quite literally, impossible to shake off.

Although most likely reluctant to admit it, Berthier was to blame – instead of trapping wild hares he had purchased tame rabbits, they were used to seeing humans so they were expecting Napoleon to feed them their dinner rather than shoot them. Eventually Napoleon did manage to escape the fluffy plague, but only by fleeing to his coach, the bunnies in hot pursuit apparently “divided into two wings”, some even made it into the carriage.

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