I will bring him to Paris in an iron cage!

Something I have always found hilarious is how, when Napoleon escaped from Elba, Marshal Ney declared, “I will bring him to Paris in an iron cage!” and then, as soon as he actually saw Napoleon, he basically fell on his neck and became his right-hand man again. There’s something beautiful about it.

Ney’s March 1815 proclamation encouraging French soldiers to abandon the Bourbons and side with Napoleon. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

A lot of people love (and loved) Marshal Ney and are (and were) very upset about his execution (Wellington actually said that if he hadn’t been in the middle of some kind of argument with Louis XVIII at the time, he would have asked him to spare Ney as a personal favor). But I kind of feel like, you know what, if you love and look up to someone so much you are going to immediately go back over to their side, don’t announce that you will bring them to Paris in an iron cage! At that point, it’s sad, but you get what you get.

Here is a description of the incident in an 1821 encyclopedia:

This officer had, in an effusion of loyalty, repaired to the Tuileries, and proffering his services, had assured the king, on receiving the command of these troops, that he would bring Bonaparte to Paris in an iron cage. To which the king replied, with mild dignity, that this was not what he required, and that he only desired of the marshal to drive back the invader[…]The king, indeed, placed the fullest confidence in this general; and meeting with Madame Ney, two days afterwards, he said to her with emotion, ‘Madame, you have a husband whose loyalty is equal to his courage.’

1855 statue of Ney, Paris. Image by Mbzt, via Wikimedia Commons.

Today I was reading the section on French folk tales in The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History by Robert Darnton and I saw this: “Finally, the king assigns Petit Jean the seemingly impossible task of capturing the giant himself. The little hero sets off disguised as a monarch and driving a coach loaded with a huge iron cage.


The tale then goes on:

‘Monsieur le roi, what are you doing with that iron cage?’ the giant asks. ‘I’m trying to catch Petit Jean, who has played all kinds of tricks on me,’ Petit Jean replies. ‘He can’t have been worse to you than to me. I’m looking for him, too.’ ‘But, Giant, do you think you are strong enough to catch him all alone? He is supposed to be terrifically powerful. I’m not sure that I can keep him locked up in this iron cage.’ ‘Don’t worry, Monsieur le roi, I can handle him without a cage; and if you like, I’ll test yours.’

Predictably, once the giant climbs into the cage, Petit Jean locks it and delivers the giant to the king.

Was Ney referring to this? And if so, does that make it more or less of a weird thing to say?

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