Daily Routines

Routine: Napoleon Bonaparte

Briefly: Napoleon’s daily routine was perforce limited. Marchand awakened him early and served coffee in bed. One or more of the valets washed him and helped him shave, then rubbed him down with a coarse brush and doused him with eau de cologne (which soon ran out and was replaced with homemade lavender water) and finally helped him dress, an elaborate process that required one or two hours.

Weather permitting, he and Las Cases usually went for a long walk or horseback ride before breakfast. The emperor breakfasted late either in his room or, in fair weather, in the small garden. When in the mood he followed this with dictation to Las Cases, Gourgaud or Bertrand. On occasion he received guests, usually lunched alone in his room, conversed in Italian with O’Meara and toward evening walked or rode with the ladies in a small open carriage in good weather but otherwise stayed by the fireplace reading. He often interrupted this routine with steaming baths that sometimes lasted for three or four hours.

Dinners were formal. The carefully coiffured and gowned ladies and uniformed generals gathered in the drawing room, everyone standing to await the emperor’s arrival after which the ladies only were permitted to sit until dinner was served. Although the food was poor it was eaten off precious china while equally inferior wine was drunk from exquisite crystal goblets. Table talk was restrained. If the emperor did not speak no one else spoke. Dinner normally lasted for forty minutes before the company returned to the drawing room. Pleasantries there consisted of Madame Montholon warbling a few French ballads followed by someone, often Napoleon, reading a play, usually one of Racine, Molière or Voltaire’s tragic dramas. Conversation was normally light, the emperor twitting the ladies, sometimes rudely, but on occasion reminiscing, often to the company’s delight. Cards or chess also whiled away the hours until the emperor retired, usually around eleven.

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