The Emperor's bladder stone makes horseriding extremely painful.

War was decided in principle;  it is demanded by the Nation and one cannot go against public sentiment.

The Emperor’s medical consultation had not been provoked in view of the pending campaign, which was not yet being prepared.  The doctors’ opinions had been solicited on the illness which had been on-going for a long time already, the first symptoms going back several years, as has already been established;  the war was only a coincidence.

This is what Paul de Cassagnac dictated to Doctor Cabanes:

“There is no correlation between the war, its responsiblities and the state of the Emperor’s health.

“The true, exact correlation is the aggravation of his state by the campaign, to such a point that the Emperor, who was an admirable cavalier, who adored riding horses, perhaps too much, in the retreat from Sedan, to my knowledge, only mounted on horseback during the battle;  all the rest of the time, he went by carriage.

“During the battle of Beaumont, we were at Mouzon, where the Emperor walked for three-quarters-of-an-hour on my arm, with me helping him to walk.  I am the one who helped him mount his horse at Mouzon, and all that he could do, was to go from Mouzon to Carignon, which is six kilometres.

“His face had contractions which displayed the most lively suffering, at the same time that the pressure of his arm on mine indicated to me what pain he was feeling.

“During the battle of Sedan, I saw him with both arms wrapped around a tree, trying to stand up against the suffering which was torturing him:  this happened beside the Mezieres bridge.

“Finally, I am the one who put him in his carriage.  He covered roughly thirty metres on foot on my arm, in the courtyard of the Sous-Prefecture, hardly able to drag himself along.”


Could the Emperor’s bad health have had ill-fated consequences on the campaign’s issue?  A few war historians answer affirmatively.  Mr Duquet wrote to Doctor Cabanes:

“It is certain that Napoleon III was ill from the beginning of the war, and one cannot doubt the evil influence that this illness had on the military operations.  In fact, it is better that an army be led by a bad general on his own than by several excellent strategists or tacticians together, unity of direction being absolutely necessary to prepare and win battles.”

Messieurs Paul and Victor Margueritte, while recognizing that the bad state of the Emperor’s health could very well have influenced the events in some way, do not show themselves to be as affirmative as Mr Duquet and are more reserved;  for those who know the sincerity and the conscienciousness that these two writers bring to their works, and their care with exact documentation, this opinion is valuable.

“Le Talus-Vetheuil (Seine-et-Oise)

“This Thursday 24 October 1901


“Our very clear impression, founded on witness reports and documents, is that the Emperor was very much in decline in 70:  to what point was his bladder affected, the doctor, whose very curious letter you publish and to which you allude, should know better than anyone.

“But the general state of decline, of prostration, of suffering, do not appear in doubt to us.  We believe that this state could have weakened the Emperor’s will and partially influenced the declaration of war and the course of events;  for Napoleon III was not, you must note, a simple spectator.  He did not command directly, but his presence weighed with a certain moral authority in the debates on plans and marches.  Over all, this presence was not effectively ill-fated in itself, for the sovereign approved everything and agreed with the last one to speak (see the army’s march from Chalons, the injunctions of Palikan, the adjurations of the Regency and the hesitations of MacMahon);  but this presence added a weight of general indecision and paralysis.  One can therefore only deplore it, with the pity that such great misfortune inspires.

“Yours, etc.

“Paul and Victor Margueritte.”


Here is what we believe is the impression which emanates from this enquiry:  it is that Napoleon was the victim of fatality;  that “this great misfortune”, merits pity rather than reprobation.


The events engage the sovereign in an adventure whose issue he did not forsee;  he feels drawn by the exaltation which is, at this moment, taking over even the calmest of people.

If the judgement of posterity is indulgent for him, it will be because despite his wavering health, despite an affection which forbids him all effort, despite indicible suffering, he refused all treatment and neglected all the palliative care offered to him.  We have, on this subject, a convincing witness report:  that of the doctor placed at his side, at the beginning of the campaign, who offered him, many times, his services which he constantly declined.

Doctor Theophile Anger was, at this epoch, Nelaton’s intern;  he later became a hospital surgeon and President of the Societe de chirurgie;  one of the medical personalities most often in the public eye.  Apart from the fact that his judgement is perfectly disinterested, his memories had remained very precise.  On both counts, the relation which follows is worthy of our attention:  it is a page of History.

“4 February 1901

“Dear colleague,

“You ask me for a relation of my role at Emperor Napoleon III’s side during the 1870 war;  it is reduced to little and the account will not be long.

“War was declared in the middle of July 1870.  A few days later, Nelaton, with whom I had conserved relations of a pupil to a master, wrote to me to go to see him.

“He recounted to me that the Emperor had a bladder illness, probably a stone;  that at certain moments he was taken with violent needs to urinate that he could not satisfy, that he consented to attach to his person a young surgeon whose name was not well-enough known for his presence at General Headquarters to allow his illness to be guessed, and who could sound him when he had an absolute impossibility to urinate.  I had been Nelaton’s intern in 1866;  he knew me and proposed to the Empress to attach me to General Headquarters during the campaign.  It was decided that I would wear the uniform of the civil ambulance surgeons, that my exterior role would consist of serving as an intermediary between General Headquarters and the civil ambulances that were starting to be created.

“I left Paris on 18 July, to arrive at Metz at the same time as the Emperor.

“It is useless to recount my stay in Metz:  the Emperor never asked for my help there;  I never sounded him.”

To be continued.