29. A Rabbit Hunt That Went Awry
Napoleon’s worst defeat came at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. However, his most humiliating defeat might have occurred years earlier, when the mighty Emperor of the French was trounced in a bizarre incident by a horde of cute bunny rabbits. It happened in 1807 when he was at the height of his power and bestrode Europe like a colossus. He had vanquished the Russians and Austrians at the Battle of Austerlitz, and humiliated the Prussians at the twin battles of Jena-Auerstedt. He capped off his string of victories with the Treaties of Tilsit, which ended the War of the Fourth Coalition against him.
Feeling good, Le Empereur decided to celebrate, and what better way to celebrate than by killing small animals? Accordingly, Napoleon ordered his chief of staff, Alexander Berthier, to arrange a rabbit hunt, and invite the top military brass. Berthier prepared an outdoor luncheon and collected about 3000 rabbits. They were arranged in cages along the fringes of a grassy field, to be released for the bigwigs to shoot as they fled. Something went wrong, however. When the bunnies were released they did not jump away in terror, but bounded in their thousands towards Napoleon.