Some of the Greatest Men in History Had Dark and Scandalous Secrets
Some of the Greatest Men in History Had Dark and Scandalous Secrets

Some of the Greatest Men in History Had Dark and Scandalous Secrets

Khalid Elhassan - January 31, 2022

Some of the Greatest Men in History Had Dark and Scandalous Secrets
Napoleon Bonaparte. Flickr

2. A Hunt That Went Awry

The Battle of Waterloo in 1815 was Napoleon’s worst defeat. However, his most awkward loss was dealt him years earlier, when the mighty Bonaparte was put to flight 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 Austrians and Russians at the Battle of Austerlitz and humiliated the Prussians at the twin battles of Jena-Auerstedt. He capped off his victories with the Treaties of Tilsit, which ended the War of the Fourth Coalition against him.

In an understandably good mood, Napoleon decided to celebrate, and what better way to celebrate than to kill small animals? So 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. It went wrong, however. When the bunnies were released they did not jump away in terror, but bounded in their thousands towards Le Empereur.

Some of the Greatest Men in History Had Dark and Scandalous Secrets
Napoleon’s 1807 rabbit hunt got awkward. Cartoon Network

1. A Great Conqueror’s Humiliating Flight

As thousands of bunnies bounded towards them rather than flee for their lives, Napoleon’s party laughed at first. The laughter stopped and concern grew, however, as the onslaught continued. The rabbits swarmed the Emperor’s legs and climbed up his jacket. He tried to shoo them with his riding crop, while those around him tried to chase them away with sticks. There were just too many of them, however, and Napoleon was forced to flee to his carriage. As one account described it: “with a finer understanding of Napoleonic strategy than most of his generals, the rabbit horde divided into two wings and poured around the flanks of the party and headed for the imperial coach“.

Even in his carriage, Napoleon was not safe. Some rabbits jumped in with Le Empereur, who ordered his coachmen to whip the horses into a hasty retreat. In an awkward defeat, Europe’s hegemon had been beaten by bunnies. It turned out that the bizarre debacle had been Berthier’s fault. Rather than capture wild hares, he had bought tame rabbits from nearby farms, that were accustomed to people. When released from their cages, they did not fear Napoleon’s party as potential predators. Instead, they bounded towards them in the expectation that the Emperor of the French and his companions would feed them their dinner.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Ackroyd, Peter – Dickens (1990)

Atlantic, The, October 11th, 2011 – Dickens in Love: How the Author’s Romantic Life Affected His Novels

BBC – Fatty Arbuckle and Hollywood’s First Scandal

Burge, James – Heloise & Abelard: A New Biography (2003)

Curious Rambler – Boney Napoleon Scares British Children

Edmunds, Andy – Frame-Up! The Untold Story of Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle (1991)

Express, The, October 9th, 2015 – Dirty Bertie: How Royal Playboy Took Paris by Storm With a THREE-WAY Love Seat

Guardian, The, January 18th, 2006 – Bedtime Stories: Was Hans Christian Andersen Really as Pure – and Boring – as Biographers Make Out?

Guardian, The, April 9th, 2017 – Eric Gill: Can We Separate the Artist From the Abuser?

History Answers – Napoleon’s Battle Against Rabbits

History Collection – 35 Unusual Facts About the Infamous Painter Vincent Van Gough

Independent, The, March 27th, 2005 – His Dark Materials

MacCarthy, Fiona – Byron: Life and Legend (2002)

Medium – 7 Disturbing Facts About Sigmund Freud

Mental Floss – 3 Dirty Songs by Mozart

Mental Floss – The Time Napoleon Was Attacked by Rabbits

Middlemas, Keith – The Life and Times of Edward VII (1972)

New Yorker, September 18th, 2015 – Charlie Chaplin’s Scandalous Life and Boundless Artistry

New York Magazine, April 9th, 2012 – Sex! Violence! Moral Outrage! Scandals!

New York Times, February 13th, 2005 – Heloise & Abelard: Love Hurts

Paris Review, The, February 2nd, 2018 – James Joyce’s Love Letters to His ‘Dirty Little Fuckbird’

People Magazine, June 9th, 2021 – Marilyn Monroe Was ‘Enamored of JFK’, But Wasn’t About to Break Up His Marriage, Frank Sinatra’s Friend Says

Radford, Marsha – Everything You Always Wanted to Know About America’s Presidents But Were Afraid to Ask (2007)

Ranker – 16 Extremely Dark Things You’d Never Suspect Charles Dickens Actually Did

Telegraph, The, July 25th, 2020 – ‘Perverted, Degenerate, and Indecent Acts’: Charlie Chaplin and the Original A-List Divorce Scandal

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