Napoleon Translations

Title of Translation

The Grand Manifesto of Alexander I

Title of Original Work

Grand Manifeste D’Alexandre Ier

Document Type


Date of Translation Publication


Original Work Publication Date

January 1816

Translator's Note

Written following Napoleon’s final exile on the Island of St. Helena, The Grand Manifesto of Alexander I was simultaneously a work of royalist and national propaganda and of personal passion. From the French Revolution through Napoleon’s rule, in period of no more than thirty years, both the ideology of the sovereign monarch and the autonomous sovereignty of the European nations were profoundly threatened. In his manifesto, Alexander I protects his own throne both with both carrot and the stick of Christianity: he paints Napoleon as a dangerous monster and refers to his defeat as evidence that the Russians are God’s chosen people. But, he also warns that the Napoleonic wars were God’s punishment for their sins and that the Russian people must remain obedient subjects lest they provoke His anger again. At the end, he clearly states that the people are reliant on their rightful sovereign—God’s representative on Earth—for their entry to heaven: “But as from our Royal Majesty, inspired and elated by our great people; nothing is left but to constantly implore in our prayers for God’s benevolence for our people” (11). Alexander’s manifesto also directly warns the leaders of the other European powers to respect his autonomy. As with his people, he refers to Christianity as both a positive and negative motivator. He praises the steadfast unity of the European Alliance by comparing it to God’s “sun of peace and tranquility” (10). But he also stresses the might of the Russian military and the holy power behind it, noting that Russia defeated Napoleon at his height while no other country could stop him even when he had lesser power. In the end he emphatically states: “It will be honorable and glorious for us to show the world that though we desire to make no man tremble, no longer do we fear any man” (11). Ultimately, as sincere as Alexander the First’s piety was (and indeed it was intensely sincere), in this manifesto Christianity is a calculated weapon against both his people and his counterparts to protect his rule from the very real threats that shook the European aristocracy at the end of the eighteenth and the turn of the twentieth century. In addition to the question of religion, in order in deter any nostalgia that could undermine his authority, Alexander plays on the very raw and painful memory of the Napoleonic conquests. With highly dramatized prose, he illustrates the antithetical relationship in which he is the hero and Napoleon the villain. He is pious, brave, preoccupied with the welfare of his people: a rightfully born Emperor while Napoleon is an ungodly, cowardly destroyer of his people: a usurper. Each and every step of the story highlights that any attempt to disable the sovereign throne, to usurp, is the embodiment sin and sordidness. To honor and obey the throne is the embodiment of virtue and heroism. Although Alexander’s story is very consciously purposed it also profoundly emotional. He and Napoleon had a very personal antagonism and the wounds it left were a driving force behind the manifesto. Alexander took the throne only three years before Napoleon was crowned Emperor. In 1801 at the age of 24, Napoleon was eight years older than him and already legendary both as a villain for his role in the French Revolution and as a hero for his military and political prowess. Alexander carried this dual sentiment for Napoleon throughout their concurrent reigns. At the beginning of his career he actually reversed his father’s policies and openly admired France. With the murder of a familial connection to the Bourbon Dynasty (the Duc d’Eghien), his self-appointment to Consul for life, followed by his coronation as Emperor, Alexander pitted himself against Napoleon by forming the European Alliance of Russia, Austria and Prussia. After the European Alliance suffered heavy losses at Austerlitz, Jena, Eylau and Freidland, Napoleon lured the young Emperor into a Franco-Russian alliance by promising to divide the rule of all Europe with him. This alliance, solidified by the Treaty of Tilsit in 1808, Napoleon was obligated to cede his eastern-most territories (most importantly the Duchy of Warsaw) and restore their autonomy, but by 1810 Alexander saw that his only intention was to continue his own expansion. In addition Napoleon repeatedly toyed with Alexander, in one case demanding the hand of marriage of his younger sister. When this was refused Napoleon refused to ratify his and Alexander’s convention and formed an alliance with Austria by marring Princess Marie-Louise. Their relationship dissolved, and Alexander, having been deceived at least twice, was doubly embittered. When the harsh winters destroyed Napoleon’s army in his 1812 invasion of Russia and after second return to power in 1815 he was again defeated, Alexander felt more than the relief of defeating a long term threat. He felt the elation of defeating an intensely personal enemy—an enemy that had been an object of admiration and friendship. In this manifesto, when Alexander speaks of Napoleon’s duplicitous ways in treaties it is more than just propaganda, it is personal experience. The cinematic description is more than effect, it is emotion. The scarred relationship between the most might leaders of Europe speaks loud and clear. In reading through this document we see both an astute politician preempting any antagonistic action by his European counterparts as well rallying his people in the face of a very real threat: the loss of both national and personal sovereignty. We also see the deeply angry and prideful young Emperor of Russia reacting to the final overthrow of Napoleon, a worthy opponent who was alternately an idol and an enemy.