Napoleon Bonaparte served as the emperor of France twice and conquered a good chunk of Europe. When it came to rabbits, though, “Le Petit Caporal” was no match for ‘em. For some fun history trivia, here is the full story.
Riding high after signing the Treaties of Tilsit in July 1807, which ended an ongoing conflict between France and Russia, Napoleon decided to celebrate with a good, old-fashioned rabbit hunt. He called in his Chief of Staff, Alexandre Berthier, who immediately went about making the arrangements. Berthier arranged a festive luncheon and sent out invites to Napoleon’s top level military staff before ordering his underlings to collect lots of rabbits. Some sources put the number at a few hundred, but others claim that at least 3,000 rabbits were collected for the hunt.
Carriages took Napoleon and his colleagues to a field where they began checking their weapons. Meanwhile, Berthier and his men stood waiting behind a long row of cages holding the rabbits. As trumpets sounded, the bunnies were released and the hunt began. Or it would have if the rabbits hadn’t decided to fight back. Instead of running for their little furry lives, dozens hopped toward Napoleon and clawed at the emperor’s legs and climbed up his jacket.
At first, the members of Napoleon’s hunting party thought this was all quite hilarious. When it became apparent that the bunnies were determined to eat him alive, they quickly intervened. While the emperor tried and failed to shoot them, his colleagues beat them with sticks. Their coachmen rushed to the scene to scare the bunnies away with whips but it was all to no avail. The rabbits were relentless.
Realizing that they were outmatched, Napoleon and everyone else jumped into the carriages. As historian David Chandler put 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.” Some of them even managed to jump on board and continue the attacks.
The strange incident was later blamed on Berthier and his staff. They foolishly gathered tame rabbits from local farms instead of fetching wild hares. When they were released from the cages, the bunnies assumed it was feeding time and they all ran toward the nearest humans thinking that they were about to be given water and yummy carrots.
For more fun history trivia, check out Uncle John’s Plunges into History, Again.