PARIS (Reuters) - A rare, greying letter from Napoleon Bonaparte vowing to “blow up the Kremlin” goes up for auction in Paris this weekend, providing an insight into the French Emperor’s ill-fated Russian campaign.
Written in code and dated October 20, 1812, the spidery missive reads as a series of figures, signed hastily from “Nap”.
The original transcript, translated by secret services for foreign minister Hugues-Bernard Maret in Vilnius, also goes on sale, with its first fateful sentence: “I‘m going to blow up the Kremlin on October 22, at 3 o’clock in the morning.”
The letter is part of a collection of over 400 Napoleonic artefacts to be sold off by auction house Osenat on December 2, where it is expected to fetch between 10,000 and 15,000 euros ( $13,000-$19,500).
“It’s magical, we’ve actually got a piece of history in our hands... I wouldn’t miss this for an Empire,” said Jean-Pierre Osenat, head of the auction house.
The letter was written at a difficult time for Napoleon, towards the end of his 1812 Russian campaign in which more than 300,000 French soldiers died.
The battle outside Moscow in September is considered among the bloodiest day of action in the Napoleonic Wars, with at least 70,000 casualties.
When Napoleon finally entered Moscow, he found the Russian Tsar had already evacuated and the city was in tatters. It was then he began the disastrous Great Retreat from Moscow, ordering the Duke of Treviso to destroy the Kremlin as he went.
Several of the building’s towers were wrecked along with sections of its wall. The site was restored in subsequent years.
“My cavalry is in tatters, a lot of horses are dying. Make sure we buy more as soon as possible,” Napoleon wrote to Maret, giving an insight into the horrors of the campaign.
Given its explosive content and the fact that so few such letters survive, Osenat expects the letter to generate a great deal of interest.
Whilst many Russian collectors still celebrate Napoleon’s legendary military prowess, they find it hard to forgive what they see as an act of vandalism.
But he considers it possible that a Russian buyer may snap it up if a French collector or museum does not get there first.
Two hundred years later, the historic piece of paper could end up headed back to where it came from.
Writing and additional reporting by Vicky Buffery, editing by Paul Casciato