3 Dec 2012

Napoleon's Kremlin letter sells at auction

11:34 pm on 3 December 2012

A 200-year-old letter written by Napoleon Bonaparte in which he vows to blow up the Kremlin has been sold at auction for €150,000.

The letter dated 20 October 1812 and written in code was bought by the Museum of Letters and Manuscripts in Paris alongside a deciphered transcript.

A month had passed since Napoleon's invading army had entered Moscow and the starving French troops were beginning the retreat.

The letter was written by Napoleon to Foreign Minister Hugues-Bernard Maret, who was at Vilnius in modern-day Lituania.

Having captured Moscow but with the Russian army having withdrawn and winter approaching, the emperor realised he had to turn back.

The first line reads: "On the 22nd at 3am I will be blowing up the Kremlin."

The letter also reveals Napoleon's frustration at the campaign, with his army ravaged by disease, cold and hunger: "My cavalry is in tatters, a lot of horses are dying. Make sure we buy more as soon as possible."

Napoleon kept the promise to blow up the Kremlin, destroying the its walls and towers before retreating with his army, beginning a decline in his power that would lead to his abdication and exile just two years later.

The letter went under the hammer in Fontainebleau, south-east of Paris, at 10 times the initial estimate.