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Weird History: Rabbits Beating Up Napoléon

When you spend a vast amount of time researching the odder ends of history, you start to see Napoléon Bonaparte's name all over the place. Apparently, there are a number of lesser known facts about the French emperor's life that are pretty interesting.

For instance, did you know that Napoléon wrote a romance novella when he was just 26 years old? Because he did. Clisson and Eugénie is the tragic tale of a French soldier and the woman he loved but ultimately lost. It is said to be based on Napoléon's relationship with a former fiancée by the name of Eugénie Désirée Clary. Though Napoléon was a young man when he completed the book, Clisson and Eugénie was not published for the public until 2009. It was translated by Peter Hicks and released by Gallic Books.

But that's not the story we're telling today. No, today we're going to discuss the rabbit incident.

Remember that scene with the bloodthirsty rabbit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail? Picture that. Maybe. Sort of. Okay, technically what happened with Napoléon wasn't a bloodbath but when we think of rabbits attacking, this is what we imagine: rabbits that go for the throat.

In July of 1807, Napoléon held an outdoor luncheon to celebrate the Treaties of Tilsit. At Napoléon's request, his chief of staff arranged for a rabbit hunt to take place during the event. Alas, the luncheon did not go as planned.

According to Mental Floss, anywhere from hundreds to thousands of rabbits were acquired for the hunt. They were caged all across a grassy field but when it came time for the rabbits to be released, the well-known prey animal went rogue. Rabbits hopped straight for Napoléon and his men.

At first it was funny. But the rabbits didn't let up. "[The] intrepid rabbits turned the Emperor’s flank, attacked him frantically in the rear, refused to quit their hold," wrote General Paul Charles François Adrien Henri Dieudonné Thiébault in his memoir, "piled themselves up between his legs till they made him stagger, and forced the conqueror of conquerors, fairly exhausted, to retreat and leave them in possession of the field.”

In a 2018 episode of the podcast Ridiculous History, it is explained that these were farm-raised rabbits, not wild rabbits. This means that the rabbits were not necessarily terrified of human, but instead associated them with receiving food. These caged rabbits were hungry and wanted their daily cabbage.

Now, how intense was this attack? It's difficult to say. We do know, however, that the onslaught was such that Napoléon was forced to retreated. It is reported that rabbits followed as his carriage drew away from the scene.

[Image Credit: Napoléon Bonaparte portrait via Wikimedia Commons and "Rabbits" by François Desportes via Wikimedia Commons]

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