On the 19th October 1812, Napoleon withdrew his forces from Russia in what many scholars call history’s biggest ‘rage-quit’.

“FFS” screamed the tiny emperor, throwing his oversized hat to the ground, “Fucking weather mods!”

in 1812, after capturing Moscow from the Russians, Emperor Napoleon I found the city deserted save for the lowest dredges of society – French language tutors, etc. Before leaving Moscow, the military governor Fyodor Rostopchin ordered an evacuation of the city. He also left the prisons unlocked and dismantled the fire-fighting equipment. While Napoleon desperately tried to set up a military government to deal with the looting by the escaped Russian prisoners, Rostopchin sent officers back to set Moscow ablaze. Without adequate firefighting equipment – trucks, hoses, extinguishers – the French had no choice but to let the city burn. Historians estimate that 4/5 of Moscow was destroyed.

Standing among the ashes of the city with the snow beating down and settling on the rim of his hat, Napoleon decided to retreat. He had very little choice in the matter: he had not received the reinforcements, supplies, or high-heeled boots that he had ordered. (It later transpired that the reinforcement soldiers had run off with the boots and supplies and established a colony in Siberia. There, soldiers jousted with baguettes while running around in high heels.)

The retreat from Russia not only cost Napoleon the war, but also his title as Emperor of France. When he returned to Paris he was ousted, smeared head-to-toe in treacle, and forced to walk the Champs Elysee singing “I’m a wanker” to the tune of the Marseillaise.

The Moscow fiasco may have been a blow to the French empire, but it did leave us with some rip-roaring paintings, like this one by an unknown German depicting the Moscow fire. It’s called “French in Moscow, 1812 (Napoleon)”:


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