Napoleon Bonaparte was one of the most powerful and successful rulers in history. He conquered most of Europe and established a vast empire that lasted from 1804 to 1814. He was also a master of warfare, winning many battles against his enemies. But there was one enemy that he could not defeat: a horde of tame rabbits.
This bizarre incident happened in July 1807, after Napoleon signed the Treaty of Tilsit with Russia and Prussia, ending the war between them. To celebrate this achievement, Napoleon organized a grand hunt near his palace in Rambouillet, France. He invited his generals and dignitaries to join him in shooting some game.
His chief of staff, Alexandre Berthier, arranged for about 3000 rabbits to be released into the hunting grounds for the emperor and his guests to shoot. He bought the rabbits from local farmers, who had raised them to be friendly and associate humans with food.
However, the rabbits did not behave as expected. Instead of running away from the hunters, they charged at them in a massive swarm, jumping on their clothes and nibbling their boots. “The rabbits turned the hunters into the hunted.”
Napoleon and his men tried to fend off the rabbits with their guns, sticks, and whips, but they were overwhelmed by the furry onslaught. They had to retreat to their carriages and flee the scene. “It was not long before a whole army of rabbits came galloping out of the woods, made a flanking movement round Napoleon’s party, and dashed at them.”
The attack was so unexpected and so ridiculous that Napoleon’s party could do nothing but laugh. “The most mighty conqueror of modern times was forced to fly ignominiously before the relentless charge of a horde of rabbits.”
There is no record of what Napoleon thought of this episode. Perhaps he saw it as an amusing diversion, or perhaps he sensed an ominous portent of his future downfall.
Whatever the case, this story shows that even the greatest of men can be humbled by nature’s smallest creatures. And that sometimes, history can be stranger than fiction.
– The Time Napoleon Was Attacked by Rabbits, Mental Floss, Jun 26, 2013 | Updated: Mar 21, 2023
– Napoleon Bonaparte lost a battle to domesticated rabbits, Deseret News, Oct 4, 2023
– Napoleon versus the horde of “killer” Bunny Rabbits, History Defined, Oct 5, 2023
– That’s No Ordinary Rabbit, First Floor Tarpley, Oct 6, 2023