PARIS (Reuters) - A rare letter in which French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte vowed to “blow up the Kremlin” fetched 10 times more than expected at an auction in France at the weekend.
The code-written letter, signed “Nap” and dated October 20, 1812, sold for 187,500 euros ($244,400) in all at a sale organized by Osenat auction house near Paris on Sunday.
Initial estimates indicated it would fetch 10,000 to 15,000 euros. When the hammer came down, a telephone bidder for a Paris-based manuscript museum snapped it up for 150,000, or a final total of 187,500 euros when additional costs are included.
Manuscript expert Alain Nicolas explained the significance of the letter.
“It’s entirely coded and signed, normally they weren’t signed but this one was so important it was signed anyway,” he said.
“We also have the transcription, and obviously that amazing first sentence: ‘I‘m blowing up the Kremlin at three o’clock in the morning, which provoked a bidding war, an explosion of bids, and a record for an extraordinary letter written in Moscow,” he said.
The missive was written at a difficult moment 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.
Others were disappointed not to get their hands on the letter.
Franco-Russian Napoleon enthusiast Vladimir Hofmann went to the auction hoping to secure the letter for a museum based in St Petersburg.
“It seems to me that this letter belongs to France but it belongs just as much to Russia. For Russians, Napoleon’s campaigns in general and all the 1812 campaign is a more important historical moment than it is for France,” he said.
Reporting by Johnny Cotton: Writing by Brian Love, editing by Paul Casciato