Napoleon's fall from power was hastened by his staggering failure in Russia, where his Grand Armee bled itself into near oblivion. He returned to France a weakened ruler, and the other powers, alarmed at his bravado to invade Russia and emboldened by his weakness, came at him in unison, defeating him in October 1813 at Leipzig, Germany. There, a coalition consisting of Russia, Prussia, Austria, and Sweden gave Napoleon his first definitive defeat of his Empire. In 1814, this defeat was followed by an allied invasion of France, one which Napoleon could not repel. In April he was forced to signed the Treaty of Fontainebleu, which specifically named him as the sole obstacle to peace; and under the treaty's provisions he was exiled to the island of Elba, obliged to abdicate and agree that neither he nor any of his family would hold power again. In return his family received a pension. For reasons that today are unfathomable, he was not merely a prisoner at Elba, but was given rule of the island, and allowed to take with him a personal escort of 400 armed men, a staff that included four generals and other military officers, and Grand Marshal the Comte de Bertrand, his long time chief of staff. The allies derisively now called him the "Emperor of Elba." However, Europe had not seen the last of Napoleon, as he was free to plan and act in his small domain.
Napoleon would not remain a prisoner long; he was unable to suffer confinement and humiliation when he had stood astride an empire and been the toast and fear of a continent. In May, Napoleon arrived on Elba while his wife and son took refuge in Vienna. Saying, "I want to live from now on like a justice of the peace," Napoleon worked hard to improve Elba, and to all observers it seemed as though he was content with a life of relative retirement. All the while, however, he was plotting his return to Europe. Visitors came from afar to see the Emperor and he received letters from around the continent, many from well wishers. He surrounded himself with men who believed in him. The atmosphere at Elba was not one of resignation, but of activity.
Napoleon loyalist Jacques Roul came to Elba to pledge himself to the Emperor. Roul had served with Napoleon as early as the Egyptian campaign, and he immediately gained the Emperor's confidence. In this letter to Bertrand, Napoleon appoints Roul as chief of his security forces, mounted and on foot. Under the direction of Napoleon and Roul, these forces would help him leave Elba just months later.
Letter Signed, from the Fortress Longone, Elba, September 11, 1814 to Bertrand, appointing Roul, and imposing and detailing a new security plan. "Mr Roul will have the command of all my cavalry. As a consequence, the Poles, hunters, Mamelukes [Egyptians], on horse and on foot, will be under his orders; he will accompany me on horseback at all times and he will be given a horse from my stable, as well as two pistols; he will command all my escorts and will take appropriate measures for my security; he will organize the security forces to ensure there are officers in all places of transit but never should these gendarmes be in my escort. There will be, each day, an escort to follow my car, consisting of five men on horseback with pistols loaded. All saddles and bits of men who are not mounted shall be placed in the saddlery on the receipt of the chief of the saddlery; they will be placed in a state to enable men to mount the horses of the countryside." Napoleon was more than satisfied with Roul, and Roul was the only orderly officer with Napoleon on Elba that the Emperor chose to accompany him on his triumphal return to mainland France.
In February 1815, Napoleon escaped Elba with the aid of Roul, now formally first aide-de-camp. In one of the most enduring images of the Napoleonic era, it was Roul who announced Napoleon's true identity to the first troops that Bonaparte and his party encountered on the road to Paris. In that famous scene, and at that emotional moment, Napoleon stepped forward from behind Roul, and the crowd cheered "Vive l'Empereur." Letters from Elba are uncommon, particularly those with this historical import.