This affiche (broadside or poster) titled Imperial Decree relating to the search and punishment of Deserters contains instructions on how to deal with malcontents and deserters of the army. A majestic Imperial Eagle reigns over the masthead, while the words Decret Imperial are printed in large, bold fonts. These devices reinforce the Emperor’s authority and visual identity.
Five years before he issued this decree, Napoleon invaded the Netherlands and established a puppet kingdom with his younger brother Louis Bonaparte as King. By 1810, France had annexed the country and dissolved the kingdom.
Napoleon signed this decree on 14 October 1811 at the Royal Palace of Amsterdam, where he stayed during his triumphal visit to the former Dutch capital. It was countersigned by the Secretary of State, Count Daru. Evincing the protocol for dissemination of affiches, the back of the document contains an ink annotation to the Mayor of a French town in the Department of Calvados (Normandy, France) who would have received it for public display. Our copy was printed in Caen by G. Le Roy, Printer of the Prefecture. The watermark and weave of the paper are visible when backlit.
Affiches like this were printed throughout the Empire and posted in public places to inform the populace of important news or regulations. Although printed in abundance, today they owe their rarity to their ephemeral existence—usually being disposed of when no longer current.
Soldiers with disciplinary problems or deserters were common in the Napoleonic armies. When arrested, those deemed fit were often sent to serve time in “disciplinary regiments” which were named for their coastal posting locations. Mentioned in our exemplar are Walcheren (Netherlands), Méditerranée (Italy), Île de Ré (France) and Belle Île (France). Those deemed unfit for military service were sentenced to hard labor in construction projects.