Saturday, 18 January 2020

December 1940: Return of L'Aiglon Part I


Napoleon François Joseph Charles Bonaparte (1811-1832), Napoleon's only legitimate son

Napoleon's son, titled first King of Rome, then briefly Napoleon II and finally Duke of Reichstadt became known as L'Aiglon because of the play of the same name by Edmond Rostand which, with Sarah Bernhadt in the title role, captured the imagination of audiences in Paris and London in 1900.

In 1814, after Napoleon's first abdication, Marie Louise, who initially had every intention of staying loyal to Napoleon, duped by the machinations of Metternich and her father the Emperor Francis, returned with the infant prince to her home in Austria. To the disapproval of her grandmother Maria Carolina, Marie Louise never joined Napoleon on Elba, and Napoleon never again saw his son.

Renamed Franz, and retitled the Duke of Reichstadt, the young prince remained for the rest of his life a virtual prisoner in the Hapsburg Court, and because of political sensitivities his mother was not allowed to take him to Parma where she was installed as Duchess for life. (1)

Alienated from his mother whom he came to see as very weak and compared unfavourably with the Empress Josephine, he was much loved by his grandfather but prevented from any direct communication with the Bonaparte family with whom he increasingly identified.

He died of tuberculosis at the age of 21, and was buried in the Crypt of the Capuchins in Vienna, where his body remained until December 1940, the centenary of the return of Napoleon I's ashes from St. Helena.

Tomb of Napoleon II, Les Invalides.

Part II of this post will explore the strange story of the return of these ashes. For anyone who wishes to know anything more about Napoleon II's life and death, the excellent, elegant blog by Shannon Selin is highly recommended.
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1. After 1815 there was in the UK much probably erroneous speculation that Austria would use his presence to leverage influence on France, and maybe to reinstate him, under a Regency on the French throne. Lord Holland speculated in the House of Lords that at some time in the future he might be placed on the French throne, supported by Austria. (The Examiner, 14 April 1816) The Leicester Chronicle 2nd Nov 1816 printed a report that Austria ultimately wanted to reinstate Napoleon or put his son on the throne. In December 1816 there were reports of a plot to put Napoleon II on the throne with Marie Louise as Regent. Cobbett Weekly Political Register 28 Dec 1816. In 1820 there were reports in a number of papers, e.g. Dublin Weekly Register, 15 April 1820 that the Austrian Government had asked for indulgence towards Napoleon and that the young Napoleon "had not been discouraged from entertaining the utmost hatred of the English."

Thursday, 2 January 2020

Churchill and Napoleon: The Desk at Chartwell


Winston Churchill's Desk at Chartwell with a bust of Napoleon in centre

I first started posting on Churchill and Napoleon in 2009, and it should be of no surprise to anyone who has read any of these posts to find a Sevres bust of Napoleon in pride of place on Winston Churchill's desk at Chartwell. Beside Napoleon is a small bust of Nelson, almost completely hidden, and to the right a statuette of Jan Smuts.

Since I wrote my first post a number of pieces have appeared elsewhere. The Director of the Churchill Archives at Churchill College, Cambridge, wrote an article in 2012 which placed Churchill's admiration of Napoleon firmly in the Whig tradition, and also attached some weight to Churchill's lifelong francophilia.(1)

More recently Andrew Roberts, a biographer of Napoleon, and more recently of Churchill also, gave a comprehensive presentation on Churchill and Napoleon to a conference on Winston Churchill at which Boris Johnson, then Mayor of London, was the unfortunate choice of keynote speaker. To the delight of his audience, Roberts alluded to this at the beginning of his talk :

We have had a series of substantial scholars telling you genuine quotations and true facts about Winston Churchill and we have also had Boris Johnson.(2)

Johnson of course had just written a biography of Churchill on whom he appears to model his own career. He has since become Prime Minister. I am tempted to conclude with one of Karl Marx's oft repeated quotes, from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon,

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

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1. Allen Packwood: France and the French, A Tale of Two Statesmen, Churchill and Napoleon"
2. Andrew Roberts, address to the 32nd Annual Churchill Conference, Oxfordshire England, May 2015. The section on Johnson concluded: "I think Boris's attitude towards facts is very much what one would call a la carte. His speech reminded me very much of a friend of mine on Radio Four who said the trouble with Winston Churchill is he thinks he's Boris Johnson."

Monday, 21 October 2019

Napoleon and Churchill: Thoughts on Two Unrelated Images


Napoleon St Helena 1816, by Michel Dancoisne Martineau

The above portrait has just been completed by Michel Dancoisne Martineau. Aside from his incredible work with the French Properties on St. Helena, Michel has been extraordinarily productive as a writer and an artist.

This painting is based on Sir Pulteney Malcolm's description of Napoleon in the early stages of his captivity, before ill health and bitterness set in.

His hair of a brown-black, thin on the forehead, cropped, but not thin in the neck, and rather a dirty look ; light blue or grey eyes ; a capacious forehead ; high nose ; short upper lip ; good white even teeth, but small (he rarely showed them) ; round chin ; the lower part of his face very full ; pale complexion ; particularly short neck. Otherwise his figure appeared well proportioned, but had become too fat ; a thick, short hand with taper fingers and beautiful nails, and a well-shaped leg and foot. He was dressed in an old threadbare green coat, with green velvet collar and cuffs ; silver buttons with a beast engraven upon them, his habit de chasse (it was buttoned close at the neck) ; a silver star of the Legion of Honour ; white waistcoat and breeches ; white silk stockings ; and shoes with oval gold buckles . She was struck with the kindness of his expression, so contrary to the fierceness she had expected. No trace of great ability ; his countenance seemed rather to indicate goodness (1)

The portrait is surely also unconsciously influenced by what the artist has absorbed from other paintings and from numerous written accounts read over the years. The resultant figure that we see, shorn of contemporary conventions of portraiture, seems so realistic and human. Michel has spoken of the possibility of doing a study for each year of Napoleon's captivity, based on descriptions left by those who witnessed his decline. That would form the basis of a great exhibition for the bicentenary in 1821 and a fitting legacy of Michel's long service on St. Helena.

The second image is a photograph of Chamberlain's short lived wartime cabinet in September 1939, with Winston Churchill installed as First Lord of the Admiralty. I was intrigued by what each of the cabinet did with their hands. Some had their hands in their knees, some had their arms folded, some had their hands behind their back and one had a hand in his pocket. In the centre though sat Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, nearing the end of his Prime Ministership and of his life, his hands clasped in almost prayer like pose.(2) Behind Chamberlain stood Winston Churchill, his right hand thrust in his jacket, in a pose most commonly associated with Napoleon.(3)

Chamberlain's War Cabinet, September 1939


Churchill has appeared a number of times in this blog. A flawed genius, aren't they all, his admiration of Napoleon was well known to contemporaries, and like Napoleon he saw himself as a man of destiny.

I often reflect that like Napoleon, Churchill ultimately failed in his main aim. Napoleon failed to establish his Empire and the primacy of France on the continent. By the end of the second world war it was apparent that Churchill too would fail to safeguard the future of the British Empire and preserve its status as a great power. Although he did not preside over the Empire's dissolution, Churchill lived long enough to see others do it. How ironic that St. Helena, the scene of Napoleon's final years, remains one of the last outposts of that Empire that once bestrode the world.
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1. A diary of St.Helena - The Journal of Lady Malcolm (1816, 1817) containing yje conversations of Napoleon with sir Pulteney Malcolm edited by Sir Arthur Wilson, K.C.I.E. with an introduction by Muriel Kent - Ed. by George Allen & Unwin Ltd - 1929 pages 26-27
2. Within 9 months Churchill was to succeed Chamberlain as Prime Minister, and a few months later, in November 1940, Chamberlain died of cancer.
3. The hand in jacket pose most often associated with Napoleon was apparently introduced around 1750 and signified calm and firm leadership.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

British Napoleons


Past.com entries for people baptised Napoleon, 1803-5

Some time ago I wrote a blog about the grave of Napoleon I came across many years ago in a Suffolk church yard. At the time, with a very conventional view of the history of the early nineteenth century, I thought it amusing and rather odd. I know realise that it was a far from isolated occurrence.

The historian Katrina Navickas did the above search of Napoleons born in 1803-5, at the height of the invasion scare. Her search came up with over 5000 references, some of which were undoubtedly duplicates. My own search in the 1841 census found over 100 people with the name Napoleon, many of which were christenings in the decade before the census. To baptise a child with the name Napoleon at a time when he was the target of an unprecedented amount of state propaganda could not have been an easy matter. Before the introduction of civil registration in 1837 most births were registered in the Church of England, and it seems unlikely that the name "Napoleon" would have been welcomed by Anglican parsons, the very backbone of Loyalism. The incidence of so many cases seems to confirm what the folk songs of the nineteenth century suggest, that Napoleon was a surprisingly popular figure in the United Kingdom.

On the eve of the Peterloo bicentenary it is worth reflecting on the case of one of the Lancashire radical leaders, William Fitton a self proclaimed surgeon of Royton. Fitton came from a radical family, members of which had from time to time fallen foul of local Loyalist mobs. In 1816, at the age of 23, he founded in Royton what was the first "Hampden Club" outside London.(1) For the next three tumultuous years leading up to Peterloo he was very active in Lancashire radicalism. Sometime in 1819 William Fitton had a new baby son. On September 26th, just over a month after the Manchester Massacre, the boy was baptised with the name "Napoleon". The young Napoleon died in January 1820, but so determined were his parents, or at least his father, that a second son born in 1820 was duly given the same name.(2)

As a postscript:- Two years after Peterloo, the immortal memory of Napoleon Bonaparte was toasted by 300 people at a dinner in Manchester held to commemorate the massacre.
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1. Hampden Clubs were formed to bring together radical and working class reformers. The movement was led by John Cartwrigth a London based radical leader. The clubs were named after John Hampden, a seventeenth century parliamentarian who played a leading role in the struggle against Charles I in the years leading up to the Civil War.
2.See this brief account of William Fitton.

Monday, 1 July 2019

The Emperor's Shadow : The Strange Story of the Balcombes


The Emperor's Shadow, London 2015

The author has done a tremendous amount of research, and has gathered together a large amount of information on the Balcombe family, much of which was unknown to me at least. Her basic thesis is that Napoleon, the calculating arch-manipulator, cultivated the Balcombe family because of their connection to the Prince Regent through their benefactor, Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt.(1)

"He had no intention of adjusting to the situation; he would devise how best to escape from it - and the Balcombe family might just offer an avenue. Meanwhile, surprisingly, there was some pleasure to be had.(2)

And of course whilst Napoleon may have enjoyed himself, Mme de Staël's somewhat biased judgement of him is endorsed:

"doubtless there was calculation on his part even amid the fun and silly games. He knew the accounts of them .. made him seem sympathetic, humanised him." (3)

The author makes a good case for Betsy being several months pregnant at the time of her marriage to Edward Abell in 1822. This she suggests may be the reason the marriage took place at Exminster, rather than Chudleigh where the Balcombes had been living. The author also makes a good case for her daughter being born in St Omer in France, away from the gossip of London and Devon.(4)

As for the bridegroom Edward Abell, solid facts are a bit thin on the ground. He was an Indian Army Officer, about 11 years older than Betsy, and the author speculates that they may have met on St Helena four years earlier when his ship docked. The evidence suggests that he married Betsy because of her family's connections. The author speculates that he may have impregnated Betsy deliberately so that he could marry her, "maybe he heard stories that her father was the natural son of George IV." Abell soon deserted Betsy, but later followed her to Australia, intending to sue William Balcombe for keeping his wife from him. (5)

The book sheds light on the deal which Balcombe made with Hudson Lowe to support him in his case against O'Meara. This cleared the way for Balcombe's appointment as Colonial Treasurer in New South Wales, where he spent the remaining five years of his life, and some of his heirs were to prosper. (See the Melbourne Blogger for more information on the Australian connection.)

Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt (1762-1833)

Over all the manoeuvering on St Helena and off presided Balcombe's mysterious benefactor, Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt. Tyrwhitt met Lowe in 1815 before he sailed to St. Helena and helped Balcombe secure his lucrative role procuring supplies for Longwood. It was he who came to Balcombe's aid when Lowe and Lord Bathurst began to have suspicions about his relations with Longwood. It was Tyrwhitt who strongly advised Balcombe to leave the island, whilst at the same time flattering Lowe with Royal gossip and making clear his lack of sympathy with the Whigs who were critical of Lowe's treatment of Napoleon.

Lord Holland is in a week or two to give us a Display upon Napoleon's Calamities; but as long as you keep him close, nobody cares for speeches.(6)

It was also probably Tyrwhitt who got the Times to retract a story that the Balcombes had been forced to leave St Helena, and it was Tyrwhitt who again met with Lowe and brokered the deal that removed Lowe's objection to Balcombe's subsequent colonial appointment. (7)

Balcombe, despite his association with Longwood House and Napoleon, was far better connected in London and better rewarded than Sir Hudson Lowe who had done the dirty business of the Liverpool Administration. On return from St Helena, Balcombe is to be found in the company of Sir Pulteney Malcolm and Admiral Sir George Cockburn, neither of them admirers of Sir Hudson Lowe. He is also interviewed three times by Lord Bathurst, who had to endure Lowe's endless long letters from St. Helena and perhaps was looking for an alternative source of information. Bathurst did however over-rule Balcombe's wish to return to St. Helena in 1819.

The author's conclusion about the famous relationship between Betsy and Napoleon is perhaps worth quoting, although it does overlook Napoleon's acknowledged love of children.

Betsy had brought out the best in Napoleon, that complex, brilliant, calculating and turbulent man, severely formal with others but always approachable for her. She had loved him and she would never recover from knowing him.(8)

Overall I have to admit that this book is really not to my taste. It meanders over some 400 pages, and includes material on Peterloo, the Cato Conspiracy, Queen Caroline, the Royal Divorce, the King's Coronation and much else besides. It includes a great deal of speculation and also gives an account of the the extensive travels the author undertook on her research. A more concise, factual treatment would have suited me far better, although I appreciate that I am a far from typical reader. Nevertheless it is a very useful source for anyone interested in the Balcombes and the story of their association with Napoleon,
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1. Apparently the Prince Regent was unusually loyal to Tyrwhitt but he didn't take his advice on the Royal Divorce Bill and it was Tyrwhitt who had to present the divorce bill to Queen Caroline. Whitehead pp 257-259. Tyrwhitt had a number of nicknames among the royal family: ‘the Dwarf’, the ‘twenty third [sic] of June’ or ‘the shortest night’; ‘Saint Thomas’ from ‘the shortest day’, and so to ‘the Saint’.
2. Whitehead pp 54-55. The author says that says that Napoleon would have remembered Tyrwhitt's visit to Paris in 1801 as secretary and emissary of the Prince Regent.
3. Mme de Staël is uncritically quoted at some length in support of the author's view, concluding with, "he is a chess-master whose opponents happen to be the rest of humanity". She also quotes Philip Dwyer in claiming that Napoleon dispensed with people when they ceased to be useful. One does wonder about his tolerance of Talleyrand and Fouché in this respect! Anne Whitehead, The Emperor's Shadow, Bonaparte, Betsy and the Balcombes (London 2015) pp 49,62, 94
The author also exaggerates Napoleon's desire to escape, which was virtually non-existent, but which nevertheless understandably preoccupied Hudson Lowe and Lord Bathurst. For example the author comments on a conversation between Napoleon and Admiral Pulteney Malcolm in which the latter said had rowed around the island, that it was "useful information that a rowing boat could approach the cliffs." Whitehead p. 129.
4. Whitehead pp 281,300, 330.
5. The author and I disagree whether William Balcombe was actually at the wedding. I have a copy of the certificate and am pretty certain that the first signatory was Jane Balcombe, not William Balcombe. It could of course be Betsy's mother, but her mother although known as Jane was christened Emma Jane.
According to Betsy, Abell later admitted that he never had any affection for her, and that "he merely married under the hope of gaining something good thru my father and his exalted interests. " Letter from Betsy to Major-General Sir Henry Torrens, 10 August 1824, quoted in Whitead pp330-332.
6. Tyrwhitt to Hudson Lowe, Dec 8th 1817, quoted in Whithead p 191.
7. Whitehead pp 203-4, 282-4.
8. Whitehead p 197