Sunday, 13 January 2019

À la recherche du temps perdu

A school exercise book temporarily reprieved from the tip

I had always assumed that I had never studied Napoleon nor been the slightest bit interested in him until being lent a book by a friend less than 20 years ago. I was surprised therefore when clearing out clutter to find a long forgotten school exercise book which revealed that the last ever school essay I wrote on European history was on the question of whether Napoleon betrayed the French Revolution.

My essay seems to have pleased my teacher who described it as well written and gave it an alpha plus (80%)! I now find it rather less satisfactory! Nevertheless it provides an interesting insight into the views and prejudices of a 17 year old being educated in a conservative school in the UK half a century or so ago.

The final page

Amongst the gems I picked out was the “singularly French love of a dictator” and my judgement that Napoleon's success “transformed and sterilized the politics of Modern France.” My teacher liked that. It was of course written in the time of De Gaulle, although he had not yet made the first of his two vetoes of Britain's application to join the European Economic Community that were to make him so unpopular. At that time we were all very convinced of the superiority of our political system, and were busy exporting it to various former colonies.

When writing about Napoleon I talked about his " efficiency”, the “practical realism of the soldier ” and judged him "unoriginal but well organized". The career “open to talent” I opined injected “an element of equality into what was otherwise little more than a military dictatorship.” A more mature view would see it as intrinsic to the system and to Napoleon's post-Enlightement view of the world. My judgement was that his whole system depended “upon a policy of successful belligerency, and as such was bound eventually to collapse. ” There was no mention of course of the attempts by Britain to assassinate him and to restore the Bourbons to power, nor any awareness of the total lack of equality and justice for the lower orders in the UK at the time. Britain as everyone knew was on the path of moderation which led ineluctably to our almost perfect democracy!

My rather pompous opinion apparently was that “Napoleon’s crime is not that he pursued the war to the best of his ability, but that he lost sight of the true interests of France and allowed his own ambition to sway his judgement” and that he was "far more in love with France than with the Revolution.” But somewhat mysteriously I also decided that it was “he alone that safeguarded it” (the Revolution) and that “his work has outlasted numerous Revolutions.

I was of course totally convinced as many still are that Napoleon was solely to blame for the succession of wars that were later to bear his name.

“Napoleon’s faults were amplified by the importance of the part that he was called upon to play, and his false sense of values frustrated the greatness in his character, and condemned France to an era of war as disastrous as that of Louis XIV.”

If Napoleon's values were "false", then I wonder what true values were. I also wonder where all that came from, my teacher or the book(s) that I read!

At least though I recognised Napoleon's greatness and there was no nonsense about the Corsican Ogre or the invasion of Britain. Even at that age I could stick to a logical argument.

It does though make me wonder how my blog would read to me in another half century. One thing I can say with certainty is that I shall never know! Perhaps it is just as well.

Let the decluttering continue.

Monday, 5 November 2018

THE REAL NAPOLEON - John Tarttelin

Jean-Léon Gérôme, Napoleon in Egypt(1868)

John Tarttelin is a Fellow of the International Napoleonic Society, and a recipient of the society's Legion of Merit. THE REAL NAPOLEON, The Untold Story (GB 2013) is dedicated to the memory of Ben Weider, the founder of the society, and it should perhaps come as no surprise to find that John is no fence sitter. The book's cover with its capitalised title and modified painting of Napoleon demands our attention.

Even before the preface a quote from Napoleon sets out the author's intent

The great works and monuments that I have executed, and the code of laws that I formed, will go down to the most distant ages, and future historians will avenge the wrongs done to me by my contemporaries.

Sunburst representing the Englightenment added by the author

The book puts much emphasis on Napoleon as an Englightenment figure, and reminds us that 177 scientists accompanied him on his Egyptian campaign. There is also a useful checklist of Napoleon's attributes that are too often overlooked by those keen to paint a negative portrait.

  • a phenomenal memory and capacity for concentration and hard work
  • kindness to his servants and people of all ranks
  • his approachability to his soldiers
  • the only ruler who promoted careers open to talent
  • tolerance of people who were disloyal to him - Fouche, Talleyrand and Bernadotte
  • passion for intellectual enquiry- he sought out the great minds of his time
  • voracious reader of history and literature
  • support of the rights of Jewish people

The author reminds us of the support the British Government gave to Royalist attempts to assassinate Napoleon. He also correctly disputes the conventional British view which holds Napoleon personally responsible for all the wars that were later to bear his name. As he points out, the Liverpool Government and its allies were determined to "snuff out equality and restore privilege." After the wars Britain actively encouraged Louis XVIII to use far more severe repression against Bonapartists than any Napoleon had carried out against his opponents, but such repression was of course common place in the United Kingdom at the time.

Ultimately of course the struggle with Napoleon was not just about the threat that the ideas of the Englightenment and the French Revolution posed to the established order. Britain's payrolling of all the coalitions against France over two decades was the climax of its century long struggle for European and World domination. In this contest the continental land wars were to some extent a sideshow. The real victory was being forged in the cotton mills of Lancashire, but that is another story, and outside the terms of reference of this book!

I have to admit that I find the book a little disjointed and bitty, and the language is very unacademic, perhaps as befits the times in which we live. I do not have a taste for polemicism, nor for hero worship, and on Napoleon in particular I have been a fence sitter, as I indicated some eight years ago when I thought my blogging was nearing its end! But I do share John's revulsion at the treatment of Napoleon by many historians and particularly by the British press, so maybe he has finally got me off the fence.

Over the past decade I have covered the views of a number of Whigs and Radicals who refused to accept Government propaganda about Napoleon, admired much of what he had achieved, and compared the UK unfavourably with contemporary France. On any rational basis of comparison they were right to do so.

John's quote from one British academic historian, Clive Elmsley is worth reproducing

there's no dispute that Napoleon launched modern Europe. He completely redrew the map, he swept away ramshackle governments, modernized administrations, and he didn't just do this in France, but in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and .. in what is now Belgium."

I may add that when coming across British or more exactly English chauvinists I always find it ironic to remember that Napoleon was the hero of the man who not long ago was voted the greatest ever Englishman, Sir Winston Churchill no less.

Friday, 19 October 2018

Michel Dancoisne-Martineau M.B.E.

Michel Dancoisne-Martineau with the Governor of St. Helena, Mrs Lisa HONAN

Excellent news. Michel has at last received recognition from the British Government for what he has done on St. Helena. He has made an amazing contribution to the island, and not only to the French Properties, which are now successfully integrated into St Helena life rather than places apart. His work for the protection of animals and for the St. Helena National Trust, to which he has donated a sizeable block of land, is particularly notable. Perhaps not usually worthy of public recognition is the respect he has shown to the Saints, the ordinary people of St. Helena. Although he will always be "the Frenchman" he has accepted local people in a way that none of his predecessors have and few if any expatriates ever do.

Although I am far from an admirer of an outdated Honours system, I rather wish the Government had given Michel the same award as his predecessor Gilbert Martineau, in a very different political climate of course. * In 1973 we were grateful new members of the E.E.C., our admission having twice been vetoed by a French President, now we are trying to get out! But I do not wish to strike a discordant note. This is a great achievement for a poor boy from Picardy added to his award of the Legion d'honneur in 2016.
* I understand that Michel's award has been given for services towards the development of St. Helena tourism. The M.B.E. is given for “service in or to the community which is outstanding in its field and has delivered a sustained and real impact which stands out as an example to others" whereas the higher award, an O.B.E. is given for “ a distinguished regional or county-wide role in any field, through achievement or service to the community including notable practitioners known nationally.” If any emphasis is put on the latter clause then it is unlikely that anybody on St. Helena could ever gain an O.B.E. It is time for a new honours system which removes references to the long defunct British Empire, but I am not holding my breath for that to happen.

Monday, 8 October 2018

The Duke of Sussex and Napoleon: "Peace to the remains of that Great Man."

Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843)

On the death of Napoleon:

"the close of a most disgraceful transaction in which the Ministers have made this country to participate. To be the persecutor of fallen glory and the gaoler for the European sovereigns is not the situation in which England ought to have been placed. Peace to the remains of that great man, whom History will treat hereafter with greater justice than his contemporaries have hitherto done, while our disgrace will I fear be handled with all due severity." - The Duke of Sussex(1)

Wearing Knight of the Garter Robes

The Duke of Sussex was the sixth son and the ninth child of George III. His Foxite Whig politics set him apart from most of the Royal Family, except for his much loved brother the Duke of Kent, a fellow Whig and father to the future Queen Victoria. The Duke of Sussex gave Victoria away at her wedding, and he became a godfather to her eldest daughter, but according to his biographer and contrary to conventional opinion, their relationship was far from tranquil.(2)

The Duke (tall figure on right), at Queen Victoria's Wedding

Like his brothers his private life was unconventional, and neither of his marriages received Royal assent. The first, secretly to a Catholic in Rome in 1793 was in 1794 annulled under the Royal Marriages Act, and his second, to Lady Cecilia Letitia Gore, in contravention of the same act, was never recognised at Court.(3)

Probably the poorest of the sons of George III and perpetually in debt, he spent much of his income on building up a large library. When the Whigs finally got into power they refused to increase his allowance because it would be seen as corrupt to reward one of their own! He died leaving little or nothing to his heirs. His wishes that his body be used for dissection by scientists was ignored, but he was buried as he instructed in Kensal Green Cemetery rather than Windsor Chapel, to ensure that his beloved, unrecognised second wife could rest beside him.

Augustus Frederick's Grave, Kensal Green Cemetery

At 6ft 4" tall, with a far from slender frame, the Duke cut a striking easily recognisable figure, and was reportedly very popular with the public at a time when the Monarchy was not held in the highest esteem.

The Duke of Sussex ironically portrayed as a Protestant champion, circa 1825

From 1805 when he took his seat in the House of Lords until late in his life he supported all the liberal causes of the day. His support of the 1832 Reform Bill was unequivocal. Whilst he had "every respect for the nobility of the country" he argued that

education ennobles more than anything else, and when I find the people increasing in knowledge and wealth, I should be glad to know why they ought not, also, to rise in the ranks of society. (4)

He was a particularly strong supporter of Catholic Emancipation and of the rights of Jews, both highly controversial issues for a Royal Family whose coronation oath included a vow to maintain the established Protestant Church and to preserve the rights and privileges of its Bishops and clergy.

Anti-Irish cartoon used to attack supporters of Catholic Emancipation

In the bitterly divisive period after Waterloo the Duke lined up solidly against the repressive measures of the Lord Liverpool Government. He described the laws of England as vindictive and barbarous, and their application as often capricious, he opposed the Alien Bills of 1816 and 1817 which gave the Government the right to deport aliens without trial, he opposed the suspension of Habeas Corpus in 1817, and he opposed the Blasphemous Libel Bill of 1817, warning against the erosion of the liberty of the press. He also gave support to Queen Caroline, arguably the most popular of all the Royal Family, during her divorce trial in 1820.(5)

It should be no surprise then that the Duke was brave enough to make a public stand with Lord Holland against Napoleon's exile to St. Helena. As a Whig he did not subscribe to the Loyalist caricature of Napoleon as the "Corsican Ogre." The Whigs saw much in Napoleon's record that compared favourably with the status quo in Britain: the Code Napoléon, the career open to talents, religious liberty. To their Tory opponents, Napoleon was an illegitimate ruler, but to the Foxite Whigs, sovereignty ultimately resided in the people, and Napoleon clearly had a great deal of support in France. The Duke voted against the resumption of war in 1815 after Napoleon's return from Elba, and pointed out that if a foreign government had intervened on the side of Legitimacy in 1688, then his own family would not be on the throne. (6)
1. Quoted in Mollie Gillen, Royal Duke, Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843) (London 1976) p.186.
2. Gillen pp 210-214.
3. Although in 1840 Victoria did give her a title, the 1st Duchess of Inverness.
4. Gillen p. 188. 5. Gillen pp 184-192
6. Quoted by Sir Robert Wilson at Southwark election in June 1818. Morning Chronicle , 19th June 1818. Similar sentiments were expressed by his close friend, another Foxite Whig, Coke of Holkham, 1st Earl of Leicester, the famous agricultural reformer, who publicly described Louis XVIII as a "usurper", placed on the French throne against the wishes of the French people. Norfolk Chronicle 6 April 1816.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

St Helena 1815: The East India Company, Slavery and Religion

St Helena halfpenny bearing crest of the East India Company

The East India Company and St. Helena's leading families were naturally apprehensive about the impact the detention of Napoleon would have on their remote, congenial world. Sir Hudson Lowe the new Governor, although technically appointed by the Company, was a Crown nominee and a servant of the Government. His appointment brought UK politics one step closer.

From the 1790's the anti-slavery and evangelical movements had a major impact on UK politics, and with that came increased pressure on the East India Company for the licensing of missionaries to save the souls of the heathen.

Bowl c. 1820 bearing slogan used by anti-slavers from the 1790's

The Company was painfully aware of the changing political climate. It had had an uneasy fight to get its charter renewed in 1812, and had been forced to open up India to missionary activity. (1) In a long letter addressed to Lowe in 1815 it addressed the very topical issues of slavery and of religion. (2)

On the issue of slavery the Company could make a case for its enlightened policies : there was no slavery in India, and the ban on the import of slaves into St. Helena preceded the much celebrated 1807 UK Slave Trade Act by 15 years. But 23 years after the import ban, slavery was still entrenched on the island, and over a third of the population were slaves. (3)

Poster advertising sale of Slaves in Jamestown, 1829

Nevertheless the 1815 letter to Lowe played down slavery's importance : their numbers were comparatively small", they were slaves "only in name" and "every indulgence is extended to them consistent with the safety and wellbeing of the Settlement."

The letter also indicated that the Company had issued orders to free the slaves altogether, but to its regret " obstacles have presented themselves to the complete Emancipation. " This was probably a reference to the rearguard action of Robert Leech and Sir William Doveton, leading magistrates who both attested to the good character of a slave-owner indicted for the murder of a slave in 1815. (4)

On matters of religion the Company shared the concerns of the Anglican Establishment and the Lord Liverpool Government about the rise of religious enthusiasm and the threats to Anglican dominance. It appointed chaplains to inculcate morality, order and loyalty amongst its soldiers and civilian employees, but it viewed missionary activity as a threat to the stability of its empire.

The letter to Lowe devoted much attention to the religious and moral climate on St. Helena which it claimed was improving. It prided itself on the creation in 1811 of two schools under the supervision of one of the chaplains.

The observance and inculcation of Religion both by precept and Example at St Helena has constantly been an object of the Court’s unremitting anxiety in furtherance of which they have for several years past maintained an Establishment of two Chaplains concerning whose religious principles and moral character they were 
 well satisfied at the time of their Appointment, their ordinary duties, the regular performance of Divine Worship on Sundays in the Town and Country Churches, to visit the sick in the Hospital and the Inhabitants of the Island as occasion may require, and otherwise to deport themselves in a manner becoming the Clerical Character.

The Company was though very concerned that the expected influx of population to guard Napoleon would bring in more non-Anglicans.

The subversion of the established Church we should consider as an evil and incalculable magnitude and we cannot too strongly recommend that the maintenance of our Established Religion be an object of your especial attention and unceasing Solicitude.

Coat of Arms of the Diocese of St Helena, established 1859

On this the Company's wishes were carried out. Anglican control of St. Helena outlasted both the East India Company and the institution of slavery. Not until mid-century were the Anglican defences breached, by the Baptists: St Helena's one and only native born Governor, Hudson Ralph Janisch (1873-1884), the son of a German Lutheran immigrant brought to the island by Lowe and named after him, became a Baptist as a young man. (5)

Today there is some diversity of religion on the island, but the other older non-conformist denominations, the Quakers, Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Unitarians, have never established a presence there. As in England half a century ago, the overwhelming majority of Saints identify themselves as Anglican, but relatively few are regular churchgoers. (6)

The Saints' Anglican identity is accompanied by a strong loyalty to Crown and mother country. The continuous cycle of disappointments and the dissatisfaction that constitutes the experience of many islanders seems not to have weakened this loyalty. Their approbation is however, not so often given to the representatives of British authority on the island, from the Governor down.
1. The Anglican Establishment, closely intertwined with Tory/Loyalist politics, was however concerned not so much with saving souls as with maintaining the established social order. These aims seemed to be threatened by the growth of religious dissent and the associated campaigns to remove civil disabilities from Roman Catholics and Protestant non-conformists, as well as the campaigns for universal suffrage. Penelope Carson, The East India Company and Religion, 1698-1858 (The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2012) pp 117-118.
2. To Sir Hudson Lowe from the Court of Directors of the East India Company, East India House, 10th October 1815.
3.The letter to Lowe gave the full breakdown of the population - European Inhabitants 736,Garrison (Officers included) 891, Free Blacks
 420, Slaves
 1293, Chinese Labourers 247. Total 3587
4. The death of Leech and the sidelining of Doveton paved the way for the partial abolition that Hudson Lowe was able to declare in 1818. But slavery still remained an essential part of life on the island, most of the European families continued to own slaves, and it was not finally abolished until 1834.
5. For a history of the first Baptist missionaries on the island see Baptist Pioneers of St Helena.
6. According to the 2017 Social Attitudes study only 15% of the UK population now describes itself as Anglican, half as many as in 2000. 50% of the UK population describes itself as having no religion.