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.
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* 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)
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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.
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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.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Sir Robert Wilson and Napoleon - the man who changed his mind



Sir Robert Wilson was one of the most extraordinary men of his times or any times. A tall striking looking man, very well connected, a distinguished soldier and diplomat, he was on friendly terms with the rulers of Russia, Austria and Prussia, and was present in a semi-official capacity at a number of their most important battles against Napoleon.

A man of liberal sensibilities, and a Whig in politics, Wilson was opposed to the slave trade, slavery and the impressment of sailors. (1) In 1804 he published a pamphlet critical of the public flogging that was customary in the British army in the nineteenth century and sometimes even led to the death of soldiers. His cause was supported in susequent years by leading reformers Francis Burdett, William Cobbett and Lord Cochrane. (2) Wilson's pamphlet was not appreciated by the authorities, and he was ordered to India, but he somehow got the King to intercede and he did not go.(3)

Wilson's view of Napoleon was far more satisfactory to the Tory Government, and on this he was out of step with his Foxite Whig associates. (4) In 1802 he published The History of the British expedition to Egypt which accused Napoleon of the mass execution of Turkish prisoners and of the murder of sick French soldiers. Wilson sent copies to the King of England, the Emperors of Austria and Russia, the Queen of Prussia and Nelson. It earned Wilson the nickname "Jaffa". The book was also translated into French. Napoleon was outraged and made representations to the British Government about what he regarded as a calumny. He still remembered the accusations on St. Helena. (5)

Wilson at this time regarded Napoleon as "a usurper" and a "demi-barbarian". (6) Observing him with the leaders of Prussia and Russia in 1807, Wilson described him as "grossly corpulent" and "his countenance presented no commanding talent". He had a "discontented mien" and "his face was very pale and unhealthily full." By contrast,the "Emperor of Russia was majesty itself". (7) At Tilsit he "looked as usual: hard, blank and designing: in short, like himself." (8) After talking to the King and Queen of Prussia Wilson spoke in even more derogatory terms: "the tyrannic insolence of the usurper", "his ungovernable temper", "expressing benignity in his countenance when he chose." (9)

At this time then there was no doubt where Wilson's sympathies lay, and he even sought out the exiled King of France in Sweden, and dined with him and the Duc de Berry and the Duc d'Angoulême. That arch-Loyalist Hudson Lowe clearly counted Wilson among his own. "I know Wilson well, and he has proved a strong friend of the Bourbons" Lowe told Las Cases on St Helena.(10)

But after the first resignation of Napoleon in 1814 Wilson began to change his mind. Along with many Whigs and Radicals he opposed the resumption of war in 1815, and was speaking at Brooks alongside Earl Grey, about the inevitability of Napoleon's victory when news of Waterloo arrived in London!

In the post war years he was to beome perhaps the leading Bonapartist in England and one of Napoleon's strongest supporters in the House of Commons.

Like a number of other prominent opposition figures in the hostile political climate after Waterloo, Wilson for a time lived abroad. In his case he chose Paris, where his sister, an enthusiastic supporter of Napoleon was living. (11) He campaigned with Earl Grey and Lord Holland against the execution of Marshall Ney in December 1815, and in January 1816 he became involved in the escape of the comte de Lavalette, Napoleon's Postmaster, whose wife, Emilie de Beauharnais, was the niece of the Empress Josephine. (12)

The Escape of Lavalette

Lavalette was sentenced to death in December 1815 for his role in Napoleon's return to France in 1815. On the eve of his execution he was visited in prison by his wife, his daughter and her governess. His wife who was apparently ill, was wrapped in several layers of clothes, and was permitted to visit prison in a sedan chair which was taken into the room next to her husband's. In an unlikely plot the couple then exchanged clothes and the comte left prison in the sedan chair, with his young daughter and the governess walking alongside. His escape was soon discovered, and amidst wide publicity and a thorough search by the authorities it became virtually impossible for him to get out of Paris.

Wilson and two other Britons, Michael Bruce and Captain John Hely Hutchinson then came to his aid. (13) Lavalette was dressed in an English officer's uniform, and Wilson, making use of his diplomatic and military connections, obtained a false passport for him and accompanied him out of Paris and then out of France. He wrote a letter to Earl Grey detailing his part in the scheme which much to Grey's embarrassment was intercepted. Wilson, Hutchinson and Bruce, were arrested, tried and sentenced to three months in prison in Paris.

Hutchinson, Wilson and Bruce

On St Helena one of Napoleon's associates could not believe that this was the same Wilson who had written the account of the Egyptian campaign. According to Las Cases Napoleon was not at all surprised:

You know but little of men and the passions that actuate them. What leads you to suppose that Sir Robert Wilson is not a man of enthusiasm and violent passions who wrote what he then believed to be true? And while we were enemies we contended with each other; but in our present adversity he knows better: he may have been abused, and deceived, and may be sorry for it; and he is perhaps as sincere in wishing us well, as he formerly was in seeking to injure us. (14)

The Radical Years

After his return from France Wilson represented Southwark in the House of Commons as a Whig. Although a friend of the moderate Whig leader Earl Grey, he moved closer to the Radicals. He was suspected of being involved in a plot with Lord Cochrane to rescue Napoleon from St Helena. He helped Santini draft his pamphlet "An Appeal to the English Nation", and he later met O'Meara and Gourgaud. O'Meara attended a dinner to celebrate the first year of Wilson's time in Parliament, and a band played La Marseillaise! (15) Wilson's sailor son who had been on the Northumberland when it transported Napoleon to St Helena in 1815, returned on the "Conqueror" in 1817 with Admiral Plampin. Apparently Napoleon was prepared to meet him but the young Wilson failed to get permission but did meet Mme. Bertrand.(16)

Wilson also became identified with the cause of domestic reform. He was very critical of the action of the authorities over the Peterloo massacre and the treatment of the radical leader Henry Hunt. In 1821 he lost his military commission because of his too public support for the cause of George IV's estranged wife, Caroline of Brunswick.

In March 1821 Wilson addressed the House of Commons about the detention of Napoleon, to the amusement apparently of some members of the House:

Gentlemen may laugh, but I express the sentiment of every just, humane, and generous man in Europe. In the detention of that illustrious Man, I can see nothing but dishonour - the violation of national faith - and the stain of national character. He threw himself upon the protection of England - his appeal to English generosity was met by placing him on a rock, where he has been subject to cruel insult. Separated from his family, even from his infant child, he has been deprived of every domestic enjoyment. It is ...well documented that Napoleon might have escaped, but he preferred throwing himself upon the generosity of Great Britain. He has had bitter cause to regret that fateful confidence; years of suffering and humiliation have passed over him .." (17)

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1. Ian Samuel, AN ASTONISHING FELLOW, The Life of General Sir Robert Wilson K.M.T., M.P. Great Britain, 1985. pp 54-59 He had Murat in his sights in Moscow, but couldn't bring himself to pull the trigger. They later met in Italy and seemed to have a high regard for each other. Murat apparently regarded Wilson as one of the greatest cavalry leaders of all time. Emilio O'Campo, The Emperor's Last Campaign , University of Alabama Press, 2009 p 10.
2. Flogging remained an important part of military discipline until well into the second half of the C20. Marx and Engels ascribed its endurance because it was "the instrument by which the aristocratic character of the British army is preserved".
3.Samuel p. 48
4. Samuel p. 118
5. Samuel p 43-47.
6. Life of General Sir Robert Wilson, Vol II, London 1862 p. 285.
7. Life Vol II pp 294-302.
8. Life vol II pp 307
9. Life vol II p. 317
10. Life vol II pp 372-373.Emanuel comte de Las Cases, The Life, Exile, and Conversations of the Emperor Napoleon Vol I p. 194.
11. Wilson's sister had met Napoleon in 1802 at the Tuileries. She had fallen unconscious after being hit, and Napoleon himself came to check on her condition and express his sorrow. Ocambo p 49.
12. Wilson was a member of the little known Association Fraternelle Europeene, designed to help victims of political persecution, as were Bruce, Lord Kinnaird, (Radical Jack) John Lambton and other Britons living in Paris. Its members believed that Waterloo had dealt a fateful blow to the cause of freedom. Ocampo pp 24-25
13. Bruce was the first approached, and he brought Wilson and Hutchinson into the plot. All three were reform minded Whigs. One Loyalist C19 history of the events said that Bruce's views "chimed in with the most violent of the opposition party in England and .. in common with a good many of his countrymen residing in the same place, had made himself conspicuous by violent censures of the proceedings of the allies and the Bourbon government, and by an exceedingly warm sympathy for the Bonapartists whom they now represented as unfortunate champions for liberty!" The Pictorial History During the Reign of George the Third by G.L. Craig and Charles MacFarlane (1844), Book III p. 654. Bruce was an associate of Byron and John Cam Hobhouse, and like them had seen Waterloo as a defeat for liberty. See The Peter Cochran Files.
14. Las CasesVol I p 194 Apparently Napoleon's party were well aware of the presence of Wilson's son on the Northumberland, and as the sailors warmed to Napoleon and ceased to see him as an ogre, so the young Wilson was taunted for his father's portrayal of Napoleon. Las Cases pp 192-193. In his defense in the Paris trial Wilson being asked about his accusations against Napoleon in Egypt replied "I said that which I believed to be truth". I wonder whether Las Cases read this before writing his account? A Full Report of the Trial of Sir Robert Thomas Wilson, Michael Bruce Esq. and Capt. John Hely Hutchinson, 22nd April 1816 London 1816 p. 36.
15. Ocambo pp 123, 267, 316.
16. Ocampo p. 159. Curiously Wilson wrote to Earl Gray apprising him of his son's trip some timer earlier, "I presume you have no commissions to execute in that part of the world as yet, but I hope and believe before three months that you will." Ocambo p. 103
17. Morning Chronicle, March 30, 1821