Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Princes Caroline Murat: A Bonaparte in Suffolk

Memorial to Princess Caroline Laetitia Murat (1833-1902), Grand Niece of Napoleon, Ringsfield Church, Suffolk

This remarkable memorial was erected to commemorate Caroline Laetitia Murat, granddaughter of Joachim Murat and Caroline Bonaparte, sister of the Emperor Napoleon. After the fall of the Second Empire and the death of her first husband, Princess Caroline married a wealthy Englishman, John Lewis Garden, and spent her last years in a grand house in a tiny village in Suffolk.

Italianate Angels on the Memorial at Ringsfield Church

She was born to an American mother in the United States, where her father Lucien Charles Joseph Napoleon, Prince Murat, had been exiled along with other members of the Bonaparte family. After the 1848 Revolution she and her family returned to France and became part of the inner circle of the Second Empire. Her sister, the Duchess of Mouchie was close to the Empress Eugenie, her younger brother Achille accompanied Napoleon III in the Franco-Prussian war and was imprisoned with him after the defeat at Sedan. Caroline herself had apparently in 1849 been considered a suitable wife for the much older Louis Napoleon, by his English mistress Miss Howard.(1)

Princess Caroline Murat

In 1850 she married the diplomat Charles de Chassiron (1818-1871) and they had one son, Guy de Chassiron (1863-1932). In 1870 following the defeat by Prussia, Caroline's mother and other members of her family fled to England in the company of Mr Garden, a wealthy English friend of her brother Achille. Mr Garden also obtained a passport for her and her young son, and she soon joined them. The mysterious Mr Garden meanwhile went to Prussia to visit the imprisoned Emperor Napoleon and his companion Achille Murat, and in 1872, a year after her first husband's death, Caroline and he were married. They quickly had two daughters, Eugenie Caroline (1873-1951) and Frances Harriet Doucha (1874-1970). (2)

Redisham Hall in Suffolk, the family home of John Lewis Garden (1833-1892) and his wife Caroline Murat.

Caroline Murat's memoirs reveal little about her private life, but give an insight into the highly privileged, titled and perhaps entitled world in which the Bonapartes moved in France and in England. They are of course the reflections of a woman nearing the end of her life and looking back with sadness and maybe some regret on what she regarded as a golden period for her and probably France:

days of glory, of luxury, of love, of folly; with no looking back, with no looking forward - the retreat from Moscow - the life and death of the King of Rome - the battle of Waterloo - the sad drama of St. Helena - all, but forgotten, disappeared in one round of triumphal glory and pleasure (3)

At the centre of the English connections in the early years was the aforementioned Miss Howard, Louis Napoleon's mistress whom he had met at the home of Lady Blessington in 1846. Her circle included a number of Dukes and Earls as well as Count d'Orsay.(4)

As the Empire drew to its close we learn that the Empress Eugenie and Princess Caroline's sister sent their jewels for safekeeping to Mr Gladstone, Prime Minister of Great Britain. Then after the Empress's flight from France the Duke of Hamilton went in his own yacht to France to retrieve some of the her possesions from the Tuileries. Then we find the Princess writing to her cousin, Leopold, Prince of Hohenzollern, whose candidature for the throne of Spain was the ostensible reason for the fatal war between France and Prussia, to get him to intercede to prevent Prussian soldiers vandalising her property in occupied France. (5)

What comes over very clearly is that Princess Caroline had little respect for the Empress Eugenie, the wife and widow of Napoleon III, "an influence always so sinister for France", whom she appeared at least partially to blame for the fall of the second Empire. (6) Neverthess she named her first daughter after her, and asked her to become godmother. This was refused because her daughter was not being baptised into the Catholic faith.

She also criticised the Spanish born Empress for the Prince Imperial's funeral which was attended by Queen Victoria:

if she had one drop of our blood in her veins no English flag would have covered his coffin, no English princes would have carried him to his grave. (7)

Memoirs of Caroline Murat, published posthumously in 1910

Neither did Caroline have much love for England. She loved her home, but after the glitter of Paris she was unsurprisingly unimpressed with Suffolk and its people, "perhaps the most stupid of English counties." (8) She loved her English daughters, but couldn't forgive the country for the ills the Bonaparte family and France had suffered at its hands. Her last few words though were reserved for the former Empress Eugenie, who once had rebuffed a criticism from Princess Caroline's mother with,

Ah! ma cousine, vous etes Louis Seize - n'oubliez pas que je suis Louis Quatorze

"In those few words", she commented, "we may read the history of the Second Empire and its reverses."(9)
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1. Whether Caroline was informed of this at time is unclear. She was only 16 and says she would not have entertained the idea. Princess Caroline Murat, My Memoirs, New York 1910, pp 211-212
2. John Lewis Garden(1833-1892) was born at Redisham Hall. It was originally an Elizabethan mansion which his grandfather, John Garden, a wealthy Londoner purchased in 1808, demolished and then rebuilt in the classical style then fashionable amongst England's upper classes. It was completed in 1823, after his death, when the house passed to John Garden (1796-1854), who was depicted as a child in a Hoppner painting. See also the description of the painting now in the New York Metropolitan Museum. J.L. Garden had the house re-fronted in 1880.

He was educated at Eton and Trinity College Cambridge, but didn't graduate. He is listed as serving with the East Indian Company. He is sometimes mentioned as a big game hunter, and during his marriage to Princess Caroline he spent over a year away on a game hunt with his younger brother. My Memoirs p. 286-7.
3. My Memoirs p. 48.
4. My Memoirs pp. 211-212.
5. The Duke of Hamilton was married to Louis Napoleon's cousin, Princess Marie Amelie of Baden. My Memoirs pp. 235, 215-7,214, 358.
6. My Memoirs pp. 179, 183-4, 305.
7. My Memoirs p. 334
8. My Memoirs p. 256
9. My Memoirs p. 340

Thursday, 16 July 2020

Britain's Wars against Napoleon: Two Reviews



I have recently read two books with very different perspectives on the British Government's wars against Napoleon. David Andress intertwines diplomacy, war and the domestic challenges often brutally faced down by Britain's rulers. He approaches the wars from the viewpoint taken by most British historians: Napoleon wasn't serious about peace, and presented a challenge which had to be defeated.

I do not like the Emperor Napoleon but am prepared to forgive the Duke of Wellington for his outrageous snobbery in the light of his many other virtues.(1)

So Napoleon is never given the benefit of any doubt. He is described in language that makes it clear that he was a thoroughly bad lot. We find him therefore revealing "the depths of his dictatorial nature" having " a growing sense of absolute and monarchical power " and "snuffing out the last lingering elements of the Dutch Republic ." (2)

Despite this declared bias Andress paints a bleak picture of Britain during the wars against France. It was a time of low wages, high living costs and sometimes famine, mass revolt in Ireland, mutiny in the fleet, fear of the press gang, and a time of great corruption. The elite he admits cared nothing about the costs of war, had contempt for the rights of ordinary people, pursued a witch hunt against radicals, and used a vast network of spies and informers against its internal enemies.

He describes in detail the concentration of large numbers of troops in Manchester, Lancashire, the Midlands and Yorkshire that were used to suppress the Luddites, but is still convinced that despite the "brutal suppression" of popular protest, which he describes as "shocking and tragic", the elite received "stout patriotic support from the mass of the population." Less controversially he concludes that the net result was the revival of

"aristocratic sense of imperial mission, the revival of hierarchy, a monarchical, paternalistic social order. It was a mark of the resilience of the British elite that it faced all those challenges and prospered. (3)


Tim Clayton, as his book's title suggests, takes a rather darker view. Whilst making it clear that the book is not a defence of Napoleon, he suggests that while there may have been a germ of truth in British propaganda about Napoleon, the "monster" created was a gross exaggeration and Britain's enduring enmity pushed him to extremes that he probably would not otherwise have entertained and ultimately led to his downfall. It was Britain, not Napoleon that wouldn't make peace.

In his view what kept the long wars against France going was the determination of many in its ruling circles to stamp out the last vestiges of the French Revolution at home as well as overseas. So the final wars in the century long struggle for supremacy between Britain and France were in short more about ideology than realpolitik. It was not so much Britain as the British oligarchic system that was under threat, until the "usurper" was safely on St Helena and "legitimacy" restored to the throne of France

Attentat de la rue Saint-Nicaise à Paris contre le 1er consul, le 3 nivôse au 9 (24 décembre 1800)

Clayton's focus is on the British state's undercover struggle against Napoleon. This included incitements to civil war, the distribution of fake currency in France and the most mendacious propaganda campaign the world had yet seen. The propaganda was not only designed to destroy Napoleon's reputation and to undermine support for him and the ideas of the French Revolution at home as well as in France, but also to make the assassination attempts which the British Government sponsored seem acceptable. (4)

On December 24th 1800, very early in Napoleon's period of power, royalist insurgents detonated a bomb, the machine infernale, intended to kill Napoleon as he left for the theatre. On arrival at the theatre Napoleon remarked, "Those bastards tried to blow me up. Have someone bring me the libretto of Haydn's oratorio." This attempt, the first ever use of a bomb in an assassination attempt killed and wounded many and destroyed a number of buildings. It was financed by the British Government, and most of the conspirators had been transported from Britain to France in British naval ships. (5)

1801 Watercolour by Thomas Girton showing bomb damage

In 1804 a more elaborate plan was plotted by Royalists in London whose agents, Jean-Charles Pichegru and Georges Cadoudal were secretly landed in France on a British ship captained by John Wesley Wright.(6) The plot was uncovered and the agents hunted down. It initiated a chain of events which led to the death of the duc d'Enghien and the decision to make Napoleon an hereditary monarch, an attempt to provide stability and to make assassination less attractive.

The British Government went to extreme lengths to hide its involvement in this plot. Lord Hawkesbury, soon to inherit the title Lord Liverpool and to become a long serving Prime Minister (1812-27), had all the incriminating letters removed from the Foreign Office. He also bought similarly incriminating papers from the children of Francis Drake, Ambassador to Bavaria, one of the most senior British officials involved in undercover plots against Napoleon. (7)

Clayton concludes that Napoleon was no more tyrannical than any ancien regime monarch and less than most of the regimes set up after his downfall, but Britain's rulers were confident of their ability ultimately to beat the French:

Britain was superior to France at sea and financially, and a lot of people appreciated it. It bred an unattractive sense of national superiority and self-satisfaction that survives today even though the underlying conditions have changed totally. (8)

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1.David Andress Beating Napoleon, How Britain faced down her greatest challenge (London 2012) p XIV
2. Andress pp 136-7.
3. Andress p 381
4. The 1657 pamphlet Killing No Murderreappared in the 1790's to justify the execution of Louis XVI. It was subseqyuently used to justify the assassination of Napoleon.
5. Tim Clayton This Dark Business, The secret war against Napoleon (London 2018) pp.7,9. The watercolour by Thomas Girtin was described by him as showing, "Part of the Tuileries the palace where Buonaparte resides .. and the ruins of the houses blown up by the infernal machine." Clayton opp p. 135.
6. Wright was subsequently captured and died in prison in 1805. Clayton accepts the French Government view that he committed suicide. Clayton p. 354.
7. He also paid them an annuity on condition that publication was suppressed. Clayton p 356.
8. Clayton pp 347-349

Friday, 22 May 2020

The Pen is Mightier than the Sword: St Helena, March 1820


Front cover, "The political house that Jack built", 1819

In March 1820 a naval surgeon named McKenzie arrived on St Helena with a copy of the The political house that Jack built. (1) This pamphlet which was published by William Hone in the wake of the August 1819 Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, was to run to several editions and sell 100,000 or so copies.

McKenzie had, so he claimed, intended to show the pamphlet to Sir Thomas Reade, before giving it to an English resident on the island. Unfortunately he left it in a shop, and two British army officers found it and reported him to Sir Hudson Lowe.

Lowe immediately sent McKenzie aboard his ship and held him prisoner for 7 days, threatening to send him back to England and force him out of the Navy. Luckily for him there was no ship leaving for England, and so at the end of his confinement he was able to beg Lowe for forgiveness and secure his release. (2)

Hone was a fierce defender of the freedom of the press who had faced three separate trials on three days in December 1817, one of which was for libelling the Prince Regent.(3) He was acquitted in each trial, to great popular acclaim. Henceforth he was regarded as almost immune from prosecution whilst other radical journalists frequently found themselves in prison, and William Cobbett exiled himself in North America to avoid the same treatment.


Ruffians are abroad

William Hone was a friend of Hazlitt, and like him and many others did not subscribe to the Loyalist narrative about Napoleon. One of his earlier pamphlets had been Buonaparte-phobia (1815), which satirized the exaggerated anti-Napoleonic language of The Times , whose editor was henceforth referred to as Dr Slop.

The frontispiece of The "Political House that Jack Built" (top) carried a cartoon of Wellington, putting his sword on the scales of justice. The Waterloo man, as Hone described him, had been recruited into the Cabinet in late 1818, and his appointment was seen as a sign that the Government was prepared to use military force to put down those calling for reform. The Manchester massacre seemed to confirm this, and it almost immediately became known as "Peterloo".

These are THE PEOPLE all tatter'd and torn,
Who curse the day wherein they were born,
On account of Taxation too great to be borne,
And pray for relief, from night to morn;
Who, in vain, Petition in every form,
Who, peacably Meeting to ask for Reform,
Were sabred by Yeomanry Cavalry, who,
Were thank'd by THE MAN, all shaven and shorn,
All cover'd with Orders--and all forlorn;
The Man of course was the Prince Regent, a Whig in his youth, who had turned against his former political friends and had publicly thanked the troops who broke up the reform meeting in Manchester.


George Cruikshank's caricature of the Prince Regent

 
THE DANDY OF SIXTY, who bows with a grace,
And has taste in wigs, collars, cuirasses and lace;
Who, to tricksters, and fools, leaves the State 
and its treasure,
And, when Britain's in tears, sails about 
at his pleasure:
Who spurn'd from his presence the Friends of his youth,
And now has not one who will tell him the truth;
Who took to his counsels, in evil hour,
The Friends of the Reasons of lawless Power; 

In the poem Hone looked to leading Whigs to save Reform from Wellington and the repressive Tory Government:

This WORD is the Watchword--the talisman word,
That the WATERLOO-MAN's to crush with his sword;
But, if shielded by NORFOLK and BEDFORD's alliance,
It will set both his sword, and him, at defiance;
If FITZWILLIAM, and GROSVENOR, and ALBEMARLE aid it,
And assist its best Champions, who then dare invade it?

It is no wonder that a pamphlet such as this was not welcomed on St Helena at this time. Lowe and Reade were fierce Loyalists, determined to keep opposition newspapers off the island and especially from Longwood House, and naturally suspected anyone who showed any Whig or worse still Radical sympathies. On St Helena where the Governor's word was supreme, there was no recourse to the law to protect press freedom or individual liberties.
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1. Jack was a synonym for John Bull. "This is the house that Jack Built" is a traditional English nursery rhyme.
2. The Morning Chronicle, May 20, 1820.
3. See also this post on Hone.

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Napoleon's Tomb St Helena, May 5th 2020.


Aujourd’hui, en hommage à l’Empereur… à Sainte Hélène.

Posted by Domaines nationaux français à l'île de Sainte Hélène, Atlantique Sud on Monday, May 4, 2020
Napoelon's Tomb, St Helena, May 5th 2020

St Helena has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. So far no cases have been detected on the island, but there are no longer regular flights bringing in the tourists on which all the island's hopes had been pinned.

Normally a large crowd gathers in the Valley of the Tomb on May 5th to commemorate the death of the Emperor Napoleon, but this year because of social distancing no such event could be held. The Rev Graeme Beckett, St Helena's Baptist Minister wanted to play his bugle, and so he stood alone beside the tomb. Brightly edging the tomb were hundreds of Everlastings, the Australian daisies that now cover the island, and were originally sent to Longwood by a friend of Lady Holland, Napoleon's most prominent supporter in England.

View of the Ceremony from above

The rather moving ceremony was videoed on a mobile phone by Michel Dancoisne Martineau and posted on Facebook on the same day. Remember how many weeks it took for news of Napoleon's death to arrive in Europe!

On reflection the presence of a nonconformist Minister at this ceremony seems very appropriate. Two hundred years ago, and much later, Anglicanism was emblematic of Loyalism, whereas radicals and Liberals, who were always much more sympathetic to Napoleon, were drawn from the ranks of nonconformity.

Next year elaborate plans are being made for a huge ceremony to commemorate the bicentenary of Napoleon's death. It will be very important for the tourist industry on the island. Let us hope that we are back to some semblance of normality before then.

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

The Lady Lever Art Gallery Revisited


Napoleon I by René Théodore Berthon, 1809

I recently returned to the Lady Lever Art Gallery. This was my first visit since the Napoleon room was moved and reconfigured.

I was very taken with the Berthon picture, painted from nature according to the inscription on the surround. It is much easier to see than previously. It is now hung between portraits of Wellington and Nelson, which previously were hung either side of the famous William Quiller Orchardson painting of Napoleon dictating to Count Las Cases on St Helena in 2016.

Portraits of Wellington, Napoleon and Nelson, the Napoleon Room, Lady Lever Art Gallery

All these paintings were transferred from Lord Lever's private collection in 1922, but it is slightly odd to see Wellington and Nelson in a room named after Napoleon!

Lord Lever's Collection of Miniatures of Napoleon and his family - now missing

No longer on display is Lord Lever's collection of miniatures which I photographed on my visit in 2011. Some time ago I seem to remember having a communication from Liverpool Art Galleries telling me that when they reassembled the room they could not find it. My photo may be the only record of it in existence. I fear the worst.

Still there but not in the Napoleon room, is Oliver Cromwell.

Bust of Oliver Cromwell

The museum's notes now recognise that images of Cromwell were displayed as a political statement by many Whigs. This tradition was maintained by Lord Lever and a number of Liberals in the C19, notably in Manchester Town Hall, the very heart of nineteenth century Liberalism.

I have lost count of the number of times I have been to the Lady Lever Gallery. I never tire of it, always finding something I have missed on previous visits, and I always marvel at the beautiful village that Lord Lever created for his employees at Port Sunlight over a century ago. He was truly a remarkable man.