Saturday, 23 May 2015

Final Destination St. Helena


Sir John Barrow (1764 – 1848), Second Secretary to the Admiralty, credited with recommending St. Helena as the location for Napoleon's exile


Elba: The Past is Prologue

Napoleon's brief time on Elba was overshadowed by the possibility of his being forcibly kidnapped and removed elsewhere, with St. Helena often mentioned as a possible destination. Napoleon and his party were well aware of the press reports about this which began as early as July 1814; Napoleon himself raised them with the British Commissioner and later claimed that reports of the intention to remove him was the decisive reason for his return to France.

Shortly before Napoleon left Elba a number of British papers printed a story dated London, January 13th 1815:

There is good reason for believing that it has been finally resolved to remove the Ex-Emperor Napoleon from Elba to the island of St. Helena; a removal highly desirable as it will place him in a seclusion perfectly secure and completely removed from the sphere of every system of politics. The stoppage of buildings and other improvements which Napoleon had been making in Elba, gives strength to the above statement. (1)

All the discussions of the circumstances surrounding Napoleon's exile on St. Helena seem to ignore the background: Britain's decision not to to sign the Treaty of Fontainebleau that made Napoleon Emperor of Elba; the disquiet by the Bourbons about his close proximity to France and Italy; the failure to pay him the pension promised; the schemes of Talleyrand to get him moved from Elba. (2)


The Parliamentary Inquest

The Whigs, seeking to apportion blame for Napoleon's return to France and the prospect of another drawn out period of war which many of them opposed, raised this issue in Parliament. In April Castlereagh claimed somewhat disingenuously that the report of an intention to remove him to St. Helena or St. Lucia was completely new to him.

For him the blame for Napoleon's return lay not with the British Government, but with the French people

What a state would France and the world be in, if the only protection that France had for the exclusion of Bonaparte was the possibility of Great Britain drawing a naval cord round the island of Elba(3)

Ironically this was to be precisely the situation the world found itself in when Napoleon was eventually exiled to St. Helena.

Earl Grey, Whig leader in the House of Lords, returned to the issue in May, quoting the admission in a proclamation apparently issued by one of Louis XVIII's ministers on leaving Paris that

one of the causes precipitating this desperate attempt was, the knowledge Bonaparte had acquired that it was intended to remove him from the island of Elba.(4)

Lord Bathurst in a not too convincing speech denied that the allies had broken the Treaty of Fontainebleau, but noticeably did not deny the intention to remove him from Elba:

If Bonaparte's salary was not regularly paid, as it was to be paid by the King of France, the omission was no violation of the Treaty by the Allies, unless Bonaparte had represented the omission to them, and they had neglected to force the payment. .. Whether any design existed to remove him from Elba was another question; but certainly no demonstration of such an intention had been evinced.(5)

The Whig opposition objected to the renewal of a war undertaken on the principles of personally proscribing the present Ruler of France, to which the Government's response was simply that not to make Napoleon's removal the object of war would lead to the dissolution of the alliance.(6)

All roads point to St Helena?

There is no evidence as to what if any plans the British Government was drawing up in the early summer of 1815 as to the ultimate fate of Napoleon. With a sizeable proportion of the army still in America, and recruitment of new troops proving disappointing, the Government was unsurprisingly preoccupied with preparing for war and ensuring that the alliance held together.

On 11 June 1815 at a dinner attended by Lord Liverpool and Castlereagh, John Quincy Adams recorded their opinion that before long Napoleon would shortly take refuge in the United States. This turned out to be remarkably accurate; what is not clear is whether the British Government would have regarded that as an acceptable outcome. At that time it was probably expecting a longer drawn out military campaign in France, rather than a short, decisive campaign in Belgium.

In the fluid situation after Waterloo, Castlereagh and Wellington were in France, communications were slow, and on the spot decisions were effectively made by Lords Liverpool (Prime Minister), Bathurst (War and Colonies) and Melville (Admiralty). Informed by Fouché of Napoleon's wish to go to America, the Government issued orders to the Navy to prevent his departure by force if necessary. If they took him alive, the Government's preferred position was to hand him over to France.

If we take him we shall keep him on board ship till the opinion of the Allies has been taken. The most easy course would be to deliver him up to the King of France, but then we must be quite certain that he would be tried and have no chance of escape. We should have a right to consider him as a French prisoner, and as such to give him up to the French Government. (7)

Clearly there were serious doubts about the ability of the Bourbons, who only a few months earlier had fled Paris without offering any resistance, to bring Napoleon to trial as a rebel. Before news of Napoleon's surrender had reached Paris or London, Liverpool wrote to Castlereagh on July 15th, that the best solution was for Britain to confine him, wherever it chose, and the Cabinet were of the view that

"the best place of custody would be at a distance from Europe, and that the Cape of Good Hope or St Helena would be the most proper stations for that purpose." (8)

There is no record of any mention of St. Helena during negotiations with Captain Maitland on the Bellerophon. The possibility of Napoleon staying in Britain was raised, by Maitland, and initially rejected by Las Cases and Savary. Savary cited the weather and the closeness to France as good reasons why that would not be appropriate: Napoleon would be suspected of involvement in every intrigue on France and the English "have been induced to look upon him as a monster, without one of the virtues of a human being." (9)

Clearly though Napoleon had his doubts and in the letter appointing Gourgaud as his emissary indicated that he did not wish to go to any colony. (10) His remarks to General Beker who had been instructed to accompany him from Paris on behalf of the Provisional Government were indicative of his apprehension:

"Don't accompany me on board, I don't know what the English intend doing with me; and should they not respond to my confidence, it might be said that you have sold me to England." (11)

Admiral Hotham though, meeting Napoleon soon after his surrender, found him " confident in the generosity and magnanimity of the Prince Regent and the English nation." though " extremely anxious to learn how I thought he would be disposed of "(12)"

By the time the Bellerophon arrived in Torbay with Napoleon on board the Government had pretty well settled on St. Helena as the place for Napoleon's confinement. There are no written records of how the decision was made, but Sir John Barrow, the long serving and highly respected Second Secretary at the Admiralty, is usually credited with recommending this to the Cabinet. Barrow had been to St Helena, and conveniently there was a Foreign Office "Memorandum on St. Helena" confirming the suitability of the island for a state prisoner. (13) Its contents appear to betray the hand of former St Helena Governor Alexander Beatson.

The legal situation was discussed by the Courier newspaper, usually regarded as the mouthpiece of the Administration. It pointed out that since Napoleon had surrendered rather than been captured, they could not hand him over.

the law of nations prescribes that "as soon as your enemy has laid down his arms and surrendered his person, you have no longer any right over his life." He must have surrendered himself under the conviction that he should receive an asylum, which conviction was confirmed by the act of receiving him. .. It seems therefore that we cannot give him up - that we shall afford him an asylum - that his life will be spared - but that we shall have him in such safe custody, that he shall not be able to disturb again the repose or the security of the world.(14)

Whether Britain was entitled to keep Napoleon as prisoner after the war had ended was a very nice legal question about which the Lord Chancellor had private doubts

it may be a simple way of considering the case to say, you made war against Buonaparte only; you have conquered him, and made him a prisoner of war; as he is such, and was the only person against whom you made war, you have no occasion to make with him any treaty of peace. You have your only enemy in your power, and you may, without more, keep him in it all his life long. But this is better for Parliament to. (15)

In Britain an Act of Parliament can settle almost anything!

Postscript

The last word belongs to the victor of Waterloo, who in January 1821, as Napoleon neared his end on St. Helena, delivered the following verdict in a letter to Princess Lieven, wife of the Russian Ambassador and mistress of Metternich :

We made a tremendous mistake in getting rid of Napoleon. He is the man we ought to have had. As long as the Bourbons hold four thrones there will be no peace in Europe. None of that family is any good. (16)

In August 1822, the real architect of Napoleon's fall, Lord Castlereagh, committed suicide, as had his Whig opponent Samuel Whitbread after Waterloo.

Wellington and Earl Grey both became Prime Ministers, the former outliving all his distinguished contemporaries and becoming a national hero whose funeral was attended by Napoleon's natural son, Grey gave his name to a famous blend of tea and his administration at last achieved the first of the great Reform Bills, which Lord Bathurst vehemently opposed.

The Bourbons were finally toppled in 1830
----------------------------------------------------------------
1. Caledonian Mercury , Monday 16th January 1815.
2. Austrian spies at the Congress of Vienna discovered a plot in which the French Consul at Leghorn was to kidnap Napoleon. Sir Charles Webster, The Congress of Vienna 1814-1815 (London 1950) p 92.
3. Morning Post 21st April 1815
4. May 25th 1815, Dublin Evening Post, 30 May 1815
5. May 25th 1815, Dublin Evening Post, 30 May 1815
6. Bathurst, quoted in Dublin Evening Post, 30 May 1815
7. Lord Liverpool to Castlereagh, July 7th 1815. Thornton p. 57
8. Thornton p. 59
9. Thornton pp 23-4
10. Gilbert Martineau, Napoleon Surrenders (Newton Abbot 1973) p. 121.
11. Thornton p. 36
12. Admiral Hotham, July 15th 1815 to a British Envoy in Paris, quoted in Robert Harvey, The War of Wars - The Epic Struggle between Britain and France 1793-1815 (London 2006) p p 755. 13. Thornton pp 63-4.
14. Thornton pp 60-61
15. Neville Thompson, Earl Bathurst and the British Empire 1762-1834) (Leo Cooper 1999) p. 103
16. Quoted in Harold Nicolson,The Congress of Vienna: A Study in Allied Unity 1812-22 (London 1946) p. 296

Friday, 15 May 2015

From Elba to St Helena: A Timeline


Napoleon lands on Golfe-Juan

_______________________________________________

1815
January 

13th  Reports of a plan to remove Napoleon 
      to St Helena began to appear in a number 
      of British newspapers
February 

26th Napoleon left Elba

March

1st  Napoleon landed at Golfe-Juan

5th  Royalist Infantry defected to Napoleon

6th  News of Napoleon's flight reached Vienna
     7th Infantry Regiment defected

13th Congress of Vienna declares Napoleon outlaw
     Napoleon issued edict dissolving assembly

14th Marshall Ney defects to Napoleon

15th Joachim Murat, King of Naples declares
     war on Austria.

19th    Louis XVIII leaves Paris

20th Napoleon Arrives in Paris

25th    Austria, Russia, Prussia, Britain each agreed 
        to supply 150,000 to fight against Napoleon
        Britain unable to raise enough troops so 
        provides subsidy to allies.

29th Napoleon issues decree abolishing Slave Trade

Proclamation issued at Lyons, where Napoleon was received warmly in 1815
April

7th    Samuel Whitbread, Whig Leader 
       in House of Commons 
       said Wellington and other diplomats 
       who had signed treaty against Napoleon 
       at Vienna should be impeached.

14th    Napoleon meets Benjamin Constant; work begins on constitution

22nd    Acte additionnel published 

May

2nd    Louis XVIII, manifesto published in Ghent 
       calls on the people to chase out the usurper.

15th   Royalist rebellion in the Vendee, West France.

18th   Battle of Tolentino
       Murat defeated by Austrians


21st   Murat's wife, Caroline, Napoleon's sister
       boarded a British war ship  
       and was taken to Trieste

25th   Earl Grey's amendment against resumption 
       of war lost in House of Lords; 
       among those voting against the
       war was Wellington's brother
       Lord Wellesley.

June

11th   Members of British Government tell 
       John Quincy Adams that they expect
       Napoleon soon to seek refuge in America.

12th   Napoleon leaves Paris to join the army 
       of the north

15th   Beginning of campaign against British 
       and Prussian forces

16th   Quatre Bras and Ligny

18th   Waterloo

19th   News of Waterloo reached London

20th   News of defeat reached Paris

21st   Napoleon arrived back in Paris

22nd   Napoleon Abdicated

23rd   Executive Commission set up to rule France

24th   Napoleon "invited" to leave Paris by Fouche 
       - moves to Malmaison;
       White terror begins in South of France

25th   General Beker appointed Commanding Officer of 
       Napoleon's Guard at Malmaison;   
       Commission asks Wellington for safe conduct 
       for Napoleon to go to America
       Louis XVIII returns to France 

26th   Fouche informed Napoleon that two frigates 
       in Rochefort were ready to take him 
       to America once safe conduct had been granted

27th   Fouche sent message urging Napoleon 
       to leave Malmaison

28th   Napoleon's doctor gave him small bottle of 
       poison in case he was captured by 
       advancing Prussian army

29th   Napoleon left Malmaison - spent night at Rambouillet

30th   Napoleon spent night at Tours

The beach at Fouras from which Napoleon left mainland France

The memorial bears the following inscription:

Ici, le 8 juillet 1815, Napoléon 1er a quitté le continent pour l’exil. L’Empereur a été porté jusqu’à la baleinière par le marin Baud, natif de Fouras. Don du Baron Gourgaud, arrière-petit-fils du général Gourgaud (1)




July
1st   Napoleon in Niort
      Croker (First Secretary of Admiralty) in Paris 
      set down rules for any ship 
      that captured Napoleon

3rd   Napoleon arrived at La Rochelle
      Paris capitulates

5th   Napoleon joined by brother 
      Joseph at La Rochelle

6th   Samuel Whitbread, Whig Leader and opponent
      of war, commits suicide.

7th   Government set up under Talleyrand and Fouche
      Lord Liverpool writes to Castlereagh that if
      they capture Napoleon the easiest course 
      would be to hand him over to France;

8th   Napoleon boarded Saale from Fouras beach
      2nd Restoration of Louis XVIII 
      gives orders to arrest Napoleon

9th   Fouche (Duc D'Oranto) appointed Minister of Police by Louis XVIII

10th  Napoleon ent Savary and las Cases to 
      Bellerophon to negotiate with English
 
12th  Napoleon moved to Ile d'Aix

14th  Las Cases and Lallemand informed captain of 
      Bellerophon that Napoleon would come on board 
      the next morning
      Napoleon writes letter to Prince Regent 

15th  Napoleon went on board Bellerophon
      Lord Liverpool writes to Castlereagh 
      that if they capture Napoleon St. Helena
      or Cape of Good Hope 
      would be the best places to secure him.

18th  Metternich wrote to Marie Louise saying 
      it had been agreed that Napoleon would be
      imprisoned at Fort St. George in Scotland.

21st  Letter From Lord Liverpool to Castlereagh
      in Paris proposing Napoleon should be
      sent to St. Helena

24th  Hudson Lowe chosen to be Governor of St. Helena

25th  Bellerophon arrived in Torbay
      
26th  Bellerophon leaves Torbay for Plymouth

29th  Gazette confirmed Napoleon
      would be sent to St. Helena

30th   Napoleon officially informed by Lord Keith 
       that he was to be sent to St Helena.

August

4th   Anthony Mackenrot attempted to serve Lord
      Keith with a subpoena requesting
      Napoleon to appear as a witness in court
      Bellerophon leaves Plymouth for open sea

7th   Napoleon transferred to Northumberland


October

13th   Murat executed after failing to
       recapture Kingdom of Naples

15th  Northumberland arrives at St. Helena

17th   Napoleon goes ashore
       lodges for night in Jamestown

18th   Napoleon visits Longwood and moves to Briars

December

10th   Napoleon moves to Longwood


__________________________________________
(1) The tide was out, and Napoleon was carried out to his boat on the back of a local sailor.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Henry Bathurst: Who was he?


The Third Earl Bathurst (1762-1834), President of the Board of Trade & Secretary of State for War and the Colonies

Along with the Prime Minister Lord Liverpool, and Castlereagh at the Foreign Office, Earl Bathurst, the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, was a key figure in shaping Britain's foreign, military and imperial policy for over a decade.

To say that Bathurst has been forgotten would perhaps give a false impression: a poor public speaker, always a somewhat shadowy figure in the Liverpool Government, he made little impression on contemporaries outside ruling circles.(1)

Almost a century later, Earl Rosebery delivered the most damning of verdicts:

Who was Bathurst?

It is difficult to say. He was we know, grandson of that secular Lord Bathurst who, sixty years after his first elevation to the peerage was created an Earl, and who, in the last months of his life, in his ninety-first year, was the subject of a famous apostrophe by Burke. He was, we know, son of that second Lord Bathurst, who was the least capable of Chancellors. He himself was one of those strange children of our political system who fill the most dazzling offices with the most complete obscurity. He had presided over the Foreign Office. He was now, and was for a term of fifteen years, a Secretary of State. Yet even our most microscopic Biographical Dictionary may be searched in vain for more than dry recital of the offices that he filled, the date of his birth, and the date of his death. (2)

Bathurst's biographer in my view fails to bring this obscure figure to life, but from the biography we can glean a little of the man. His family were recipients of royal patronage and he was a staunch friend of the monarchy and highly regarded by all the Kings he served; a sincere believer in the aristocratic order and an opponent of parliamentary reform, in his dying days he remained an uncompromising opponent of the 1832 Reform Bill.

In 1808 he was relieved to be able to sell the family's London home, Apsley House, to a fellow aristocrat, Lord Wellesley, and said he would have been unwilling to sell it to a financier or merchant. (3) This from a man who then held office as President of the Board of Trade!

His was a fairly typical aristocratic background: educated at Eton, not bothering to complete his degree at Oxford, venturing outside the country in his youth, he visited France, Germany and Austria but somewhat untypically, missed out Italy. Thereafter apart from a brief single trip to Scotland, he stayed in England for the rest of his life. (4)

In foreign affairs a staunch and consistent opponent of France, he believed that Britain's interests required France to be reduced to its pre-1792 borders. In 1801 he even disagreed with his hero William Pitt over the latter's approval of the peace negotiated with Napoleon. (5)

In early 1814 amidst a flurry of diplomatic activity interspersed with battles as Napoleon fought a rearguard action against the continental alliance, Bathurst was among those members of the Cabinet strongly opposed to conceding better terms in order to bring about an end to war. (6)

For Bathurst it was an ideological struggle which went beyond the long-standing Anglo-French competition for hegemony. Bathurst told Wellington in March 1814 that he preferred Britain to fight alone for the Bourbon cause if Spain and Holland were safe rather than accept Napoleon in concert with the other allies. (7) In another despatch to Wellington he described the battle of Toulouse on 10th April 1814 between Wellington and Soult as the last effort in an expiring cause, consistent in evil, to protract the miseries which its supporters had occasioned, and to postpone as long as possible the return of that harmony and peace which they had for upward of twenty years too successfully laboured to disturb. (8)

As surprised as anyone by Napoleon's return from Elba, and informed by Wellington that the King would destroy him without difficulty, Bathurst was far from convinced that Napoleon would re-establish control in Paris.(9) In the event Bathurst was with Wellington at the centre of the hectic planning for the renewal of war: having sent an army to fight in America, Britain was short of troops, and efforts to recruit more proved disappointing. It was also difficult to call out the militia, since Britain was not legally at war. Napoleon again surprised the allies by crossing over into Belgium in mid June, rather than waiting for the inevitable attack on Paris. Among those who fought at Waterloo was Bathurst's own son, Seymour who had been appointed as one of Wellington's aides-de-campe. Hearing of the news of Napoleon's surrender, Seymour Bathurst wrote to his mother

I cannot conceive the state you must all be in with Bonaparte in England. What are you going to do with him &c. Pray go and see him and be civil to him. I am all for his being treated well.(10)

By the time that Seymour Bathurst had written the letter the British Cabinet, minus Castlereagh who was in France, had pretty well decided that Napoleon would be sent to St. Helena, and Bathurst who was to superintend Napoleon's exile until the latter's death, informed Wellington that he had appointed Sir Hudson Lowe as the new Governor,

I do not believe we could have found a fitter person of his rank in the army willing to accept a situation of so much confinement, responsibility, and exclusion from society." (11)

Napoleon was given the official decision by Admiral Lord Keith, accompanied by Colonel Bunbury. Accompanying them, although to his annoyance not allowed on board to meet Napoleon, was none other than William Lennox Bathurst, a 24 year old MP for a rotten borough who just happened to be another son of Lord Bathurst!

This web of aristocratic privilege and connection seems to epitomise the eighteenth century world, that rarefied world of order, harmony and peace from which Bathurst had emerged, and which he and the Liverpool Government fought to preserve against foes at home and abroad. At the same time Bathurst and his colleagues laid the foundations of British hegemony, the domination of its manufactures and its manufacturers, and of a triumphant liberal ideology for which they had little sympathy.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1. Neville Thompson, Earl Bathurst and the British Empire, 1762-1834 (Leo Cooper, Great Britain, 1999), Introduction vii-x.
2.Lord Rosebery, Napoleon The Last Phase London 1900, pp 117-118. Bathurst's biographer, Neville Thompson pours scorn on this judgement, coming from a man who had himself only very briefly been Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Party!
3. Thompson p. 30
4.Thompson p. 11
5. Thompson p. 21-22
6. Thompson p. 72.
7. Bathurst to Wellington, 29 March, 1814, quoted in Thompson p. 73
8. quoted in Thompson p. 74
9. Thompson p. 89
10 quoted in Thompson p. 100
11. quoted in Thompson p. 101
12. ibid

Monday, 30 March 2015

Anthony Burgess and Napoleon



According to Anthony Burgess's not always reliable autobiography, at his birth his father breathed beer on him and said He may be a new Napoleon.

Not Wellington. The Catholic northwest, like Ireland, had looked to the French being on the sea, and the decay of the Orange (1)

In the event Burgess did not turn out to be a leader of men, and the highest rank he attained was a Sergeant Major in the Army Educational Corps. At the advanced age of 37 he became a writer. At the same age Napoleon had already written a romantic novel, won countless battles and become Emperor of the French, so Burgess's father had almost inevitably set him up for failure.

In the early 1970's Burgess wrote a script on Napoleon for Stanley Kubrick, producer and director of A Clockwork Orange, which the latter rather tersely declined. Burgess instead turned it into a far from complimentary novel about Napoleon, Napoleon Symphony, a somewhat whimsical attempt to recast the life of Napoleon in the form of Beethoven's famous Eroica symphony which legend has it was intended to be dedicated to Napoleon until he crowned himself Emperor. (2)

Before this novel was published in 1974 Burgess gave his thoughts on Napoleon to Charles T. Bunting

a great demonic force .. a very modern man, really a very contemporary man, because he - well can I say that even - he's half animal and half computer. It's only possible to think in those terms in the modern age. His head was a computer. His body was the body of an ape. .. Napoleon was over-energetic, even sexually so. His excessive sexual energy, of course, explains why he had so little success with women. And he was also a very obscene man, which never comes out in the official biographies. (3)

Burgess also added some pertinent comments about his reactions to Napoleon as an Englishman and about the views of the English lower classes. He concluded with a brief reference to what we used to call the Common Market, which the United Kingdom (including England!) had recently joined, despite the efforts of another French leader to prevent it from doing so:

I've never really known much about Napoleon. Being an Englishman, I've never been attracted to Napoleon because, after all, he was the enemy. This is what I have been brought up to believe, but having done some research and having seen it from my wife's point of view - my wife's an Italian - I see now that he was not really the enemy; he was only the enemy of the ruling class in Britain, and, of course, he was very popular with the lower class. And in my own town of Manchester when the Peterloo Massacre took place, the working people were animated by Napoleonic principles. They were more on the side of the Revolution, and Napoleon seemed to them to embody the ideas of the Revolution. they were not on the side of the ruling class, and I see now that it's possible to be an Englishman and a Bonapartist. I see also that Napoleon has fulfilled posthumously his intention of bringing England into Europe. It's been done by peaceful means, but the great dream of a united Europe with England as part of it has been fulfilled with the Common Market. So Napoleon is still a living force. (4)

Contrary to the claims of modern Eurosceptics, Burgess had no doubt in 1973 that England had become part of something rather more than a mere market! That is my memory too!

The support for Napoleon amongst sections of the English population to which Burgess refers does not fit in with conventional views of English history. It was certainly not part of the curriculum that I studied, although it has appeared on a number of occasions in my blog.

At some point I intend to return to Napoleon Symphony, which I read on my last trip to St Helena two years ago, and have been mulling over ever since.
------------------------------------------------------------------
1. Anthony Burgess, Little Wilson and Big God (Vintage Edition 2002) p. 17
2. An earlier post covers Burgess's script for Kubrick. I have since examined a document at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester which is certainly nothing like a full script, but a few pages which lay out a number of themes recognisable in Napoleon Symphony . If this is what was sent to Kubrick, then his short reply turning it down is entirely understandable.
3. "Dressing for Dinner in the Jungle", Charles T. Bunting/ 1973 Studies in the Novel v.5, No 4 Winter 1973 pp 75-76.
4. ibid.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Castlereagh and the Defeat of Napoleon


Viscount Castlereagh: "the prim smirking aspect of a haberdasher" - Hazlitt

With a reputation for being cold and calculating, Castlereagh was perhaps the most hated of all English politicians. A member of the Irish Ascendancy, playing a key role in crushing the rebellion in 1798, his alliance with the reactionary rulers of Russia, Prussia and Austria and his defence of the repressive domestic policies of the Liverpool Government after the Peterloo Massacre, soured his reputation among those who had hoped that the world was on the verge of a more enlightened era.

Two of the greatest romantic poets led the condemnation. Shelley most famously in his Masque of Anarchy,

I met Murder on the way –
He had a mask like Castlereagh –

whilst Byron exhorted passers by to piss on his grave. (1) His death by his own hand in 1822 was for many a cause for celebration.

As Foreign Secretary from 1812, Castlereagh was the architect of the alliance that finally brought about Napoleon's defeat. He always had a clear view of British interests and of the aims of the war against Napoleonic France: on the continent a balance of power and access for British commerce, at sea British hegemony. Despite the impression nurtured by the loyalist press, the object of the war was not the removal of Napoleon from power. This in time caused some dissension in the Cabinet, as well as with the Prince Regent who not unnaturally favoured the restoration of the Bourbons at a time when his throne did not feel too secure.

Castlereagh's view was that if Napoleon retained the support of his subjects, and if a peace which satisfied Britain's objectives could be reached with Napoleon still in place, and that was a big if, then Britain should not support a continuation of war to overthrow him. Such a policy would have risked civil war in France and dissension amongst the allies, with Russia, no friend of the Bourbons, favouring Bernadotte or a weak Revolutionary Government, Austria favouring a Regency of the Empress Marie Louise on behalf of her son Napoleon II, and Britain not wanting either.


Increasingly Britain's war aims narrowed down to an insistence that France give up Antwerp and the River Scheldt, vital to Britain's security and hegemony at sea, an aim not necessarily shared by its continental allies. Castlereagh had been fixated on Antwerp and the Scheldt since at least 1797, and it was this alone which caused Britain to veto the Frankfurt proposals brokered by Metternich in December 1813 under which Napoleon would have given up Italy, Spain, Germany and Holland, but not all of Belgium.

In February 1814 a letter from the Prime Minister Lord Liverpool to Castlereagh revealed the tensions in the Government, but also perhaps a deference to Castlereagh, the dominant member of the Cabinet:

The only material point on which we differ with you is as to the overthrowing of Buonaparte. we incline to the view that this event may be desirable whatever might be the immediate result of it.
No Government, be it what may, could be so bad for Europe as Buonaparte; .. I admit, however, that if France continues to support Buonaparte, we must make peace with him, and that we ought not to look to his destruction by any means which, in progress, will tend to separate the allies. (2)

In the event, Napoleon's refusal of the terms of the Treaty of Chaumont in March 1814 got Castlereagh and the British Government off the hook. A pro-Bourbon party emerged in France, led by Talleyrand, Napoleon's former Foreign Minister, a confidant of the Czar and the recipient of substantial British secret service funds. On 19th March 2014 Castlereagh was instructed by the Cabinet not to sign any treaty with Napoleon.

Unwilling to recognise Napoleon's title as Emperor of Elba or anywhere else, and sharing the concerns of Talleyrand and the Bourbons about the nearness of Elba to France, Castlereagh did not become a party to the Treaty of Fontainebleau. (3) With France subdued and Napoleon on Elba, he was then able to devote his energies to the peace treaty at Vienna, later to earn him the admiration of that twentieth century practitioner of realpolitik, Henry Kissinger.

An interesting glimpse into Castlereagh's views after Napoleon's return from Elba is given by John Quincy Adams, American diplomat and future President. Only a week before the battle of Waterloo, at a dinner also attended by Lord Liverpool, Castlereagh showed Adams a snuff box bearing a miniature picture of Napoleon which he had bought at Vienna from the court painter Jean Baptiste Isabey. Adams noted that the general opinion of those at that dinner was that Napoleon would shortly take refuge in America; for as to another island of Elba, that was out of the question. That experiment would not be tried a second time . (4)

At the dinner Castlereagh told him of Napoleon's wish to come to England at the time of the Fontainebleau Treaty to which he (Lord Castlereagh) had objected, as he could not have been answerable for the safety of his person here. Adams was perhaps surprised at the moderate tone in which Castlereagh spoke about Napoleon. Rather curiously Castlereagh said he had

much rather that he should have come back and be as he now is, than that he should have lost his life under the protection of the allies. Lord Castlereagh said he had never seen him, though he had felt a curiosity to see him, but the only opportunity that he had ever had for it was at the time of the Treaty of Fontainebleau, and then he had abstained from delicacy.(5)

A strange interlude, and perhaps we should be wary of taking at face value the comments of diplomats when socialising together, particularly when we remember that only a year earlier the British navy had set fire to the Capitol and the White House. Whatever Adams' opinions of the French Revolution and Napoleon, the United States was known to favour a strong France and for obvious reasons to oppose British naval hegemony. Also we have the benefit over those who attended the dinner in that we know the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo! Despite the large military imbalance in favour of the allies which would surely ultimately have led to his defeat, dealing with a temporarily victorious Napoleon would have put a strain on Castlereagh and the British Government at home as well as on the continental alliance.

Castlereagh's comments about Napoleon's safety probably reflected awareness of plots the Bourbons made against him whilst he was on Elba. The concern may appear to sit uneasily alongside modern claims that Castlereagh was in 1804 involved in a plot to assassinate Napoleon.(6) But the key words are under the protection of the allies . Napoleon's murder on Elba would have done damage to the British Government at home and on the continent, irrespective of who had done it. Napoleon's assassination as Emperor in 1804, if all evidence of the British Government's complicity could have been destroyed, would have been another matter altogether, as any advocate of realpolitik would readily understand!

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1. This seems to have been written in 1820 before Castlereagh's death.

Posterity will ne'er survey
A nobler grave than this:
Here lie the bones of Castlereagh:
Stop, traveller, and piss.
It was first published in Lord Byron's Works , 1833, xvii. 246. In this edition the last two words were replaced by * *.
2. Quoted in Rory Muir, Britain and the Defeat of Napoleon 1807-1815 (1996) p 318.
3. Sir Charles Webster, The Congress of Vienna 1814-1815 First published by the Foreign Office in 1919, Reissued 1934, pp 17-31,36-40. Nicolson, Congress of Vienna (London 1946) p118.
4. June 11th 1815. Memoirs of John Quincy Adams: Comprising Portions of His Diary from 1795 to 1848, Volume 3 J.B. Lippincott & Company, 1874, pp 219-220. Isabel attended the Congress as part of the French delegation and was commissioned to paint a portrait of the gathering.
5. Adams reported Castlereagh as saying he thought his [Napoleon's] speech to the legislative Assembly, this day received, was a very good speech; that it noticed in moderate terms the capture of a French frigate in the Mediterranean, but pretended that it was hostility in time of peace. Adams pp 219-220
6. For details of this plot, which formed a backdrop to the murder of the Duke d'Enghien, see Andrew Roberts, Napoleon the Great London 2014 pp 333-334