Monday, 20 June 2011

The 20th Foot and a Gift from Napoleon - The Fusilier Museum Bury

The Fusilier Museum in Bury has a small but priceless collection related to the last days of Napoleon. The centre piece is the three volumes of Coxe's Life of Marlborough, the gift of Napoleon to the 20th Regiment, which caused so much consternation to the Governor, Sir Hudson Lowe, and so much trouble to Captain Lutyens, the orderly officer at Longwood.

There are also a number of other items on view, including the medals of Dr Arnott, the last British doctor to attend Napoleon on St Helena, and the tunic he wore when attending him.

This tunic, and the picture of Arnott (below) were apparently rescued from the ruins of the home of a descendant of the Arnott family after the Lockerbie bombing in 1988, and but for that atrocity these items might never have been recovered.

Arnott, Archibald, M.D. (1771-1855). Surgeon to the 20th Foot Regiment, he was called to attend Napoleon on April 1st, 1821 and continued to attend him until his death on May 5th.

Whatever his limitations as a doctor, Arnott got on well with Napoleon.

During one of their conversations Napoleon praised the men of the 20th Foot and said that he would make them a gift of Coxe's Life of Marlborough.

The three volumes of this book were subsequently put in Captain Lutyens' room without explanation, presumably by St Denis.

On our visit we were privileged to be able to examine the famous books, and to photograph the three words, "L' Empereur Napoleon", which were like a red rag to a bull to Hudson Lowe.

Volume Two of Coxe's Life of Marlborough with three fatal words inscribed at the top. (Click to enlarge)

The inscription, almost certainly made by St Denis, who acted as Librarian at Longwood.

The books were returned to Longwood, although later the 20th Regiment was allowed to receive them, and for some time thereafter they were proudly kept in the officers' mess.

Happily Napoleon, in the last stages of his final illness, was not informed of what he would surely have regarded as one of the most hurtful of many insults. Even William Forsyth, Hudson Lowe's most faithful defender, conceded that "Napoleon's kindly meant present might, under the circumstances have been accepted. .. nor was there much likelihood of a British regiment being seduced from its allegiance by adding to its library a few books, the gift of Napoleon."

Blamed for his failue to return Napoleon's gift, Captain Lutyens was removed from his post. A decent man whose loyalty was unimpeachable, the incident was for him a disaster which must have overshadowed the rest of his short life.

Lutyens, Captain Engelbert (1784-1830). Orderly Officer at Longwood (1820-1821).

Member of a family which had come to England from Hamburg in 1745, and which was to produce one of Britain's best known architects.

Suspected by Hudson Lowe and Thomas Reade of being too friendly with the French at Longwood, honestly reporting the deterioration of Napoleon's health from November 1820, and very uncomfortable about being required to spy on Napoleon during his last illness, Lutyens had previously asked to be removed from Longwood at the end of December 1820.

For Captain Crokat, who replaced Lutyens at Longwood and subsequently had a very successful career and lived to the age of 90, it proved a very lucky break.

Crokat, William (1789-1879).

Having replaced Lutyens as orderly officer at Longwood he was given the honour of taking the news of Napoleon's death to London, for which he received the sum of £500, a large amount in those days.

He was also promoted to Major, ahead of Lutyens.

Lutyens, after a lengthy process was successful in getting his own promotion to Major backdated to 1821, as clear a sign as possible that the Army recognised that he had been wrongly treated.

Crokat whose bust is in the Fusilier Museum, ultimately rose to the rank of General,

and was one of the very few people who served on St Helena during Napoleon's captivity who can be said to have had great success afterwards.

Finally a note about the disputed books. Contrary to what has been written in a number of published accounts, these were the gift not of Captain Robert Cavendish Spencer, who happened to be on St Helena at the end of 1820, but of Lord Robert Spencer, the youngest son of the 3rd Duke of Marlborough. The books apparently had been sent via Lady Holland, at the centre of that group of Whigs who were opposed to the Government's treatment of Napoleon, and who sent many books to St Helena for Napoleon.

Allegedly Count Bertrand and/or his wife provided a French translation of Marlborough's biography for Napoleon. This translation, if it existed, has as far as I am aware never been found.

My thanks to Paul Dalton of the Fusilier Museum, and to Albert Benhamou, without whose help this blog would not have been possible.


Roel Vos said...


It must have been a great feeling looking (and toughing?) the original books of Cox!
I had a same feeling when I saw the letters of general De Laroisiere!

Greeting from Roel Vos, Apeldoor, Holland.

John Tyrrell said...

Yes it was very special.

Hope to come to Holland one day for a tour with you.

Roel Vos said...

You are very welcome!

Unknown said...

Thanks for posting this. It is great to be able to see the offending signature so clearly. I have just written about the Lutyens episode here:

I love your blog - it has been an extremely helpful resource in the research for my novel, Napoleon in America.

John Tyrrell said...

Hi Shannon,

Thanks for your comment. It is always good to know that someone finds some use for my efforts!

best wishes


Ken Richards said...

Hi John - I've enjoyed reading your blogs immensely! But I thought I’d bring one small thing to your attention.
I believe the inscription in the books ‘Coxe’s Life of Marlborough’ was done by Bertrand rather than St Denis. The reason I say this is because I have a book titled ‘Histoire de la Guerre d’Espagne et de Portugal, dated 1817 and in it is the inscription ‘Donne par l’Empereur Napoleon au Cte Bertrand’, the hand being Bertands, and the writing of l’Emperuer is identical to the one in the Coxes volume. I can send you a picture if you like.
Ken Richards

John Tyrrell said...

I have only just noticed this comment. Many thanks. It makes some sense that it would be Bertrand who wrote it if he had indeed translated the book into French.