Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Windsor Part II: Napoleon's Letter to the Prince Regent

Ile d’Aix: Napoleon's Last Lodging on French Soil

At the end of our visit to Windsor a few weeks ago Albert and I were shown a large rather fragile frame in which were displayed a number of Napoleonic memorabilia, including the ubiquitous lock of Napoleon's hair. One wonders how and when that was acquired, and when the collection was framed?

To our surprise and delight, among the items on display was Napoleon's famous letter to the Prince Regent of July 13th 1815 signed as from Rochefort, although in fact written on the Ile d'Aix, which was part of the Rochefort regional authority.

The letter contained the famous spelling mistake: en but should have been written en butte

The English translation is

"Royal Highness,- A prey to the factions which divide my country and to the enmity of the greatest powers of Europe, I have terminated my public career, and I come, like Themistocles, to seat myself at the hearth of the British people. I place myself under the protection of its laws, which I claim from your Royal Highness as the most powerful, the most constant, and the most generous of my enemies."

Apparently there was more than one copy of this letter. Gourgaud was despatched ahead of the main party on the Slaney with a copy of the letter and instructions about Napoleon's wishes to go to America, but he was never allowed to land and the letter was not delivered to the Prince Regent. The original was given by Napoleon to Captain Maitland on the Bellerophon at Plymouth on 27th July when Maitland went ashore to meet Lord Keith. The letter was transmitted by Keith to Melville, First Lord of the Admiralty, on the same day. Napoleon never received official recognition that it had been received. (1) Presumably at some point this letter found its way into the royal archives.

I had never given any thought before to the whereabouts of the letter, and have never seen any reproduction of it. We of course were not allowed to photograph it.

I understand that somewhere in the Honorary French Consul's archives on St Helena is an image of this letter, supplied many years ago at the behest of the Duke of Edinburgh to Gilbert Martineau. Sometime perhaps it will find the light of day.

Our thanks again to the Curator at Windsor Castle for showing us this very special piece of Napoleonic history.

Postscript June 12th 2013

Michel has found the image and has now posted it on his blog.

1. Michael John Thornton Napoleon after Waterloo : England and the St. Helena decision Stanford 1968, p. 95