Tuesday, 4 May 2021

May 5th: Thoughts on the Bicentenary of Napoleon's Death

The Centenary of Napoleon's Death, St Helena 1921

Napoleon's Tomb, St Helena

Despite the pandemic an impressive programme has been planned on St Helena both at Longwood House and around the empty grave. It will be a very different atmosphere from a century ago. I will be surprised if the Union Jack is flown as it was in 1921, and I expect a low key, more informal ceremony with the participation of many ordinary Saints, few if any of whom appear to have been present a century ago.

In Paris President Macron has somewhat controversially decided to lay a wreath beside Napoleon's tomb in Les Invalides. It will probably come as a surprise to many English patriots to find that Napoleon is not universally admired in France. At the risk of over-simplification his memory is more revered on the political Right than on the Left! Macron of course is a centrist.

Macron's aides have let it be known that "Someone at the start of the 21st century does not think like someone at the start of the 19th century. Our history is our history and we accept it. "

The novelist L.P. Hartley put it more succinctly:

The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

With that in mind I have decided to return to what has been a major theme of this blog: the surprising amount of support for Napoleon in England, in folk songs, in people christening their children "Napoleon", and in the political campaigns of the Radicals, not to mention the better known but more measured support from Lady Holland and the Foxite Whigs.

"The most wonderful man that ever existed"

Henry "Orator" Hunt, the radical leader who was imprisoned after the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, on hearing of Napoleon's death wrote these comments from Ilchester Jail. (1)


For Radicals Waterloo and Peterloo were of one piece - to cement the hold of autocratic rulers against the forces of liberty on the continent and in England.

Curiously on St. Helena Napoleon spoke of Orator Hunt, and it is fair to say that he did not have that much sympathy for his cause, which he seems to have identified with mob rule from which he believed he had saved France. He marvelled though at the ability of the English aristocracy to laugh at liberty and at freedom of the press. (2)

On Hudson Lowe, Napoleon's Gaoler: "very unlike the English to have behaved like that"

Finally a few comments by Queen Victoria, just under two years old when Napoleon died, but clearly schooled by the Whigs! On hearing of the death of Hudson Lowe in 1844 she wrote:

Sir Hudson Lowe has just died. He was chiefly renowned for his custody of Napoleon at St. Helena, which he is said to have performed with great harshness.(3)

Napoleon she considered was "one of the most remarkable men in the world's history, though not the best.(4) A few days later she added:

Sir Robert Gardiner has no good opinion of Sir Hudson Lowe & says his treatment of Napoleon was most unfeeling & harsh, & that altogether the way in which he was treated at St. Helena, was abominable & disgraceful, & most ungenerous towards a Captive of such note as he was. I must say I think it is very unlike the English to have behaved like that.
(5)
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1. To the Radical reformers, male and female, of England, Ireland, and Scotland p. 238-239.
2. Napoleon at St. Helena, Memoirs of General Bertrand, Grand Marshall of the Palace January to May 1821 (London 1953) p. 71.
3. Queen Victoria Journal, 12th January 1844.
4. ibid .
5. Queen Victoria Journal, 15th January 1844.

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.