Saturday, 12 June 2021

Queen Victoria, Count Walewski and a Famous Painting


Napoleon at Fontainebleau, 31 March 1814 Paul Delaroche

There appear to be a number of versions of Delaroche's painting of Napoleon's first abdication. One has been in the Musée de l'Armée in Paris since 1954. (1) Another resides in the Royal Collection.

In 1852 the painting was viewed at Windsor by Alexandre Walewski (1810-1868), Napoleon's natural son, now French emissary to the Court of St James. Victoria entertained Walewski and his wife a few days after the British Government had officially recognised Louis Napoleon as Emperor of the French!

The Walewskis & Lord Malmesbury to dinner, the Count, sitting next to me. He was very amiable & talkative, speaking immediately, & in great admiration, of the fine picture we have here of Napoleon at Fontainebleau, by P. Delaroche. The Counts own likeness to Napoleon is very striking, & if there was a doubt of the relationship, the fact of his appearance is an infallible proof. (2)

Alexandre Walewski (1810-1858)

Queen Victoria got to know Walewski and his second wife very well. In the early year things were rather strained. She was concerned that Lord Palmerston had expressed his approval to Walewski of the coup in which Louis Napoleon had seized power, which cost Palmerston his job. She also refused to give her support to the proposed marriage of Napoleon III to her niece, Princess Adelheid of Hohenlohe-Langenburg.

In her diary she commented on Walewski's lack of tact, and later described him as a rogue when he appeared to criticise Napoleon III, for whom after a rather hostile start, the Queen came to develop a surprisingly close attachment.(3) She also was very well aware of Walewski's relationship with the promiscuous actress Rachel, who had a few years earlier borne him a daughter:

The latter was full of awkward "mal à propas", being famous for want of tact. He is most anxious our Fleets should have an opportunity of acting together, — enquired after the Orléans family, — spoke of Rachel, whose former liaison with him is notorious! &c(4)

A year or two later, during the Crimean War,in which the two great enemies were for the first time allies, Victoria entertained Napoleon III and the Empress Eugenie, with whom she was to forge a long lasting friendship. The meeting was a great success, but Victoria could not help appreciate the irony of entertaining a nephew of Napoleon:

Then dancing began, I, dancing a Quadrille with the Emperor, Albert opposite, with the Empress. This was followed by a Reel, in which Vicky danced very nicely, then a Valse which the Emperor asked her to dance with him, & which frightened her very much, &c — Really to think of a Gd Daughter of George IIIrd, dancing with the nephew of our great enemy, the Empr Napoleon now my most firm Ally, in the Waterloo Gallery, — is incredible! And this Ally was only 6 years ago, an exile in England, poor, & not at all thought of! The Emperor led me in to supper & Albert, the Empress. Her manner is the most perfect thing I ever saw, so gentle, graceful & kind, & so modest & retiring. All was over by ½ p. 12. Vicky behaved extremely well, making beautiful curtseys & was much praised by the Emperor & Empress, about whom she raves.(5)
A few months later Victoria was in Paris, the first British monarch to go there for four centuries, and whilst there paid her respects before the tomb of the "Great Napoleon"!


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1. The Musée de l'Armée version, was bought by the Liverpool industrialist John Naylor, and was for years part of the Naylor Collection in Wales. An article published by theNapoleon Foundation says it was bought and donated to the Museum by Francis Howard, the Founder of the Grosvenor Art Gallery in London, a European educated American, the great grandson of Benjamin Franklin.
2. Queen Victoria's Diary, 9th December 1852. DNA has now confirmed Victoria's judgement that Walewski did descend from the male Bonaparte line.
3. Diary, 10th June 1853, 4th September 1859.
4. Diary 10th June 1853.
5. Diary 17th April 1855.

Friday, 21 May 2021

The Bicentenary: An Update


Napoleon's Grave, St Helena, May 2021

After years of preparation, the disruption of the pandemic and the debate in France over Napoleon's legacy, the ceremonies on St Helena have now passed.

In my previous post I said that the commemoration would be very different from that in 1921. It didn't take any special foresight to say that! Commemoration of the bicentenary took place in a world perhaps even further removed from 1921 than that era was from 1821.

In the shadow of the Great War, most if not all of the imperial certainties of a European dominated, Atlantic centred world remained. That era has now long gone. The UK has moved on from Empire to Commonwealth, and now, after a brief semi-detached sojourn in the European Community, in the midst of a global economic and environmental crisis, to the Anglosphere and "Global Britain". One wonders what our descendants will make of that in 2121. One wonders also what place St Helena will have in this new world.

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